Title: Acts of Contrition
Timing: Season 7
Summary: Set in the aftermath of “Showtime.” Spike realizes that all of his sacrifice has not been in vain. He’s given his pound of flesh for Buffy, but what gift can she give him in return?
A/N: This fic was written as a bedtime story for only_passenger, who I read an unfinished version of this piece to aloud on the phone. Love you, girl. I hope you enjoy the ending. It also is a companion piece, of sorts, to Beneath Us. Thanks, as always, to eowyn_315for the beta.
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.
The walk back home is long, forged in a lumbering, unsteady gait. Every breath he takes is labored, making conversation near impossible. On more than one occasion, he tries to get out words, but she shushes him, her fingers threading more firmly into his belt loops to keep him upright. When they’re within sight of Revello Drive, his right hand curled around the gangly socket of her shoulder, he tips his wrist inward so that his fingertips brush the side of her neck. She closes her eyes as his thumb slides absently along her jugular. She swallows, a sigh getting lost on the way down, and tightens her grip at his waist.
“We’re almost there,” she whispers, reassuring him with the gentle hush of her voice.
He nods slowly and draws himself up, weaving forward like an old rocking chair whose legs are a bit warped and off rhythm. Together they shuffle the last hundred feet to her front porch.
Each step up is slow, difficult. Spike’s feet rasp against the stone and the narrow, wood column groans where he grips it for support. Out of the corner of her eye she can see tears of relief spattering his chest, sliding slowly into the vicious, patterned wounds. Before she has a chance to open the door, it swings inward, a honeyed square of light reaching out to frame their shadows. Dawn stands at the threshold and draws a quick gasp of air when she sees Spike. She looks to Buffy first, her eyes alarmed, but her sister mouths he’s okay and tips her chin toward him. Dawn’s gaze veers back to the angry wounds, and then slowly crawls to Spike’s tired eyes. His head lifts a millimeter at a time, clearly a monumental effort, until they’re both looking at each other for what seems like the first time in a year. Her chin trembles, and in this moment any justification for why she should punish Spike for past misdeeds sloughs off like shed snakeskin.
Stepping to his left, Dawn’s cool hand drifts around his back, bolstering him up, so that he’s flanked between both sisters.
“Let me help,” she pleads, her gaze meeting his, apologies apparent in the sheen of her tearful worry. When Spike turns to her, his injured hand comes up to stroke the long gloss of her hair, familiar and affectionate, but so far removed from who they are to each other now. She remembers the gesture well, and presses herself to his side, her cheek skimming his shoulder and armpit.
“’Course you can help, bag o’ bones that I am.” The words tumble out of him, a self-deprecating wheeze. He smiles down at her light-heartedly through the engulfing ache, and three steps later he is over the threshold, each Summers girl tucked beneath him on either side.
They take their time drawing him up the stairs. A quiet hum of a purr nearly reverberates in his throat when Dawn gently pets his flank, sweet girl that she is. Buffy remains quiet, his tacit, steady support. He doesn’t speculate how much energy this is draining out of her, as well.
At the top landing, Spike’s eyes widen with shock when he’s steered toward Buffy’s darkened bedroom. He tenses suddenly, just shy of stepping in, but her hand squeezes his waist.
When he’s seated on the bed, he deflates, shoulders, back, stomach, all going slack. Dawn thinks he looks like one of Stromboli’s marionettes from Pinocchio getting his strings cut. He rumbles quietly as they maneuver him carefully along the comforter, coaxing him to stretch out lengthwise on Buffy’s bed. As they arrange his limbs, he draws in a deep drought of air and holds it, Buffy’s scent a veritable blanket to his senses where it crowds every bit of space in her room. His eyes crack open when Dawn reaches to turn on the bedside lamp while Buffy perches herself on the corner of the mattress, her hand clasping Spike’s.
“Dawnie,” she whispers, her voice carrying a hint of pent-up emotion, making it sound more like a suppressed croak than an entreaty. “Get me the first aid kit. I’ll need ice and some blood, too. You know where.”
Dawn nods, her marching orders received, and backs out of the room, a sylph in the shadows, drawing the door closed behind her. When she’s gone, Spike turns, squinting into the dim light.
“You came for me,” he murmurs, hope and awe tinged together in his declaration. His fingers twine around Buffy’s where she cups his palm, squeezing her hand gently. What deadly little hands, he thinks, ceaselessly fighting with such spirited passion. Casting his glance upward, her face, beaten and bruised, reveals a tiny smile hidden under her overwhelmed expression.
“I couldn’t leave you,” she offers by way of explanation, her own hand trailing carefully along his lacerated chest. “I would have come sooner, but the Turok-Han…” She stops, frowning, when his eyes zero in on her brow.
“You’re hurt,” he grits out, a painful spasm gripping his side as his arm reaches up, fingers ghosting over the butterfly bandage clinging to the gash on her cheek. He traces it slowly, edging over the congealed blood while she mirrors his actions, fingering the outlines of the ritualistic symbols carved into him.
“I’ll live. Not so sure about you though.” Her eyes sweep across the wounds, surveying the damage carefully as she probes at him.
“Don’t hardly feel it.” His hand covers hers, stilling her curious exploration of his chest. “Now that you’re here…”
Their gazes are arrested, fixated unblinking on each other. The sharp angles of their faces soften in the dull glow of the lamp. Moving her hand upward, sweeping it up the length of his sternum, Spike halts it just shy of his chin.
“Spike…” she whispers softly, like a promise. There is a heavy pause, a vacuum of anticipation in the room. She’s on the cusp of pulling back when he draws her hand close to his lips. She holds her breath as his cracked lips just barely cast an expulsion of air against her knuckles.
They both flinch and jump back when Dawn quickly strides in, her flat palm banging loudly against the door in her haste. Pausing, she looks between them, her eyebrows raised, curious, speculative. It’s clear she’s walked in on something, but neither sister nor vampire offers an explanation, so she dumps the ice and blood on the foot of the bed without comment.
“I’ll just run and grab the first aid kit,” she murmurs, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible when she tiptoes out to run across the hall.
“Bit’s got a real penchant for timing.”
“The best,” Buffy agrees, stirring uncomfortably.
When Dawn pads back into the room a few moments later, she smiles apologetically and hands the first aid kit over.
“I’ll be in my room. If you need help playing nursemaid…” She pauses and looks askance between the vampire and Slayer. Yeah, like they’d ever need help with that. “Then you’ll just have to tough it out on your own,” she hurriedly gets out and makes her exit.
Buffy stares at the door for a moment. “She must get it from Dad. Lack of social graces is definitely a Summers trait.”
Spike snorts, his head lax against the pillows. “Must be. Your mum had a special way about her. Full of grace, she was.” His hand drifts back to her lap where hers are folded primly together. “You get it from her,” he swears, circling her wrist in a loose grip, his thumb brushing her pulse point. He lets two beats of her heart go by, listening to it in the silent room and feeling it through her paper thin skin, before he speaks up again.
“You’re exhausted, luv.” The dull, purple cast beneath her eyes gives her away. His fingertips reach up, circling half moons beneath her lashes. “Sportin’ those sleepy raccoon eyes.”
“It can wait a little. You need bandaging.” Her eyes slip over his wounds again. It looks like someone was trying to work out their astrological chart on Spike’s chest.
“Let ‘em be,” he says dismissively. “They’ll be there just the same in the morning.”
Her lips purse, indecisive, but she makes no move to tend to him. He watches her go very still, except for her eyes, which drift to his thumb worrying the roadmap of veins on the underside of her wrist. For a moment she looks like the Bot, expressionless, silent, unmoving, until her breath catches and she lets it out shakily. He changes his mind. He wants her to touch him.
As though her exhalation cast the deciding vote, she slowly disengages her hand from his to slip off the edge of the bed. Spike watches her quietly, eyes trained on the top of her head where her messy bun has come further undone. Chunks of hair stream down onto her shoulder as she busies herself gathering bandages and antiseptic. He notes for the first time the collar of bruises that begins to make itself known on her neck. Something nearly choked the life out of her.
It makes him think that villains, even the primordial sort, really have lost their touch. The First could never dream of embodying her, could never understand the grace of her imperfections. It appeared always as some sort of angelic version of the Slayer, immaculate, coifed, well-fed. It knew nothing of the hard miles Buffy had traveled, the beautiful sheen of compassion that lit her eyes, the determined set of her mouth, her own unique scent when her hair and skin went unwashed. Bloody useless illusion when it couldn’t even hold a candle to the woman it was meant to mimic.
“This might hurt a little,” she warns, unexpectedly cutting the silence when she draws herself back up to his side. His eyes follow the hydrogen peroxide-soaked gauze and he steels himself. She watches him tense, her hand hovering over the wounds.
“Here,” she whispers, sliding her free hand against his until their fingers are laced. “Put it all on me.”
Spike’s eyes widen, a small cry tapping the air at her words, and he nods, remembering: an alley, her fists, her hate, his flesh. Like time-lapse photography, she tries to make the old wounds disappear along with the new, as though she can erase them as easily as doodles on a whiteboard. He thinks an apology born through her hands is better than any words she could muster. It takes courage, all the same, and tonight it doesn’t fail her.
To his relief, she goes slowly and carefully, cleaning only where the wounds still leak, and quickly applies bandages to seal them off from the sting of the air. One of the cuts has gravel in it from when he was dragged across the floor. She hesitates momentarily, uneager to dig in and dislodge the grit. He squeezes her hand then, and she squeezes back, the product of both their forces neutralizing the other. He doesn’t even feel the burn in his chest, just her, palm to palm, a circuit of power moving between them.
Steadily, she works up and across, cleansing all the strange wounds stamped and cut into him. He gasps when she accidentally brushes over a nipple. It must have been a mistake. But when she treats the twin symbol on the other side of his chest, it happens again. This time the heel of her hand lingers there, rubbing lightly back and forth across the aroused bud. Both their palms start to get slick where they are pressed together.
She’s studiously avoided his gaze until now, but when she turns to face him both their lips are parted to let out their shallow, panting breaths. Reaching behind herself, Buffy’s fingers brush his toes, his ankle, until she locates the partially melted icepack that Dawn dumped at the foot of the bed. She grabs the bag of blood, too, now lukewarm, and drops it on her nightstand.
Looping one hand gently behind Spike’s neck, Buffy cradles the base of his skull as she applies the bag of ice to his swollen, closed eyelid with the other. Throughout this, he just stares at her. It makes her uncomfortable to be the object of such intense scrutiny. He used to do it before too, but now it makes her feel more bare than any naked fuck she’d ever indulged in.
Moving his hand up to his face, he nudges her own hand aside, the cold, slushy ice water rolling down off the pillow.
“Buffy…,” he breathes, sucking in a deep breath. It comes out like a moan, aching with need, and her lips quiver when she hears the familiar change in his voice. Her clit twitches, too, a dormant animal stirring from a winter’s sleep.
“What is it?” she whispers, her eyes moving over his, searching, searching, searching. Tell me something about myself. Make this all make sense to me.
She’s surprised when he’s able to push himself upright, his hands coming up to close around her arms. They feel so warm, so alive, and all she can do is stare dumbly at him, unsure.
His hands climb up her arms until they cup her neck just at the base of her jaw. When she pulls him upright the rest of the way, directly in front of her, he smiles. His thumb plays over her lip gently, index finger curving along the bone behind her ear, hidden in her hairline. She doesn’t know how he can make every bit of skin he touches sing, a chorus of thanks buzzing in each pore.
Leaning forward, his lips are inches from hers, and she thinks this was inevitable because it’s Spike and this is how it is with them. She’s surprised when his lips don’t claim hers, though, and he presses his cheek against her instead, his mouth just shy of her ear.
“My brave girl,” he whispers, his lips pecking the lobe, covering over all the holes that have begun to close up because she doesn’t even have time in the morning to remember to pick out what earrings she’ll wear.
Her eyes close, jaw tightens when she tries to hold back the onslaught of emotion that’s been building. She imagines it bursting from her chest, a butterfly from a chrysalis, new and untainted, taking flight.
Edging back the way he came, Spike’s lips nudge hers, quiet and polite, a breeze just stirring leaves. He holds himself still, letting her increase the pressure, until her mouth opens, a dart of moisture making the way easier. They don’t kiss so much as hold the position, lips open and pressed together, Buffy feeding him that newborn butterfly sailing upward on a light gust of wind. She knows he feels it when he breaks their kiss on a gasp. As it soars down into him, her palm presses itself to his chest, waiting for it to descend and fold its wings against his heart.
He breathes in deeply as it settles, his eyes trained down at her hand. When he raises them, overcome, he cups her cheek, fingertips twirling in wisps of her hair. He opens his mouth to speak, but her finger comes up, pressing it lightly to his still-damp lips.
“Sleep now,” she urges, drawing her hands away. She expects him to protest, to cling to this strange, nameless tenderness, but he doesn’t. He drops back heavily against the sheets, depleted, content, logy and tired.
Clicking the bedside lamp shut, Buffy rises and walks over to her window, staring out at the blue-tinted horizon, morning a scant two hours away. Turning her back on the dawn, she draws the curtains tight, shrouding them in darkness. It's no obstacle to her though and she finds the edge of the bed easily, her knees brushing the bed skirt. When she shakes out her hair and toes off her shoes, she crawls in beside him, yawning. Her jeans feel tight against her hips, but she remains fully clothed, the effort to remove them trumped by exhaustion.
Peering into the shadows, Spike is still and quiet, motionless, his body preparing itself for the heap of healing that will have to take place to set it right again. But she’s not worried; he’s come back from worse.
Settling as close as she can to him without touching his back, her eyes fall shut and she wonders what Spike dreams of, bloodshed and carnage unlikely possibilities anymore. She’ll never know that both of them conjure up their childhood summers, a century and an ocean apart, chasing Monarch butterflies drifting across windswept fields.