It was getting dark by the time she set out for home. This time of year, it got dark early. Already, the valley where Doune Bridge lay was full of shadows, and as the road climbed, the valley – glen - whatever- sank into darkness, all the light blocked out by the surrounding hills.
She had a kind of fluttery feeling in her belly, and it made her want to drive faster. What if Spike had taken her words to heart? God knows, she'd meant him to. What if he'd left? What if he thought she'd left?
Suddenly, her foot-stompy little grocery run seemed like the worst idea ever.
The car rattled over a deer grid and she was out on open moorland. It wasn't far now. She put her foot down.
On either side of the road, tussocks of grey-green grass, interspersed with patches of dirty snow and overlain with dead bracken, swept away towards the slopes of the bigger hills in the distance. As she drove, one shaft of glorious red-gold sunlight cut low through the clouds. Suddenly, the snow was a bright, searing white and the bracken a sea of gold.
She gasped, dazzled, slowing down to take in the view. It might not be home, but it was beautiful.
But when she put her foot down on the gas pedal again, the SUV didn't respond. Instead, it slowed even more, and then she realised the engine had cut out altogether.
"Crap!" Steering in to the side of the road, she put on the parking brake. What the hell was the matter with it? But then her eye was caught by a flashing red light on the dashboard.
"Out of gas?" She stared at it, disbelieving.
Night was closing in fast. The hills black blocks of darkness on the grey backdrop of the sky, with just a hint of gold left in what she supposed must be the west.
Her eyes stung again and she knuckled them dry irritably. So she'd run out of gas? It wasn't the end of the world. Get a grip, Buffy.
Fumbling her cellphone out of her purse, she flipped the cover open. If Spike was home, he could use his motorbike to come get her. But her heart sank when she looked at the display.
Turning in her seat, she looked back down the road in the direction of Doune Bridge. There was no sign of any other traffic, which, since this road only led to the castle, wasn't that surprising. It was a long walk back to town too – at least five miles –and another five the other way to the castle gatehouse.
She looked down at her shoes and sighed. Trust her to go for style over comfort.
For a moment, she hesitated. Maybe, if she sat tight, Spike would come looking for her anyway– or maybe he wouldn't? Maybe, after the way they'd parted, he would just think she'd run out on him?
Her blood seemed to run cold at the thought. He wouldn't do that – would he?
It was enough to galvanise her into action. Squaring her shoulders, she opened the door and got out. The road unfolded in either direction, dim and oil-black, and the wind was bitingly cold. Shivering, she buttoned her coat up, tucked her purse under her arm and shut and locked the SUV. Then she set off walking. Her heels clicked on the blacktop – the only sound except for the wind – and within moments, her imagination had run riot.
Who knew what could be lurking out here – wolves, demons. Her heart seemed to turn over in her chest as something big and white and four-legged startled out of the bracken at her approach and clattered off up the road.
It took her frightened brain way longer than it should have to process that it was only a sheep.
She shook her head. When had she become such a fraidy-cat?
She'd gotten about a hundred yards when two things happened. First, she remembered about the spare can of gas in the trunk, second, she heard a car approaching. At once, her spirits leapt. Okay, so it was a car and it was coming from the direction of Doune Bridge so it couldn't be Spike, but who cared? It was people.
Turning, with the dazzle of oncoming headlights in her eyes, she ran back down the road towards the SUV, which looked all safe and welcoming after her jittery moment with the sheep. She had the trunk open already by the time the other car coasted to the kerb on the far side of the road.
The gas can was right where it always was, next to her Slayer holdall, with its crosses and stakes and mini holy water bottles. She shook her head at herself. That she'd panicked like that and forgotten about it just showed all over again how much she'd let this de-powering thing get to her.
Now, if she could only remember how to open the gas tank -
Behind her, she heard a car door opening. "Thanks for stopping," she called over her shoulder, "I really appreciate it."
The response froze her in place.
"Will you listen tae that? Stuck up bitch is talkin' to us now."
She turned slowly, to see in the dim interior light of the other car, the two jerks from the café. They were both staring at her with hostile eyes from their pinched, white faces – make that their hostile yellow eyes in their misshapen, very ugly, pinched white faces.
Okay, this was even worse than she'd thought. They were vampires.
She remembered how she'd been afraid they would follow her out of the café – and maybe they would have, had the sun not chosen that moment to make its first appearance in what felt like months.
The one who'd spoken unfolded upwards from out of the drivers' seat with a sinuous, inhuman grace. He leered at her, revealing razor-sharp fangs.
"We're away up the road to yon castle, girly. D'ye want a lift?"
"I'll pass." She watched, frozen in terror, as he took another pace forward. Every instinct was screaming at her to run, but experience – years and years of experience – told her what a dumb idea that was.
"Thing is," he went on, "a little bird back in the village told us –" and here he stopped and glanced at the other vamp, and they smirked at each other, like he'd said something funny –"that you're frae that castle. That right?"
Buffy stared at him. What was he talking about? Then, her stomach seemed to tie itself into knots. Jenny – he meant Jenny.
At once, she was furious, but at the same time, it was like someone had thrown cold water in her face, leaving an ice-cold clarity behind.
It was better, she thought, that they weren't human monsters, just the usual dumbass vamps out to bag a Slayer. Now, she wouldn't have to feel bad about kicking their asses.
"If you jerks hurt her –"
The first vamp laughed. "Didn't need to. Silly bitch wouldn't shut 'er yap. On and on, about you and yer ponce of a boyfriend, and the castle and spies and whatnot." He took another pace forward. "But we all know yous're not spies, don't we?"
The uncertainty about Jenny's fate didn't lessen her newfound clarity at all. After all, it wasn't even like this was the first time she'd fought vampires while powerless, was it?
It seemed you could take the Slayer out of the girl, but you couldn't –no, that didn't really work. Whatever.
Reaching behind her – slowly, slowly, so he wouldn't realise– she set her purse down and fumbled the gas can open one-handed, while the other hand rummaged in the holdall.
"Sure we do." He stepped forward again. She could smell him now – rank and sweaty, like he hadn't washed since he'd crawled back out of his grave. "We both ken what's up at yon castle, don't we – Slayer?"
Vamps, she thought. Always with the boring speeches and the dramatics.
When he leapt on her with that last word still hanging in the air, she shoved the crucifix right in his hideous fangy face.
There was an instant hiss and sizzle, and he screamed and fell back. Hurriedly, she unstoppered the bottle of holy water and threw that at him for good measure, soaking him from head to foot.
He screamed again, and she felt rather than saw his flesh begin to dissolve, like it was being eaten away by acid.
The smell was even worse now. Shaking from head to foot, she took the can of gas out of the trunk and upended it over him, and as she scrabbled the cigarette lighter she'd bought for Spike out of her pocket, it was like someone else was doing it.
The whomp of igniting gasoline sent her scrambling- just time to fumble a stake out of the holdall and put the bulk of the SUV between herself and the blaze. From her shelter, she watched in mute horror as the burning vamp staggered to his feet, screaming in agony, flames erupting from every orifice while his skin crackled and charred. It was a relief when he imploded in a cloud of fiery ash.
There was a moment's awful silence as she watched the burning trail of gas snaking its way across the tarmac towards the fallen gas can. Then, she yelled and threw herself bodily into the sodden undergrowth.
For a second, nothing happened while she lay in her damp bed of bracken with the dead fronds tickling her nose, then –
The whomp! this time was twice as loud and she felt a wave of heat pass over her head.
When she dared look up, the SUV was burning merrily. In the light of the fire, she could see paint blistering, and there was the sound of glass bottles exploding.
There went the rest of the holy water.
As she thought it, she realised she'd lost track of the other vamp completely – and her Slayer gear had gone up in flames with the SUV. All she had left was one lousy stake.
The chill from the wet ground seemed to seep into her bones. She lay still, trying to breathe through her nose, listening – but she heard nothing but the roar of the flames. Maybe, if she kept very still and quiet, the other vamp wouldn't be able to find her. After all, the fire and the smell of gasoline had to be confusing his senses, just like they were confusing hers.
Minutes seemed to stretch into hours and nothing happened, except that the heat of the fire grew worse. She felt like the back of her head was singed. What if the SUV's gas tank exploded? Okay, so it was empty – hence this whole dumb sitch – but maybe it could still go up? Was she far enough away?
The thought preyed on her mind. She hadn't slain a vamp even without her powers just to die by exploding gas-guzzler.
Taking a deep breath, she rose onto her knees and began to crawl away deeper into the undergrowth, the stake clutched tight in one hand. The palm of her other hand smacked down on something slimy and cold and she bit back on a scream. She wouldn't die covered in sheep-crap either.
When she judged she'd put enough space between herself and the burning SUV, she stopped again. Surely, if the vamp were still around, he would have caught up with her by now. Maybe he'd done the smart thing and rabbited when his friend did his Human Torch impression?
She stayed low, however. There was no point in risking it, because most of all, she wouldn't die without seeing Spike again and giving him a piece of her mind. He needed to know that it was his fault that she was wet and dirty and scared out of her wits – and if she hadn't been in such a hurry to get back to him, she might have noticed the gas tank was low before she'd driven out of town.
Suddenly, the night was split by a sound like a whole volley of cannon going off, and before she could stop herself, she yelped aloud. Her ears were still ringing with the noise while a small voice seemed to be yelling inside her head that it was only the tyres exploding, dammit, when something heavy landed on top of her, knocking all the breath from her body.
Gasping like a beached fish, surrounded by an odour far worse than the acrid smoke of burning car tyres, that of unwashed male vamp, she began to struggle wildly.
The vamp grabbed her by the back of the neck and pushed her face into the ground.
"Slayer bitch! Goin tae show you who's boss!"
Her mouth was full of grass. She was suffocating. She flailed out wildly with her arms, bucking her body, trying to dislodge him; but it was hopeless. Instead, he only seemed to grow heavier, settling on her like a rank-smelling beast on its squirming prey.
Her ears were full of a terrible roaring sound that grew louder and louder – but he only laughed and tightened his grip. She felt the scrape of something razor-sharp on the side of her neck. He was teasing her before he killed her.
With a supreme effort, she scrabbled the stake around in her fist and jabbed it hard into his thigh. He howled and let go, just as the roaring noise stopped.
Then a shuddering impact went through the vamp's fetid body, lifting it off of her and away. She wobbled to her knees, in time to see, in the sodium glare of headlights, a swirl of black coat and white hair – a savage blaze of yellow eyes – as Spike leapt over her to hurl himself on the fallen vamp.
She watched his arm piston up and down, heard bones splinter, while thinking dully that the roaring noise she'd heard must have been his motorbike.
At last, when he showed no signs of stopping any time soon, she clambered shakily to her feet and wobbled over to him. What she saw made her stomach churn.
The vamp wasn't recognisable as anything that had ever been human, a mush of bone and blood, and yet still Spike's fist rose and fell like an automaton's, glazed stare intent on his victim's ruined face, grey slimy stuff dripping from his fingers. She shuddered.
When he didn't seem to hear her, she spoke louder. "Spike – I said, that's enough."
This time, she seemed to get through to him. His fist paused on a down-stroke and he shuddered all over. The next moment, he was bent double, vomiting into the grass.
"Hey!" She squatted down beside him and patted his back. "It's okay. It's okay."
He retched again, then went still, crouched over the other vamp's body, trying to get himself under control. Back on the road, another smaller explosion signalled the final demise of the SUV.
At last, she heard the crunch of bone realigning itself as he made his face human again. He began to wipe his hand clean on the grass.
She gave him a moment longer to collect himself. Then, "Spike – are you okay?"
For answer, he swept her into his arms, holding her so fiercely close she felt choked all over again.
"That bastard!" he hissed. "That fucking bastard! I'll kill him."
"I think you already did," she managed to gasp out, but he just clasped her even more tightly to him.
"Buffy," he said. "Oh God, Buffy."
She patted his back again. "It's okay. I'm okay."
At last, he set her back a little, fingers digging painfully into her arms. His face was white and anxious. "You're sure you're all right?"
She nodded, surprised to discover it was true. "I'm sure. In fact –" she tried to smile at him –"I was doing just fine until this guy used his uberstinky secret weapon on me."
He laughed uncertainly, as if he couldn't quite believe her. "I know there were two of them – smelt the fuckers. Where's the other one gone?"
"I killed him," she said, smugly. "Lured him in and set him on fire – textbook slaying, in fact."
Okay, so that was embroidering the truth a little, but whatever.
He was beginning to calm down, which was good, because she was feeling increasingly wobbly. She indicated the fallen vamp with her head.
"Better deal with Mr Stinky here."
"Yeah," he agreed. "Better." He bent down, pulled the stake from the vamp's leg with a horrible wet squelching sound and hefted it. "Won't be a jiffy."
She wasn't sure what made her say it, but –"Let me." She held out her hand for the stake.
He stared at her for a long, long moment. Then he grinned. "Right you are, love."
Her hand, which she suddenly realised had felt empty these last few weeks, closed round the smooth wood. Ignoring the red mush he'd made of the vamp's face, she raised the stake, sighted on her target and brought her fist down.
She'd thought she might hesitate – turn squeamish -that maybe she wouldn't be strong enough now to pierce skin and bone and find the heart. But her aim was as true as it had ever been.
A moment later, there was a dusty explosion and the two of them were alone in the night, silence broken only by the final dying spurts of flame from the blackened hulk of the SUV.
"Buffy!" He gathered her to him for a second time – like she was something precious he never meant to let go of again. She shut her eyes and clung on hard, breathing in leather and Spike and home.
"You know this is all your fault?" she said.
"Yeah – you're sure?"
Buffy listened to the half-conversation with her cheek pressed to Spike's back. She felt sleepy, in spite of the steady thrum of the motorbike engine vibrating through her body.
They'd stopped on a high point in the road, and Spike was talking on his cellphone to Dougal the pub landlord in Doune Bridge.
"Sounds like a riot," Spike was saying. "Literally. Only sorry I missed it, mate."
He listened a moment longer. Then he said, "Yeah, yeah, very funny – and the same from me to the Loch Ness sodding monster."
The cellphone clicked off.
"What was that about?" she asked. "And more important, is Jenny okay?"
Spike put his cellphone back in his duster pocket and revved the engine.
"She's fine – a bit shaken, but not hurt. Seems those toerags roughed her up a bit - smashed the shop up -but then Dougal and his mates did the whole mob of angry villagers with pitchforks and burning torches act and drove 'em out of town."
"Good." She remembered what Jenny had said about the folks in Doune Bridge not putting up with any nonsense. "What was that about the Loch Ness Monster?"
He turned to look back at her over his shoulder and she saw the gleam of teeth as he grinned.
"That was just the time-honoured Scottish tradition of taking the piss out of the bloody English. He told me to give M one from him the next time I see her."
"M?" Her brain was all fuzzy, but then she remembered. "Oh – from James Bond."
"That's right." He revved the engine again. "'Cos we're all workin' for MI6 up at the castle, aren't we?"
She gaped at him. "They don't really believe that, do they?"
"Nah." He shook his head. "Like I said, time honoured tradition. 'Course -" his grin grew to Cheshire cat proportions –"joke's on him this time since the Loch Ness Monster really exists."
"Wha-" she began, but he'd already kicked off and the roar of the engine filled her ears.
She crouched down low behind him, out of the wind, clinging on with her eyes shut, and in spite of the cold, she soon felt sleepy again. When they slowed down and the bike began to crunch over gravel, she'd almost nodded off and woke up with a horrible jerk.
"Steady, love. I got you." His hand, cool and steady, closed over hers where they were joined round his waist.
A moment later, the engine died and he lifted her into his arms. She thought of protesting for all of five seconds – but she had nothing to prove now. Let him carry her if he wanted to.
He kicked the unlocked door open and angled her inside, then carried her through the dark hall way and into the living room, where he set her down on the couch. A moment later, he was kneeling at her feet to remove her sodden shoes.
"Spike –" she began, while a shiver of need ran through her at the touch of his fingers on her bare instep.
He paused. Then he looked up, expression unreadable.
"We'll talk, yeah?" he said. "But first, you need to get warmed up."
She couldn't argue with that. Instead, she sat quiet while he fetched a blanket and spread it over her, then built up a fire in the grate until it roared up the chimney. The sight of the flames seemed to fascinate him and he crouched on his haunches before it, staring.
She thought of the horrible final moments of the vamp she'd killed.
"Watch out for sparks," she warned, and he nodded and moved back.
"Place'll soon warm up now," he said, before disappearing into the kitchen to make hot chocolate.
His boots had left muddy footprints all across the carpet, but she didn't care at all this time, even though she knew he wouldn't notice them.
"Here." He passed her the scalding hot liquid and she sipped it cautiously before setting it down on the side table.
"Spike – "she began again.
"No," he said. "Let me talk first."
She shook her head. "Uh-uh. No way." When he opened his mouth to protest, she wagged a finger at him. "Listen up, mister, and no more interruptions."
He shut his mouth with a snap and raised a quizzical eyebrow.
She drew a deep breath. "I'm sorry, okay? You were right all along. I had given up too easily. Remember how you told me back in Sunnydale that I'm not a quitter – how you loved that I never stop trying? Well, I did stop. It was like – "she shrugged –" I kind of forgot myself, and tonight I remembered me again."
The eyebrow lowered. He looked better already.
"Not surprising, love," he said. "Losing your Slayer powers like that – bit of a low blow. Takes longer to recover from."
"Maybe." She picked up her mug and took another sip. "Also, it doesn't change the fact that it's all your fault I'm half-frozen and wet and dirty and my clothes are ruined. You made me so mad, going behind my back with Angel."
He hung his head. "Yeah, I know that now. Can't say the old man was right – because that'll never happen – but he was righter'n'me when he said you had to work it out for yourself."
"Maybe," she said, again. "But thanks for trying to get me off my ass – isn't that what you said to him? Turns out, I needed something to help me do that, even if it was a motormouth checkout clerk and a couple of stinky vampires."
She thought that if he could blush, he'd be bright red by now.
"Sod Angel!" he muttered, sulkily. "Rattin' on me like that."
He watched her finish her hot chocolate and set the mug down again, like it was the most beautiful sight he'd ever seen. Then he said,
"Mind you, even though it turned out all right, wish you hadn't had to get your mojo back the way you did. Not nice."
"That's for sure," she agreed. "Plus, vamps or no vamps, I could've been eaten by wolves. I'm sure I heard one a few nights back."
"Wolves?" He raised an eyebrow. "Buffy, there aren't any wolves in Scotland. Haven't been since, er– a bloody long time ago anyway."
"Oh." She digested this information. "Well, the sheep are pretty damn scary."
He smiled. Then he shivered. "When I think of what could've happened to you- well, I don't wanna think about it. Would've come after you sooner, but the sun had to come out, didn't it, and you'd taken the sodding gas-guzzler. Was trapped in here all day with nothing to do but fret."
"Maybe it's a good thing you were." She extricated one hand and touched his cool cheek. "Today's been a wake-up call for me, for – oh, all sorts of reasons."
"Yeah," he said. "Me too." He turned his face into her open palm and kissed it. "At least bein' stuck in here gave me the chance to sort my head out. I've been such a twat, Buffy. Realised you were right. I am afraid of change."
She decided it was best not to remind him that it was Angel, not her, who had said that first.
"Yeah." He looked down, then glanced up at her shyly, but not like she was a stranger this time.
"See – when you said you didn't understand how a bloke who's lived as long as I have could be afraid of change, you made me realise something."
"And what's that?"
He was turning her hand over and over in his. "That I never really had to deal with it until now."
She frowned, puzzled. "How do you work that out?"
"'Cos all that time when I was evil– through all those wars, the Great Depression, the jazz age and whatnot – there was one constant in my life that never changed - Dru. As long as she was with me, I didn't care about anything else. The whole human race could've moved to Mars and I wouldn't have given a toss. Well –" he qualified – "'cept when I got hungry."
She thought of her first sight of Spike and Drusilla together – as co-dependant as Sid and Nancy, only way more scary -and shuddered.
"I guess that makes sense."
He glanced up again before going back to his perusal of her hand.
"Nasty, weren't we? The nastiest kids in the playground, even if we were the prettiest. And then she left me, and then – stuff happened and I got my soul back. But even after that, I was – I dunno - lazy. Instead of Dru, I had you – to look up to – worship, even -the polestar in my heavens. And then this happened, and when you needed me I let you down."
Another glance upwards –"I realised it wasn't just change I was afraid it of, see, it was growin' up. I never had to do it before and I think I'm a bit crap at it."
"Oh." She gripped his hand. "Um -that's okay. After this last week, I think I'm pretty crap at it too."
He looked startled. "Well, you're streets ahead of me. I'm gonna do better from now on, love. I promise. See – there's something else I realised today an' all."
His expression grew solemn. "That not once, since the day you lost your powers, have I asked you how you felt about it. Not once."
She gaped at him in shock. Suddenly, her eyes were prickling again.
He leaned forward and kissed her, very tentatively, on the lips. "How do you feel, Buffy? Tell me."
At first, she couldn't begin to articulate an answer. She stared at him, while the moisture gathered in the corners of her eyes.
"Buffy," he said, softly. "Love – you can tell me. It's okay."
Once the tears started, they wouldn't stop. She cried and cried until she felt completely washed out, while he held her, stroking her back and murmuring soothing nonsense into her ears.
Vaguely, she thought that if he wasn't grown up, he was doing a great job just now of pretending.
When she woke in bed the next morning, it was with only the dimmest recollection of how she'd gotten there.
There'd been a bath – lots and lots of lovely warm water, the smell of her favourite soap and cool hands on her skin. Somehow after that, she'd gotten dry – she supposed Spike must have dried her too and put her in her pjs– and now she'd woken up here.
Bed was nice. She curled herself into a warm, satisfied ball and drifted, half-asleep, while the morning wore away. At one point, she thought she heard the phone, but it stopped very quickly, and anyway, who cared? It had nothing to do with her.
When Spike finally entered the room around midday, carrying a tray with coffee and rather charred-looking toast, she was ready to wake up at last.
In fact, more than ready. It seemed that her brain had been making decisions without her while she slept.
She sat up as Spike approached so he could set the tray down on the bed.
"Mornin, love." He kissed her forehead.
"Morning yourself." She scowled at him. "Did you put me to bed last night?"
"Well – yeah." He smirked at her. "You were a bit knackered. Weren't really up to it."
"It was nice," she decided. "You should do it more often."
"Really?" He looked pleased.
She helped herself to toast, looking thoughtfully around the room as she chewed.
"We should pack up –move back to the castle."
"Yeah?" He half-stood up. "I'll give 'em a call. Ask a couple of the Slayers to come down and give us a hand."
She put out a hand to prevent him. "Maybe later. There's other stuff I wanna talk about first."
He tilted his head. "Fire away."
She set the piece of toast back down on her plate and licked burnt crumbs from her upper lip. "I've decided I do want to try and get my powers back. Apart from anything else, I owe it to the other Slayers."
He frowned. "How d'you make that out?"
"It's like I said – we tried to turn the Slayer spell into a gift, and when you give someone a gift you shouldn't just snatch it back. You said yesterday that some of them were kind of cranky?"
"That's right," he agreed. "Specially the older ones. They didn't say anything, but I knew they were scared it'll happen to them."
She poured coffee into her cup. "I don't blame them. It is scary –and that's why I have to go back. They need to see that I haven't given up – that whatever happens, I'm dealing with it."
"That's the spirit, love." He grinned at her and she smiled back.
"One thing, though – I don't want to get my powers back at any cost, Spike, okay? Only if Willow and Giles can reassure me one hundred per cent that no one else will suffer for it. And if they can't – well, we just have to deal, is all."
He met her gaze solemnly. "I'll manage. Just you watch me. 'Sides, if these last few days have taught me anything, it's that you can still kick my arse, powers or no powers."
Reaching out, he took her hand in his again. "If you don't get them back – or even if you do -what about all that other stuff Giles was on about – college – kids? What d'you think about those?"
"I don't know," she said, truthfully. "College is good. Kids might be nice one day."
His face fell. "Can't oblige you there, I'm afraid."
"I know that, silly." She leaned forward and kissed him. It would probably be best not to remind him about Angel's son. In any case, Connor was most likely one of those one-time-only mystical deals. "We could adopt. It doesn't even have to be a baby – just some kid who needs someone to love it."
"Yeah, yeah." He was grinning again at once. "Always thought I'd make a good dad for one of these troubled kids you hear about on the news – goin' round snatchin' handbags off old ladies, vandalisin' stuff. Knock some sense into the little bleeder, I would. Er – " at the look on her face, he quailed slightly – "didn't mean that literally, you got that, right?"
"I got it. Whatever else I do, though," she went on, "I'm staying around the Slayers, so maybe I'll be one of these Guardians, though I don't know what they do. What do you think they do when there isn't anything to guard?"
He shrugged. "Not a sodding clue, but I bet you'll be bloody amazing at it."
"That right?" She looked at him coquettishly from under her lashes, and his eyes seemed to grow brighter. Briefly, she wondered how Jenny was. Had she gotten back with her boyfriend yet, or was he still running scared? Maybe last night's excitement had brought them back together too?
"Buffy –" He reached out for her, but she held him back.
"First thing's first. Give me the phone. I wanna call Giles."
He blinked. Then he glanced at the clock on the bedside table. "No need. He should be here pretty soon."
"What?" She glared at him. "When did that happen?"
"Didn't I say?" He looked contrite. "He phoned earlier – from Edinburgh airport. Said he'd be here in a couple of hours."
"Dumbass!" She whacked him on the head with a pillow and headed for the shower, saying over her shoulder, "And this time, try to be nice to him, for my sake, okay?"
"Here you go, Rupert. Nice and strong -milk, no sugar."
Giles pushed his glasses back up his nose. He shot Spike a suspicious look as the mug of steaming tea was placed on the table in front of him.
Buffy couldn't help smiling behind her hand as Giles raised the mug to sniff at the contents before taking a cautious sip. She glanced at Spike, who met her gaze with an expression of bland innocence.
"Very nice," Giles said, stiffly.
Spike thrust his hands in his jeans pockets. "Good," he said. "Great. I'll leave you two to have a good old chinwag now, shall I? Get on with some packing."
With that, he sauntered out of the room and they heard the clatter of his boots on the stairs. Giles stared after him. He couldn't have looked more surprised, Buffy thought, if Spike had sprouted a pair of angels' wings and a halo and flown off playing a harp.
"He seems – remarkably cheerful," Giles ventured. He gave her a worried glance, evidently thinking of those 'outside influences' she might have been subjected to in his absence.
"Yeah," Buffy agreed. She decided not to elaborate. "Okay, Giles – spill. You didn't come all this way to check out Spike's tea-making skills."
Giles set his mug down. "You're right. I didn't." He smiled his familiar smile – the nice one that made the skin around his hazel eyes crinkle. "I believe I may have some good news for you."
"Good – how?" she asked. "As in, you've found a way to get my Slayer powers back, or as in, you know where all the cool Slayer Guardians shop for robes these days?"
Giles rolled his eyes. "Yes, yes – very funny. I meant the former, Buffy – or at least, not so much that we've worked out how to return your powers quite yet, but that we – Willow and I, that is - have a couple of very promising leads."
"That's good," she said. "That's great, in fact."
Giles took his glasses off and set them on the table next to his mug. He glanced up to where they could hear Spike's booted tread in the bedroom and the thud-thud of things being thrown – none too gently – into packing crates.
Despite the noise, Giles lowered his voice. "Are you sure about this, Buffy?"
She opened her eyes wide. "Why wouldn't I be?"
"Well –" Giles looked embarrassed. He cocked his head in the direction of the thudding noises. "The thing is – oh dear, this is rather awkward – he –Spike, that is – seemed so thrown by the whole business last time I was here."
"Yeah, he was," Buffy agreed. "I was too."
"Granted." Giles was at the polishing-his-glasses stage now. "Of course, I understand that you're in love with him, Buffy –" he managed to make it sound like an unfortunate illness she'd succumbed to – "but you mustn't make your decisions based on what he wants. It's your life, and unlike his, yours is finite."
"I know that."
Trust Giles, she thought, to raise the subject of the other elephant in the room – that of her mortality – which she and Spike hadn't even touched on yet.
Despite that, she reached out and patted his hand. "It's okay, Giles. I'm not being pressured in any way. It's what I want. Since you were here last, stuff has happened that's made me realise that even without my powers, I'm still a Slayer – always will be. "
Giles looked worried. "What – stuff?"
She shrugged. "Kind of a long story – but it had nothing to do with Spike. At least, he was part of the problem, but so was I. But he's been part of the solution too, and it's cool now. We're okay whatever happens."
Giles blinked. "Good," he said, as if testing the word. "At least, I hope so." Then, all in a rush, "Lord knows, Buffy, I don't want you to be unhappy. And if he's what makes you happy then who am I am to carp?"
There was a short silence, during which Giles failed to meet her eyes and instead fussed with his glasses. Then she blinked her vision clear and said, "Thanks, Giles. That means a lot."
"Yes, well." Giles cleared his throat. "As it happens, I realised that no matter how much of an irritation he can be, not to mention tactless – died like warriors, indeed! – in this instance, he was right."
She gave him a sympathetic look. "Don't you just hate it when that happens?"
Giles smiled a small, self-deprecating smile. "Dear lord, yes. It's ghastly. Be that as it may, however, I realised he was quite correct in saying I should be finding a way to break the de-powering spell."
He put his glasses back on and stared her earnestly in the face. "There's no doubt it was laid on the Slayers by a bunch of frightened old men who were scared of uppity women, and, as such, the Slayers can't truly be said to be – er, mistresses of their own fate, until it's gone."
She narrowed her eyes at him. "You've been talking to Willow, haven't you?"
He cleared his throat. "The subject may have arisen – but honestly, Buffy, she didn't have to say a word. I'd reached the same conclusion myself. Since then, we've been working day and night on the problem."
"Thanks a bunch, Giles." She felt more relaxed with him suddenly than she'd felt in years – maybe not since her schooldays. It was like they were on the same page again after too long of reading different books at the opposite ends of the library.
"Don't run yourself into the ground over it, though. Yes, I want my powers back, and I want the older Slayers to keep theirs when they hit twenty-five, but not at any cost. It has to be in a way that won't affect anyone else."
He picked up his mug and drank more tea. "I knew that's how you'd feel, Buffy, but I'm glad to hear you say it." He cleared his throat again. "And are you sure you don't want to pursue any of those other – avenues I mentioned? Ever since I've known you, you've longed for a normal life."
"I'm sure," she said. "I can do some of that other stuff and still be a Slayer, or a Slayer Guardian or whatever. It's not an either-or kind of sitch."
"I suppose not," Giles agreed. He set his empty mug down. "I'd never thought of it that way, but of course life's full of little compromises – part and parcel of growing up."
"That's for sure."
This time the comfortable silence stretched out for longer, until it was broken by Spike coming back down the stairs. He was carrying a couple of crates, which he set on the floor near the kitchen door.
"All sorted, then?" he asked, in the same cheerful tone, which again had Giles shooting him suspicious glances.
"I think so." She smiled at him, while Giles looked at his watch.
"Good lord," he exclaimed, "is that the time? I'd better hurry or I'll miss the evening flight."
She put a hand on his arm. "No way! You must be exhausted. Why don't you go on up to the castle, Giles – spend the night there? Spike and me will finish our packing and then tomorrow, you can spend the day with us -help us move our stuff?"
"Really?" Giles sat up straight. He didn't even attempt to hide his pleasure at the invitation. "I must say, Buffy, that would be delightful."
"Good – great." She leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek, sitting back before he could quite register it had happened.
"I'll walk you to your car, Rupert," Spike said, still in that unnervingly polite tone.
"Er –" Giles had got up from the couch. He squinted out the window at the un-co-operative, overcast sky. "That's very kind of you, Spike, but I'm sure I can find my own way."
"Oh, it's no trouble."
Spike clapped him on the shoulder and began to steer him towards the door.
Buffy hid her mouth behind her hand again, at sight of the bewildered look on Giles's face. When Spike looked back at her over his shoulder, she mouthed at him, "Behave!"
The front door closed behind them. She waited for Spike's return, but when there was no sound of a car starting, she got up and peered out the window.
To her astonishment, the two of them were leaning against Giles's rental car talking. Spike had an unlit cigarette in his mouth, and as she watched, he offered the pack to Giles, who took one. The next moment, they were smoking companionably together. She saw Spike's lips move as he spoke, and then she saw Giles laugh.
Shaking her head, she turned away. She should tell Spike off, she supposed, for encouraging Giles to smoke, but right now, she was just too happy to care.
"Are you coming soon or what?" Buffy tucked the quilt under her chin. The bedroom was freezing even with the window closed.
She heard the sound of the tap running.
"Be 'ere i' a minute," he called, mouth evidently full of toothpaste.
"Hurry up." She burrowed lower under the bedclothes. She knew a good way to get warmed up, and maybe tonight she would finally get to try it.
When he climbed into bed beside her, however, he was still wearing the damn pjs. She felt her lower lip pouting in disappointment.
"What's this?" She set her hand on his chest running it over the barrier of scratchy cotton and underneath it, to where it gave way to silky skin. "I thought you were over that whole scared of hurting me thing?"
At once, he caught her straying hand in his and carried it to his lips. The soft light of the lamp turned his pale skin golden.
"I am over it," he said. "At least, mostly."
"Why the pjs, then?" She could feel the pout getting poutier.
He kissed her, soft – almost experimental – and after a moment, she opened her mouth to him. After that, he took his time, holding her face in his palm, tongue inside her mouth.
When he finally let her go, she gasped a little, realising he hadn't kissed her like that in weeks.
He seemed to guess her thoughts. "Yeah," he said. "Was a stupid twat, wasn't I? Wasted so much sodding time bein' a scared little boy."
"If that's so," she said, "why won't you get naked?"
He cradled her head on his chest, hand smoothing her hair.
"S'like this," he said. "You may still be the same in here," and his hand cupped the back of her skull, "but in other ways, you're all new. It's like I have to learn you all over again, Buffy, so if you don't mind – can we take it slow?"
She raised her head and looked at him. His expression was earnest, with a hint of pleading in it.
"Please," he said. "I could hurt you, if I'm not careful. I have to learn not to."
She sighed. She supposed she should have expected it. He couldn't get over all his hang-ups at once, and this one was a doozy.
"Well, okay," she said. "But you have to start learning now, Spike. No excuses." And she took his lax hand and set it on her breast.
His eyes widened, as if he'd forgotten how that felt. A moment later, something stirred against her thigh.
"I can do that," he said. "Can be a fast learner if I want - with the right incentive, that is."
She spider-walked her fingers down his chest, then tugged hard at the pj top. "And maybe when you've had, say, five minutes of concentrated learning, do you think you'd maybe take this off?"
He was grinning from ear to ear now. "Might do," he said. "Long as you take yours off too."
"It's a deal." She settled her head on his shoulder again, while his hand began a gentle teasing of her nipple.
Just as the teasing became a more insistent tugging, she lifted her head and looked at him again.
"Spike – we'll be all right, won't we?"
He kissed her again. "Yeah," he said. "We will."