Disclaimer: The characters are the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. No profit is gained from my writerly endeavors and no copyright infringement is intended.
It smelled like Watcher. He’d know that scent of academia, tweed, and sexual repression anywhere. Smelled of Slayer, too, which considerably narrowed down where he was currently being kept.
Staring into the brightening gloom hugging the edges of the window, Spike thought that perhaps this was all a dream. He had been sure the fight was lost, sure that he had been ripped asunder in a blaze of glory while taking out a dozen demons. To say that finding himself wrapped tightly in linen sheets in a comfy bed was a disappointment would have been the understatement of the year.
He itched everywhere. With all the Slayers in close proximity, his skin prickled like it was being zapped with a hundred tiny electrical currents, nipping at him like mosquitoes. He’d not been around Slayers for over a year, so their presence was a bit overwhelming for his muddled senses, which were going haywire trying to process where his own body was. Everything ached with the tell-tale signs of healing. He could move his arms a little bit if he tried, but he thought better of it. Needed to save his strength for what was coming. Where the Niblet went, big sis wouldn’t be far behind, and in her mind he would certainly have some explaining to do. He would have high-tailed it out of there if he could; being bed-ridden made for perfect captive audiences. And if Buffy was nothing else, she was a tactician, and would use his immobility to her advantage and say whatever it was she thought she had to. Gird your battle stations, mate. ’S gonna be a bumpy ride.
It didn’t take long. No more than fifteen minutes after Dawn had bounced out of the room, Buffy slid in hesitantly. First her hand appeared along the doorframe, followed by the rest of her arm and one leg. She moved slowly, cautiously, a funny thing for Spike to witness. He remembered her more as the door-slamming type, huffy, impatient, and ready to roll. When she finally got her entire body through the door, Spike’s gaze weakly drifted over to her, but he said nothing.
She looked uncomfortable, uncomfortable and twitchy. Had he still been in the killing fields, the nervous tension fluttering off of her would have made her a right fine catch. She twisted her hands a little in front of her, but did an admirable job at trying to maintain some eye contact. Her hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail, and she wore sweatpants and a hoodie. He would have pegged it as her work-out uniform, except he couldn’t smell any exertion on her, just sleep.
“Spike…I, um…” She took a step forward, but then thought better of it and stood still, resting her weight on one hip. Her eyes were troubled, and she stared at him expectantly. It looked like she wanted him to say something, or to save her from this awkward reunion, but things weren’t that easy, and she was a big girl now. If she had something to say to him, she would have to find some smidgeon of inner fortitude in herself and push out the words.
When his voice failed to touch the air, Buffy considered his blank stare with a growing sense of unease. Could he talk? Dawn said they had exchanged words, but…maybe it hurt, or it took too much effort. Her brain was working on cruise control at the moment, and she was trying to figure out how to switch gears and accelerate. It was just, with him here, awake…all of a sudden everything seemed so hard. She had talked to him a lot when he was out of it, talked to him more in one sitting than she ever had before. When he was quiet and those piercing blue eyes weren’t assessing her, taking in every little minute detail, it was so much easier to show her heart, to tell him the things that needed saying.
With a slight intake of breath and a small, forced smile, she took the easy way out. “We were so worried.”
He wanted to snort and roll his eyes. That was all she had? In her own words: lame. You, making up excuses. She’d have to step up her game if this was going to be any sort of conversation.
His eyes moved over her briefly, and then he turned his head, so that his gaze fell somewhere off to her right. “Should have just left me to my fate, Slayer.”
“What?” It came out as a whisper, a bit incredulous, disbelieving. She stepped a little closer to him, so that his attention was drawn back to her troubled eyes.
“Fight wasn’t yours. Was looking forward to going out in a blaze of glory…again.”
Buffy stared at him in shock. She wanted to tell him she wasn’t even there, didn’t even know about him until he got magicked straight into this bed by Willow. She didn’t make that call. She also didn’t feel like she had to apologize for saving his life, either. Irritation bubbled up in her unexpectedly. Her brow drew together and her voice took on an edge of accusation. “What happened to you?”
Spike glanced down at himself. He was pushing, he knew, but he didn’t owe her anything. “Looks like some nasty burns. Think I got skewered a couple of times.”
“That’s not what I meant,” she got out, her jaw clenched tight.
“Know what you mean. Never meant for you to find out what happened, that I was back.”
“And why the hell not?” She was at his bedside now, looking down at him. There was anger there, for sure. She was a champ at expressing that. But he needed her close so he could see her reactions, see her face; see all the little bits of scattered feelings that got lost in the mix when she wasn’t guarding herself. In that mishmash of emotion, he picked out the stain of hurt in her voice, perhaps even betrayal, disappointment. Buffy could never be described as an open book, but like her fighting, he knew her, could read and predict her wavering moods. They weren’t cyclical, easy to peg, but they were hers, and when it came to her, he was an avid pupil. Looking at her now, he remembered many other moments of confrontation that had broken her delicate features, causing them to twist with pain and fear. He had not felt guilt for his past acts against her for some time, and they crashed on him unexpectedly when he considered why there had been no trans-Atlantic phone call to her this past year.
“Buffy…what I did… back in Sunnydale. That was supposed to be it for me.” It was something that he thought there was no coming back from. He never expected to see her again.
Buffy smiled at the irony, feeling a familiar clenching in her throat. Death never was what it was supposed to be in their line of work. Sacrifices were perpetually shat on; no rest for the weary. She could buy that. The tension in her lifted a little. She hadn’t expected to come back, either, hadn’t expected she’d have to live through it all again.
“Looks like you and me just have another thing in common, then,” she said, and her hand reached forward slightly, the tips of her fingers brushing his where they rested on top of the sheet.
“Suppose we do. Dying isn’t what it used to be.”
No, it’s not, she thought, remembering the gashes on her knuckles after she clawed her way out of the grave, the gashes on Spike’s when she came to his crypt soon after. Same with you, he had said.
“Do you remember…”
Spike tensed at her words, ghostly remnants of a brilliant burn engulfing his palm.
“The last few days at all? Me? Taking care of you?”
His shoulders slumped with relief. “Remember Dawn.”
“When you woke up, you mean,” she said quietly.
“No, can sort of remember sensing her nearby. It all seems kinda distant and flighty.”
“I was here, too, you know,” she went on. Her eyes drifted down to settle on his chest. “I talked to you a lot.”
Spike inclined his head slightly at that, intrigued.
“Did you, now? And what did you say, luv?”
Her eyes darted up to his when the affectionate term rolled off his lips. He seemed more open now, curious.
“I said…I was worried, at first. But then I remembered that you’re a pro at getting beat on, and you’d be okay.” He smiled wistfully and looked away. “I asked where you’d gone, what you’d been doing in LA. Asked…wondered if you had thought…if you had thought about me, at all. Remembered the things I said when we…”
“I thought you were gone, dead. And…I came to terms with it. It’s what you wanted; it was your hero’s death. ‘Death, glory, and sod all else,’ right? But I regretted everything I never got to say…or said too late.”
Spike’s jaw clenched, his eyes closing tight. His lips worked soundlessly, pursing, tense. He didn’t want to hear this.
“I meant it. In the Hellmouth. I meant it.” Her hand grasped his and pressed her palm to his. “I never stopped. It’s not something I can just say…and…”
Spike’s eyes were wide, disbelieving. He wanted to tell her it was all lies, an act of desperation when she realized her fuck buddy was going up in smoke. He wanted to yell and cry and demand she stop yanking his chain because it was all she ever did and he was tired of it. It was the best send off he could ask for, so why not leave it at that? But he knew better. Those three words were not doled out generously. They were words she often neglected, words she feared and shrank from.
“You meant it?” He tried to sound hard, angry. Tried to dredge up some signature hateful sarcasm, but strands of hope threaded themselves into his query.
“Of course I did.”
“Then what were you doing with that berk, the Immortal?” He stared her down, stripping all her defenses away, peeling at the sinews of her heart, chipping at her so leaflets of flint flew off her emotional ramparts. There was a burning in her chest where something stirred and warmed. Oh, Spike…
She could have made this an argument. Could have called him on his shit and his wrong choices, but reason and cooler heads prevailed. She could surprise him, too.
“Living,” she said, her eyes wide and wet. “So one of us was living…” she said quietly.
A sob caught in Spike’s throat, and he turned away from her, even as her hand squeezed his.
“It’s what you wanted from me, wasn’t it? I listened, Spike. Everything you said to me, I heard.” She gently clasped his chin in her hands and tilted his face to hers. He fought back the tears, but they came, trickling onto her fingertips. She wiped them away, the pad of her thumb smoothing over his cracked lips.
“Back…back in Sunnydale, I asked if… if what we had had to mean something. It does mean something. I want to try, try and…” A pained gurgle rattled in her throat, her eyes downcast. Spike watched everything surface, amazed that she was laying herself open so that he could comb through the treasures of her heart. He had never seen a woman bear pain quite so beautifully and fully as Buffy did. She felt so much, he knew, but she trampled and stomped it into submission, locked it in a box, and sank it to the bottom of her psyche. And here it was, all scattered like the remnants of a shipwreck. He had felt jealousy, betrayal, anger, and resignation that she had moved on. And perhaps it wouldn’t have been so bad if it just hadn’t been bloody Marco, of all people. But seeing her now, he felt like a fool.
His mind drifted to those that had been left behind or had fallen in his wake to lay themselves down on the altar of Angel’s war. Darling, sweet Fred. How the girl deserved happiness. How she had managed it for a bit with Wes, until Smurfette came along and huffed and puffed and blew their little house down. Wes had been a broken man without her, eaten away by the cancer of her memories, of ‘what ifs’ that were a constant living reminder in Illyria. He had died alone, and Spike had been willing to do the same. He had been willing because he hadn’t known, had been afraid of the possibility waiting here for him.
Buffy opened her eyes when his hand slid into her hair, rubbing a few strands between his fingers. The tip of her thumb still rested on his lips. When their eyes met, it felt like some string had been linked between them and was tugging at her to get her attention. Tugging and tugging, like she needed to be reminded of something urgent. Something about love being disastrous, full of pain, never works out, only ends in suffering. But she didn’t want to listen. She had for too long.
“Seems you’ve done some growing in this last little while,” Spike said, his fingers pressing against the fullness of her cheek. “Some eating, too.”
She smiled at that, the tension deflating rapidly. “When you don’t have to worry about everyone around you dying every hour of every day, it does wonders for your health,” she murmured.
Her palm curled against his own cheek, tracing the deep dip along his jaw. “Looks like you could still use some more blood, though.”
“Could use a lot of things,” he whispered, grasping her hand in his, and pressing her fingers to his mouth to gently kiss her knuckles. Her heart gave a start at the caress.
This was what she had been missing, what was always there, but an unwelcome distraction. She could have yielded herself to this, but maybe Spike was right. Maybe she did need the pain that he caused her, that she caused herself, to make it through, to survive. But she wasn’t the only girl in the all the world anymore, and the burden no longer was hers to carry alone. Looking at his deep blue eyes, she thought, This is our time now. It’s what we deserve. It’s what I deserve.
And with that thought she leaned forward against his chest, their lips meeting in a kiss full of promise.