Rating: R for language
Disclaimer: Not mine, no money, et cetera ad nauseum.
Spoilers: This goes AU after the 1st comic of S8; all the Scoobies are in Scotland but I didn't want to have to deal with any of the new issues or the upcoming Angel S6.
Notes: Sorry for the long wait on this, but each chapter is coming slower and slower now. Many thanks to wildannuette for the beta. Feedback is life.
Previous chapters here.
The moon had risen by the time Spike finally left the barn and headed back to the castle. He and Little Bit had talked for hours, just like in the old days when she was still a big-eyed preteen whose only worries were boys and homework. She had tried to apologize for the way she'd treated him after he came back to Sunnydale, but he hadn't let her – God knows he'd deserved every harsh word and cold look, no matter how guilty she felt about it afterwards. But he felt surprisingly cheerful as he headed back to his room with vague intentions to go find Xander.
His good mood crashed, however, when he saw who was waiting for him. "Hello, Buffy."
"Hey, Spike." She looked as nervous as he felt. "Can we talk?"
He unlocked the door and gestured her in, afraid to speak in case his voice shook too much. She sat gingerly on the bed, surprise flitting across her features when she bounced. "Wow, this bed is really squishy," she said, still bouncing. "How do you sleep on this?"
He snorted. "Beats the hell out of a sarcophagus."
"Or the moldy mattress in the crypt," she said, grinning at him. She was actually smiling at him, for the first time since he couldn’t remember when. Right at that moment she looked so young, so much like the girl that had fought him in the school hallway before her mother bashed his head in, no longer the bleeding hero or exhausted woman struggling to keep her head above water. Being just one Chosen among many obviously agreed with her.
Speaking of which…"Wait a second," he said suspiciously. "Shouldn't you be in Italy?"
Her brow wrinkled at the non-sequitur. "Why the hell would I be in Italy?"
"We saw you there!" She just stared at him. "Angel and me, we saw you dancing in a club in Rome! You were with that Immortal wanker."
"You were following me?"
Spike winced at her dangerous tone. "Not exactly…look, Angel had people keeping tabs on you when he was still running the firm. We had to go to Rome for something and well…" He stopped babbling when he saw the smirk she was trying to suppress. "What?"
"You were stalking me again."
"Oh, you so were." He scowled when she started laughing. "Andrew's gonna get such a kick out of this!"
"Wanna tell me what the fuck is so funny?" he growled.
"That wasn't me, it was my double. Or maybe my triple?" Now he was staring at her. "We took a couple of slayers that kind of look like me, dyed their hair blonde and planted them in different places. One is in Rome being society-girl, and another one is working on some demon problem somewhere."
He blinked. "So it wasn't you."
"Well, bugger me."
"We can talk about that later." Buffy held up her hands in mock surrender when he glowered. "What? It was a joke!"
"Buffy…" Here it was, the conversation he'd been hoping to avoid. Spike got up and started pacing, trying to make what he wanted to say come out coherently without making him look like a complete bint. "I'm not the same man I was before. Well, you know –" he pointed at his chest, "soul. I can't – god, this is hard." He faced her, seeing the wary look on her face and ignoring the little pang it caused. "I still care about you, Buffy, just like I still loved Dru. But I'm not going to let myself be used again, you understand? I'm done with that."
Buffy's hands were twisted in her lap, strangely echoing Willow's position from earlier. "I remember," she mused softly, "when Dracula came to town and thralled Xander. Afterwards, he said that he was done being everyone's butt-monkey, and I just laughed at him." He could see the tears in her eyes. "But you felt like that too, didn't you?"
"Not always." She flinched, clearly hearing what he didn't say, and he sat down next to her. "Took me a while to see it, but you were right in the very beginning; vampire and slayer just don't mix. And, well…" he ducked his head, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly. God, he was such a wet rag these days. "Told you once that I'd never been close to anyone, and even now it's still only been you. But I finally figured it out; I need someone to take care of, and you don't need that. Even with the other stuff outta the way, we would've never worked out."
"Yeah." She smiled sadly at him. "The sex was great, though. I miss sex," she said mournfully, and he chuckled.
"You and me both, pet."
She took his hand. "So are we good? Can I stop being all tense and avoidy now?"
"We're good," he replied, gently squeezing her fingers. "Though we'll be better when you tell Red and Xander to get off my back about the whole feeding thing."
"You're too skinny." Buffy laughed when he threw back his head and groaned, then checked her watch with a grimace. "And I have a date to go beat on some little girls who think twenty-five is the new fifty." She got up to leave, but turned back around with her hand on the doorknob. "So will I see you later?"
"The whelp and I have some unfinished business yet, so I dunno." He smiled at her, feeling the little knot of buried tension unwind somewhere in his chest as he finally let her go. "Promise not to leave anytime soon, though."
"Please," she scoffed, "like we're gonna let you go after just getting you back." She slipped out the door with a wink.
Spike waited a few minutes until he was sure she was gone, then grabbed his duster and started wandering the narrow halls, hoping he could find that control room Harris had showed him earlier. He really needed to go kill something after that conversation.
* * * * * *
He found Xander in the control room after about an hour of searching and getting more and more frustrated. Of course running into two packs of squealing little girls hadn't helped any. Whatever happened to the whole 'children should be seen and not heard' attitude that had been so prevalent when he was young?
The room was dark, but he could see Xander leaning over a display as he spoke to another young woman, who stiffened and looked his way when he came up behind them. "Hey, Spike," he said without turning around. "Keep on eye on this, Renee, and good work," he finished, patting her shoulder. He straightened up and grinned at Spike. "Have a good talk with Dawnie?"
"Yeah. How was dinner?"
Xander rolled his eye. "Giggly. How could I have forgotten how obnoxious a roomful of teenage girls could be after just three days?"
"What he means is," Willow said from behind Spike, "a room full of teenage girls when he's one of the only guys here. Most of them have a huge crush on him," she grinned.
"As soon as they see him," Xander retaliated, pointing at Spike, "I expect to be swiftly un-crushed. Dawn got over hers on me fast enough once he came around."
Spike groaned but Willow just patted him on the back. "That's what you get for being so devastatingly handsome."
Spike sighed melodramatically. "It's a burden." He peered over Xander's shoulder to the display he'd been looking at earlier. "So, got anything interesting I can kill?" The slayer twitched and Xander snickered.
"Don't worry, Renee, he only kills people that piss him off." He stopped and looked thoughtful. "Wow, why aren't I dead yet?"
"I've been asking myself that same question for five years," Spike deadpanned, and Willow smacked his shoulder.
"Stop it, both of you! Renee, this is Spike. Put him on the 'need to know' list, okay?"
"Yes, Ms. Rosenburg." The girl looked over her shoulder at Spike with a distinct twinkle in her eye. "So, have you told him that there's an entire lecture dedicated to him yet?"
"There's a what?"
Xander let out a panicky high-pitched laugh. "Hey, now! That's a nasty pack of Haklar demons out there, why don't we go take care of them, Spike?"
Spike ignored Xander who was trying to hustle him off and pinned Willow with a sharp look. "There's a lecture?"
"History!" she yelped. "It's a history lecture about the worst vampires and their exploits! You don't think we'd leave out William the Bloody, do you?" She gave him a sickly smile.
"History." She nodded briskly, still smiling. "And just how does this lecture end, exactly?" He was really afraid he knew where this was going.
"Ummm…" she started looking around for an escape route, but he cut her off.
"Never mind, I can imagine. Bloody soul," he muttered, ignoring the giggling slayer. "You said there were Haklar, luv?"
She turned back to the display. "There's been a pack sniffing around the next village for about two days now. We've been keeping a close eye on them, but so far they haven't done anything overt."
He bounced on his toes; Haklar would give him a nice workout. "C'mon then, Harris," he said nastily, pulling the old Big Bad over himself like a cloak, "let's go have some fun."