DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course. The chapter title comes from The Doors’ song, “The End.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy and Spike killed Gazzer and his crew before leaving to get out of town, while Kevin promised to get Ethan to safety for her…
The story begins here.
Ethan watched the boy with mild amusement, deliberately inching closer to him in the back of the taxicab that had been called. Kevin had attempted to sit in the front, using his infirmity as an excuse, but the driver had shot him down, forcing the two men to share the backseat. The boy was doing everything in his power to stay as far away from Ethan as possible.
“This really is pointless, you know,” Ethan commented. He set his hand on Kevin’s knee, displaying his ring though Kevin remained steadfast in staring out the window. It was disappointing the boy couldn’t flinch at the touch. “I’m invisible to Wolfram and Hart. You, on the other hand, might as well be wearing mauve taffeta and a tiara for as much as you stand out.” He chuckled. “Of course, this is Vegas. Perhaps that’s a shoddy example.”
“Doesn’t matter.” His voice was tight with barely restrained irritation. “Buffy asked me to help you, so that’s what I’m doing.”
“It rather looked to me as if you were doing it for Spike. Does my Slayer have competition for the attentions of our angry young vampire?”
With a snort of disgust, Kevin picked up Ethan’s hand and threw it off. “Spike’s my friend,” he spat. “Anything I’m doing, it’s because of that.”
Ethan eased back in his seat. “Denial is such a handy emotion to have around, don’t you think?”
The boy’s temper flared, and any untouched skin on his face turned a deep red. “Look, I know how you love to fuck with people,” he said, warning him off with a raised finger. “And I know what you did to Buffy. I’m not going to pretend to understand why she’s bothering to save your sorry ass, but that’s none of my business. What is my business is this, you and me, right now. Don’t talk to me. Don’t look at me, because if you do, we’re stopping right now and I’m kicking you out of the cab, and you’ll never see Buffy again, understand?”
Ethan considered himself a master at judging character. The disorientation he’d felt when first seeing Kevin had root, it would seem. There was no doubt in his mind that the boy would act on his threat without hesitation.
So he merely nodded in agreement, his stomach returning to its leadened state. It was easier not to dwell on the issue of Buffy if he concentrated his attention elsewhere. But Kevin was no longer giving him that option, leaving Ethan no choice but to resume his contemplation of the Slayer who so occupied his thoughts.
There were residual feelings there, of that he was certain. There was anger, yes, and there was a touch of fear, but beneath it all, Buffy harbored at least a smidge of affection of him, affection that she hid under the guise of worry, affection that drove her to ensure his safety, even considering everything that had transpired between them. If her few words on the matter were anything to go by, because of what had transpired between them.
It gave him hope. Ethan had forgotten that hope could taste so delicious on the tongue, but burn so maliciously as it went down.
Regardless of how much she protested, though, it was obvious something was going on between her and Spike. Perhaps it wasn’t the relationship the vampire imagined, but there was passion there. Desire. Understanding. They fought at each other’s side with absolute trust. Watching them take down the four vampires had been like savoring a 1994 vintage port, dark and decadent and not nearly enough when it was done. Ethan had been hard from the moment Buffy’s leg swung around for the first kick, memories of how powerful those muscles really were bringing fresh blood surging throughout his veins. The only thing that tainted his arousal was knowing Spike would be the one to benefit from her efforts.
Ethan held his tongue until they had rolled to a stop in front of a cheap apartment complex, getting out to look around, leaving the driver to help Kevin on his own. “Might I ask where it is you’re taking me?” he said once the cab had driven off.
“I told you not to talk to me,” Kevin grumbled. He was fumbling with his wallet in his lap, sorting through various scraps of paper as he muttered under his breath.
“Yes, well, your threat extended to kicking me out of the car,” Ethan said. “And since we’re no longer in the car…”
Kevin’s watery gaze fixed on him. Their silence had calmed his irritation, but it was clear Ethan wouldn’t be winning any popularity polls with him any time soon. “I have an actress friend who lives here,” he finally said. “She owes me a favor, so I figure you can stay with her while Buffy and Spike decide what to do with you.” He turned his attention back to his wallet. “As soon as I figure out which apartment is hers.”
Ethan smiled. “Now was that so hard? I’d almost given up hope that you could actually be civil.”
With a frustrated growl, Kevin snapped his wallet shut again. “You want civil? Try not fucking around with my friends.”
“You think that’s what I’m doing?”
“I know that’s what you’re doing. Your type never changes. Only interested in numero uno and what you can get for yourself.” He was gathering steam, his annoyance finding a proper vent at last. “What you did to Buffy? That was sick. You really fucked her up, and you don’t even care. Hell, you probably don’t even think you did anything wrong.”
It was one thing to attack him personally, but hearing the little rat disparaging what he and Buffy had was too much. “I saved Buffy,” Ethan said, his voice dangerously low. “If it weren’t for me, she would’ve died years ago, a forgotten Slayer barely a footnote in the Watchers’ annals. I made her brilliant. I gave her a future.”
“You gave her a leash. I know what that ring does.”
“I protected Buffy.”
Kevin’s laugh was a sharp bark. “Oh, that’s right. And all you asked for in return was the occasional blowjob.”
Having their relationship reduced to such simple—and inaccurate—terms only stoked his anger, but as the magic crackled just beyond his reach in preparation for loosing, he hid behind a patronizing smirk. “That sounds like jealousy.”
This time, the laughter was real, rolling and rich as the boy erupted. “Of you?” he said. “Even if I could get it up, and I had the most beautiful girl in the world on her knees sucking my dick, I would never want to be in your shoes.” Grabbing the wheels of his chair, he steered himself around and headed toward the path that led to the center of the apartment complex. “You think you’re such hot shit, but you’re nothing. Less than nothing. Even Spike’s a better man than you are, and that’s saying a hell of a lot because, you know, vampire there.”
Ethan was itching to push the bloody wheelchair out into traffic, but he had to get the masochistic answer to his question first. “And why do you say that?”
Kevin didn’t even look back. “Because as much as he loves Buffy, as much as he wants them together, he will always give her a choice.”
Even six blocks away from the hotel, Spike’s knuckles were white on the steering wheel. He couldn’t block out the image of Buffy standing next to the Watcher he’d dreamt more than once of eviscerating.
“You’re going to break it,” she said quietly at his side. When he glanced in her direction, she jerked her chin toward the wheel. “And I know how much you love this car. It would be a shame to take your mood out on it when I’m the one you’re pissed at.”
“That an offer to take it out on you instead?” he growled. The light changed and they charged through the intersection, forcing them back into their seats.
“What’s your damage?” Buffy said. “I was trying--.”
“Yeah, I know what you were tryin’.” With a sharp jerk, he twisted the wheel and jolted onto the downward slope of an underground parking garage. The security gate snapped as he barreled through it, and he navigated the wide lanes with hazardous assurance until he found an empty bay to pull the car into.
Buffy’s cries of protest were cut off when he got out, slamming the door shut behind him. Fumbling in his pockets for his cigarettes, Spike ignored the sight of her getting out as well as he lit one up.
“You stopped for a smoke break?”
Her indignant tone was so familiar, it made him want to laugh out loud. How many times during their months together had they done just this? He’d start feeling cooped up in the car, find a safe spot to stop, and get out to have a fag. Buffy never could figure out any pattern to it, which drove her around the everlovin’ bend. It was half the reason he’d done it most of the time.
Now, though, he just needed to get out of the car before he exploded.
“I’m talking to you, Spike.”
She grabbed his arm and jerked him to a halt, whipping him around so that he had to look at her. Fire lit her eyes, and there was still the faint scent of arousal clinging to her pores. Getting hard was automatic.
“Why’d you leave?” he asked. The question came from nowhere, though it was one he’d wondered about in her absence. “What was so different ‘bout that last fight that you had to disappear for good that time?”
“Wh-what?” Buffy let him go, took a step back. Clearly, Spike wasn’t the only one surprised by the query. “What does that have to do with today?”
“Everything. It’s why we’re here, isn’t it? You left, I went back to get you, and you weren’t bloody there. All this nonsense today and yesterday and every day since that night is because you weren’t there. So I’m askin’. Why’d you leave me?”
It dawned on him too late how he’d changed his original question, but now it was out there, just as needful of an answer as the first. More so. And this time, he wanted it. Even if it made his heart bleed.
The fight disappeared from Buffy’s face, and she sagged back against the rear of the car, her hands rubbing her arms as if she was cold. “So we’re doing this now, huh?” she said quietly. “You couldn’t have waited until we were out of town?”
There was a momentary surge of hope hearing her say “we,” but Spike quickly squashed it before it could burn out of his control. “Think I’ve waited bloody long enough,” he said. He took a long drag of his cigarette, the nicotine smoothing down some of the rougher edges of his mood. “Unless you’re wishing it was someone else standing here, in which case I’ve got my answer.”
It took a moment for her to realize who he was referring to, but the flare of argument he expected never came. “Just because I don’t want anything bad to Ethan doesn’t mean I want him back in my life,” Buffy said. “I even asked him to walk away, but…”
Spike sniggered. “’Course, he said no. Blighter knows you’re the best thing that ever happened to his miserable life.”
Her eyes were clear when they met his. “What would you do?” she asked. “If I asked you to walk away right now. Would you be able to do it?”
His heart twisted. He bloody hated catch-22’s, but there was only one way he could honestly answer this. “If I thought you meant it…yeah, I’d go. Wouldn’t be happy ‘bout it, but…” Spike resumed his pacing, keeping her out of his line of sight so that she couldn’t see his face. “Yeah. If that’s what you really wanted.” He tossed his cig away. “Your turn, pet. I answered yours. You answer mine.”
For minutes, all he heard was the distant roar of traffic and the steady pace of his boots on the concrete. Then Buffy sighed.
“I got tired of all the death.” Her voice was soft. Resigned. Like she didn’t want to admit to it. When Spike stopped in his tracks to stare at her in disbelief, she didn’t even bristle.
“You’re the Slayer,” he said. “You live with death every day.”
“Necessary death,” she clarified. “What I do…it’s for a reason. OK, sometimes the reasons were a little thin, but that was Ethan’s doing, not mine. But you…god, Spike, you killed that guy with the flat tire because you wanted a snack! Do you have any idea what seeing that all the time did to me?”
None of this was what he’d expected to hear. You’re a slob, or You’re too clingy, or even The sex wasn’t so great. Well, maybe not the sex one. But there were so many other reasons she could have spouted, and she was upset because he got hungry when he was driving?
But all the incredulity bubbling inside him didn’t come out. What did was… “You never said a word.”
Her brows shot up. “What would be the point? You’re a vampire. It’s what you do. I knew that when we left LA, and I knew that every single day we spent together. You can’t change what you are.”
“And who made up that particular rule?”
“You’re saying you would?”
Spike frowned. “Well, no, but the point is…you never even gave us a real chance, Buffy.” With long strides, he returned to face her, resting his knuckles on the car alongside her hips in order to lean in closer. “Why is it you always want to think the worst of me, pet? You trust me with your life, but you don’t trust me with anything else? Considering your line of work, isn’t your life the most precious thing you have?”
He knew the answer was no. He wanted to hear her say the words out loud.
“It’s not that easy---.”
“Bugger that. It is. You’re the one who keeps makin’ it so hard.”
She pressed her lips together while she regarded him with luminous eyes. “You know what Ethan---.”
“I do, and we’re not talkin’ about him. We’re talkin’ about you and me.”
“But who I am has everything to do with him. You think you know me, Spike? You know what Ethan created. Everything I know, everything I thought I knew…it’s because of him.”
What hurt the most was that he could see how deeply she believed that by the blazing in her beautiful eyes. Gently, more gently than he imagined he could have done so just then, Spike reached up and brushed her hair off her cheek.
“You think I can’t see what’s goin’ on inside you, luv?” he murmured. “Just because I’m a vampire doesn’t mean I’m blind. I see you when you’re not expecting me to. When you would roll over in your sleep and curl up against me. When you’d light up at the sight of a frock that caught your eye. That moment when you pull your arm back from staking a vamp and you’ve got that satisfied gleam that says you know you have power. All those bits and pieces…I’ve seen ‘em all, Buffy. And yeah, maybe some of that is from the wanker, but you spent how much of your life with him? How’s that any different than learning stuff from your mum?”
She swallowed, and her tongue darted out to moisten her lips. “Kevin said…” She took a deep breath, tried again. “Kevin said you loved me.”
He stiffened, but fought not to pull away. “Yeah, well, Rollerboy talks too much.”
“Talk too much? Been known to, on occasion.”
“You know what I mean.”
So much for trying to dismiss the topic with levity. But hearing it voiced so clearly, feelings he hadn’t dared put such a concrete name to…that forced him to consider her question with more seriousness. He’d only just admitted to himself that he even liked her. How could he now call it something else?
“Would it make a difference if I did?” he said instead. “You’ve never felt the same way about me as I do about you.”
“Really? So, who was the one who thrashed that vampire ho in Flagstaff when she was trying to turn herself into your next fashion accessory, huh? And when you nearly broke your neck jumping from that train? I suppose it wasn’t me who nursed your sorry ass until you could fend for yourself again. Hell, Spike, I even let you feed from me, so just because I walked away, doesn’t mean that I never cared.”
“Just means you didn’t care enough.”
“Or maybe it means I cared too much.”
Her pulse was accelerating, her skin warming like heated silk. The way her eyes kept darting to his mouth told Spike she wanted him to take the initiative and kiss her. Fuck, he could smell her lovely quim getting juicier by the second.
The temptation was great. It was always great. But it would be doing the same thing all over again, and Spike didn’t want that.
He wanted out of the stalemate that seemed to have been drawn.
“What’s it goin’ to take?” he asked. “For you and me to work. Because I know…we leave Vegas, and everything’ll be peaches and blood for a few weeks, and then you’re goin’ to scarper off again.”
“Why can’t we just go back to the way things were? I thought…I thought that’s what you wanted.”
“And have to go through all this drama again?” He shook his head. “Not interested, pet. Now. Be a good Slayer and answer the question.”
She fell silent again, and her gaze shifted sideways as she gave it more serious consideration than she had the first time he’d asked. He heard her heart slow and itched to take her into his arms to speed it up again.
But he didn’t. He waited.
Buffy shook her head. “I don’t know, Spike,” she finally admitted. “I honestly have no idea.”
Disappointment made his shoulders sag, and he stepped back, away from the car, away from her heat, shoving his hands into his coat pockets before they did something stupid like lash out at her. “We should get on to the flat,” he said, skirting where she sat to head back to the drivers’ seat. “Time’s tickin’ and Kevin’ll be pokin’ his nose in soon enough. I gave him some info on the guys who helped me nick your ring, so maybe---.”
The sharp retort of gunshots pierced his ears, echoing hollowly inside the parking structure. Spike whirled automatically, lowering his head as his gaze scanned the area for the shooters. He didn’t get far.
Buffy was slumped against the car, her blood leaving a smeary trail behind her as she slid from the boot and onto the ground.
To be continued in Chapter 14: Warden to Your Soul…