DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course. The chapter title comes from The Doors’ song, “The Crystal Ship.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy and Spike have left the hotel, while Lindsey has cornered Ethan…
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is it for this segment of the 'verse. Thank you to sadbhyl for her ongoing beta support, and to everyone reading. This isn't the end; this is just another stepping stone in the stories of these characters' lives. There will be more of this 'verse later this spring.
The story begins here.
Kevin sat in front of the TV, the controller limp in his hands. He was playing abysmally, dying almost as soon as the game would launch, but his thoughts weren’t on the mindless entertainment. They lingered over the events of the past couple hours, on the Slayer curled up on the couch behind him, on Spike still moving from car to apartment to car again while he loaded it up.
“You don’t have to do it, you know,” Buffy said softly.
It was the first time she’d spoken since Kevin had agreed to her request, and he really wished that she’d just kept her mouth shut. If it had been anyone else, he would have said no without even blinking, but then Spike had put forward his own thoughts on the matter and Kevin knew what he had to do. He owed his life to Spike. In fact, nobody had ever been as good a friend to Kevin as Spike had. Spike never saw the chair, only the man. In Kevin’s experience, that was worth the price of gold.
Or in this case, the price for spying on Jocelyn.
“You keep bugging me, and I’ll change my mind,” he said without looking back at her.
She sighed, and he immediately felt like shit. Out of all of them, Buffy’s day had been the worst, and he knew he was being a complete bastard treating her this way. It was tough not to, though. When she’d been in the bathroom cleaning herself up, Spike had spilled the whole story about what had happened with Rayne. Even if Kevin knew his own allegiance to Spike bordered on the obsessive, he couldn’t fathom how anybody could feel sorry for a guy who could pull some of the stunts Ethan had. Buffy’s choice didn’t make any sense to him.
“Spike’s going to miss you.” The change of subject took him by surprise, and he glanced back to see her wan gaze fixed on him. “I know he’s all business now, and being snappish and everything, but trust me. I know him. You’ve been a better friend to him than I ever was, and he’s going to miss you.”
The concession made his throat tight, but he didn’t look away. “Don’t hurt him, OK?” he said. “I know you don’t believe me, but he really does love you and that tough guy act is usually just that.”
The gentle curve of her smile did a lot to ease some of the anger in his gut. “I know. And I do believe you. We…talked.”
He was ready to ask about the particulars of that conversation when the door opened and Spike came back in from his latest trip.
“Think that’s it,” he announced, his gaze settled on Buffy. “You ready to roll, pet?”
“Ready as I’m ever going to be.” Gingerly, she sat up, letting the blanket she’d been wrapped in fall away, but before she could rise to her feet, Kevin was there, offering her a hand in support.
Spike didn’t move from where he stood, watching as Buffy walked slowly out of the apartment and out to the car. Clearing his throat, he said, “Talked to the rat who runs this joint. If you want this place, you get first dibs. Even got you a good rate on the lease if you’re interested.”
Kevin nodded in gratitude. “How long before you’re going to check in here?”
Spike shrugged. “Gotta get Buffy settled somewhere first. She and I…things still aren’t on solid ground there yet. She might kick me to the curb the first time we have a fight.”
Though he saw the truth in what his friend suggested, Kevin waved it off in dismissal anyway. “I have no doubts you’ll just pick yourself up and try again,” he said. “You’re annoying that way.”
An unexpected grin split Spike’s features, and he bowed his head to hide it as he headed for the door. Once there, he paused, his hand on the jamb, and turned back again to face Kevin.
“This means a lot to me,” he said, his voice gruff. “What you’re doin’ with this Jocelyn chit. Maybe you’re right and she won’t care that Buffy’s rabbited off, but I still don’t like all these minions of hers runnin’ around like they own the place. You keepin’ an eye on her gives me one less thing to worry about.”
“I’ve had worse jobs,” he joked. “And besides, other than Jocelyn’s really crappy taste in boyfriends and the fact that she makes you look like the Easter bunny---.”
“---she was never that bad to hang around with,” Kevin finished with a smile. “The only thing you need to know about getting along with Jocelyn is don’t ever treat her like she’s stupid. Master that, and everything else is cake.”
Spike nodded, though it looked like he wanted to add something to the conversation. A faint breeze drifting through the open door caught his attention, however, and he gazed out into the hallway with a wistful expression. He wasn’t seeing the ratty carpet or the faded wallpaper. Kevin knew he was seeing Buffy. Another piece of regret about the choice Kevin made faded away.
“Go,” he ordered. “Get out of here. I gotta pick up Jocelyn anyway, and I really don’t want Buffy to hate me for keeping her hunk of vampire love away.”
It did what he wanted and Spike grinned as he gave a little wave. Only after he was alone in the apartment did Kevin let go of the breath he was holding.
He sure as hell hoped this ended up being worth it. He was going to miss having Spike around.
One of these days, Ethan thought, I’m going to learn to stop playing by the nice guy rules.
His entire body ached. For being such a little fellow, Lindsey McDonald packed a hell of a punch, and on top of the blows Spike had already administered, Ethan had returned to consciousness with the taste of blood on his mouth and ribs scraping audibly against each other when they moved. Even worse, Lindsey was gone, as well as Jutta’s Ring, and now, sitting across the conference table from Holland Manners, barely able to remain upright without the vise grips of the thugs standing behind him, Ethan was vehemently wishing he’d ignored the call of Buffy’s ring and stayed well away from Las Vegas.
“You really expect me to believe you?” Manners asked.
Speech was difficult, his tongue thick and swollen, but Ethan managed to answer anyway. “I would think the proof you have in front of you would be sufficient to cast away all doubts.”
Holland’s gaze strayed to Ethan’s manacled hands that rested on the table. At least they had had the courtesy of setting his wrist. Though it throbbed within the steel band, it was immobile and less worrisome than the internal injuries Ethan feared he’d suffered.
“Lindsey’s one of our most valued employees,” Manners said. “I very much doubt that he would steal the very thing we’ve been attempting to find for the past year.”
“And yet, you can’t locate him. Ironic, don’t you think, that a ring renowned for its cloaking capabilities is gone as well?
Holland’s mouth thinned, his eyes cold. “We’ll find him.”
“You’ll try. You’ll fail.”
“We found you, didn’t we?”
“You indulged my sentimental side, I believe.” He smiled, as ingratiating as he could manage. “Now that we have that settled, do you think I could trouble you to let me go? I’m afraid I have a plane to catch.”
“You’re not going anywhere, Mr. Rayne. You might not have Jutta’s Ring on your person, but there’s the small matter of your involvement in helping Buffy Summers escape our custody. Our client will not be happy about that.”
Mention of Buffy wiped every trace of humor from Ethan’s face. “Clearly, you’ve learned nothing from Ms. Morgan’s previous attempts,” he said. His voice was ice, even in light of his discomfort. “I may be a coward in many regards, but I shall never betray my Slayer.” Especially since he didn’t have anything left to barter with, but he left that part unspoken.
Holland smiled, folding his hands together as he leaned onto the table. “Is she really yours, though?” he said, his tone conversational. “I wonder. Our security cameras show her leaving with the vampire. The same vampire who helped rescue you last year. It almost makes me think that she’s his Slayer.”
It was a pathetic way to try and goad him into saying what he knew, as little as that might be. While there was a small part of Ethan that wanted to yield to that impulse, he hadn’t gone to such lengths to ensure she got the happiness she wanted to muck it up now. The hardest thing he had ever done in his life was intervene in Buffy and Spike’s fight regarding Ethan’s wellbeing. But she had said it herself. There was no chance she would ever want a life with Ethan, not with Spike alive; she was acting out of a sense of responsibility, which was almost worse than not being worthy of her companionship. Given the choice, she preferred to be at Spike’s side.
Pretending not to care was Ethan’s last thank you for what she had given him on her grave over a year ago. Even he would not take that back now.
When he realized Ethan wasn’t going to speak again, Holland sighed and settled in his chair. “I think---,” he started, but then the conference door opened behind him, and a young security guard slipped inside.
Ethan didn’t even try to eavesdrop as the guard whispered in Holland’s ear, but the lawyer’s sudden look of surprise jolted Ethan back to the present.
“She’s here?” he said, leaping to his feet. “Are you sure?”
“Kind of a stupid question for such a smart guy like you, Dutch.” The voice came from a young woman standing in the doorway, rich and low as she laughed at the man without actually laughing. Her long dark hair was pulled into a low, stern ponytail, accentuating the curve of her cheek, the lush mouth that was almost too full for her otherwise fine features. Breasts and hips straight out of a Ruben were poured into a demure black suit, but it was the arc of diamonds pierced above her sparkling brown eyes that drew his attention. Almost a tattoo, he mused. He’d never seen a vampire sport such a mark before.
“Jocelyn. This is an unexpected delight.” If ever there was a poster child for obsequiousness, it was Holland Manners bowing and scraping before this vampire. It made Ethan want to gag.
It clearly bored the vampire, too. “Who’s this?” she asked, turning her eyes to Ethan.
Before anybody could answer, an all too familiar squeak came from behind Jocelyn, and she stepped aside to allow the wheelchair room to enter without hindrance. The second Kevin’s and Ethan’s eyes met, both faces fell, but it was Kevin who spoke out loud.
Spike’s silence unnerved her. Through the streets of Vegas, into the desert, leaving the strips of candy-colored lights in the distance as he aimed the car north, he maintained a contemplative quiet, speaking only when spoken to, keeping his eyes uncharacteristically on the road. More than once, Buffy caught him glancing into his mirrors as if to see if they were being followed, but not once did he comment on the possibility. It left her with a sickening sense of dread, that maybe this time there would be no coming back from the abyss they seemed to walk.
Somewhere across the border, he pulled her from a light doze by reaching over and taking her hand. “Feelin’ peckish?” Spike asked.
Buffy’s lashes fluttered open to see the sign, “Vail’s iner” in broken fluorescents through Spike’s open window. His face was cast in a sickly orange hue, and his eyes were too hooded for her to be able to read them. But his touch was gentle and his mouth soft. It gave her a flutter of hope.
“Can I wake up for a second first?” she asked. She winced as she sat up straight. Though she was slowly regaining her strength, her shoulder still hurt like a bitch. This wasn’t an injury she was going to heal from overnight. Then again, none of her more serious wounds had been gone so quickly.
He pulled away, leaning back against his door as he went digging in his pockets for his cigarettes. Buffy watched him light up, then turn his head to exhale out the window. That was a habit he had picked up during their first runaway.
“I’m going to miss Vegas,” she said without thinking.
It surprised Spike, too, and he dropped some ash in his lap when he started. His mouth was tight around the cigarette when he took another drag, but if she’d guessed she would have to wait forever for a response, Buffy would have been wrong.
“Which part?” There was acid in his voice, where before there had been none. Her hope vanished again. “Was it the part where you had the boyfriend oblivious to who you really were? Or was it the part where you could’ve had your Watcher at your beck and call if you wanted?”
Buffy immediately stiffened. “Is that what you think that was all about?” she demanded. “I told you---.”
She stopped short when he got out of the car without even looking at her, slamming the door and then leaning heavily against it, with his back blocking her view of the diner.
Furious now, Buffy climbed out, ignoring the ache in her shoulder, and went around the car to stand in front of Spike.
“Something’s been up with you ever since we left Vegas,” she said. “I want to know what it is.”
He looked at her for a long moment, sucking at his cigarette so that the tip flared a violent red. “Since when do you hanker for show and tell?” he asked.
“Since I’ve been trying to figure out what the hell is going to happen next,” she retorted. Folding her arms across her chest, she waited for Spike to answer her question, but after several minutes passed where all he did was smoke his cigarette, Buffy finally sagged in defeat.
“I don’t have the energy for this,” she said. “If you’re going to leave me, just do it. Now. Buses probably stop through here all the time. I’ll just wait inside until one shows up.”
She was stopped from returning to her seat by the soft curl of his fingers around her good arm.
“What do you want, Buffy?” Spike asked quietly. “Because I haven’t been able to suss it out. Once upon a time, I wouldn’t have cared about bein’ in the dark, but now…”
When she glanced up at him, his eyes seemed hollow. She wondered when he got lost, too.
He tried again. “I hate him, you know that, right? I hate that he ever hurt you. I hate that there’s a part of you that he will always be able to touch. I hate that he makes me so bloody angry that I don’t think straight around you. That I can make daft mistakes like walk away or hurt you when I don’t mean to. But most of all, I hate that none of that makes a difference when push comes to shove.”
He was referring to her choice, a choice he would never understand because he was a vampire and she was a Slayer and never the twain shall meet. But they had met. And for awhile, they’d burned bright. Had that been their problem? Had they come together and combusted before they had time to focus?
“If you think that I don’t hate him, too,” Buffy said, matching his low tones, “you’d be wrong. Part of me does. Part of me hates how weak I am, how weak he made me. When Manners put the ring on me, I fought him getting into my head. He asked to help, and I told him no. But then I realized that I needed him.” She grabbed his arm when he tried to turn away. “They told me you were dead, Spike. And you weren’t there, and I knew that I had to use what resources I could to get myself out. Even if it meant Ethan.”
“But you still wanted me to save him.”
“Because lives matter!” Quickly, Buffy realized her anger was rising again, and she let him go, taking a step back in order to compose herself. “You asked what I want,” she said, and kept her gaze on his face even though his eyes were burning through her. “I want a life of my own. A real life. A home. That’s what I’m going to miss about Vegas. Not the little details, but the broad strokes. Do you know that I haven’t stayed in a single place for longer than six months since I was Chosen? Do you know how much I hate that?”
She saw Spike crumble, but then just as quickly, she saw him erect his walls again. “Right, then,” he said. “Tell me where you want me to drop you off, and I’ll get you there. With Kevin keeping an eye out on that Jocelyn bird---.”
Knowing she shouldn’t but unable to stop, Buffy shoved him hard against his car door. “Now who’s making this more difficult than it has to be?” she snapped. “Shut up and actually listen to me for a second, Spike. Because I think I’m starting to figure this thing between us out.”
“And what is it you think you’ve sussed?”
“That I am never going to understand what it’s like to be a vampire, and you are never going to know how I feel being the Slayer. I think, before, we pretty much ignored that in favor of just…being together.”
“So…” She struggled to find the right words. “Maybe understanding that, maybe accepting there’s things about the other that we are never going to get is how we start to get past them."
Her vehemence shaved a layer off his wall. “But what’s that got to do with here and now?” Spike asked.
“Everything.” Pressing her palm flat against his chest, Buffy listened for a moment to the stillness of his body. “This. You and me. We're not here because we’re forced to be together. I could have gotten on a bus back in Vegas and you could have left at any time. But we didn’t. And…I think that means something. It means we both care enough to try and make this work.”
The corner of his mouth lifted, the first sign of anything but anger or resentment he’d exhibited since getting out of the car. “Or it means we’re both off our box.”
Buffy chuckled, but with her one revelation said and out there, a veil of shyness suddenly overwhelmed her. It was different, knowing the depth of their feelings. For whatever reason, it made it more real. And real always meant scary.
“Is it too late to get something to eat here?” she asked.
When she slid her hand into his, though, he jerked, as if her touch was the last thing he expected. Buffy threaded their fingers together and gently led him away from the car, toward the front of the diner.
As they walked, the grit crunched beneath his boots, an echo through her body that she found remarkably calming. It ended too quickly when Spike came to an abrupt halt and tugged her back to him. With his arms like steel bands around her, he buried his nose in her hair, inhaling deeply, holding her like that until she relaxed against his chest.
“I don’t want to go anywhere without you,” he murmured. She tried to pull away, but his grasp was too strong in her weakened condition. It told her all too clearly that he was too fearful of her witnessing the fragility of his control. “Think there’s room in this life you want for a vamp who’s got a soft spot for Slayers?”
Closing her eyes, Buffy leaned against him. It felt good, for that brief moment in time, to hold each other up like that. “As long as I’m the only Slayer he’s interested in,” she replied, “there’s a Spike-shaped hole just waiting to be filled.”
The embrace tightened and she felt his lips brush against her temple. Then, he was tucking her back into his side, pulling her along into the diner.
“Time to eat,” he announced. “Fresh starts should be done on a full stomach.”
Buffy smiled. “And not alone.”
Their eyes met as he held the door open for her. “And not alone,” he agreed.