Many thanks to my beta, Eowyn315.
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 smell is what first shakes her from her horrified trance - burning, blistering flesh, incense, and the faint aroma of floor cleaner. She hears the soft mewls of pain and watches as his draped arms cling to the cross tighter, encircling it like a mother. She hears him mutter erratically to himself, the hushed whispers morphing into high, keening wails of pain as his skin singes. She rushes forward and grasps him around the waist, pulling him away from the cross, but he steadfastly clings to it; it is his anchor, his penance.
“Spike! Spike, let go!” Buffy tugs harder at him, but he doesn’t relent. Stepping forward, she pries at his raw fingers and unclasps them from the cross. She starts at the pink and putrid purple they’ve begun to turn.
“Mother of God and Virgin, hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee,” Spike mumbles, falling limp in Buffy’s embrace.
He turns to her, his eyes wide and telling. “Blessed art thou amongst women,” he whispers to her, tucking stray strands of hair behind her ear. “And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, for thou hast given birth to the Saviour of our souls,” he whispers, looking heavenward.
She gazes at him, stunned and frantic. His skin is still smoldering, though she has lead him away from the altar. She is stronger than him, but he is larger and cumbersome, and as he starts to sway, his legs give way beneath him. Collapsing to his knees, he supplicates himself at her feet, his charred hands encircling her ankles. He cries desperately.
“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been 147 days since my last confession. She fell to earth a fallen angel, until she rose, rose, rose. The power and the glory of the resurrection.”
Buffy utters a cry and backs away from him, unintentionally throwing Spike off balance so that his face hits the cold floor of the church. She gasps and looks at the high ceilings full of moonlight, shaking her head.
“Hurt the girl, hurt her. Hurt, hurts…” he moans, clasping his breast.
“No…Spike,” she whispers. “Please, not again.” Her hands come up to cover her face, to blanket it in sorrow and half-formed denial over what she’s done to him, what she’s done to men. Not men. Never men. Just flesh. Flesh to her. Flesh she fed on, flesh now burnt.
Spike is silent on the floor except for the rapid movement of his lips. He can’t look at her. Quivers race along his skin as his body begins to feel the trauma of the burns.
“So cold…so cold,” he moans, and rocks forward onto his knees, his nails scoring the skin above his heart in deep, ragged tears. “All the burning, brighter than the sun. Burns for you, bleeds for you. Always, forever.”
She drops to her knees in front of him, clutching at his shoulders, tears slipping down her cheeks.
“Spike…don’t. Get up. Please.”
He sits up and hugs himself, whispering to her, “Hurts, hurts, hurts…to know I’m wrong. Nothing good or clean in me.”
She balks at her own words thrown back her, the words she spit at him in the alley when he tried to save her from herself. She beat him for loving her then. Seeing him like this, for the first time, she regrets that he loves her now.
The burns are all across his chest, his arms, his right cheek where it lay pressed against the cross. She’s seen him beaten and bruised, broken by her own hand, by Glory’s, but never by his own, never so completely and utterly.
He eyes her intently, nervous and jumpy and desperate. He wants her, wants the comfort. He flinches when he remembers the sort of comfort that she can give – cold, powerful, and full of fists and insults.
“Help…help me be quiet,” he pleads, presenting his hands to her, palms up.
She clasps them gingerly and slides her own fingers up his hand until his wrists are encircled in her grip. She draws him nearer to her and he collapses into her lap, his arms going around her waist, his face pillowing painfully against her belly where the burns come into contact with her camisole.
“You always hurt the ones you love.”
Yes, but you go one step further, she thinks. You destroy them. Turn men into monsters and not-quiet monsters into broken men.
The tears fall freer now that they are huddled together.
He smells her tears, her sorrow, confusion, disbelief, and guilt. Some of which he always wanted from her, but never could seem to draw out. It’s what he, what she deserves.
“Not your fault, Buffy,” she hears float up from somewhere in her lap. “All mine. Lay it on me. My…my girl.”
She sobs now, nodding, understanding at last. She can’t get rid of him. He’ll never leave her, never. He’s hers whether she wants it or not; hers to have, hers to love or destroy. She clasps him tightly against her and rocks him, rocks herself to silence in the luminous glow of candles and blues and blacks of the night. Their shroud is the twilight, the silver of evening their everlasting backdrop. He seems so small and frail to her now.
“Always burn for you…always,” she hears him utter and then fall silent, sinking limply against her, at last succumbing to the darkness and oblivion of unconsciousness.
When he awakens, he is alone. He no longer cradles the warmth of her belly. Instead, he is spread along the cold, hard floor of the school basement. Long stretches of gauze are taped firmly around his torso. He reaches up to feel self-adhering bandages over the burns on his face. A pair of blue jeans and a clean, new button-up shirt lay folded in a pile not far from him. Sitting up he can see in the dim light a thermos. It has blood. Reaching for it frantically, he unscrews the top and drinks deep of the liquid, washing away the shame and disgust of vermin and rats blood from his mouth.
He pauses. It’s hers.
Staring at the thermos, his hands shake. Tears well in his eyes and slip into the bandages and the edges of his burns, a soothing balm to the pain. He has sampled any number of emotions in the blood of his victims. Rocking himself back and forth, he realizes, until now, he has never tasted forgiveness.