It looked just as ridiculous today as it did back then. She couldn’t recall what color it had been, but she figured that was the fault of wearing so many over the years. They all sorta bled together into one giant, drab mass of poly/cotton blends and name tags. However, if she slipped up again, she’d likely be turning this one in at the end of the night and searching for another job dead set on an outdated dress code. It was harder and harder to keep her dignity in check when she couldn’t even hang on to crap jobs.
This was the bane of wearing regret. Buffy shrugged that skin off once in the belly of the Hellmouth when she watched a man’s soul burn up, but she wouldn’t dwell on why she’d slipped it on for size once again. This time, the regret felt different. This time, the regret wasn’t just about him. This time she didn’t feel shame for the things she’d done, only sadness. Longing. The sort of poignant anguish that a twenty-eight-year-old woman shouldn’t have to deal with. So she dealt with none of it, and lost herself in nameless jobs in nameless cities, keeping out of the way, staying under the radar.
This was not the time to remember his words, that she doesn’t belong here, that she’s better than this. This was not the time to miss him. That was a road ruined with grief, paved with obstacles, and it led absolutely nowhere. There would always be time for that later. Yet his voice echoed in her head like a line from a song: That why you took this job? Prove something to yourself?
Buffy took a deep breath and held it, staring at her reflection in the public bathroom of a cheap, greasy-spoon diner off Interstate 5. She’d have to clock in to start work in a few minutes, so she’d soak up this short reprieve for all it was worth. She rarely worked the graveyard shift in order to keep up with patrolling, but a coworker begged to switch with her at the last minute so she could tend to her sick kid. Of course Buffy couldn’t say no, and the extra money wouldn’t hurt.
Her hair looked awful. Luckily, she kept a rubber band around her order book for last minute ponytails, and all was right again. The thick, tan rubber ripped like a mother when it came time to take it out, but hey, last resorts don’t come with all the perks. She looked more like herself this way, if not a little older, and the sight almost made her cry. Almost.
“How much longer you gonna be in there, Anne?!” The sound of Danny’s fist pounding on the bathroom door, coupled with his gravely, harsh voice was enough to make even a slayer jump out of her socks. The short-order cook and owner never spoke, he yelled. Three decades of shouting food orders across a diner probably yielded the habit. “We got customers growin’ outta my ass out here!”
“I’m coming,” she said, and quickly rolled on some lip gloss. It never dawned on her that she answered to her middle name without any hesitation now. She’d answered to it for four consecutive years. Buffy was the odd name to hear these days, and her sister was the only one to utter the word.
“And I don’t wanna hear a single complaint tonight or you’re—”
“Fired, I know!”
She heard Danny cursing as he walked away. Bad way to start the night, and it looked like it was starting early.
Working the graveyard shift at a highway joint in the middle of nowhere had its pros and its cons. The pros: the night rush came early, she could bank on drunk customers who often over-tipped, and everyone was out by two in the morning. The cons: Everyone was out by two in the morning. Only stragglers would wander in until the five o’clock breakfast rush. There might be a few truckers taking a pit stop for coffee, or maybe it would be some traveling hipster who would gripe that the secluded diner didn’t have Wi-Fi. She rarely saw the same face twice. They were like ships passing in the night, taking short breaks from their journeys to places far better than this. The long pauses between customers would’ve seemed like a balm, but she often found herself bored to tears or nodding off right as another customer decided to pop in out of nowhere. She couldn’t win. So she cleaned to keep busy, and that was probably part of her job title anyway. Not getting fired—that’s what she should be shooting for.
Tonight hadn’t been any different than the few graveyard shifts she’d worked before. By 2:15, The Short-Stop Diner didn’t have a single customer in it. Danny started in on his routine of washing dishes and scraping down the grill while Buffy filled salt and pepper shakers, turned over Ketchup bottles, and filled up napkin dispensers. She tried to slow down her movements to kill more time, but that was impossible. Some things she just couldn’t control, and one of those things happened to be her need to get things done. Immediately.
“…and it’s only 2:43,” she said, sighing heavily when she realized she’d finished too soon.
“Weekdays are slow!” Danny said, banging the handle of his scraper on the side of a trash bin to knock off the grease he’d just removed from the grill. Buffy hadn’t eaten a single plate of diner food in three years. Images such as that one kinda killed her appetite. “Hope you brought a book!”
“I am bookless,” she said, wiping a dampened white towel across the bar for the third time that evening.
Danny noisily removed his clear plastic gloves from his gigantic, weathered hands and tossed them into the trash. He folded his arms and pressed his ashy elbows into a wet spot on the bar, looking her over with a thoughtful expression on his face. The empty diner seemed to magnify his voice when he shouted, “You ever wanna get married?! Settle down, squirt out some kiddoes and raise a family?!”
A very unattractive, humorless snort found its way out of her nose. She found a gritty patch on the bar that she’d somehow missed earlier and picked at it with her thumbnail. “There are not enough ways to say no to that question.”
He grinned in amusement. As much of a loud, hard-ass that Danny could be, he wasn’t such a bad old man. He’d given her a million chances. Should have fired her plenty of times. But she wondered if he felt sorry for her, if the night she met him months ago struck a chord in him. She’d been evicted from her apartment outside of L.A., had three bucks to her name, and just over a fourth of a tank of gas. She drove up the Interstate until the gas ran out just outside The Short-Stop. He’d taken pity on her, gave her a cup of coffee—gratis—and set her up with a job to pay him back for the money he loaned her for food and gas. She liked that he didn’t ask questions. Until now.
“I may be an old prick! I may not know everything! But you don’t belong in a place like this!”
He just had to say that, didn’t he?
“I belong where I belong,” she said, suddenly irritated. Maybe she could roll up some silverware.
“Where you from?!”
“Around.” She yanked out too many napkins and slapped them onto the counter to start rolling.
“Oh, I get it! Gotta keep all mysterious! You runnin’ from the law?!”
It sounded so silly, and yet it was kind of true. “Not exactly.” Not his law, anyway. Watcher law. The great big Council that sopped up all of her friends like a giant, scheming biscuit. The new slayers and new watchers that didn’t like the way she did things; the ones that believed she should spend some time tucked away in Solitary Time-Out to think about why she refused to conform. She was still as stubborn as ever. They would never bring her down. If Giles hadn’t been the man in charge, she knew someone would have found her by now. His good graces only went so far though, especially after five years without a phone call, a howdy-do, or anything to keep hope alive. Maybe he thought she was dead.
Things were different now. They were different now.
Danny thankfully took the hint that she wasn’t in the mood for twenty questions. “You’re not tucking in that corner when you roll! It’s not a taquito, it’s a burrito, remember?!” Every task had a food comparison in Danny’s world. She couldn’t keep track of them all.
“Right, sorry,” she said, undoing her work. When she looked up again, Danny was gone, and the swinging double-doors told her he’d escaped to the backroom. He would be snoring in minutes. “Wish I had a comfy chair in a quiet room to sleep in,” she said, grumbling.
“I heard that!”
How? How did he always hear? “Sorry!”
This guy was about to get a stake in his chest if he didn’t wipe that smirk off his face in the next ten seconds.
“Hello? Hel-looo? Anybody in there? I said you got a sweet ass!” Mr. About-To-Die leaned back in his seat, thinking he was cool like James flippin’ Dean and wearing white hair as if he’d earned the right.
“And I said, ‘keep your mouth shut or I’ll shut it for you.’ Last warning, guy.”
“Oooh,” his friend said, as if a woman had never.
“You too, Joey Ramone,” she said, eyeing his sad excuse for punk rock attire without even a stitch of interest. Spike would have—no. None of that. Spike was dead. “Finish up your coffees and get out.”
She spun on her heels and clenched her teeth at the sound of their snickering. She could take them. So easily. Ramones Reject would be out with one punch to his jaw. The other one…well, that might take a bit longer. How dare he? And with the hair? What a jerk. What a total asshole jerk-face!
But she couldn’t take them out. For one thing, they were human. For another, she was going for incognito. But if this went on a second longer, she didn’t think she could keep her cool. That left only one option. “Danny!”
Danny’s round-headed mug emerged from the backroom in no time, and after a quick assessment of the young men behind her, he went into action. “You two fuckers fuckin’ with Anne?!” It wasn’t so much the volume of his voice or the f-bombs that scared the guys shitless. It was the baseball bat he’d plucked from its concealed space beneath the bar that did the trick. Usually, all he had to do was hold the thing up and the troublemakers backed down. Danny had no tolerance for douchebags.
“W-we’re just having some fun,” Ramone said, his voice shaking a fraction.
“Yeah, man, we’re all friends. Right sweetheart?” She could feel the other guy getting the posture wrong without even looking. But he wasn’t Spike, nor did this guy know anything about the vampire that saved his stupid, punk ass from The First wreaking havoc on them and—
She had to stop doing this. None of this was their fault.
“Why don’t you boys piss off before I knock this Louisville Slugger into your skulls?!” As soon as the six-foot-six short order cook rounded the bar and headed towards their booth, the two jerks tossed a few bills on the table and bolted—not without adequate middle fingers displayed in a fit of defiance from the safety of the outdoors, but at least they left.
She quickly cleared their table and stuffed the money into her apron pocket. They left a ten dollar tip.
“You all right?!” Danny, now at the bar, tucked his bludgeoning tool away for later use.
“Yeah. They were just a bit rowdy.” She slid the wash bin filled with their dirty dishes onto the bar for Danny to take. “Hopefully that’ll be the last jerk I have to deal with tonight.”
Danny chuckled as he walked over to the sinks. “There’s always tomorrow!”
“Yeah,” she said, blowing a stray hair out of her face as she sat down on a bar stool. “Tomorrow...”
And the next day. And the next. And the next.
Time moved at an agonizing pace. Danny had been asleep for over an hour. It was almost four a.m., and Buffy had already cleaned every inch of the diner. No customers came after the jerks left, and it didn’t look as if anyone would for a while. If she looked out the window she could see the highway, but only if headlights were there to illuminate it in the pitch-black, rural town. Tonight, there was only darkness. No one coming, no one going.
Buffy’s shift could not end fast enough. Perhaps she could clean out the pie display again.
She hated the quiet. It used to bring her solace, give her time to work things out in her head, and allow her a moment to breathe. But now the quiet brought back memories of things she didn’t want to hold onto but couldn’t manage to let go of, guilty thoughts, nagging reminders to call her sister.
Buffy usually made a habit of calling Dawn when she moved to a new place—all from a payphone, of course. She knew Dawn wouldn’t rat her out, but she didn’t trust the phones. How many months had it been? She couldn’t recall. She knew it was at least three towns ago.
Everyone else was off limits. People changed. They grew up. They moved on. They filled their lives with new people and new things and new adventures. Willow and Xander certainly had. Good for them. C'est la vie. “Blah, blah-blah, blah-blah,” she said to herself, swallowing down the sting of betrayal. If she had been in their shoes, she probably would’ve taken the Council’s job offers, too. That had always been what separated them from each other, their one great divide. She could never be in their shoes, and they could never be in hers.
She hadn’t even spoken to Angel since he handed her the amulet. Maybe he was hiding, too. She hadn’t really tried to contact him, though. Too risky. His version of the greater good had always differed from hers. As much as a conversation with an old friend might be nice, she couldn’t trust anyone to keep her location private.
She idly twirled a sterling silver Zippo between her fingers within the pocket of her apron. It was always with her, no matter where she went. It was the last bit of herself, the final reminder of the slayer she’d been, the woman he’d loved, and the man she watched him become. This, she would not let go of. This, she would never hide from. Spike would not be forgotten, not for who he was, not for what he meant to her, and not for saving them. They both knew he was going to die that day, even if it had never been said. It was the final act of their story, the last moment she had left to savor him, so they held one another in her dirty old basement, waiting for everything to come to an end.
There would never be anyone who loved her like that again. No one. Buffy might meet a guy someday who had all the qualities she wanted, maybe even what she needed. He could be great looking, a fantastic kisser, strong and stable, sweet when it counted and funny when it didn’t. But he’d never make her burn. He’d never fight for his soul. He’d never sacrifice himself for her, for her friends and loved ones. He’d never be Spike.
The bells over the door jingled, alerting her that someone had entered. She quickly composed herself and called out absentmindedly, “I’ll be with you in a minute.” She wiped beneath her wet eyes, pulled out her order book, and rounded the bar, taking a last look at herself to see that nothing was out of place before approaching the table.
“Can I get you something to dri—?”
When she finally lifted her head to greet the customer, it was as if she’d entered into a dream, some intangible dimension where you could live out the lies of your fantasies, because there was no way this was real. Every ounce of air in her lungs dissipated in a wheeze of shock. She could hardly believe her eyes, and from the looks of it, he was just as surprised to see her. At 4:22 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, a man wearing Spike’s face walked into The Short-Stop Diner. She froze, looking frantically from his slicked-back white hair, to his wide, blue eyes, down to the shocked curl in his lip and the exaggerated bob of his Adam’s apple. Oh.
The next instant, she swapped the order book for her stake—always a slayer—and aimed for him, but his hands went up in surrender and he flinched in an all-too familiar way.
“Is this some kind of a joke?” She could feel her chin trembling, but her eyes stayed hard. She was panting, trying to wrap her mind around this. No way. There was no way. “What is this?!”
“…Buffy?” he said gently, his features softening into awe and his tongue coming out to wet his smiling lips. “I can’t believe… Is it really you?”
She’d lowered her weapon the instant he’d said her name. “Spike?” She barely heard her own voice; it was so tiny and small, squished by a sudden weight pressing down on her. It felt as if her limbs had fallen asleep. Her entire body tingled with anxiety.
He stepped forward reflexively, perhaps to touch her. Kiss her. Hold her. Shake her hand. She would have welcomed any of those. But something made him stop and put his hands in his pockets. He’d restrained himself. There was no telling how long they stood there staring at one another like idiots, but it seemed they needed the time to let their brains catch up with their eyes.
He was so beautiful. He was just as she remembered him: handsome and fit and poorly dressed, yet perfectly dressed in black. Spike hadn’t changed at all. He was exactly who he was. She could always count on that.
Buffy swallowed the lump in her throat and said, “How?”
He smiled. “Funny story, that.”
“Is he orderin’ something?!” Danny said, causing both of them to jump in surprise when he was suddenly standing right there.
She looked at Spike in silent question.
“Just coffee,” he said, smile unwavering, eyes unyielding. Oh crap, she was blushing.
Danny sighed and exited through the double-doors to return to his nap. When the staring contest started back up again, Buffy quickly looked away and said, “Uh, coffee. You want coffee. I’ll get you coffee. You sit. Anywhere you like.” She tucked a nonexistent hair behind her ears when she couldn’t stop shaking, and Spike blinked slowly, amused beyond belief.
Her hands trembled as she pressed the brew button on the old, clunky coffee maker behind the bar. She knew his eyes were still on her, and she casually glanced over her shoulder at him. He waved. She bit her lip and tucked her right foot behind her left heel and stared at the coffee pot, chanting internally for it to hurry the hell up.
“So you’re back to the service industry, are you?” he was saying. Of course he hated the quiet, too.
“Yeah,” she said, laughing awkwardly. The small talk was weird when she had so many things to say, but she was too dazed to remember what any of those things might have been. Finally, the coffee finished brewing so she yanked the pot out, grabbed a mug, and quickly trotted over to him. He sat there so blissfully in repose, as if he’d hiked a snowy mountain and finally sat by a fireplace in a nice, cozy cabin. She wanted to curl up right beneath his arm that he’d slung over the back of the booth, tuck her head beneath his chin and sleep for a hundred years.
“You gonna pour that any time soon?” he said, eating up every minute of her dumbfounded state. He would drag this out just to torture her.
She finally served him his coffee, unable to come back with a snappy reply. The quick-witted part of her brain was currently occupied with the fear that some mysterious interloper must have slipped her some really good acid when she wasn’t looking. “I didn’t know you liked coffee.” She sat down across the table from him and flattened her clammy hands on the table.
He shrugged. “It’s hot. It wakes me up. And it brought me to you.” He blew a steady stream of air into the mug and he gazed at her with those old, mischievous eyes of his. “Can’t be all that bad, can it?”
There it was again, that tingly, edge-of-her-seat feeling that seemed to consume her senses like a wildfire. There was no doubt in her mind that this was Spike. No one could fake those eyes. “I don’t… I don’t understand how you’re… Why are you—?”
“Because only the cool kids come back from the dead,” he said with a teasing smile and a little shrug. “You’re the one starting the trends, not me.”
“Very cute.” It was. “Answer the question.”
“I was brought back a few months after Sunnydale. Trapped with Angel if you can believe it, and stuck with his cronies fighting the big fight until it all went haywire and I finally took off on my own.”
One part bucket, three parts ice water. Combine, and figuratively splash on the face of the nearest Slayer.
“You’ve… You’ve been alive this whole time?” She dug her nails into the palms of her hands. “I can’t believe you! Angel knew you were alive and I didn’t?” Her rage manifested without warning, fueled with the knowledge that for seven years he’d been alive while she mourned him like an idol. He opened his mouth to speak, but she could only see red. “I cried my eyes out over you! You wouldn’t believe how I’ve cried.”
“Buffy, will you shut—”
“Did you even think about me? After everything we’d been through, after all of that, you think you can just come back from the dead and not even… Seven years! Jesus, Spike, did you even think to contact me?”
“Are you bloody kidding me?” He shifted angrily in his seat and his nostrils flared when his lips drew taut. This was familiar. “Did I even think—you have any idea what I’ve been through? You have any idea how bloody hard you are to find, woman? Look at this.” He reached into his leather trench—that was not the same coat that he always wore, she noted—and pulled out a palm-size, beat-up spiral notepad. He flipped over the cover before he plunked it on the table. The first page showed what looked to be some kind of a checklist, most of it crossed out with frustrated scribbles, and he pointed to the top of the list with a rigid and wrongfully accused finger. “I went to Rome. London. Ireland on a lark—I figured, Angel and all. Nope, not there, check New York. Florida.” He turned the page. “Hellmouth in Cleveland. Some vamp heard you’d gone off to Texas of all places. New Mexico. Mexico. Arizona. Mexico again…” He continued to spout off cities and states from his list, but she stopped listening once her heart began to fill up with the warmth she never thought she’d feel again.
All this time Spike had been following her across the globe. All this time he had the right places, he’d been on the right track, but his timing had been all wrong. She’d done a fine job of covering her tracks if it took Spike this long to find her.
“… North Dakota, Nevada, and that’s when I threw in the towel.” He closed his notebook and shoved it back in his coat pocket. “It was a dead end after that. For the last two years, I had no leads, no sodding idea where you’d gone. I didn’t think you wanted to be found.”
She didn’t, but that was because he was dead. She thought he was dead. He was dead. Had she known—God, had she any idea that he’d come back, she’d have left him a trail a mile wide for him to follow.
Somehow, he’d found her anyway. “So what are you doing here in Middle of Nowhere, California?”
He traced the rim of his mug with a lazy finger and smiled about something he didn’t share. “I was on my way to Los Angeles and my car overheated. I saw the lights on in this place off the road and figured I’d stop for a bit while the radiator cools down.” She looked out the window beside them, and quickly stifled a laugh at the sight of blue, misty smoke billowing up from the opened hood of his car. It seemed he still had a taste for the classics, but his old, black Plymouth had seen better days. Or nights, as it probably was the case. Vampire.
“What’s in L.A.?”
“Absolutely nothing. But I, um…” He scratched his temple. Was he nervous? Was Spike nervous? Would it be weird if she jumped over the table and kissed his face for about seven days? “I started looking for you on my own and I thought you might come back to California eventually. For old time’s sake. Guess I was right, huh?”
She could finally breathe easily again. She felt her eyes and her cheeks sting from the smile she hadn’t worn in forever. It was crazy how good this felt, how thick the air was, how absolutely entranced she was. “I have missed you. So much.”
He made a tiny noise in the back of his throat when he smiled at her. He hadn’t expected that. The vibration beneath her skin picked up the tempo, and as nervous as she was, she loved the way it made her feel. It was like waking. How did he always do that?
“Been over this so many times in my head,” he said, turning the coffee mug between his hands and lowering his eyes, “and I can’t even…” He laughed a little and sat back in his seat, sighing in disbelief. “I guess this is gonna take a bit to wear off,” he said, gesturing aimlessly between them. She knew precisely what that meant. This was too much. They both had too many questions. Seven years avalanching into one perfect moment was a lot to take in all at once.
After a long silence, she said, “You um, you want some pie or something? The key lime isn’t terrible.”
“I don’t want a damn thing,” he said earnestly, and before either of them knew it, he’d reached across the table and took her hand in his. It stole her breath for a brief second, made worse when he locked eyes with hers. She knew this look. He glanced at her name tag and his eyebrows twitched. Then came the head tilt. He was sizing her up, letting the age of her sink in, the uniform, the dark beneath her eyes, the everything wrong with her. “Buffy—”
“I know what you’re gonna say.”
“You do not. Look at me.”
“If it has anything to do with the restaurant we are currently in and how I work at said-restaurant, you can save the speech.” She pulled her hand away and smoothed down her uniform over her knees. “I have to keep moving and I have to make money. I do what I have to do and I know it’s not where I belong but it’s the—”
“—only option I ha-what?”
“Back then, right before the end… Did you really say it?”
She was stunned silent, and it took several seconds before it registered what he’d asked. She blinked and took a shaky breath. He cut right to the chase. Of course he had. Spike had never really been one for patience. This was the big one, though, the thing that kept her up at night. That she’d finally gained the courage to say that she loved him and he hadn’t believed her. Even after coming back, he hadn’t believed. Yet he still spent all these years searching for her. This broke her heart.
“Why didn’t you believe me?”
“Thought it was… I dunno. Thought it was part of my sendoff. Like smashing a bottle of champagne on the side of a ship to launch it. Good journey and all that. But I couldn’t help thinking that maybe—”
She leaned forward, took both of his hands in hers and wouldn’t allow him to look away. “In all the years you’ve known me, have I ever been the type of girl to say what you want to hear just to placate you?”
He sighed, looking irritated with himself that he hadn’t thought of it that way. “No…”
“No. Angel could have worn the amulet. He even offered. But do you know why I chose you that day?”
“So you could get rid of me to shack up with him.” He tried to play it off as a joke, but she knew a very stubborn part of him still believed that was true. She squeezed his fingers to draw his attention back to her and once she had it, she loosened her grip.
“I chose you… because I loved you so much that I wanted to help you find your redemption.”
It was so easy to say. It had never been easy to tell him how she felt before, but she’d longed to relive every second of their time together, to go back and go back and go back. To say a million times over how grateful she was that she knew him, that she befriended him, that she loved him. She could feel tears welling up in her eyes, and one glance at Spike told her he’d soon be joining her. His thumb swept over her pinkie.
“I loved you for proving me wrong—all of us wrong, for achieving the unthinkable. And I loved even more that I got to see it happen, that I saw you, William. As much as I wanted you here with me, as much as I wasn’t ready to let you go, I loved you too much to be selfish.”
His lips rolled to the side as he tried to reel in his emotions, and she could feel him trembling. She wouldn’t say more, not now. This seemed to be overwhelming him, so they sat in silence, gently caressing one another’s fingers, reverently, letting it hang in the ether.
“Wish I could—” He sniffed abruptly, sucking in a deep, cathartic breath. “Wish I’d believed you then. Wish I knew how much you’d cared.”
“Would you have gone through with it if you did?” A slow, knowing smile broke across her face.
He chuckled. “Yeah, probably. I wouldn’t have liked it, though.”
“Can I get some damn coffee over here?” a voice called out behind her. She didn’t remember hearing the bells over the door, and yet, they must have jingled because she had a customer and she had no idea how long he’d been sitting there.
Without really caring, she took the coffee pot that she’d brought to Spike’s table, turned around in her seat and set it down on the newcomer’s table behind them. She pulled out some straws from her apron, tossed them in his general direction and said, “Coffee. Knock yourself out,” before turning around to slide into her seat once more.
The customer obviously couldn’t believe her nerve and had some choice things to say, but she’d already tuned him out. “So do you have a place to stay or what?”
Spike chuckled, shaking his head over all that had transpired, but answered her question without mentioning it. “Been sleeping in the Plymouth between stops if I have to. Got the windows blacked out. Wasn’t gonna check into a hotel until I got to the next town.”
Buffy glanced at the clock. It was almost 5:15. The morning rush would be coming soon and worse, the sun was about to rise. Spike must have realized it too, and he cursed beneath his breath. They both watched as another car pulled into the parking lot. This was not over. This was not the end. “Stay with me.”
“What?” Apparently, his eyes could get incredibly big. “You want me to?”
“The nearest town is more than an hour from here. You’ll never make it before sunrise, and from the looks of it, your car isn’t leaving this lot. You can stay with me if you want and I’ll drive you back tomorrow night to look at your car. What do you think?”
“Hmm, let me see what I think about—okay. Done thinking. Yes.”
She hadn’t laughed like this in ages, like a woman in love, curling her toes in her shoes and chewing on her lips as she giggled. Buffy could hardly contain her enthusiasm, but he seemed just as excited which only made it more contagious. “I work until six, but Mary sometimes comes in early. You can stay in your car until then, I’ll pull my car around beside yours so you can quickly hop in and I’ll take us to my place. It’s a fifteen minute drive so you’ll need to have a blanket or something to cover up.”
He nodded eagerly. “I have one. A blanket.”
The bells over the door jingled, so Buffy forced herself to stand up. With more than a little disappointment, she looked over at the old couple that had entered, and groaned. “I gotta take care of these people. You wanna finish up your drink and wait for me?”
He lifted his mug in reply, grinning wildly, and it was nearly impossible to drag her body away from his proximity. But he’d be coming home with her in an hour.
Another customer entered. Danny emerged and fired up the grills. The slow and steady build of chatter consumed the air. The world was waking up, wiping at its sleepy eyes, stretching its arms in the air with a mighty yawn and turned, as it does, to greet another day.
She looked back, just to make sure she hadn’t dreamed it all, and there he was, in the flesh, watching her every move. Spike was alive. He was alive, and was here.
He was here.
The narrow, dirt trail that led to her home was almost as old as Spike. She had to drive her piece of crap Ford Explorer slowly to avoid the potholes, but even that was useless. It had to be driving him crazy. He was crouched behind the driver’s seat, covered in a ratty old blanket to hide from the sun’s rays, and bouncing around like a beach ball with every bump and dip in the old country road. Surprisingly, he didn’t complain.
“We’re almost there.”
“Oh, thank god,” he said, and she could hear him laughing. “I don’t know how much more of this hayride I can handle.”
She smiled into the rearview even though her image was concealed by his blanket. “City boy.”
“And you’re suddenly Miss Green Acres? Since when?”
“Since I moved out to the country and rented an abandoned house next to an abandoned corn mill in a town that only has sixty people in it.”
She knew he wouldn’t care about her house. He’d probably lived under far worse circumstances than this, but a part of her cringed at the thought that he’d see how bad it had been, how much she’d struggled over the years. They pulled into the driveway of her dilapidated efficiency home, one that looked exactly like the other four houses on the street. They were exactly the same, except that hers didn’t have windows, it had boards. Hers didn’t have grass, it had weeds. But it only cost her a couple hundred bucks a month, including bills, and it wasn’t like she was in the habit of entertaining guests. She also hadn’t planned to stay very long.
They quickly ran from the SUV to the front door, and she jumped inside, expecting him to follow. When he stood there staring at her expectantly, she remembered. “Oh, right. Come in, Spike.”
He tossed his blanket onto the ground once inside and stomped on it to snuff out the tiny embers that’d formed just from the short dash from the car. He sighed in relief and checked himself for damage, finding none. “So this is it, huh?”
She watched him nervously as he took a turn around the room. She only had a bed and a breakfast table that was there when she moved in, a refrigerator, and a couple of duffel bags filled with clothes and weapons. The walls were stained with mold and dirt, the floorboards were weathered, and the foundation looked as if it were a stiff breeze away from collapsing into itself.
“Faith would have called this very Spartan.” She could see the pity in his eyes when he looked at her. She didn’t want his pity. “I know it’s…kinda bare.”
“Guess it’s all you really need,” he said, trying not to make a big deal out of it. “Got a bed, right? Place to eat your meals. Roof over your—” When he looked up, he saw the holes in the ceiling. “You’ve got a refrigerator.”
She covered her face with her hands and groaned. “I know, it’s so bad. But hey, bonus! No sunshine peeking in because of these trusty boards nailed over the windows, right?” He raised an eyebrow. She deflated. “I think someone was murdered in here.”
Spike burst into laughter. “Christ, Summers, we’ve gotta get you out of this place.”
“I don’t know where else to go,” she said, looking down at the floor.
“Hey, now,” he said in a soft, warm voice, cautiously placing his hand on her shoulder, “I wasn’t trying to make you feel bad.”
“I know you weren’t. But you’re right. I have to get out of here.”
When his fingers delicately touched her cheek, her eyelids fluttered from the pleasant caress. Then he whispered, “Can I come with you?”
Buffy used to think that Spike had been her anchor. She’d always believed that, actually.
It wasn’t until this very second that it finally dawned on her that she had it all wrong.
To be someone’s anchor, you’d have to sink to the bottom to keep them grounded.
Spike had never been an anchor. He’d never been beneath her. Not ever.
He’d been her propeller, right behind her all the way, pushing her forward, following her cues. Today was no different. He’d yanked her cord and started her up and all she had to do was steer the ship. It was time to guide them out to sea.
She grabbed the lapels of his leather coat, pulled him to her and crashed her lips against his. He responded immediately and held her fast against him, and his fingers bit into her back. When she moaned in relief, he pulled away for just a minute. She was afraid he was going to stop, but all he did was catch his breath before he dove in for more.
In what appeared to be one solid movement, he unzipped her uniform, grabbed the hem of her skirt and shed the whole thing off of her and tossed it on the ground. He took a very brief moment to appreciate her form with a slow and steady perusal of her feet up to her eyes. She’d never felt this charged before, and he’d never looked quite so hungry. She loved this.
They kissed and pawed and stumbled on a desperate trek to the bed. Buffy always imagined slow, romantic lovemaking in her fantasies. She’d spend hours worshipping his body and he’d kiss her all over and they’d have what she thought she always wanted.
But she had forgotten how ridiculous a notion that was when it came to them. He wouldn’t be Spike if he wasn’t hasty, and she wouldn’t be Buffy if she hadn’t started it. This was who they were. Always racing to the end.
“Get this damn thing off!” she said, tugging at his coat and moaning in pleasure when he sucked on her nipple through her cheap cotton bra.
He shimmied out of the coat and tossed it aside, smothering her uniform beneath a puddle of black leather. “Can’t…slow down,” he said, panting anxiously as he tugged his shirt off.
“So don’t.” She was back in his arms an instant later, lifted up and carried over to the bed.
She sucked on the delicious column of his throat while she wrestled with the hooks in her bra. They fell back onto the mattress and he cupped both of her breasts, kissed each rosy peak, then her stomach, and finally he tugged her panties down her legs. Buffy savored the sight of him as he rose up on his knees to quickly undo his belt. This was really happening.
She spread her arms out wide on the mattress and smiled at the ceiling. “Oh, man, I’ve missed those abs.” Not as much as she missed those husky, naughty laughs of his, like the one he just emitted.
He crawled over her to meet her eyes and smirked suggestively. “Not all you missed though, right?”
As hot as this was, as ridiculously turned on as she was, she needed him to know that this wasn’t the old days any more, that things would be different. “I missed all of you,” she said, squeezing his hips between her thighs and dragging her nails into his hair. “I love all of you.” She kissed him sweetly, swallowing his reply that she already knew so well. She didn’t need to hear the words to know that he loved her.
His body sagged, pressing into her until she was filled to the brim. All the haste to get here came to an abrupt halt once he was inside of her. Everything slowed down to a crawl. They kissed as if breathing, wearing one another like second skin, barely moving, until everything slipped away into heavenly oblivion. Buffy finally remembered who she was, the woman he’d loved all those years ago. He’d always had a talent for reminding her.
She didn’t need to know what happened next. She didn’t need to know where they’d go, what they’d do, where they’d wind up. It was going to be okay. She realized that there was something magical about the unknown, something as big and wide as the ocean, filled with a million possibilities, waiting for her to seize them up, to set sail in search for more.
As long as she had her propeller behind her, no one could sink her ship.