Things That Go Bump in the Night by Slaymesoftly

ReviewsRating: NC-17

Summary: Set several years post NFA, Buffy has moved on, is no longer in mourning for her two dead vampires. Then Dawn calls her for some help and she finds something she never expected to.

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Chapter 24

While Dawn filled the bathtub with hot water and helped Buffy remove her clothes from her stiff body, Giles used his mobile phone to quietly let the school know that Buffy would not be in. He also called Willow, grateful to hear that she was on her way. He sat in the library, gazing around at the book-filled shelves and comfortable furniture and wondering what might have come of it if becoming human had actually been the reward waiting for Spike on the other side of this plane.

Obviously, the man who’d lived here had been a gentleman, an educated, wealthy man with excellent taste. Smiling at a near-by table where a large screen TV now shared space with a stack of DVDs and CDs, he acknowledged that the man had also been fond of soap operas, cartoons and truly ear-shattering music.

“Inconsistency, thy name is Spike,” he murmured to himself as he waited for Dawn to tell him that Buffy’s slayer strength meant they would not need to take her to a hospital to thaw out. After some running up and down the stairs, Dawn carried an armful of clothes and blankets into the bathroom. Some time later, a pale, wan, heavily clothed, but seemingly recovered Buffy came into the room and huddled under a blanket. She obediently took the cup of hot tea Dawn handed her, sipping it slowly and staring into space.

“Buffy,” Giles said gently. “I’m very sorry.” When she twitched, he added, “I’m sure you don’t believe me, but it is quite true. Even if Spike were not becoming an asset to the school, I would be very sorry…for your sake.” He cleared his throat and continued. “Very few of us are given the opportunity to share a passion and devotion such as that between you and that most unusual vampire. I sincerely wish that you had been allowed to enjoy it for a longer period of time.”

Buffy nodded over her hot tea. “Thank you, Giles,” she said in a hoarse whisper.

When she returned to her mute staring, only taking the occasional sip from her steaming cup, he looked helplessly at Dawn for some way to fill the silence. The younger Summers woman shrugged and sat down close to her sister.

When she caught Dawn swiping at her damp eyes, Buffy blurted, “Don’t cry! He doesn’t want us to cry for him.”

“Stupid vampire can’t tell me what to do,” Dawn snapped back, glaring around as though Spike’s ghost might be still watching them from a dim corner of the room.

Giles narrowed his eyes and examined Buffy’s face again, realizing what had seemed so off about her when they’d picked her up and brought her inside. At the time, his only concern had been to help her recover from a clear case of hypothermia, and the fact that there were no tear tracks on her face hadn’t consciously registered. Now, looking at her bright, dry, unblinking eyes, he understood the coiled tension in her body.

“Buffy,” he began hesitantly, “I fully understand that Spike would not want you to mourn for him excessively. It’s another sign of how fully he loves – loved – you that he would want you to continue to enjoy life.”

She raised those eerily bright eyes to his; giving him a flat stare before turning them back to her drink. Never had he regretted the way they’d grown apart over the years as much as he did now when he longed for her to share her pain with him, to let him take some of the burden off her small shoulders as she would have when she was younger.

“However,” he began again, “I don’t believe he expects you to risk your mental health by not grieving for him appropriately. Dawn is crying because she has lost someone she cared about. Surely he would not forbid you the same release?”

“He said not to cry over him,” she repeated stubbornly, continuing to stare at her cup. Then she raised her gaze. “It’s okay, Giles. I know how to do it. I’ve done it before. It’ll be fine. I’ll be fine. I just needed to warm up. You guys can go now.”

“We’re not leaving you!” Dawn’s shocked response came a second before Giles’ equally vehement denial.

“I’ll be fine,” Buffy insisted. “We knew this was coming. It just caught me by surprise, that’s all. There’s nothing more you guys can do.”

“Well, we’re not leaving yet, so get over it,” Dawn said. “Maybe when Willow gets here…”

“Willow? Why is Willow coming? I don’t need a witch.”

“You need your friends and family, Buffy,” Giles said gently. “Whether you think you want us or not, we want to be here for you.”

Buffy had no reply, except to snuggle down into the blankets and go back to staring into her mug.

Hours later, when Dawn had begun yawning and Giles was barely keeping his own eyes open, Buffy was still huddled on the couch, holding her empty cup. A knock on the door brought them all to their feet. Giles moved quickly to respond, while Buffy sank back onto the couch, disinterest on her face.

He opened the door to find a tired-looking Willow raising her hand to knock again.

“Oh, good,” she said with relief. “I thought I was going to have to break it down.”

At Giles’ disbelieving stare, she amended with a shrug, “Well, or, you know, magic it open. So, how’s Buffy?” she murmured, having already been by the school and learned that something had happened to Spike.

He shook his head and sighed, whispering back, “She is almost catatonic – hanging on by a thread in my opinion -- and refusing to cry. I realize it’s only been a day, but I am concerned for her.”

Willow nodded. “You were probably too busy trying not to die to remember, but when Glory took Dawn that time, Buffy did go catatonic. I had to go into her head and bring her back. She has two responses to that kind of pain – cry her eyes out, like she did when she was seventeen and Angel broke up with her, or go kill something. If she can’t do one or the other, she kinda shuts down.”

They walked to the library where Willow went directly to Buffy and knelt down in front of her. Buffy raised her eyes briefly, then went back to staring at her empty mug. Willow took it gently from her hand and handed it to Dawn.

“Here,” she said, “let’s get you a fresh, hot cuppa, okay?”

Willow stood up and reached into her purse. Walking Dawn towards the door and pushing a small packet into her hand, she said loudly, “Dawnie, why don’t you freshen up Buffy’s tea?”

As soon as a nodding Dawn had left the room, Willow returned to Buffy and sat down beside her. She took Buffy’s now empty hand and held it lightly.

“I’m really sorry, Buffy,” she said softly. “Really, really sorry. I’m gonna let Dawn and Giles go home to get some sleep, and I’m going to stay with you for the rest of the night. Okay?”

Buffy nodded numbly, but she didn’t pull her hand away until Dawn returned with her new mug of tea. She obediently began sipping it; if there was anything about the taste to cause her to be wary of the contents, it wasn’t evident. She continued to sip it from time to time just as she had with the first cup.

Very reluctantly, Dawn crouched beside the couch and said, “I have classes early in the morning, so I’m going back with Giles, okay?” There was no response, so she gave Buffy a hard hug and stood up. “I’ll be back tomorrow, right after class.” Buffy nodded briefly, allowing her eyes to find Dawn’s only long enough to see the sorrow and pity in them. Buffy quickly looked down at her cup again. Acknowledging her sister’s sympathy and grief was to be avoided at all costs.

Clearing his throat, Giles touched her briefly on the top of her head, saying, “I am available if you need me, Buffy. Please…” He stopped, remembering how he’d taken over everything when Joyce died, giving Buffy nothing to do but dwell on her loss. This older Buffy clearly felt no need for his assistance. “Please,” he continued, “If there is anything you need help with, call me immediately.” He leaned down and dropped a kiss on the top of her head. “I truly am sorry,” he murmured before standing up and walking out with Dawn.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

For the rest of the evening, Willow held vigil with Buffy; keeping her supplied with the sedative-laced tea until the slayer slid down on the couch and fell into an exhausted sleep. Willow then allowed herself to doze off, waking occasionally to make sure that Buffy was still sleeping, before closing her own eyes again.

Bright autumn sunlight streaming through the open drapes brought her to wakefulness in time to see Buffy disappearing into the hallway. Willow scrambled to her feet and followed, only to see Buffy entering the bathroom. The slayer turned around and raised an eyebrow at her best friend, saying quietly, “I have to pee. That’s okay, isn’t it?”

“I’m sorry,” Willow blurted. “I just…we…I’ll be right here when you come out. If you want to talk, I mean. Or even if you don’t want to talk. I’ll just be…here…in the kitchen…”

“I’m just going to pee, Willow,” Buffy repeated. “It’s not a big deal. I’m not planning to throw myself in, you know.”

“I know,” Willow said gently. “I didn’t mean to smother you.”

With a nod, Buffy closed the door and leaned against it for a second.

“All right, Spike,” she muttered. “You’re not going to see me cry – but you don’t need to see me pee either, so if you’re watching…” Taking a deep breath, she stood up straight and stepped toward the toilet. When she was finished, she washed her hands and took another deep breath before she opened the door to face Willow.

“Hi,” Willow said, raising one hand and wriggling the fingers.

“Hi,” Buffy replied calmly. “Thanks for coming.”

“How could I not?” Willow barely suppressed her hurt feelings as she gave Buffy an astonished look.

“Well, you know. You’re busy, you’ve got your coven stuff and the Council stuff…It was nice of you to take some time off to come here for me.”

Buffy spoke as though talking to a casual acquaintance, someone who had shown up unexpectedly to offer sympathy and support.

“Buffy, we’re all here for you. Everyone who cares about you, or who knew Spike…”

“Well, that’s very nice of everyone, but really? Right now I think I’d just rather be alone, you know? I have to learn to deal with stuff myself. May as well start now.”

Willow gaped at Buffy’s calm demeanor and matter of fact dismissal of the situation.

“You don’t have to be alone!” she said. “And you shouldn’t be. You need your friends and family around you right now.”

“No, I really don’t,” Buffy said, still with a strangely calm voice. “I need some time to get used to…to…” She stopped, unable to make herself finish the sentence. “I need to be strong,” she continued. “I can’t be around people who want to make me weak. This is what was right for Spike, and it would be wrong of me to complain about it. I’m just going to accept it and deal.”

“Buffy…”

“I’ll be fine, Willow. I’ve made my peace with it. It’s not like he hasn’t died on me before.” She walked to the refrigerator and took out a bottle of water. “You can go back and tell Giles that I’ll be in tomorrow to teach my classes.”

“This is not healthy.”

“It is for me. I need for everyone to accept it, as I have. I don’t want them making a fuss over me or telling me they’re…they’re…” Her breath caught and Willow thought she saw a crack in the armor before Buffy recovered herself and continued. “I don’t need to hear that anyone is sorry. Spike is in Heaven. We should be happy for him, not sorry.”

“It wouldn’t be Spike they’d be feeling sorry for,” Willow said gently. “It’s okay for you to mourn, Buffy. It’s healthy. You need to.”

“Don’t tell me what I need.”

Willow looked at the rigid, but outwardly calm slayer and nodded.

“Okay. I’m not telling you what you need. But I’m not leaving, either. I’m staying until I know that you’re going to be all right.” When Buffy glared at her, Willow pointed to her own face. “You know what Xander calls this face,” she said. “And you know that resolve face means I’m not giving up.”

“You’re arguing with a slayer,” Buffy growled. “Are you sure you want to do that?”

“You’re arguing with someone who can turn you into a rat and keep you in cage until you come to your senses,” Willow shot back. “Are you sure you want to do that?”

The two old friends glared at each other, with Buffy looking away first.

“I need to kill something.”

“There! Now see? That’s healthy.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

True to her word, Willow remained with Buffy for the next several days, growing more and more worried as the slayer continued to go through the motions of living without showing a trace of emotion. The worried witch even accompanied Buffy on her first nocturnal excursion, flicking away a hungry vamp with a small sunburst from her fingers while she watched Buffy dust his four friends one after the other.

Knowing how often Spike and Buffy had gone hunting together, Willow wasn’t really surprised to find that the act of staking the vampires had come closer to breaking down Buffy’s detached manner than any of the unwanted attempts at comfort she’d been offered. Willow watched carefully as the slayer stood and stared at the piles of dust, her fists clenched tightly at her sides and her whole body shaking with effort.

Finally, with a gasp, Buffy seemed to regain the iron hold she’d put on her emotions and she turned, ready to head for the house. All Willow’s attempts to chat while they hiked back, even her mild complaint that she wasn’t a slayer and was used to a more sedentary life style, had no effect on Buffy. With single-minded determination, she trudged homeward, leaving Willow to keep up as best she could.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was weeks later, when Willow had almost given up and gone back to London for a while, that she found Buffy lying in bed, wrapped in Spike’s coat.

“Hey,” she said softly. “I thought you’d be up by now. I hope I didn’t wake you?”

Buffy’s hollow-eyed stare made any reply unnecessary. While she dutifully went to bed every night, she didn’t sleep unless Willow had talked her into drinking a cup of “herbal tea”. If Buffy knew that she was being drugged into oblivion most nights, she didn’t object, just sipped the tea and handed the mug back with a muffled “Thank you”.

Willow stood by the bed, uncomfortably aware that she was probably invading what Buffy considered hallowed space. Spike’s clothes still hung in the wardrobe, his book was still beside the bed, as was his note pad and pen. She was just turning to go back upstairs when Buffy’s voice floated to her.

“It doesn’t smell like him,” she said quietly.

Willow whirled.

“What doesn’t?”

“The coat. It doesn’t smell like him. Neither does the bed. They should smell like Spike, and they don’t.”

“Maybe it’s just fading…”

“No. Ghosts have no scent. Nothing smells like him. His old coat – the one in Sunnydale – it smelled like leather and whiskey and cigarettes… and Spike. This one just smells like leather. It could be anybody’s.”

Willow approached cautiously. Something in Buffy’s voice resonated in a way she hadn’t heard yet.

“But it is Spike’s coat, isn’t it? You know that, even if it doesn’t smell like him, right?”

Buffy turned on her eyes that brimmed with the tears she’d been holding back for weeks.

“But is should smell like him!” she insisted, her voice beginning to tremble. “It should smell like Spike, and it doesn’t!”

“Oh, sweetie,” Willow whispered, slipping onto the bed and putting her arms around her friend.

The dam broke.

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