Warmth. Heat. Life. It was the last one, life, which brought him to wakefulness.
He was lying on his side, facing the door, and he could feel Willow's back pressed up tight against his own. Her body heat warmed him; the thumping of her heart vibrated his own body in time with hers. It was a strange sensation, feeling her pressed so close against him. Back-to-back, each of them facing outward to confront their enemies, trusting that the other would stand behind them. Thinking back on his life as both demon and mortal, he couldn't remember anyone he'd ever trusted at his back, not even Drusilla. Because love her he may have, but her insanity meant that he was ultimately alone. How far had he fallen that he would even consider trusting his unlife in the hands of a mortal?
So lost in his thoughts, he was startled when her voice came out of the darkness. "You're awake."
Surprised at the surety in her voice, he asked softly, "How did you know?"
"I what?" That was not what he expected her to say.
Willow laughed at the faint sound of disgusted disbelief coloring his voice. "You breathe. Well, not really breathe . . . because, of course, you don't have to breathe because technically you're dead and the whole breathing thing is kind of a non-issue. But you have to at least inhale in order to speak and definitely in order to smoke . . . I'd always wondered about that, you know. And you all do . . .breathe that is. I've been watching. I kind of think it's a reflex. So that even after you're turned, the reflexes still work. You blink, you swallow, and you breathe; leftovers from life. Which brings us back to me knowing you were awake. You were still when you were asleep and then when you woke up, you took a breath."
Finally stopping her ramble, she took her own breath, suddenly afraid that she'd let her enthusiasm get away from her again.
When Spike finally did speak, she heard the laughter in his voice. "For the sake of undead everywhere, I should kill you now. I have a feeling that you and that quick little mind of yours have learned far more from this experience that you should have."
She didn't even question her certainty that he teased her. "But you won't," she answered, with just the tiniest amount of smug satisfaction coloring her voice.
"No, I won't," he answered with a sigh of exasperation. Falling back into silence, he waited for her to pull away from him, but her back remained firmly against his. Surprised and curious about what was running through that quick mind of hers he continued to wait, knowing that she wasn't done yet, and she'd tell him when she found the words. He didn't have to wait long.
"You made contact with the other groups."
It was more statement than question, but he answered her anyway. "Yes. They know. They'll probably attack at dusk hoping to catch Blake by surprise."
"We could all die tomorrow."
Again it was a statement, as if she was working through her thoughts out loud, only needing Spike to confirm what she already knew. He could hear the underlying fear but her voice was steady. He wondered when he'd grown to know this mortal so well that he could now hear the thing she sought to hide. Hoping to distract her, he asked his own question of her. "Will you be able to do the pencil trick with the key?"
"I'll be ready."
He heard her swallow hard and the rustle of fabric as she wrapped her arms tighter around herself.
"Will you promise me something, Spike?" This time the tremor of fear was stronger in her voice.
"Don't let them turn me. I don't want to be a vampire. I've met what I would be as a demon, and I don't want that. She was empty and so very lonely."
`Emptiness and loneliness' . . . those he understood all too well. Out of everything she could have asked him, this was a promise he could keep. "I can't promise it won't happen, luv, but if I live, I'll make sure that you die the last death."
Willow was satisfied. If it came to it, Spike would stake her himself. It was a cold kind of comfort, but comfort none-the-less.
Spike listened to the silence between them, thinking that was all she asked of him. Then her voice came again, so soft even vampire hearing strained to make out the words. "I'm scared, Spike. I've come all this way, done . . ." a small hitch of breath before she continued, "done . . . everything I've done. It never seemed real, you know. Just playing a part, never letting myself think too hard or too long. But now it is here and I'm scared out of my mind. You were right, Spike. I'm a bloody fool and I'm going to get us all killed."
There was a note in her voice that Spike knew well. He'd heard it from Drusilla when she came out of her visions, when she was lost between the reality of her visions and the real world. During those times was when Drusilla had needed him the most, to ground herself in him and let Spike override the endless terrifying images that danced in her head. And Spike responded to that need now as he'd always done.
Turning, he faced Willow, pulling her over on to her back. Propping himself up on his elbow he stared down at the young woman who lay next to him. When she met his eyes, he pushed himself up and over her until he knelt over her body. Willow found herself surrounded by Spike, his shadowed eyes staring intently down into hers. He had her effectively trapped by his body, his arms and legs caging her. She started to say something but was stopped as he laid a finger against her lips and gently shook his head no.
Willow didn't understand what he was doing, but she felt the first stirrings of panic along her nerves as he lowered his head down to hers. She squeezed her eyes tightly shut, wondering if after all this time he'd finally decided just to kill her and live with getting his soul back.
She waited, breath held and heart pounding, but nothing happened. No biting. No pain. The need for air finally forced her to let out her held breath. Still nothing. Opening her eyes, she gasped to find Spike hovering inches above her face.
His lips were curled in a faint smile, and she could see amusement in his eyes. It was the amusement that sparked her courage. She had always thought that he considered her some kind of useless little girl, but she'd endured too much to be laughed at, even by a vampire. At her narrowed eyes, his smile widened, almost as if he could tell he'd pricked her temper.
But that flare of defiance turned just as quickly back to panic as he lowered his face to hers and brushed his lips across her own. The shock of that feather light contact left her reeling in confusion. Before she could protest, his lips moved on to her hairline before wandering down over one eye. The contact was light as the brush of a butterfly's wing, a tickling sensation that electrified her nerve-endings and raised goosebumps across her body. But as his lips brushed across one cheekbone and down her neck she couldn't help wondering if now her death would come. But it was not to be, as the tip of his tongue joined the soft caress of his lips to trace around the collar that encircled her neck.
Willow was so shocked she didn't know what to do so she lay there, frozen beneath Spike. She couldn't seem to think and every time she grabbed onto a thought, the touch of Spike's lips drove it from her grasp again. She should stop this. Stop him. But she couldn't, or maybe . . maybe it was she didn't want to stop it. She didn't want to think about the consequences. She only wanted to feel the silky whisper of his lips against her skin. His touch sent the fears away, his lips stilled the tangled thoughts in her head until she threaded her fingers in the hair at his nape and pulled him up to her lips. He accepted her invitation with a hoarse growl that had more than a touch of warning in it.
Lost in the pounding of her heart and his touch, she didn't even protest when his hands slid up her stomach, pushing her t-shirt up her body. For how could you protest when logic said this wasn't happening and that it was all just a dream? And it was dream-like, the brush of his fingertips against her skin, the slide of his palms up her arms as he pushed the shirt up over her head. But the eyes that ran hotly across her skin belonged in no dream she'd ever had. She could almost feel his gaze against her. And she'd never had a dream like this one as Spike's cool lips returned to her skin.
He'd worked his way across her throat before she figured out what he was doing. It wasn't random kisses or caresses that he trailed across her but deliberately placed touches. Each bite mark met with a slow swipe of his tongue. The long scratch across her collarbone received a series of gentle kisses. He stopped at every bruise or cut, lavishing attention on each hurt as if he were trying to erase the pain of each one. His touch was gentle and almost non-erotic in a strange way, the touch of his lips light and innocent, if that word could even be used in conjunction with a soulless vampire.
It was that unreal sense of almost innocence that allowed her to let him pull her boxers down her legs until she lay naked beneath him. And when the barrier of her clothing had been removed, he returned again to her skin, moving across her hips and down her legs until he reached her ankle. She heard him hiss softly -- in anger, in remorse, maybe even sympathy. She wasn't sure. But his gentleness went to new levels as he trailed cool fingertips across the swollen flesh.
During it all, he'd never said a word, and the silence of the room beat at her and pressed in on her until she felt the need to scream. And then he stopped, his body still, the only movement, one thumb that gently caressed along her ankle.
Staring up at Spike, Willow realized she wasn't afraid anymore. She felt safe and warm and protected and Spike had done that. He had built a cocoon of safety around her with nothing more substantial that the moonlight and his touch. But it was real enough and the fear was gone, banished beyond the reach of the bed to where it could be faced later. And it didn't bother her that the eyes that held hers reflected no soul. What she did see though touched her just as deeply . . .compassion and desire and old hurts and loneliness. She saw his own needs laid bare before her, stripped of pretense and lies and half-truths. Honesty. And as Spike laid himself bare to her gaze, she couldn't hide behind her own fears.
Reaching upwards, she held out her arms to him, and when he leaned towards her, Willow slid her hands up his arms and across leanly muscled shoulders. Pulling him down to her, she whispered her assent and offered him his own solace. "Make it go away, Spike. Make it all go away."
This time when Spike touched her there was no hint of innocence.
Willow woke, panic sending her heart soaring as she registered the foreign weight resting heavily across her body. Clamping down hard on the instinctive urge to scream, she opened her eyes only to discover that the weight pinning her to the bed was Spike.
Sometime while they'd slept he'd turned sideways on the bed until his body was stretched across its width. His head now rested on her stomach just below her breasts. She was effectively pinned with one of his arms lying against her side, his hand tucked up into the small of her back. The other stretched across the top of her thighs, his hand clutched tight at her hip. There was something almost childlike in his position; as if he were a small boy who'd snuck into his mother's bed looking for comfort. But the sensuous feel of his skin against hers and the tight grip he had on her body dispelled any thoughts of childish innocence.
Lifting her hand, she rested it upon his bent head, her fingers sinking into the softness of his hair. Stroking him, she ran gentle fingers across the back of his head down to the nape of his neck. When he didn't stir she repeated the gesture, this time continuing the caress down his neck and across the smooth expanse of his back as far as she could reach.
He shifted suddenly beneath her touch, and she waited for him to pull away, but instead he tightened his arms around her, nuzzling gently into her stomach before relaxing again.
Breath held, she waited, her hand hovering in the air over him. As the seconds ticked by and Spike still didn't move, she relaxed again and let her breath out slowly.
Spike had been a confusing mixture of tenderness and fierce possession. It had been nothing like the furtive scrambling with Xander or the controlled and deliberate lovemaking with Oz. Spike had been passion and fire, his touch sending shivers of pleasure racing through her body. She'd been unable to control the arch of her body, or the shuddering gasps for breath as Spike had used two centuries of knowledge to slowly drive her out of her mind.
She'd felt no shame in crying out, words of 'more' and 'again' tumbling from her lips. She'd felt no fear as sharp teeth had grazed sensitive flesh. She'd had no doubts as she'd twisted, pinning him in turn to replay the things he'd done to her and hear him cry out, words of 'more' and 'again' as sweet on his lips as they'd been on hers.
Willow would have liked to say that she was sorry, or maybe that when she thought of Oz, she felt the keen slice of guilt across her conscious. But if she was truthful with herself, she felt no guilt, no remorse for what had happened. In fact, if she was really truthful, she had wanted it. No, she thought, the real truth . . . she had wanted Spike. And he was both everything and nothing like what she'd imagined.
Now there was nothing left to do but stay in this bubble of safety and security that Spike had created for her until it was time to go out and face her demons, the ones down the halls and the ones living inside her head. But that was still hours away, and for now all she had to do was keep up the steady stroke of her hand over the bowed head of the man sleeping against her.
Which was why when he spoke, she was surprised and probably wouldn't have caught the words he murmured against her skin, if she hadn't been so focused on him.
"I'm sorry, Dru. Couldn't stop him . . . couldn't protect. He hurts you, baby. I can't stand it when he hurts you."
Then he moved slightly, turning his head enough to place a kiss that was more reverence than passion against her stomach.
Understanding dawning on her, Willow kept up the soothing caress of her hand. She'd known he didn't like playing the games of Master and slave. She'd never understood it. To her thinking, Spike should relish the opportunity to hurt her, mortal and friend of the Slayer that she was. New-found understanding though brought to mind other things, like the old Watcher Journals. She knew what the books said Angelus did to Drusilla. Only then, it had been just words on paper. She hadn't understood. Now she did. Drusilla had been where she was now, only for Drusilla it hadn't been a game. What had it been like for Spike? To watch a woman he loved beyond reason . . .she shook her head. Oh, Spike.
Warmth once again brought him to wakefulness, teasing warmth this time that caressed his skin in abstract looping patterns. Willow. Opening his eyes he raised his head, levering his body up off of hers.
Only when Spike once again knelt over her did she notice the dark smears of blood marred his forearm. She didn't remember him biting her but the blood was spilled truth and she need only find the wound. In the end, the mark she sought was Spike's not her own. Confused, she reached down to brush gentle fingers over Spike's wrist, the flesh torn and jagged, so unlike the precise bites that marred her own flesh.
Troubled green eyes finally swung up to meet blue. Her finger stopped its delicate tracing to poise resting against his skin. "Why?"
It took only that innocent question for the memory to slam into him, its impact a physical blow of sensation, desire and raging want. His face buried against her shoulder. His lips pulled back to expose deadly fangs. Her blood pounded a hairsbreadth away. His ears were filled with the sounds of her pounding heart, overlaid with the soft gasps and whimpers that were wrung from her every time his length slid within her. Her scent, sharp with arousal and the tang of sweat, filled his nostrils.
He brushed his face against her neck, scraping his fangs across her skin. He felt her shiver at that touch, but she didn't pull away from him.
The need to bite roared in his head, pounding through him in time to the rhythm of Willow's blood beneath his lips. The litany going around and around in his mind. Take her. Drain her. Kill her. Own her. Possess her. Need her.
Need her. That was the force that drove him. He'd sworn he'd never need anyone or anything like he'd needed Drusilla, ever again. So with a snarl he turned his head aside, denying himself the sweet taste of her blood and sank his fangs into his own wrist. Fangs sliced through skin, releasing a flood of dark blood into his mouth. He choked on the taste, heavy and thick, tainted with the taste of death, instead of the fast, bright blood of the woman trembling beneath him. Grinding down, he welcomed the flash of pain, felt ivory scrape hard again bone.
The pain blossomed and grew until it mixed with the heat of her body and threw him into his own orgasm, his weight pressing Willow down into the bed, as his body jerked violently.
Her question pulled him back to himself, to find her still earnestly watching him; her lower lip caught fast between her teeth. It would be easy to lie. Safer certainly, for both him and her. He could lie, twist the facts so far into themselves until they showed no more reflection of the truth than his own missing reflection showed his own soul. But the lie wouldn't come.
Clenching muscles and tendons shifted beneath Willows finger and, without a word she shifted her hand along his forearm, her touch the faintest whisper along his skin, smoothing out the tension, relaxing corded muscles.
He met her eyes and let her see the hunger on his face. "Because I wouldn't have stopped."
She nodded at his answer and gave him a sad half-smile. "I understand," she said, then turned away from him and moved back to her own side of the bed.
He stared at her back for a moment longer but then there was nothing left to do but lay back down on his own side of the bed and turn his back to her. A few minutes later he felt her move again, and nothing -- not being turned, not Angelus or Drusilla or even the Hellmouth -- had ever surprised him more than when he felt her inch backwards across the mattress until her back was once more pressed against him. His back guarded, Spike fell into a dreamless sleep, waiting for dusk and the end of everything.
Spike paced, nervous energy expressing itself in endless movement. Willow, in contrast, sat as still as a statue, never moving from the corner she'd claimed when the two of them had first entered the room. She had played her part to perfection. Her walk was that of an old woman, as if every movement caused her pain. She visibly flinched whenever Spike's swinging leather duster brushed against her. She was, in the eyes of those who took the time to look at her, everything she was expected to be . . . cowed, beaten and completely submissive to her Master.
In another time and place she would have laughed at the obtuseness of those that looked at her, seeing only what they wanted to see. Now, she did not laugh. Too much was at stake and the consequences of failure unbearable.
So she turned deaf ears to Buffy's muffled screams of hate as she was bound to the makeshift altar. She turned blind eyes to Giles' suffering as he watched the preparations that would sacrifice his Slayer. Sightless, soundless, she trusted in Spike to guard her as she turned inward to pitch magic against the laws of gravity and physics.
And what after all did Newton and Einstein know of witchcraft? Of impossible things that science could not define? And not even a flicker of triumph marred the passive cast of her face as the iron manacle key, thought to be slipped safely into a pocket, fell up instead of down and defied all the laws of those men of science to hover out of sight and out of reach, waiting for the moment when it would be needed.
Only peripherally was she was aware of Spike's impatient argument with Blake, the words washing over her consciousness as she concentrated on holding the key to Buffy and Giles' release in the air. Angry words . . . "now" . . . "not yet time" . . . "do you dare to challenge me?" . . . "NO!" The voices beat at her, trying to break her concentration and now new sounds assaulted her. Breaking glass, screams and growls spun around her. Then she heard what she'd been waiting for. Spike and the words, "Now, luv."
Willow woke from her self-induced trace to a scene straight out of hell. Dozen of vampires filled the room around her each bent on destruction. The various clans may have started this assault together, but true to form their allegiances were breaking down as each vampire sought to get to the Slayer and Watcher to claim them for their own. Within that seething hell, Willow crouched in the corner behind the meager protection of Spike's legs. She wanted so badly to give in to the terror clawing at her insides but she did not, though her nails had long since cut into the palms of her hands from the her tight fists.
Trusting that Spike would protect her, she concentrated on the key she was levitating even while around her chaos reigned -- a key which finally found its home in the lock holding the Slayer captive.
The weeks of inaction and lack of adequate food and water had seriously weakened Buffy. But the feel of the chains that had bound her for so long sliding off her wrists sent a surge of energy through her that had her rolling off the makeshift altar with only a slight jerky movement to betray her true weakened state.
Buffy knew she'd pay for this last burst of energy she drew from within, but right now, she didn't care. Only one thing remained for the Slayer, one driving imperative - kill Spike. And if to get across the room to kill him meant killing the vampires in her path, then she'd simply go through them. As the first unlucky vampire crossed her path, Buffy gave herself over to the instinctive hate and urge to kill within herself and simply became The Slayer.
It was several minutes before Spike noticed a difference in the movement and sound of the fight that ebbed and flowed around him. His confusion turned to comprehension as he realized the Slayer was free, and it didn't take long to figure out she was coming for him.
Spike twisted around and grabbed Willow's arm, hauling her to her feet. "Get the Slayer and Watcher out of here." She felt keys pressed into her hand. "Go!"
As she stumbled away from him, he guarded her back, memories of Prague and the sheer terror he'd felt when he saw Drusilla go down surrounded by the mob clawing at his insides.
Snarling, he staked a vampire that got too close. "This is not bloody well Prague and it won't happen again. Not this damn time," he growled.
"Buffy," Willow screamed over the noise around her. The Slayer never paused in her fight, Willow's scream unheard in her single-minded dance of destruction.
Seeing that Buffy was beyond hearing her now, she ran to the altar and retrieved the key still stuck in the padlock. Snatching it up, she moved to free Giles from his chains. Giles crumpled to the ground when released.
"Willow, leave me. Get out of here."
Seeing the Watcher on the ground, giving in to his fate, Willow felt something inside of her snap, and an unaccustomed rage swelled up in her. "Damn it, no! I did not do all this just so you could die here. I will NOT let you die. Get up!"
As Giles struggled upright, Willow screamed at Buffy one last time. This time the Slayer heard.
As Buffy reached Willow and Giles, she came up under Giles' unprotected shoulder, taking some of his weight off of Willow.
"Buffy, this way," Willow indicated a door off to their left, and the three made their way across the room with Spike still shadowing them, always keeping Willow within sight. As they broke free from the building, Buffy turned, only then catching sight of the vampire behind them. With a howl of pure hate, Buffy dropped Giles' shoulder to spring at Spike, a makeshift stake grasped tight in her hand. "You bastard!"
Willow didn't think; she simply reacted. "Buffy, no!" Dropping Giles where they stood, she barreled into Buffy who had Spike momentarily pinned beneath her. Both went tumbling over and over in a tangle of arms and legs.
"Willow, what are you doing?"
"Buffy, he's helped me . . . and . . . and, we don't have *time* for this now."
Spike had gained his feet, hot, yellow eyes glaring balefully at the Slayer who stood trembling a few steps away, barely suppressed rage warring with exhaustion the only thing keeping her on her feet.
"She's right, Slayer." Turning his head, he spat out a mouthful of blood. Rubbing a finger across his split bottom lip, he sneered at her. "You want to kill me, fine. Kill me later. After, you get your Watcher and Willow out of here."
Buffy was caught in her indecision, torn between getting Giles and Willow away and staking the demon in front of her and every other demon in the house until she had enough dust to create her own sandbox. It was, in the end, her Watcher who decided her.
"Buffy, we can deal with this later," Giles said, his voice weak and barely above a whisper.
Something hard and cold seemed to break in Buffy's eyes and she nodded once, sharply.
Willow sighed in relief as Buffy relaxed the grip she had on her stake. "Come on, Spike."
"No? What do you mean no?"
He quieted her with touch. "You're not Dru. You don't need me. The Slayer and Watcher need you now. Without you they won't even make it to the car."
But the vampire ignored her, turning away and heading back towards the house. Then there was nothing left to do but gather up her friends and begin the long journey back to Sunnydale.
Spike walked the corridors of the deserted school, hearing the voices from the library echoing faintly around him. He hated this place. Hated the empty hallways, hated the smells that lingered around him in eddying swirls, odors of youth and humanity, food and the sickly sweet smell of decay that the Hellmouth underneath this place emitted into the air. But most of all he hated himself and the reason that he knew these corridors and these smells and these people down the hall. The Watcher who maintained the farce of librarian, the Wolf-boy and his unflappable calm, that idiot twit Xander, the Slayer who wanted nothing more than to see his ashes scattered on the wind, and Willow.
Willow. He stopped and leaned against the cold, concrete wall, his eyes closed as he savored the memories of Willow . . her fierce eyes as she enlisted his aid, her determined expression the first night hed inflicted the bruises and bit her, the graceful way shed knelt at his feet the first time theyd stayed with another vampire group, her grin as she laughed at something hed said. But not a single one of those memories compared with the look on her face as shed lain there beneath him, her legs wrapped tight around his body, her head thrown back on the pillow. He dropped his head down into hands to dispel the visions behind his eyes. Heaven and Hell both help him, because he should hate her the most. She had damned him as surely as the demon that had stolen his soul. Vampires should not be trusted by humans and never, ever, should vampires trust humans.
Weakness, that was what she was and he would not succumb. Banishing the thoughts, he reached for the ever-present anger that lived within him and wrapped it around himself like a cloak and went to face his own demons.
The argument started up again as it had almost every night since The Great Escape, as Willow had taken to calling it in her mind. Tonight it was Buffy's turn to lead the argument. At least tonight, Willow thought with a rueful grin that she was careful to keep hidden from the others, they'd actually managed to get a little research done before the conversation turned to her.
"Willow, please," Buffy begged, "let us remove that thing."
Willow answered as she had every night that they'd had this argument. "No."
Across the room, Xander threw up his hands in frustration.
"Why?" The hurt and anger in Buffy's voice was barely held in check. "Will, we don't understand why you are still wearing that collar." She stopped to rein in her temper once more.
Giles picked up effortlessly where Buffy left off, though his voice held more of a note of understanding. "Willow, it's been a week. There is a good possibility that he didn't survive that fight. Spike, being Spike, there is an even greater probability that he did survive and took this opportunity to flee from the duties that he was forced into here with Buffy."
Oz finally joined in the game, his hand resting with a patient gentleness on her arm. "What did he do to you, baby?"
Anger surged then from where it had been simmering, and she fought to control it. They didn't understand. Most of the time she didn't understand it, how could she possibly expect them too? It was like it had all happened to another person, another Willow whose memories she shared. She shook her head, unable to explain. "He didn't do anything."
"Baby . . . "
"No," she said sharply, cutting him off, more than a hint of growl in her voice. "No, baby." She pointed down to the black boots she was wearing. "Don't you all see? Boots. Black, vampire-kicking combat boots. Boots that mean I'm not your baby anymore."
She threw back her head and groaned softly at the confused expressions around her. Taking a calming breath, she tried again. "Guys, I love you. But I'm not the same Willow that left four weeks ago."
Beside her Oz nodded. "It's a growing up thing." His words gave her hope that maybe one of her friends was beginning to understand what this experience had done to her.
"I can understand that, Will. I'd like to get to know the new you."
Now the tears came and she hugged him fiercely to her. "I'd like that Oz."
"Now, isn't that a touching picture. A bloody Kodak moment if I ever saw one. Cocky and sure his voice filled the whole room.
Willow raised her head to see Spike leaning against the doorjam, a sneer plastered on his face. So, can anyone join this party?"
Before anyone else could respond, Willow answered. "This is a private party."
She felt his eyes flicker over her, resting lightly on the collar she still wore. Reaching into his pocket he pulled out a small padlock key. Swinging it on the end of his finger before the assembled group, he grinned wickedly at Willow. "Private party? I think I might have the key to get in."
Willow fought to keep the smile off her face as she took in the sight of him. His stance and bearing screamed violence. The arrogant sneer twisting his lips bespoke exactly the level of contempt that he held them all in. Yet, his eyes held only an amused deviltry. Truly did the devil dance in Spike's blue eyes.
But from the stake that slid down into Buffy's palm to Xander's sudden surge to his feet, it was obvious the others didn't or couldn't see that Spike was just taunting them.
Meeting those dancing eyes she answered his invitation. Sliding down off the countertop to land lightly on her feet, Willow ignored Xander's grasping hand and stepped towards Spike.
He was thinner than Willow remembered. Once she was close, she could see the half-healed burn scars along his hands and noted the stiffness that marred his usual animal grace. He'd been hurt badly after they'd made their escape. Badly enough that he still wasn't completely healed. Which did much to explain his apparent leanness. Injured, he wouldn't have been able to hunt. She wasn't surprised at the pain in her heart, but no pity reflected on her face. She knew he would not thank her for her pity.
"Come with me." His hand was outstretched in her direction and she couldn't ignore that command so without even a glance backward, she followed him out into the night. He stopped out in the quad so that the two of them stood in a pool of light from one of the lamps that lined the brick walkway.
He stared at her for a long moment, his face closed off and expressionless, but Willow could see the struggle going on behind his eyes. "We are not friends," he finally said and through his words were harsh, when he reached up to the collar, his touch was gentle against the skin of her neck.
"No," she agreed, "we are not friends." Looking up at his controlled expression she added, "But neither are we enemies."
The fingers at her throat stilled, then began their movement again. "Neither are we enemies." It wasn't the whole truth, but for now it was one they both could accept.
The faint snap/click of the small padlock sounded loud between them and she was suddenly free. Perversely, she felt suddenly naked without the feel of the collar against her neck.
"I set you free."
The words were formal, distancing, and Willow could feel him pulling away from her. If it were only that easy, she thought, but she made no outward comment.
He gave her the collar then, and her fingers clutched tight to its length, its smooth surface growing cold as it rapidly lost the warmth of her skin. That convinced her as nothing else had, not the fight to free Buffy, not the numbing trip back to Sunnydale in Spike's car, not the confrontations and questions with her friends. Now, it was over. Brought full circle back to Spike and a twenty-inch long strip of leather. She was free but still marked, none-the-less.
So she did what not friends and not enemies did, she set him free as well.
Stepping back from him, she withdrew until they faced each other across the circle they stood in. Taking a seat on the low courtyard wall, she let him continue to back away from her until he stood at the edge of light, half in and half out of the shadows.
Thrusting his hand in the pockets of his duster he contemplated the young woman who sat so motionless across from him. There was a calmness in her expression that eased his own agitation. He needed to be going but first he had to have some answers. "You didn't tell them."
Red hair swung against her face as she shook her head, catching the light from the lamp above them. "No, I didn't."
Unexpected anger burst like a bubble in his chest making his voice harsh. "Ashamed for your friends to find out you fucked a demon? That you fucked me?"
His voice was angry, his words designed to hurt, but she'd been with him too long. She could hear the pain beneath his voice. Who would ever have thought that a vampire could get his feelings hurt. But his accusations riled her own temper. "I'm *not* ashamed, of you or of what we did. I didn't tell them because they wouldn't understand. They couldn't understand because they weren't there, they didn't live it."
The anger abruptly drained out of her and she leaned back with a tired sigh. "Spike, Buffy is so hurt right now. She feels so guilty about everything. About Oz and Xander being in the hospital, about Giles' pain, but especially about what I did to get her back. No matter what I tell her, her own guilt says that you hurt me and she is responsible."
"I did hurt you."
She smiled faintly at that. It was the truth, but she had discovered that there were truths and then there were Truths. "Not like Buffy thinks and right now, the only thing keeping her from trying to stake you, is the fact that I've not told her everything."
"So the Slayer is suffering from a little guilt. Do you know what I could do with that? How with a few well chosen words I could rip her soul in half?"
"This is isn't about Buffy and you know it."
"So, you want me to hold a secret that would cause the Slayer deep emotional pain?"
"Yes. I can't force you. I don't have anything to bribe you with. But I can ask you. Please, Spike. Don't use this to hurt her.
"You'd trust me to hold this secret?" His voice laced with heavy doubt.
Willow didn't hesitate. "Yes."
Her answer seemed to release something within him. She could almost see an unnamed tension drain out of him and with the release of that tension the facade of big, bad vampire cracked and melted away to be replaced by a weary Spike.
"Then you are indeed a fool. You can not give a demon a secret and expect him to hold it freely. That's not the way we work."
"Then give me one of your secrets to hold against it."
He looked over at her then, surprise on his face. But slowly a smile settled over the surprise. Not a happy smile, Willow realized but one tinged with a mocking kind of sadness she didn't understand.
"Always the clever one," Spike said quietly, almost as if he was talking to himself. "And I'm still underestimating you. You'd think I'd bloody well learn by now," he finished with a soft sigh. Then he seemed to rouse himself, staring back at her with his old fierce expression, the one that warned that before her stood a creature that could kill her before she could even scream. "A secret, you say . . . an exchange of equal value . . . my silence hostage against yours. Is that what you want, luv?"
Willow felt herself trembling and not knowing why, but she nodding her head.
"Well, then my smart little witch, why was I helping the Slayer?"
Willow frowned in confusion but answered with what little she and the others had been able to piece together. "We never really knew. Angel found you, beat up and abandoned in a alley in Los Angeles. He brought you here. You were raving that you didn't want to help the Slayer. You'd die first. When you healed, you said that you were being blackmailed. You've never told us by whom, or what they hold over you. Xander thinks Angel did it or had it done." She stopped then and then added hesitantly, "We always kind of figured Drusilla was somehow involved."
Spike made a noise like a short laugh though there was no humor in his voice. "Dru is always involved. Even when she isn't here, she still consumes my life. But then she was gone and I was alone." He raised haunted eyes up to Willow's, a hundred emotions flitting across his face at once. "I haven't been alone in two hundred plus years."
He stopped then and simply stared. It took a minute for what Spike was really saying to sink in, for the understanding to fill her. "Oh my god."
She was stunned. He couldn't be saying what she thought he was saying. it was impossible, insane and . . . and . . . Spike was still looking at her with eyes that showed a vulnerability that scared her. But she understood. She understood everything now and she wasn't sure if she wanted to laugh or to cry. Without Drusilla to give his life direction or meaning Spike was lost. And how desperate had he been that for the sake of familiarity he'd turned to his enemies. Oh goddess, he couldn't be trusting her with this. She didn't know what to say. She didn't know if she was meant to say anything.
Spike watched her and wondered. Did she understand what hed just told her? Did she understand why he told her? Hell, was he ever sure himself why hed told her his secret? But it didnt matter now. Now it was time to go and get the away from the Hellmouth and the Slayer and red-headed witches. It was time to be on his own. He didnt need Dru and he certainly didnt need this mortal. He didnt need anyone.
Lighting a cigarette, he pulled the smoke deep into his lungs before forcing it back out again. Good-bye, witch.
It took Willow a second to register Spikes last words, but when she did, she sprang up from her seat towards where the vampire had stood. Spike, wait, she called, but the vampire was already gone, just the scent of the cigarette smoke hanging in the air.