Author’s Notes: Much thanks to DampersnSpoons for her advice and editing, she is a queen amongst beta-readers.
She saw him as soon as she entered the cavern: chained, battered, bleeding. Her eyes watered and her stomach churned. She’d let them convince her to stop home and clean-up first. She’d sat in the living room and let Dawn apply bandages to the scrapes that would likely be healed by morning regardless of the treatment. She’d showered and changed her clothes. And Buffy knew that every minute of it was another minute he’d spent here.
She liked to claim that she wasn’t the same girl that had crawled, all wrong, out of that grave. She liked to think that she’d grown. Look here, see how well-grounded I am? Deep down, she knew it was a lie. She was a mess.
It was her pride, mostly. She’d wanted to turn heel and run to his rescue the moment that the ubervamp’s dust had hit the ground. But she didn’t. She just hadn’t been able to admit that Spike was a priority, her priority. The snarky taunts and whispered comments had gotten to her. She’d let them get to her and then she’d let Spike suffer more because of it.
She clenched her jaw as she grew closer and wondered how much that hour had cost him. How much more would she let him suffer to please her friends?
How much more would she suffer to please them? How perfect did she have to be? She tried to quell the ball of hot anger growing in her gut. They were her friends, she loved them and they meant well. The anger didn’t subside. Instead, as always, it was buried beneath a thick blanket of guilt for even thinking such unfriendly thoughts.
She was nearly at his side before he noticed her. He lifted his head weakly and scoffed. “A knife, now, is it?”
Buffy couldn’t speak. She felt ill as she raised the knife she’d taken from the bringer who’d been acting as guard. Without a sound, she started to cut the cords tethering him to the cave wall.
Dragging forth all the bravado he could muster, Spike started again. “What’ll…what’ll that…you—you can’t hurt me. You’re—you’re just a bloody figment, you are. You’re just…”
Falling forward, he reached out a hand to brace himself against her shoulder, almost in the same instant that he realized it was, in fact, her. “You. Oh…” His voice broke and he squinted as he studied her. A cautious smile swept across his face, but he lacked the energy to hold it there very long.
Still not sure what she could say, Buffy met his eyes with her own and gave him a moment to steady himself before putting her arm around his waist to help him walk.
Spike put an arm around her shoulder and leaned heavily on her as they started towards the cave’s exit. He whispered almost too quietly for her to hear. “You came. You…came for me.”
Yeah, she thought guiltily, I came as soon as it was convenient. Buffy tightened her grip at his waist. “There’s a car. Xander’s car is right outside. Can you make it?”
He nodded once and the two of them made their way slowly through the tunnel.
Buffy could feel the increasing pressure of his weight against her as they left and knew that he wouldn’t be able to walk much further. Thankfully, she thought, the car was close.
She also knew that he was hurt badly but couldn’t really tell just how and where yet, and finally decided that it would be best to worry first about getting him home. Spike blacked out mere seconds after getting into the backseat and she wasn’t surprised.
Xander watched her help him into the car with a quizzical expression. “How bad?”
Buffy didn’t bother to turn towards him when she replied. “He’ll heal. I’ll…he’ll heal.” She slid in beside him on the backseat and pulled him over so that he was resting against her. She couldn’t look at Xander. It shamed her to know that he could break her resolve to help Spike with a derisive glance or comment. Better, she figured, not to test herself.
Xander arched his eyebrows, but chose not to comment. He climbed in and started the short trip back to Revello Drive.
A car horn blared loudly nearby and Spike was startled back to consciousness. He jerked himself off of Buffy’s arm and stared at her with a confused expression.
Buffy saw the bewilderment on his face, watched him study her with the one eye that wasn’t swollen shut and listened as he started muttering to himself.
“Not…First…not…her…” he started. “Buffy?” He whispered her name solemnly.
“Spike.” She said his name firmly, but with a warm tone that she rarely presented to him. “It’s me, Spike. See.” She reached over and placed her hand on his. “We’re taking you home. We’ll get you patched up. Okay?”
She wanted to say more. She wanted to soothe him with gentle words and assurances. But she couldn’t, not in front of Xander, probably not even alone. Death was something she could brave. Sweet words to Spike; that scared the shit out of her.
He looked down at her hand on his for a moment before nodding. “Right. Right then. You came.” His head was a cloud as he tried to remember the rules. The First can’t touch you, so this Buffy was actually Buffy. Or he was dreaming. That was certainly possible, likely even. He’d dreamt of her before. But the boy was here and Spike didn’t think he’d dream that.
When he gazed back up at her, there was wonder on his face. She smiled softly and nodded a yes.
Xander’s voice floated back from the front of the car. “We’re back. And judging by the fact that every light in the place is on, I’m gonna say that the girls have been waiting up for you.”
She frowned before turning back to Spike. “I’ll come around to the other side of the car to help you out. ‘Kay?”
Xander stood to the side and watched as Buffy helped Spike out of the car. Noticing the extent of the blonde vampire’s injuries, he felt a twinge of sympathy. He immediately replaced the feeling with irritation. He hated the guy; it simply wouldn’t do to feel sorry for him just because he’d taken a beating. The way he saw it, Buffy was already dishing out more than enough sympathy for the devil. Clenching his jaw he fought off the urge to shout at her. He tried to rape you; Xander argued with her silently, he’s a killer. Reluctantly, he followed them into the house.
Buffy took in the curious crowd awaiting their return with a grim expression. She ordered them silently to stop watching her. It was her house, wasn’t it? If she wanted to nurse an injured vampire back to health in the privacy of her own home, who were they to judge her? How could they not see that his soul changed everything? He wasn’t just trying to be good now, he really could be.
And he’d done it for her.
She scanned the faces quickly for Dawn. “Did you get the stuff ready downstairs?”
Dawn pulled her gaze away from Spike and turned, still wide-eyed, toward her sister. “Yeah, it’s…all set.”
“Good.” Buffy turned to Willow. “Will, could you bring me some blood from the fridge?”
Dawn answered first. “I can…I can do that. I still remember how to warm it and stuff.”
Buffy simply nodded in return.
For a moment, Dawn’s words hadn’t made sense. It came to her suddenly. Of course Dawn knew how Spike liked his blood. Spike had spent a lot of time with Dawn while she had been…dead. She’d heard the stories about dedicated babysitter-Spike. Tara had told her about it when she’d gone to her for help. “He’s done a lot of good,” she’d said. Spike had taken care of her sister for months and when she’d come back, she told him that he wasn’t capable of love. “There’s nothing good or clean in you,” she’d screamed with both her words and her fists. Buffy shook off the thought. She couldn’t change the past. She couldn’t change the mistakes made by either of them.
Today was different though; she was going to do what she knew was right, even if everyone was staring at her. She really wished they’d all stop staring at her.
Spike was only peripherally aware of the happenings around him. He was tired. He was hurt. Mostly though, he was with Buffy. He knew that she was only letting him touch her because he couldn’t walk without the help. That knowledge couldn’t really take all the pleasure away from the experience. He could feel her warmth, hear her heartbeat, smell her unique scent. If he hadn’t been struggling to avoid blacking out again, he’d have been elated.
“There’s a…a bed set up downstairs, okay? I figured that was best,” Buffy spoke softly as she started to lead Spike towards the basement steps. She felt him droop against her when they hit the top of the staircase and wondered if he could handle walking down them. Lowering her voice to the quietest of whispers, she asked, “Spike? I could…if you can’t walk…I could carry you down.” She knew that even hearing her ask had probably hurt his pride, but she wasn’t sure what else she could do.
“I can make it…just…not so fast as normal.”
She nodded and the two of them made their way, slowly and painfully, down to the basement. Buffy winced at each quiet noise he made and her determination to do this one thing well, to see him healed quickly and comfortably, strengthened. She was glad to see that her request had been followed. Dawn and the girls had cleared out a space near the sink and had set up the cot. They’d put fresh sheets on it and there was a stack of pillows and blankets. On top of the blankets was a coiled rope, and nearby, a space heater that took the bite out of the cool air.
“Here ,Spike.” She led him over and helped him sit down. He groaned from the effort. “Spike?”
“It’s nothing, really. A little rest an’ I’ll be back to normal…ready to fight the…fight.”
She looked skeptical.
“Broken ribs. That’s the worst of it I ‘spect.” He pushed the words out with an effort, as though out of breath. “Probably my arm’s broken too and there was something on the knife they used to…the bleeding hasn’t stopped so quickly as it should’ve.”
Buffy nodded, her eyes scanning him for the injuries he mentioned and checking for others he might have tried to hide. He looked awful. She walked over to the sink and filled a bowl with water. Dropping a cloth into it she walked back and kneeled down beside him on the cot. Without a word, she wrung out the cloth and touched it gently to the side of his face. At his wince, she paused. “Too hot?”
He shook his head slightly and sat inhumanly still as she washed the blood, dried and fresh, from his face and hair.
It figured, she thought, that he would have a black eye. It was the perfect thing to trigger one of their ugliest memories. She shouldn’t have hit him and he shouldn’t have let her. Buffy wondered if he knew that now. Had the soul let him see that truth? In trying to let her vent her frustrations out on him, he had in truth let her become the monster that she feared she was.
Still, she supposed he should get points for trying. He had listened even when he didn’t like what she was saying. He had been the only one she could talk to. So, yeah, points for that for whatever they were worth. Why was she adding up his points? Weren’t they past that?
As soon as she stood to dump out the now blood-reddened water, she heard the door at the top of the stairs open.
When she realized it was Dawn, Buffy put the bowl down and walked quickly over to meet her on the stairs. This was a private situation and she didn’t want Dawn coming down. “Thanks,” she offered, taking the warm mug from her hands.
Dawn opened her mouth and closed it once before glancing over at Spike. When he didn’t look up at her, she looked back at her sister. It felt too much like staring otherwise. “Is he…?”
“He’ll be fine. Tell everyone to go to bed and to please keep the volume down, ‘kay?” She gave her a dismissive nod.
Dawn looked down. “Right.”
Buffy’s face had the same closed off expression that she’d had when their mother died. Then, Dawn had mistaken it for a lack of emotion. She understood now that it had more to do with surviving. Buffy had to deal with all the practical aspects before she could deal with the emotional ones. If she started with her emotions, everything else would go to shit. Dawn wanted to ask what had happened and whether Buffy felt weird taking care of Spike after all that had occurred between them. She wanted to ask a lot of things, but she knew her sister was done talking.
Buffy watched Dawn walk up the stairs and close the door firmly behind her before she walked back over to Spike. She held out the mug. “Can you hold it yourself, or…”
He took the mug with both hands, winced and placed one hand back on the bed. “Thanks.” Carefully, he brought the mug to his lips for a tentative sip. He was starving. It had been days since he’d last drank and the temptation to swallow the entire mug in two gulps was strong. But it wasn’t the first time he’d gone hungry. He knew that if he drank too fast it would come right back up.
Giving him a small smile, Buffy went back to the sink and once again filled the bowl with water. She held the cloth under the faucet until the water ran clear and then she finally joined him on the cot. Cautious, so as not to get in the way of his drinking, she began wiping the blood from his back and shoulders.
When he’d emptied the mug, she took it from him. “Do you need more? I can…”
He shook his head firmly before giving her a quizzical look.
“Oh…okay. Do you want to lie down? I can…” she nodded towards the cuts on his chest.
Swallowing hard, he did as she suggested. The cot creaked as he shifted his weight.
“Oh! Here.” Buffy grabbed a pillow from the pile and placed it on the bed. Once he’d settled, she sat down beside him. “Do you know what these mean?” She brought a single finger up to trace one of the symbols that had been carved into his chest.
“Not really. I think really it was just the blood that was important, but…” He tried to shrug but winced instead.
Buffy’s eyes widened. “Sorry. We can talk…later.” She brought the cloth to his chest and wiped with soft, efficient movements until the worst of the dried blood was removed. She could feel his curious gaze resting upon her, but she didn’t look up. He’d always read her too well. She wasn’t sure what he’d see in her just then.
Spike’s head was spinning. If he could be sure that she would touch him like this again, he’d gladly take another beating. He still couldn’t believe that she had come for him at all. After everything that he had done, she had come. He wondered if she really believed that he could be a good man.
It wasn’t that he thought she was perfect, he knew all too well that she wasn’t. So he knew too, that she could be wrong. It didn’t matter. If she thought that he could be good, that he could make a difference, that he could make her proud; then he would. It was still all about Buffy.
He suspected that would piss her off.
Glancing over him once again, Buffy frowned. “There’s blood…on your jeans. Are you hurt? I could…we should probably stick them in the wash anyway.”
His eyes widened. Was she really suggesting that he take off his pants? “Buff…” It wasn’t going to happen. Even injured, he knew that her touching him would get a reaction. He’d get hard, she’d get freaked and this lovely little interlude would be over. He didn’t have a lot keeping him going these days; he wanted this to last as long as it could. “Pretty sure the blood just dripped there. No big worries, yeah?”
She blushed. “Right. We can wash them tomorrow. You should rest.”
Nodding almost gratefully, Spike put his hands together and held them out in front of his chest.
Buffy paled at the implication. “Spike…I’m not going to tie you up. You’re hurt.”
“You have to. The First doesn’t care…might be able to make me forget the pain long enough to massacre the kiddies upstairs.”
“They wouldn’t be able to protect themselves. Even like this, I could still…”
“I can stop you.”
“If you got there in time…maybe. You just can’t risk it, pet.”
“I’m not tying you up. I’ll just stay.”
He frowned. “Here?”
Biting her lip, she gave a slight nod. “There’s plenty of room. I’ll sleep here. I can sleep light, if you get up, I’ll know.”
His jaw clenched and he swallowed hard. “Why?”
“Why are you doing this? You could…you could barely tolerate my being in the same town with you, and that was before I brought you into that basement…before you’d seen what I did. Now…I don’t get what you’re playing at here.”
“Playing?” Her defenses went up and she had to fight to push back the obvious snarky comments. She took a moment to calm herself. “I’m…I’m just sorry…that it took me so long to get you back, I guess.” She wondered whether she meant back from the First or back from his trip. She’d missed him. As angry and as hurt as she’d been, she’d missed having the one person she’d come to rely on.
He chuckled breathlessly. “You could have taken twice as long and you wouldn’t hear me complaining.” He gave her weak smile. “Just glad you came.”
Smiling back, Buffy reached her hand out towards him and then quickly pulled it back down to her side. She nodded. “So, I’ll sleep here.”
He shook his head. “Too dangerous… I could hurt you.” He sighed. “My demon wants …I tasted you. Down in that basement, I tasted your blood. I can still taste you. I could…”
“You pulled back, before. Even with the First…you were strong enough to pull yourself back. You don’t want to hurt me.”
“’Course not, but…” He’d never wanted to hurt her, but he had. He’d broken his one rule and it had broken him. He’d gotten the soul in an attempt to glue the pieces back together, but still felt like he was offering her a tattered box of half-eaten chocolates. He just wasn’t good enough. It was hardly a new feeling. He hadn’t been a good enough poet to get published, he hadn’t been a good enough son to let his mother die with dignity, he hadn’t been a good enough vampire to keep Dru out of Angelus’ bed and he hadn’t been a good enough hero to keep Buffy from jumping.
She did touch him then, gently placing her hand on his chest. “You won’t hurt me.”
He gasped slightly, moved nearly to tears by both her touch and the confidence in her words. He met her eyes for the briefest of seconds before turning away to compose himself.
Buffy watched the muscles work in his cheek and throat as he swallowed hard several times. Quietly, she stood up and gathered a second pillow and a large blanket. With jerky movements she placed the pillow near his and spread the blanket across his body. She tugged off her boots and slid under the blanket beside him. She wasn’t touching him, but she could sense the tension in his body and knew that he was as nervous about the situation as she was. Buffy pushed forward despite the butterflies in her stomach and the overly still vampire at her side. Twisting onto her side, Buffy put one hand on Spike’s shoulder and asked in a whisper, “Is this okay?”
He didn’t meet her eyes, couldn’t really. Is what okay, he thought, what is this? Spike was quite certain that he’d never been more on edge. Pity, he knew, would only get you so far with Buffy. She seemed to be offering more, but he couldn’t be sure just what. In that moment, he was convinced of three things concerning whatever it was that she was offering: first it was undoubtedly more than he deserved, second it would be all too easy for him to screw it up and third, he wanted it. Whatever Buffy was offering, he wanted it.
“God, help me, Buffy—it’s still all about you.” His own words rang loudly amidst the chaos of his thoughts.
He nodded once and tried to force his breathing into a slow and shallow pattern. It was ridiculous, really. It hurt to breathe with broken ribs. It was a habit, though, and a comfort. Besides, he figured that Buffy didn’t really need any additional reminders of his undead status. He remembered the first time he’d woken up next to someone who wasn’t breathing, even understanding the reason, it was distinctly unsettling.
Sore and exhausted, Spike did the only thing he could think to do: he pretended to sleep until he was certain that Buffy was. It didn’t really take very long and he suspected that she hadn’t had a decent night’s rest in a while. A little hopeful voice inside him suggested that she might really have been worried for him, but a louder voice reminded him that Buffy had plenty of other worries to keep her up at night.
Slowly, he turned his head to look at her and sighed involuntarily. Once and again a terrible poet, he struggled for the words to describe the incredible girl that was sleeping so peacefully at his side. In a hundred years, he had seen a lot of beautiful people but she was the only one that could truly take his breath away. He inhaled as deeply as his ribs would allow, wanting to soak up as much of the experience as he could. Her hand still rested on his shoulder and he studied it, smiling at its deceptively delicate appearance. His girl could pack a punch.
Spike frowned at the thought. She wasn’t his; she really hadn’t ever been his. But this was something. She was offering him something: friendship, trust maybe, and it was more than he’d let himself wish for. He fell asleep with a small, hopeful smile.