Spike collapsed to the ground, falling to his knees as the high-pitched yelling got louder, the shouting more than deafening as it whispered, then hummed, then wailed in his ears. A chainsaw, a chorus of them, roared inwardly, outside, all around him to the point that he couldn’t hear himself think or breathe, and his heartbeat, his heart was muted and gone and stolen off by the noise and–of course, he didn’t even have one of those, not a working one anyway, but that was a minor inconvenience that seemed trivial at the moment.
He buried his head in his lap, covering it as much as he could with his hands to silence the noise, when he realized that it was him who was screaming. He coughed, chuckling, his throat sore as the laugh scratched its way up and out of his mouth. Of course it was him who was screaming, who bloody else?
Spike looked up, still on his knees, and she was there. Buffy. The Slayer, watching him from the corner of the basement. Always standing there in that same spot, staring at him, hating him, disapproving of him with kind eyes that glistened of lies and deceit and that sickening knowledge of knowing him inside out. Or sometimes she would walk over to him, slowly, gracefully, small steps that brought her closer, a soft smile lighting up her face. And her eyes would be so gentle, so caring, so believing, and she’d touch him, but just barely. Ghost her hand over his arm, over his face, hold it against his cheek, and talk to him in a low, warm voice.
Except it wasn’t her, he knew. Not really. Not that that mattered, it was her just the same.
He heard a door snap shut off in the distance, the sound of tapping quietly clicking its way down the hallway towards him the next instant. He sat up fast, his eyes wide as the noise got closer, the clicking heavier.
“This is my place,” Spike muttered to himself, glancing around at the empty school basement. “My home, my dwelling. No visitors, not even with a calling card.” He quickly pushed himself back up against the nearest wall, drawing his knees close when he felt the solidness of it behind his back.
The noise stopped and he could feel it. Her. His skin tingled, his chest tightening, as she hesitantly stepped closer to him. Tears were already forming at the corner of his eyes, but he didn’t notice. The other one, the other her that was always there, smiled wickedly at him before she walked away, a promise in her steps and in that smile that said she’d be back later. He watched her go as this other one, the other Buffy, stopped just in front of him. Spike kept his head down, not looking up, not wanting to meet her eyes, too afraid of what he’d see in them. He stared instead at the spot on the ground next to where she stood, stared at the concrete and bit of gravel and dirt, at her boot and the jean-covered leg that he could just make out out of the corner of his eye. Wouldn’t let himself look at her. Not fully.
“Spike,”she called out evenly, the tone unsympathetic and detached. Her voice was loud and it bounced off the walls in the quiet basement, reminding him that he was alone. “C’mon, get up.” She waited, staring down at him, but he didn’t dare budge. “You need to get out of here.”
“Go away,” he muttered. He pulled his legs closer to him, his arms tucked around his stomach as extra protection while he fought to stay calm.
“Spike, this place is killing you.”
He chuckled, a deep, low laugh that echoed in his ears and burned in his chest. “Too late. I’m already dead, love.”
Dead, undead. Hundred and twenty something odd years and this is where it led him. Huddled in the corner of a basement, crying like some ponce over her. And over him, and everything that he’d ever done. William the Bloody,straight down to the soul. Of course, though,his soul meant nothing to her, not like Angel’s did. Like Angel’s does… Angel could’ve took out the whole bloody world, could’ve gone through with his plan like the bastard Angelus had intended to, and she wouldn’t have cared. Not if he would’ve still came back with the soul. Because that’s what she wanted. For Angel, not for Spike. She doesn’t want him, with or without the soul. Wasn’t the lack of spark in him that made her hate him, it was him. All of him. Monster, and the demon. The poet. The stupid git that fell for the Slayer, knowing all along he’d never have her. Because he was beneath her, beneath everyone.
He heard her sigh, and she stepped forward, the heels of her boots clicking on the hard concrete once again. Tapping and tapping. He turned his head away from her when he heard her voice. “I’m serious, Spike.”
He laughed again against his arm, this time the noise hollow and weighted with bitterness. “It’s what I deserve, in’it?”
“Yes,” was her quick reply, her voice harsh enough to cut through him. Which was all good and well. More scars to add to the ones he already wore for her, after all.
Her admittance hung in the air between them, weighted by the heavy silence. She breathed in hard, and her next words felt and sounded a hundred times softer. “But not like this. Not here.”
He looked up at her for the first time, really looked, and her face almost instantly turned blank when their eyes met. All emotion was gone, save the telltale thinness of her lips. He knew that look, knew firsthand what it meant. She was going to run. Run away, because that’s what she did. Ran from him, and from them. And from herself, mostly. Instead she held her ground, stubbornly keeping her eyes locked with his. It was a challenge. A dare.
It was too much.
“Go away,” he pleaded.
“You’re not real,” he whispered.
Confusion clouded her eyes. Then, slowly, she kneeled down in from him. He pushed himself further into the wall, tightening his hold around himself. He hated this part. Hated the soft words, the softer smiles. Hated the reassurance that never lasted and the hope that always faded. The blurred lines between dreams and nightmares that kept him company even while he was awake.
“I’m real. I’m as real as you. A good amount saner,” she joked, “But I’m real.”
He shook his head hard, even though he wanted to believe her. Buffy wasn’t like this. The Slayer, the real one… she was tougher. Harder. More careless where he was involved.
“You’re not her,” he told her, told himself again and again. “You’re it. The thing, that’s always here.”
That wasn’t exactly true, because it wasn’t always her. Sometimes it was Drusilla. Sometimes it was Dru, and she’d whisper to him just like Buffy would. Float her hand against his face, tracing a pale finger along his jawwithout ever actually touching him.
Funny, too. Buffy didn’t want Spike without the soul, Dru wouldn’t want him with it.
Or, hell, switch that around and it works just the same.
Buffy leaned forward even closer, her pointy little heels making scratches in the dirt. Like the ones on his chest, only without the blood to follow. Their bodies were only inches apart and he could feel her. He could feel the indecisiveness rolling off of her in waves as she tensed at their closeness, even while she kept shortening the space between them. Could hear her heart pick up in speed when she looked into his eyes.
“Spike, it’s me. Look.” She reached over and picked up his hand, placing it lightly, cautiously, almost reluctantly on her knee. And he felt her warmth seep into skinwhen she firsttook it, felt it now encompass him completely as she pressed it gently to her. “Feel me? I’m real.”
Her words were soft and quiet, and she stared at him, trying to get him to see that it was true.
“Buffy?” he croaked, narrowing his eyes that were suddenly wet with tears.
“The one and only,” she smiled softly, her own eyes warm and soft, full of compassion and sympathy–things he didn’t deserve.
He pulled his hand sharply out from under hers, jerking away from the scorching heat and caring touch. “You’re not supposed to be here,” he told her, looking around wildly. Didn’t see anything–not the other her or Drusilla, so he leaned in close and whispered, “The thing. From beneath you. It’s here, and it doesn’t like you. It says you’re not supposed to be here. It told the whole class…”
She pulled back, though she was still much, much too close. Stared at him like he’d completely lost it. “Spike, it’s just me and you down here… There’s nobody else.”
He laughed and leaned back against the wall, cooly. “Right, so I’m just, what–crazy then?” He paused when he remembered, his smile sobering. “Yeah, okay. Guess I kinda am–”
Buffy stood up abruptly, looking down at him under a curtain of blonde bangs. Right, of course. He’s down there and she’s up there. He’s beneath her, bloody literally speaking as well. Always got to make that known.
“Spike, come on. We’re taking you out of here.”
“‘We’re’?” He looked pointedly around the empty basement, voicelessly pointing out the fact that they were alone. The same sentiment previously spoken. “And I’m the crazy one? Thought you said it was just the two of us down here.”
“I did, and it is. But Dawn and Xander–”
“No,” he cut her off, shaking his head hard.
“‘No’ what?” she asked back slowly.
“I don’t want your bloody charity. I’m not your do-good project of the year–your pet project to earn you another badge to sew to your little girl scout uniform.”
“My what? Spike–”
“No,” he said again, more forcefully. “I don’t want your help, and I certain as hell don’t want theirs.”
“Just go, alright? It’s what you do, in’it?”
She winced at his words, at his tone, at the intensity of his accusation. Her eyes flickered briefly of pain, maybe flashed a little of guilt, but then settled quickly on anger. “It’s not ‘what I do’,” she told him, pissed off. “I don’t ‘go away’.”
Spike couldn’t help the bitter laugh that passed between his lips. “Is that right? So, I just imagined all that then? All those times you broke my heart over and over again, that was you, what? Not leaving me?”
“Oh, Spike. Get over it.”
“Get over it?” he repeated tightly.
“This whole crazy-in-the-basement act? Sitting here trying to cry your soul out? The whole martyrdom? Yeah–get over it.”
His eyes were cold as he looked up at her. This was the Buffy he knew. The stone-cold, heartless bitch. “Okay then,” he agreed sarcastically. “Because you said so, I’m completely over it. Looks like you and your merry troop of do-gooders can head on out–I’m over it!”
Buffy breathed out loudly, folding her hands across her chest as she continued to look down at him, just watching and waiting to strike.
He laughed to himself, the sound of it harsh even to his ears. “Get over it? Like it’s that easy. You think I’d be sitting down here if it were that bleeding simple?”
“You think you’re the only one who’s ever experienced any sort of pain? Regret? You think this makes you special, Spike? We all deal with pain.”
Spike pushed himself forward, loving the way she fell back a step at his movement. The way she winced. “Having more than a century’s weight of death and murder slammed into you faster than it’d take to blink? The screams of those you’ve killed a constant soundtrack in your head? Their voices, their pleas… And don’t forget their blood, right? Thick in your throat, threatening to consume you. Drown you. Do you know how many people I’ve killed? How many lives I’ve took?” His voice went tight, and he turned away from her eyes, not wanting to see that look of pity from her anymore. “So, no, you don’t know what it’s like. You couldn’t.”
“No,” Buffy said, her own voice quiet and soft as she took in the seriousness of his words. He turned back to look at her, startled by her calmness, by her admission. “Maybe not. But I do know pain. I know how you’re feeling, and I can help you.”
“You know how I feel?” He couldn’t help but laugh. The Slayer – self-righteous in all her glory – knew how he felt.
“Hello, I was ripped out of Heaven,” she cried out, her voice wavering. His smiled faded, and she stared hard at him with eyes so full of hurt that he felt a physical ache. “I was pulled out of there and thrown back into this existence. You want to talk about pain, Spike? Fine, how about we talk about the past two years of my life. Or, hell, the past ten years of my life.”
“Guess what–my best friend? Went homicidal and tried to take out the world because the person she loved more than anyone else in her life got killed. Because of me. You remember her spell before that? Joan the Vampire Slayer? Randy the Super Hero? Well how about those painful memories that all came crashing back when it ended? Mom?” She paused, sucking in a shaky breath. Quieted her voice a little. “Mom was dead, all over again. Hello to the pain. And it didn’t stop there. My little sister? A key. Giles? Leaving me. Alone. Or, ya know, how about–Hey Buffy, congratulations on coming back from the dead, again. Now here’s a stack of bills that all need to be paid off! You can do that by paying for them with that salary you get fromthat really convenient job of yours! What’s that?” she continued on sarcastically. “Don’t have a job? Why not? Because you’re the Slayer? Slayers can work! Slayers can have normal jobs. Right?”
“And what about you, Spike? Mr. You-belong-in-the-dark-with-me? Mr. Tear-me-from-my-friends, Mr You-came-back-wrong. Was that your idea of a good time? Lots of fun there, right? No pain at all, on either side.”
She stopped, catching her breath, and her face softened, her frown faded. He wanted to go to her, to get up and comfort her. Tell her that he was sorry for everything. Sorry that he did those things to her, made her hurt andcaused her pain. Sorry that he said those things, because the truth of it was–Buffy didn’t belong in the dark. Buffy belonged in the light. The sunshine where she glowed. Not the dark. Not there with him.
“I know what it’s like,” she continued quietly. “Maybe I didn’t slaughter half the western civilization, but I know pain.”
Spike shoved himself off the wall hard, wincing from self-inflicted cuts. He stood up fast in front of her, quick to get on his feet. Two seconds ago he was ready to fall back intoold habits–comfort Buffy, because it’s always about what she wants and when she wants it. Of course she turns this around and makes it about her. He’s the one sitting on the floor in the middle of some sodding basement, soul the only thing anchoring him there, and it still comes rolling back to her. Her pain, her guilt. Her life.
“Ohh, I get it,” he said, grinning. He leaned forward so that he was in her personal space. “So that’s what this is about. Fix Spike, fix yourself?”
His words came out slow and cold, his eyes filled with pain she was probably too self-involved to notice. He felt her tense up at their closeness again–literaly felt her, because he found himself tensing up right with her. His muscles tightened and his chest hardened as he stared down into her eyes, hating his weakness. Hating her for making him weak.
“No. That’s not what this is–”
“Really?” he asked, straightening, snorting out a disbelieving huff. “So you being here is on account of us being the best of friends, then? Is that it?”
He meant for it to come out hard, for it to come out stinging. For it to cut through her like it cut through him. Instead it came out weak, his voice softening at the end.
Her hands dropped to her sides, and she looked at him like it’d come out exactly how he wanted it to. Looked hurt. “Why are you doing this?”
“Doing what? This is me, Buffy.” He gestured around the basement without breaking eye contact, pathetic and full of self-loathing. “This is it. It’s what I deserve, you saidas muchyourself. So why don’t you just go, alright?”
Buffy stepped forward, bringing her even closer to him. So close that all he had to do was lean down and she’d be his. Or, so close that all she had to do was lunge forward, one quick jab to his heart with some pocketed stake, and he’d be dust. “Do you have selective hearing or something? You don’t deserve this, Spike. No one does.”
That unwound him a bit. First show of genuine honesty on her part, of something other than pity, and he could feel his anger start to cool.
“Look,” she continued, her warm breath tickling against his neck. “I’m not saying you’re forgiven, or telling you to move on and forget about what you did. But being down here isn’t going to solve anything, Spike. You can’t just stay down here, hiding.”
Spike straightened, puffing his chest out. “I’m not hiding, I’m–”
“Being crazy in the school basement? Yeah, that too.” She smiled softly, and he didn’t know why. Why she was there and why she cared. It would be so much easier for her if she just forgot about him. Might even be easier for him if she did, too.
“Why are you doing this?” he asked.
Buffy met his gaze, returning it with equal intensity. Her smile faded into the silence around them. “I don’t know,” she eventually started, quietly. “You can’t just stay down here, though. I can’t keep coming to work and pretending you’re not down here. I can’t keep walking by the basement door, pretending that you’re not behind it.”
“So it is about you.”
Buffy’s face hardened. “No,” she insisted, vehemently. “It’s not about me.” Then, with a sigh, she looked away from him. “Maybe it is, I don’t know. But, Spike.” She turned back and looked deeply into his eyes. “This isn’t you. How you’re acting now? It’s the Hellmouth doing this to you.”
“Kinda figured,” he chuckled. Wasn’t exactly true, though. Some of it was the Hellmouth, most of it was him.
“So, why are you here? Why don’t you just leave?”
He shrugged his shoulders, smiling in self-deprication. “Told you–I’ve got nowhere else to go.”
She stepped forward, even though they were already standing toe to toe. Brought her close. Closer than she’d been since that night… since before that night, even. “So come with us. Xander and Dawn are waiting outside. We have the Xand-mobile all gased up and ready to go. I think there might even be a revved engine or two.”
Spike looked past Buffy, down the hallway. It wasn’t a matter of whether or not he would go–after all, it was Buffy who was asking him. He’d do anything she wanted, just short of moving heaven and hell. But if he went with her, then she’d expect him to be like him. To be like Angel. She would expect him to be a hero, and he was far from it. And then when he couldn’t be him, couldn’t be the man she wanted or deserved, then what would he do?
It was so easy to just give in, though. To follow her, pretend for a little bit longer that he belonged by her side and not down here alone.
“So, hypothetically speaking,” he ventured. “I go with you, and we go… where? Back to my crypt?”
He didn’t want to go back there. Too many memories, too many reminders, which is why he wasn’t there in the first place. That, and Clem had trashed the place. The smell of rotting food was about what his crypt was currently reduced to. Empty bottles blanketed the ground, half-full buckets of chicken from that sodding Doublemeat Palace the new carpet. His telly was gone. Clem took that with him, as he did most of his other stuff. Didn’t nick it all, though, Spike had said he could before he’d first left. But that just meant that when he did finally return, head thick with voices and guilt and his chest tight with pain, it wasn’t exactly the most comforting of places to be. It was cold and dark, and it was exactly what he was. Cold and dark and dead. And he couldn’t be there. Couldn’t sleep there, stuck in that place of before.
“We could,” she answered carefully. “Or, we were actually thinking more along the lines of you going to Xander’s. You could stay there until, you know,the crazy goes away and you find your own place.”
“Back to Xander’s?” Spike asked, his eyes warming up as she nodded lightly. He could feel the swell of hope deep in his chest. “You sure this ‘getting sane’ is a good thing? Sounds overrated, and not at all worth the torment of having to live in some basement-sized hole Harris has to offer.”
His resolve weakened completely when Buffy smiled. “Xander actually has himself an adult-sized apartment now.”
“Right, well… good, then.”
“So, you’re coming?”
He looked around the basement again, at the boxes that had been his shelter, the hard walls that supported him. The cold ground that had caught his falls. The corner where she used to stand and watch him.
Spike stepped forward, this time the step placing him to her side, and he noticed that she tensed up again at their closeness, at the contact between them when his arm brushed up against hers. He quickly stumbled to the side, away from her and a few steps back. Put some distance between them, for her sake.
“You can lead the way,” he offered awkwardly, not making eye contact with her. She didn’t say anything, just turned around and left, walking back the way she came. For a few seconds he watched her go, this moment replaying in his mind like it had so many times before. Her leaving him. Only this time, she turned around when she didn’t immediately feel him behind her.
“You know, Xander’s car isn’t actually coming to you. You have to go to it.”
And there was that smile again. It warmed him up, and all it was was a smile. Simple and plain. But there was hope in it, and already a small amount of trust, and he couldn’t help but believe in it. Whatever she thought he could be, whatever reason she had for helping him, he wouldn’t let her down.
Spike ducked his head as his own smile turned his lips upwards, and he followed after her. Buffy turned around and again began walking, but this time it wasn’t from him. This time he was behind her, and this time she wanted him there.