DISCLAIMER: Everything but the plot is Joss'. Too bad.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: One week after the cleansing ritual, Buffy is having prophetic dreams, while Spike is having nightmares. Meanwhile, Giles has found out that the Council has learned the whole story of what happened…

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

Chapter 2: With Living Hues

If he kept his eyes down, intent on the task at hand, Spike didn't notice how the crypt walls were suddenly too close, the heavy stone too cold, the air too dank. Gotta start lookin' for a new place, he thought irritably. Won't do to have Joyce thinkin' I can't make things nice for her firstborn. Besides, it's 'bout time for a fresh start. New girl, new life, and all that. Certainly deserves a new flat.

That would have to wait until tomorrow, because for now, he was already late, the sun's disappearance over the horizon trumpeting dusk's arrival and his own delinquence. Though he was doing his best not to intrude on Buffy's feelings, giving her as much privacy as possible whenever he could, the annoyance she was currently feeling was crossing the distance between them with little problem, shortening his own temper unnecessarily, causing him to spill the nail polish remover over the coffin's lid.

"Fuck," he muttered, and jumped up before the spreading fluid could reach his trousers, his reach for the nearby towel automatic. It had taken him too long to decide what to wear to this shindig; no way was he going to go through that nightmare again by getting himself wet.

"What?" he barked when the timid rap rang on his crypt door, too busy cleaning up his mess to realize that someone was actually taking the consideration to knock before barging in.

He didn't even look up when it creaked open, the dusky illumination from outside casting titian shafts across the floor. "I'm not…intruding, am I?" came Giles' voice, and Spike's head jerked up, his blue eyes curious to see the Watcher step gingerly over the threshold.

"At least you had the decency to knock," he commented dryly. "Don't get that very much these days."

Giles hung back, lingering just inside the entrance, his hands stuffed deeply into his coat pockets. "How are you doing?" he asked. "I haven't seen you since…" His voice trailed off, both men knowing to what he was referring. This was the first time they'd laid eyes on the other since arriving back in Sunnydale, and neither was sure how he felt about that right then.

Spike shrugged. "All healed up and never better," he said. "But somethin' tells me you didn't come callin' just to check on my health. What bug's up your skirt, Rupert?"

Slowly, the older man's hand withdrew from his pocket, bringing with it a folded piece of paper, and he stepped forward to hand it over to the vampire. "I haven't told Buffy about this, and I'd appreciate it if you didn't, either." He waited a moment as Spike scanned the letter, the line between his heavy brows deepening until finally the blond looked up to stare at him. "Obviously, I'm not going to do it," Giles added. "I want you to rest assured on that."

"Council of Wankers," Spike growled. "Why in hell did you tell them in the first place? None of their bloody business what me and Buffy do."

"I didn't!" The Watcher's already frayed nerves flared in protest. "I have no idea how they found out what happened. Do you honestly believe I'd betray Cortina's confidence in such a way?"

The mention of the Vrolek's name was enough to curb the vamp's irritation. "S'pose not," he admitted, his gaze returning to the letter. "Whaddaya think they want with me?"

Giles shrugged. "If they know the whole story, I'd assume they're interested in seeing what effect the cleansing had on you. I know it certainly intrigues me." He cleared his throat. "But I'm not going to just hand you over to them. That would be…wrong."

Spike's azure eyes flicked back up to inspect his guest's face, searching for a sign that might betray his last statement as something other than truth. He knew little about how Rupert might be treating Buffy differently this week; other than saying he was taking nightly trips out to the desert to see Cort, she'd made it sound like everything else was just peachy keen, and Spike had certainly not overstepped the boundaries he'd placed upon himself by deliberately rummaging around her psyche trying to suss it out on his own. And now here was Giles, offering his support of their relationship by refusing to turn him in to the Council. Perhaps there might be hope for their future here in Sunnydale after all.

"So if you're not goin' along with them, why're you here?"

Giles sighed. "Because I thought you ought to be warned. In case they're not pleased with my response." He held up a finger in warning. "You are not to tell Buffy about this. She has more than enough to worry about right now with Glory, and if this most recent dream of hers proves to be more than just a passing fancy---."

"She told you 'bout that, huh? Thought she might."

"Yes." The Watcher's frown was immediate. "How do you know about it? She said you were still sleeping when she stopped by this morning."

Inwardly, Spike groaned. Bugger. He was goin' to have to be more careful about saying shit like that 'til Rupert learned the whole story. If that ever happened. "She came by this afternoon," he offered, his impassive face masking the lie more effectively than his voice. "Told me about it then." He handed the letter back to Giles. "You better hang onto this. Wouldn't want Buffy running across it when she's around."

"When she's…? Oh, yes. Of course." Carefully, he replaced the paper back into his coat, half-turning before hesitation checked his movement. Now is the perfect opportunity, the Watcher thought. It really wouldn't require anything more than a few choice words, and then it was out there, and everyone could go on with their lives. "Spike…"

The vampire saw the struggle behind the lenses of the other man's glasses, the clash of years of indoctrination with that which was right before his eyes, and an unfamiliar pang of pity caused him to frown. "Rupert," he started, "you don't have to---."

"Yes, I do." Lifting his chin, he turned to face Spike squarely, two sets of blue surveying the other with unfaltering ease. "This past week, I've never seen Buffy more…" Focussed? Happy? "…at peace. I'd be a fool to think that it wasn't due to your influence, your…relationship. I just wanted to say…thank you." There. It was done. Over with. And most surprisingly, the world hadn't ended.

"I know you haven't exactly been chuffed to bits about me and Buffy," Spike said, his voice low but reassuringly steady. "And I know how much you'd like to just tell me to bugger off. That's why I've been keepin' my distance, lettin' you get adjusted to the idea. But I said it before and I'll keep sayin' it until I don't have a tongue any longer to form the words. I love Buffy. The only thing that matters to me is that she's happy."

Giles lowered his head. "I know." He couldn't help the wry smile that twisted his lips. "I have to admit, the prospect of having an ally in dealing with her more…stubborn side is quite appealing. Perhaps with your help, I might even be able to finally convince her that one doesn't need to train while the World Cup is playing." The warm ripple of their shared laughter swelled against the stone walls of the crypt.

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

She was waiting on the front porch as he approached the house, and Spike found himself deliberately slowing his gait as the Slayer rushed towards him, her anger a literal wall that preceded her steps in a relentless drive. He was almost an hour late, and though he knew she was pissed off, his own annoyance with her was even greater, mostly because he knew that this time, though it wasn't completely his fault, there was no way he could say anything without giving away too much about Giles and the Council. It was going to take all he had to suss out a way to hide that kind of information from her---not that he thought she went poking around in his head unnecessarily---and he wasn't happy about that prospect. Fuckin' wankers.

"Where the hell have you been?" she hissed, grabbing his arm and pulling him toward the front door. "Are you trying to start this off on the wrong foot? 'Cause, gotta tell you, you're doing a brand-spanking great job of it." She glanced back at him over her shoulder and immediately frowned, jerking him to a stop. "What are you wearing?" she demanded, pulling open his duster to reveal the chinos and dark blue shirt, carefully tucked into his pants. Even his trademark skull ring was missing. "You look like you jumped out of a Gap commercial."

"What?" he said, looking down at himself, his brow furrowed. "I was goin' for the please-don't-stake-me-I-promise-not-to-bite-your-daughter-unless-she-asks look. I thought you'd like it."

"Except you don't look like you," Buffy countered. "You're trying too hard. Relax." With deft fingers, she pulled the shirt from his waistband, smoothing it out over his hips in an attempt to affect a more casual air.

Spike snorted. "Sorry to break this to you, kettle, but that's a fetchin' shade of black you're wearin'."

"I just want this to be perfect."

"Buffy…" Grabbing her wrists, he pulled her against his chest, arresting her frenzied attacks on his clothing. He could feel the pounding cadence of her heart against his skin, and the slight flush high on her cheeks only confirmed the anxiety that was rolling off her in waves. "Luv, everything'll be fine. It's not as if your mum's never met me before. Remember the very heavy axe aimed at my head?" He matched her small smile and reached up to stroke the hair away from her eyes. "I've had more cups of her hot chocolate than you think. Everything's goin' to be right as rain, I promise."

She believed him. At least, she believed that he thought it would be OK, and for now, that was more than enough. Leaning her cheek against the hard sculpture of his chest, Buffy sighed. "Don't even know why I'm so worried," she said. "Sometimes I think Mom likes you better than me anyway. I've gotta practically beg for hot chocolate. You, you just show up at the door and she's giving it away in buckets."

Spike laughed and pressed his lips to the top of her head. "I keep tellin' you," he chuckled. "It's the accent. You American birds are always fallin' for the accent."

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

The soapy water lapped against his hands with its igneous caress, sliding between his fingers, warming his flesh from the outside in. Spike hated to admit that he actually enjoyed doing the dishes, found the sensual fashion of the fluid to be incredibly erotic, searing heat combined with slick lubricants that offered promises of more than cleanliness. Even the very tactile presence of the sponge, rasping against his oiled skin, brought tiny prickles of pleasure, reminding him of dark retreats and even darker nights. He chuckled silently. I'm probably the only vamp who ever got a hard-on watching that Palmolive woman natter on about "you're soaking in it," he thought. Wonder how Buffy would react if she knew?

At his side, the young blonde's face was locked into a grimace, her normally nimble hands fumbling with the towel as she dried off the gravy boat Spike had just placed on the drainer. "How come we get stuck doing the dishes?" she complained. "You're the guest. You shouldn't have to clean up after everything."

"Because it's the polite thing to do," he replied. "And because your mum went to a lot of trouble with dinner. It's the least we can do." His gaze glanced back at the door, the two female voices in the dining room drifting to his ears with the ease of falling feathers. "Besides," he added, "it gives them a chance to talk about us."

Buffy's eyes widened. "You think that's what they're doing?" she whispered. Tossing down her towel, she hurried over to the entrance, pressing herself out of sight against the jamb as she listened in on their conversation.

"…think now that they're dating, Spike'll let me borrow his jacket?" Dawn was saying. "It's just the coolest thing. Nobody at school has anything like it, and I just bet if I were to show up wearing it…"

Stepping back to the sink, the Slayer rolled her eyes. "Fat lot you know," she said. "All she's going on about in there is your stupid coat."

"Didn't hear you complainin' about it the other night after patrollin'," Spike replied. "Fact, I think your exact words were, 'At least this way I don't have to worry about grass stains on my---.'"

"Ssshhh!" It came out as a hiss, but the twinkle in her eye told the blond vamp that it was more put upon than real, the memory of that night bringing warm flushes to both of their bodies. As his cock hardened, Spike couldn't help but miss the feel of his black jeans as they would tighten around his crotch, scraping with delicate fingers along the length of his erection. Buffy was right; the chinos were just not him.

"Willow called and invited us out to the Bronze later," Buffy said. "She said she and Tara were in need of a little R&R after their marathon homework sessions."

He shrugged. "Whatever. I'm easy." His blue eyes narrowed as he glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. "Don't you want to go?"

"I dunno. It just seems so…" Her nose scrunched up as she sought the right word. "…normal. Like something I would've done with Riley. I guess I've never…pictured you in that kind of way before. All boyfriendy and making with the small talk."

Her confusion swept over him and Spike brought his hands out of the dishwater, wiping them quickly on a towel before resting them on her hips, pulling her gently against him. "Not that I'm a big fan of bein' normal," he said, "but just 'cause I'm in your life now, doesn't mean I want you to be letting go of all those things you had before me. I knew what the Slayer package consisted of when I got into this, so don't be usin' that as an excuse. I won't let you." He leaned forward, nipping gently at the end of her nose. "S'long as I get my fair share, I got no bones with Scooby life."

Buffy's eyes twinkled mischievously. "Even if I want to double with Xander and Anya?"

He grimaced. "Don't think I'm ready for that much normal yet, pet."

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

If he had looked up, Giles would've seen the voluminous clouds rolling in from the east, vast piles of black cotton that swarmed across the sky, blotting out the faint pinpricks of the stars with a chilling finality. Instead, he was lost in thought, hands buried in his pockets in an attempt to keep them warm, head bent as he rushed from his car to his front door.

Though he knew Anya wouldn't be pleased when she discovered he'd closed the shop early, Giles was more than willing to trade her impending moodiness for the satisfaction of having warned Spike of the Council. Ever since he'd faxed back his reply, the Watcher had been nervous about what his direct refusal of their orders would entail, how they would react to his obvious insubordination. Yet, demanding that he take the chipped vampire into custody---capture him like some wild animal---just begged to be defied, almost as if by doing so, they were testing his loyalties. And there was nothing Giles despised more than being used like that.

The wind eddied gently around his ankles as he fumbled with the keys, finally slipping the correct one into the lock and pushing his front door open with a reluctant shove, drawing him into the inky blackness. It was the wrong darkness for him right now; what he wanted---where he wished to be---was the dry scent of Cortina's cave, the cool shadows that wrapped him in their ever-familiar embrace. More than that…he wanted her.

This would be the second night since their return from Greece that he hadn't held Cortina's sleeping curves in his arms, and though he certainly appreciated that she had her own responsibilities to take care of, he found himself resenting the time they were apart, wishing instead of being alone in his flat this evening, he could be lounging in her quarters, drinking some of that whiskey she kept hidden, laughing as they debated some of the finer points of Nordic mythology, only to finish the night in her bed…naked…limbs intertwined as her touch elicited responses he'd thought dormant from disuse.

His wince was almost audible as Giles realized that his body had betrayed him with yet another erection, the mere memory of the white demon's hands more than enough to bring him to full arousal. Another bloody cold shower, he thought irritably. I'm going to be so puckered by the time she gets back, I won't even be able to appreciate her. His hand snaked out, flipping the switch on the wall and throwing the room into brightness, and the Watcher began to pull the coat from his shoulders.

"You're early."

He froze as her voice floated to him from the kitchen, his pulse rousing from its somnolence to tattoo his skin in shades of heat. As he stood rooted, Cortina came to the entrance, an amused smile glinting in her pale eyes, and he drank in her white-clad form as if she may at any point vanish. "You're supposed to be away," he finally managed.

"And you're supposed to still be at the shop," she rejoined. "How do you expect me to surprise you when you walk in before I can even get started?"

When she turned on her heel and disappeared back into the kitchen, Giles followed her automatically, dropping his coat on the chair as he passed it, all thoughts of a shower gone as elusively as the day. Though nothing she could be doing in the other room could surpass his pleasure merely at seeing her, his curiosity was piqued, her culinary talents unexpected. His evening had just taken a turn for the better…much better…

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

They beckoned, with voices of dark and light, calling the children of the wind with unrelenting fervor, while offering the promise of untold felicity should they be found. Although there had been repasts throughout the years, this---an unexpected delicacy in the lassitude burying this dimension's essence---was too exhilarant to ignore, and so they came, dancing with the breezes as they skated over oceans, rounded over mountains, swept through plains, until finally espying the tumult that was their destination.

How fitting that those who came to feast should do so at the Hellmouth…


To be continued in Chapter 3: Lift Me As a Wave