DISCLAIMER: Everything but the plot is Joss'. Too bad.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Giles has learned of a way to reverse the portal, while Buffy and Spike have finally consummated their relationship…

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Chapter 17: It Had to Be You

This was her favorite time of night. The moon, barely suspended over the edge of the horizon, glittered in a majestic chill as it invited itself into the room, creeping along the floor, climbing atop the bed to stroke her cheek in lustrous offering. This was the hour during which everyone, including the monsters, slept, and Buffy could allow herself to finally relax, even for that split second before the inevitable always occurred.

Her body was a mass of conflicting sentiments, at once both more aching and sore than her most rabid workout, while at the same time lending her an excruciating indolence that left her in a dreamy haze. If someone had told her just a week ago that such succor was possible, the Slayer would’ve laughed in their face, but now, with the reason for each mark, each bruise, each wondrous brand lying nestled behind her, his muscled arm thrown protectively around her waist, his still semi-hard cock cradled between her buttocks, she could no longer deny the truth he had shown her.

Spike slept, finally exhausting after their repeated couplings over the past few hours, and although Buffy had dozed intermittently, she was now wide-awake, staring out the window at the twinkling night sky, feeling every inch of her skin as it either burned or ached. The vampire had been true to his word; nothing about their joining had been remotely delicate or gentle, each of their desperation feeding their passion’s tinder so that they tore at each other with an even greater hunger every time they came together, riding their bodies hard and wet, drenching the sheets in sweat and just a little bit of blood. Each bore the other’s marks, totems of an impossible union proudly displayed for the other to relish, and the last thing Spike had done before drifting off into slumber was trail his tongue over her left breast, lapping at the blood that was already starting to dry along the bite he’d left there.

The Slayer was surprised that not once during their lovemaking had the vampire allowed his demon to emerge, holding it in check even as he came, or when the scent of her blood was so strong it even filled her own nostrils. The bites she wore were caused by his human teeth, just as his were made by hers, and she regretted none of them…well, maybe the one on her ass, she thought ruefully. That one kind of stung. But she didn’t know what that meant, why when it had been about their little game the previous night, he’d vamped out at the first hint of blood, but now, in spite of the intensity, the fervor, he remained…Spike, the man…not Spike, the demon.

He was right, of course. Everything was changed, probably in ways even he didn’t anticipate. No more ignoring him---how could that even be possible now?---, no more ignoring her own heart. Buffy didn’t pretend to understand how, or why, or even really what, but her belief was overwhelming that if the blond vampire knew the truth, he would laugh at her, deride what she felt right before abandoning her. That’s what they all did; how could she think that he would be any different?

No, he wouldn’t know the truth; she’d hide it from him with her life if need be, and just enjoy what little time they’d have together. There was no reason for him to know anyway; not once had Spike professed that this was anything more than some bottomless passion for him, a game to be played with the Slayer since he was now incapable of inflicting violence upon her. If he wasn’t willing to commit to anything more than a bit of fun, why should she be any different?

*************

He sat at the head of a long wooden table, empty Chinese containers strewn haphazardly about, red wine spilling from broken bottles onto the teak surface. The others seemed oblivious to the licentiousness of the atmosphere; at the other end of the table, Willow was perched on the edge of the wooden top, a bowl of purple grapes bursting with juice in her lap, popping them one by one into a waiting Gino’s mouth. More closely at hand, a purring Buffy nestled into his naked shoulder, crimson-tipped nails tracing visible paths along his chest.

“Wanna play charades,” the Slayer pouted, leaning in to nip at his ear. “We never get to play what I want to.”

“Don’t be daft,” he scolded. “We’ve always played by your rules.”

“Don’t like the rules,” she replied and sat up. “Let’s change them.”

The redhead swivelled to gaze down at the blonde pair and Spike noticed for the first time the heavy make-up that streaked her tear-stained face. “Just go ahead and let her,” Willow said. “She’ll do whatever she wants anyway. That’s what the Slayer does. It’s part of her official job description.”

“It’s not!”

“It so is. But that’s OK ‘cause we’ll just cheat, won’t we, Spike?”

His blue eyes darted between the two women, wondering why they were going on like this before getting distracted by the feel of Buffy grinding her ass into his lap. His erection returned and she giggled.

“My Spike doesn’t need to cheat,” she cooed. “He wins all by his itty bitty lonesome.”

“I’m still hungry,” Willow whined, resuming her hand-feeding of the dark bouncer.

“Sorry, Red,” the vamp said. “No more Chinese. The kitchen’s closed.”

Buffy’s hand began to press more firmly into his bare chest. “I know what we can have,” she murmured. Her fingers stopped over his left nipple, and the vampire glanced down as the tips of her nails began digging into his flesh.

They ripped through his skin, embedding themselves as the Slayer’s fingers sunk deeper into the muscle, blood beginning to drip down the back of her hand as it reached…and dug…and excavated for its prize. His sapphire eyes widened, shocked as the pain seared him from the inside out, arresting what few bodily functions he still had, as Buffy’s hand curled around its treasure, squeezing, palpitating, beginning its outward path with infinitesimal power that submerged him in torturous agony.

The young woman’s smile was triumphant as she pulled the muscle from his chest, the blood still clinging to it as she swivelled in his lap and rested the unbeating heart on the plate that suddenly appeared before her. At the other end of the table, Willow looked up and pointed at the now-frozen vamp.

“Lookie,” she said lightly. “Buffy made the Big Bad cry. I thought you said they only cried blood tears in the movies.”

The other three laughed as the blonde picked up the knife and fork, poising them over the veined flesh that seemed to be shrivelling right before his gaze. “So what’s it going to be?” she asked. “White meat? Or red? Spike?” She glanced back at him over her shoulder, waiting for an answer. “Spike…?”

*************

“…Spike!”

His lids shot open, and the blond vampire found himself staring up at a frowning Buffy, propped up on her elbow to peer down into the chiselled planes of his face, one hand gripping tightly to his shoulder. Her dishevelled hair hung over her shoulder, the tips trailing across his chest, and the feather touch triggered his arm, shooting upward, brushing away her tresses as long fingers explored the smooth expanse of his skin.

Her hazel eyes flickered down, watching the frantic dance before her own hand released its hold on his flesh to trap his, halting his search. “What’s wrong?” she murmured, returning her gaze to the panic-stricken azure depths.

“A dream.” As the reality of his intact heart sank in, the tension eased from his carved body, and his platinum curls sunk back into the pillow. “Just…a dream.”

“A bad dream,” she elucidated. “You were…thrashing.”

Spike’s lids closed, blocking her from his vision, but still she remained, the dream Buffy replacing the real, that hungry smile mocking him, twisting into his chest as effectively as her tiny hand had. No, easier to face the hard, and the vampire re-opened his eyes, wondering at the minuet of emotions that seemed to be fighting for control on the Slayer’s face. “Just odds and sods,” he assured her. “Nothin’ even worth talkin’ about.”

The Slayer’s heart constricted at his words, tightening her skin until she felt as if she were going to pop. He was shutting her out, refusing to share the nightmare or let her shoulder some of his pain. If she’d had any doubts about whether he was taking this thing between them seriously, they were now banished, gone with his callous refusal to let her in. Yet, the need to assuage his still-racing nerves, to smooth back those tousled curls and relieve the lines that still furrowed his brow, was all-consuming, and she sat herself up, pulling him with her.

“C’mon,” she said, and slid off the side of the bed.

Spike slid across the sheets to his feet, muscles aching, confusion coloring his face. “What’re you doin’?” he queried.

“Making it better,” she said with a small smile, and led him toward the bathroom.

*************

She didn’t know what woke her up, but the dryness of her mouth was enough to prevent her from going back to sleep right away, and swallowing hard, Willow debated whether it was worth it to open her eyes and do something to quench it. It was then that she felt the feather touch on her hair, the hard swell under her cheek. Oh goddess, she thought. I didn’t…

Green eyes flickered open, and the young witch lifted her head to gaze up at the resting visage of the dark-haired bouncer. They were his fingers she was feeling, stroking her red tresses with the most gentle of touches, a small smile curling his lips. Yep, she most surely had. Crap.

Her movement alerted Gino, causing his hand to hesitate, his black eyes to flit down to meet hers. The memories of what she had done, how she’d used the glimmer variation to change her cards, how she’d cheated just to see some of his muscles, brought flames of embarrassment to her cheeks, and she blinked rapidly, trying to regain her composure. “Hi,” she breathed.

His smile remained steady. “Hi.”

She didn’t remember falling asleep, and as she become more aware of her surroundings, Willow realized she certainly didn’t remember when they’d changed positions, the beefy bouncer stretching out on the couch, with the young Wicca laid out on top of him. It was weird; he was so much…bigger than any other guy she’d ever been with. OK, that officially constituted Xander, who probably didn’t count anyway because that was only some sneaky footsie and a couple stolen kisses, and Oz, who while super-sized in her heart was more…Willow-sized in real life, but still…She’d never felt so overwhelmed by a person’s presence before, while at the same time, feeling completely…safe.

“How do you feel?” Gino seemed hesitant to ask the question, but there was no mistaking the concern in his voice.

“Silly.” The redhead eased back, peeling herself away from the dark-haired man, and immediately felt bereft of his warmth. She caught a glimpse of his feet, one bare, one clad only in a sock, as he swung them over the edge of the couch, sitting up and sliding his bulk to lean back against the armrest, allowing her as much room as she wished on the cushions. “With just a smidge of ridiculous.”

“You’re just not used to the drink,” he said. “Nothing to be ashamed of. You were just using it to try and…forget. It’s OK. We’ve all been there.”

“I’m sorry about…your shoes.”

Gino glanced down at his feet before shaking his head. “You know, Willow, you apologize too much. You don’t gotta do that with me. You should know that by now.”

The silence that stretched between them bolstered the young witch’s nerve. “I think you should know,” she began, “for the record, I..ummm…well, this is embarrassing…I…”

“…cheated. Yeah, I know.”

Willow’s green eyes widened. “You know?”

“Well, yeah.” He chuckled. “I’m ace at cards. Never lost to a dame before, so I knew something was up. Even you couldn’t be that good.”

“But…you didn’t say anything.”

Gino’s smile grew. “Why should I? That was the most fun I’ve had in ages. I’d have to be jingle-brained to do something that would’ve broken it up.” The confession seemed to feed his confidence and Willow watched as he straightened, sliding over along the couch so that he sat right next to her, his powerful thigh pressing against hers. “You going to tip your mitt why you did it? Or would you rather I just come up with my own explanation? ‘Cause I’m thinking, you’re not going to like what I’m thinking.”

She blushed, but couldn’t help the giggle that rose to her lips. Whatever the painting’s purpose had been in setting up this particular piece of her faux history, having this man as her friend was probably the best thing that had happened to her since Oz’s departure. “I thought you…smelled good,” she admitted, keeping her green eyes on the carpet. “And with the wine, I just went a little loopy.”

“You’re the one who got it for me,” he replied. When her head swivelled to look at him quizzically, he added, “For my birthday? The Aqua Velva?”

“Oh. Yeah. Good gift. It definitely…works for you.” She wanted to look away, but his black gaze was locked on her, darting over her face before returning back to the intelligent clarity of her eyes. All of a sudden, the room was too warm…Gino was too near…her heart was too fast.

“You don’t even know how pretty you are, do you?” the bouncer murmured, and she was frozen as one of his meaty hands came up, hesitated, then pushed a strand of her bangs away from her forehead. He had no clue where he was gathering the nerve to do this, to be so brazen as to actually touch her, to say even just a fraction of the things he’d practiced in front of the mirror in the loneliness of his apartment. He’d wanted it to be perfect, so that he wouldn’t look like a total idiot, that he wouldn’t scare her away. But she wasn’t moving, just sitting there watching him with those clear emerald eyes, and he just knew…he had to take the chance.

“Can I…kiss you?”

Somehow, Willow had known it was coming, and couldn’t help looking at his mouth as she breathed, “OK.”

The hand touching her hair slid down her face, cupping her cheek, almost engulfing her flesh, and Gino leaned forward while slowly guiding her toward him, black eyes closing before their lips made contact.

It started out slow, gentle, both of them frightened…tentative…as their mouths caressed each other in a tender tangle. Willow was the first to part her lips, to slide her tongue out to savor his, her arms reaching up to steady herself against his broad shoulders, leaning into his easy power with a familiarity that startled her sensible nature. He tasted as good as he smelled, the mixture heady, enthralling, and she felt the tremors begin somewhere deep within her tummy, those giddy reminders of desire that she’d believed long dead, long gone.

It was the only encouragement the dark bouncer needed, scooping her into his embrace and pulling her firmly onto his lap as he deepened the kiss. The kaleidoscope of sensations, the whirlwind of emotions, it all threatened to overwhelm him, and he silently thanked whatever gods were looking down on him. Nobody could be luckier than Gino tonight…

*************

Spike stood in the doorway, watching as Buffy’s naked form stood before the large corner shower, adjusting the knobs on the wall until the water seemed to sizzle as it hit the tiles, the steam already rising, wrapping itself around their bodies in a sultry embrace, while at the same time cosseting their tender and bruised flesh. He didn’t understand. He knew she wanted him, had experienced it firsthand; hell, he had the marks to prove it even if she had the nerve to deny it. But this…this went beyond their lovemaking; this bordered on genuine concern for his well-being, and that wasn’t something the vampire thought he’d ever actually experienced with the Slayer…outside of the influence of magic, that is.

His face was inscrutable when Buffy looked back at him, and she briefly wondered why she was bothering, why she was putting herself through this just to ease the burden of his nightmare. Because you have to, the little voice whispered. Because you…

“Feelin’ particularly dirty, pet?”

“No. I find it relaxing. The hotter, the better.” She folded her arms across her bare breasts. “Now, are you going to get in this shower on your own, or do I have to drag your undead ass over here?”

For a brief moment, Spike actually considered letting her drag him into the water, but the stiff reminder of his recent escapades convinced him otherwise. He sauntered through the steam, bathed in a sheen of condensation before he’d even crossed the room, and stopped just at the shower’s edge, cocking his already-drenched platinum curls as he gazed steadily at the young woman who stood within. “Now what?” he queried.

She didn’t speak, only reached forward, curling her fingers around his arm to pull him in the final few feet. The alabaster of his skin was carved in frozen glory, and, in spite of the bruising and bites that marred its perfection, Buffy found her mouth watering at his magnificence, revelling in the recent memories of their lovemaking. She wondered if the water was stinging his skin where it pelted against the rawness, or if he was oblivious to the discomfort, accustomed to lifetimes of pain from his experiences as a vampire. It certainly hurt her, although the longer she stood underneath it, the easier it got to bear, the tiny beads pounding against her flesh in a vicious massage, rinsing away the blood, cleansing away the sweat. Her only hope was that it would have the same effect on him.

Gently, Buffy propelled Spike directly under the showerhead, positioning his arms as if he were her own marionette, guiding them to the tiled walls so that they could support his weight as he leaned forward. When he tried to turn his head to look back at her, the young woman took it between her hands and redirected his gaze forward. “Just relax,” she said softly. “And trust me.”

The scent of vanilla suddenly saturated the air, and the vampire heard the indistinct sounds of the Slayer behind him. “Goin’ to smell like a bloody potpourri shop,” he muttered, but his tone was light, the arousal unmistakeable.

She didn’t bother with a sponge, just rolled the bar of soap between her hands until she had a good head of lather started, before placing her fingers at the top of his shoulders, massaging the muscles as the scented foam spread, dripped down his back in rivulets more stark than his skin. Taking care not to press too firmly on those patches that sported bruising, Buffy skated over his arms…down his sides to his lean hips…then stepped forward, pressing herself into his back as her hands danced to his front.

Spike’s eyes fluttered shut at the sudden contact, and there was no mistaking his audible sigh as she rested her cheek against his shoulder blade, the muscular mounds of his buttocks melding into the curve of her pelvis. The young woman’s touch coated his sculpted torso in creamy lather, the lowering of his head protecting that portion of his body from the shower’s torrent, and for what seemed forever, the world vanished for both of them, leaving behind only the close quarters of the steam shrouding them in its dusky caress.

As enjoyable as their earlier romps had been, they paled when compared to the ambrosial tenderness that now fused the pair, each of their body’s now singing with heat, and Buffy almost cried out in frustration when she felt the vampire’s muscles twitch under her cheek, her eyelids shooting open as she felt him straighten within her arms. One more minute, she thought bitterly. Stupid vamp, you couldn’t wait one more---.

And then his hand was on her wrist, and he was turning around, blue eyes darkened to black as he gazed down at her, the water pounding against his back. He saw the hurt fading away from those hazel orbs, witnessed the softening of her mouth as if she was swallowing whatever words had formed there, and knew, even if she wasn’t going to voice it out loud. One long hand came up, pushed back the damp hair from her forehead, and his thumb brushed over her mouth, watching it quiver under his touch. Bloody dreams, he thought. Always bollixing things up. Gotta learn to stop taking them so serious-like.

Buffy held her breath as his head lowered, lips meeting hers, sucking them in, and her arms came up around his breadth, clinging to him in mute desperation. The beat of her heart echoed into his skin, and rational thought ran away, dragging behind it---for the moment, at least---all the Slayer’s distress and doubts. Breaking away from the contact of his mouth, she slid her cheek against his, tongue lapping at the water beading on his skin, and she whispered, “Make love to me.”

There was no hesitation. In one clean, swift movement, Spike’s embrace lifted her from the tiled floor…positioned her hips above his erection…and slowly lowered her, her warm folds sucking him in…inch by inch…engulfing him until he was completely buried deep within her.

It was slow, each believing they had all the time in the world…

It was splendor, the water’s cascade drowning them in liquid fire as their mouths sought out the other’s…

It was peace…

The rumbling began deep within Buffy’s core, and her fingers entangled in Spike’s blond curls, deepening their kiss as the waves of her orgasm captured her breath, painting the shower in a blinding concerto as she rode atop its undulations. As the spasms buffeted her body, the vampire growled into her mouth, his muscles clenching as he came within her, clutching at her toned back as if it was a life preserver and he was sinking, plunging into heavenly depths unexplored…which, in all actuality…he was…

The young woman felt the sting of unbidden tears well out of nowhere, and she squeezed her eyes shut, willing them away. He was so good at making it seem like it was more than just the act, that when she’d deliberately said, “Make love to me,” it had been an automatic response to an emotion, not to a physical need. She didn’t want to cry---didn’t want him to see her cry---but fighting it back was harder than slaying, knowing when they got out that she would have to face the truth and deal with it, believing with all her heart that she was alone on how she felt.

How could Buffy ever face Spike in the naked light of day without his being able to read her, to see that somehow, she’d fallen in love with him…?

To be continued in Chapter 18: That Ol’ Black Magic