Author’s Notes: The title is from a Christina Rossetti poem, and you’ll find the full text at the end of the story. Also, in this S6, while Buffy and Spike have kissed, they didn’t have sex, and they’re still friends, though slightly uncomfortable with each other as the UST builds. This may end up being part of a larger story, but it’s a standalone for now.
Spike was terribly torn. He wanted to do something nice for Buffy for Valentine’s Day, but he had no idea what that might be. His track record, as far as gifts went, hadn’t been all that great over the last couple years. The last Valentine’s gift he’d given was the necklace to Drusilla, but she’d preferred Angelus’ fresh heart.
It was hard to know what the Slayer might want, other than a new job, less stress, or possibly a one-way ticket back to heaven, none of which he could provide.
What he wouldn’t do just to make all her problems go away…
Spike sighed and knocked on the front door. When he didn’t get an answer, Spike opened it and stepped inside. “Buffy? You here?”
Silence greeted him. “Slayer?”
“Run while you can, Spike,” Dawn said, coming out of the kitchen.
“Hey, Niblet,” Spike replied. “What’s goin’ on? Where’s your sister?”
“Upstairs.” Dawn lowered her voice. “She’s sick.”
Spike blinked. “Sick?”
“As in, laid flat,” Dawn supplied. “It’s ugly.” Her eyes started to gleam. “Do you want to stay with her?”
Spike knew that there had to be a catch somewhere and that frightened him. “Why?”
“So I can leave,” Dawn replied, a note of impatience in her voice. “Willow already took off. She’s the smart one.”
Spike hesitated. He’d do just about anything to be close to the Slayer, including looking after her while she was sick. Dawn made it sound scary, but Spike had looked after Drusilla for months, and she’d been pretty demanding. Hell, he’d looked after the crazy vampire for over a century, and she’d always been demanding.
“You go on, Bit,” Spike said, making a decision. “I’ll take care of big sis.”
“Can I spend the night with Tara?” Dawn asked. “Please?”
Spike frowned, trying to find something wrong with that plan and remembering Halloween. “You’ll have Tara call?”
Dawn frowned. “I learned my lesson, Spike.”
“Have Tara call me,” he insisted.
She heaved a deeply put-upon sigh. “Fine. I’ll have Tara call you.”
“Good. Then I’ll go see to your sister,” Spike replied, heading up the stairs. He knocked softly on Buffy’s bedroom door, hearing a very weak, “Come in.”
“Hey, Slayer.” A groan was his response.
“Spike. What are you doing here?”
“Came to go on patrol,” he replied, sitting on the edge of her bed gingerly. “The Bit said you weren’t feelin’ great.”
“That’s one way to put it,” she moaned in reply. “I’ve been puking my guts up all day, and I’m all stuffed up on top of it.”
Spike put a hand on her forehead, having no idea whether or not she was going to immediately toss it off again. Buffy did no such thing. Instead, she gave a sigh of pleasure. “Your hands are cold.”
He removed his hand. “Sorry.”
Buffy grabbed his hand and put it back on her head. “No. Feels good.”
Spike frowned and then left it there, putting his other hand on the side of her throat. Buffy moaned again, this time in pleasure. “Oh, you feel so good.”
Even though Spike tried to be grateful for what little he had, there were other situations where he would have rather heard her speak those words. “You need anythin’, luv? I could get you somethin’ to drink, or eat.”
She shook her head. “No, my stomach still feels icky. I don’t think I could keep anything down.” Buffy frowned. “Where’s Dawn?”
“She went to spend some time with Tara,” Spike replied. “Think she said somethin’ ’bout spendin’ the night. I told her to have the witch call.”
Buffy frowned. “Oh. You don’t have to stay, you know.”
“Are you kidding me?” Spike asked. “‘m not leavin’ you when you’re feelin’ this bad. ‘m stayin’ put whether you want me to or not.”
Well, that did it. Buffy was in no condition to try and be stubborn. Besides, she didn’t want to be alone. “Okay.”
“Okay?” Spike asked, surprised that she gave in so quickly. “Right then. Do you need anythin’ at all?”
She shook her head. “Just stay with me?”
“‘Course. Long as you want, luv.” Spike settled down on the bed next to her. He began to stroke her sweaty hair back from her face, and Buffy shut her eyes in pleasure. After a few minutes, Spike heard her heartbeat slow and her breathing even out. Once she drifted off to sleep, Spike set off to straighten up the room, pausing only to take Tara’s call. The blonde witch assured him that she would see to the younger Summers and offered him some advice.
“It’s probably a good idea for you to stay with her, Spike,” Tara said. “This kind of bug is really contagious, and you’re the only one who won’t catch it as well.”
There were used tissues everywhere, and even though Spike didn’t have to worry about catching whatever it was that Buffy had, he was a little grossed out.
Not that he would ever admit it, of course.
Once the room had been picked up a bit, Spike settled back down next to Buffy with a contented sigh, happy just to watch her sleep. She rolled over, her head coming to rest on his thigh, which wasn’t the most comfortable position Spike had ever found himself in.
It wasn’t that he minded her head where it was, but her proximity was making him acutely uncomfortable, in spite of the faint scent of sickness.
It looked like it was going to be a long night.
Buffy woke up to the feeling of her stomach roiling, and she clapped a hand over her mouth, rushing for the bathroom. It was a close call, and she was so busy heaving up her guts that she almost didn’t notice the gentle hands that pulled her hair back.
With a moan, she remembered Spike’s earlier appearance, hardly able to believe that the vampire had stuck around. Buffy had very nearly come to accept that he felt something for her-something like infatuation that might be mistaken for love. Of course, his being there while she dry-heaved pretty much blew that theory out of the water.
Buffy knew that she wouldn’t have stuck around while someone was sick unless she felt something pretty darn strong for them.
His hands were cool and strong, but tender. Buffy couldn’t remember him touching her like this, and she was too weak to do anything about it. She was shocked that she trusted Spike enough to allow him to stay with her while she was this weak, but she suddenly didn’t care. The Slayer didn’t see her sister or any of her friends volunteering to take care of her.
“Alright now, Slayer?” Spike asked once she’d stopped heaving.
Mutely, Buffy shook her head. “I hate this.”
“Yeah, I know, luv,” he murmured, brushing a hand over her forehead. “Why don’t you just sit tight, an’ I’ll go get you some water? You need somethin’ in your stomach.”
Buffy shook her head. “I can’t keep anything down, Spike.”
“Doesn’t matter,” he replied stubbornly. “You need to keep drinkin’ water, otherwise you’ll get dehydrated.”
Buffy slumped against the cool ceramic of the tub. “How do you know that kind of thing?”
“Had to do some readin’ on humans last summer, didn’t I?” he replied enigmatically. Once he’d left, Buffy closed her eyes and let her head loll back, trying to figure out what he had meant.
It came to her after a minute. Even though Dawn hadn’t said anything about being sick over the summer, Spike must have done some reading at least, just in case the girl did become ill.
He touched her. In spite of herself, in spite of all the pep talks playing in her head reminding her that he was an evil vampire, that he didn’t have a soul, that the chip wouldn’t last forever-then he would go and do something like this, and another brick in the wall she’d built around her heart would crumble.
There weren’t all that many left standing.
She reluctantly cracked an eyelid when Spike came into the bathroom a few moments later, handing her a glass of water. “Little sips now,” he warned. “You’ve got a better chance of keepin’ it down if you go slow.”
Buffy obeyed, sipping slowly at the tepid water and making a face. “It’s not cold,” she whined.
“Bigger shock to the system if it’s too cold,” he explained apologetically.
Buffy continued to sip, her stomach slowly beginning to settle. “This really sucks.”
“I know,” he said softly, brushing a hand over her forehead. “You’re still pretty warm, luv.”
“I’ll survive,” she replied. “I’ve been this sick before, but not for a while. Not since…” She trailed off.
“Not since this summer?”
“No,” Buffy replied, then changing her mind. “Well, yes, actually, but I was thinking that I haven’t been this sick since Mom died. She always took care of me.”
Spike wanted to pledge that he would take care of her-that he would do it forever and always if only she would allow him to. Fearing that Buffy would freak out, he kept his mouth shut. “You want to go back to bed?”
Buffy shook her head. “Not really. I’m all sticky and yucky feeling, and it’s cool in here.” Spike wanted to suggest that she take a cool bath, but he wasn’t sure that she’d be able to manage it on her own. He sat down next to her, surprised when she laid her head on his shoulder. “Maybe I’ll just sleep here,” she muttered.
“You do that, Slayer,” he said quietly, watching as she fell asleep in his company for the second time in just a few hours. As she slid down, Spike shifted so that her head lay on his leg, and he rested a hand on her back, rubbing little circles in what he hoped was a soothing gesture.
When Buffy woke for a second time, it was to a knot in her neck and the feeling of a hand splayed on her back. She frowned, trying to remember how she’d come to fall asleep in the bathroom.
With her head on Spike’s leg.
She swallowed, sensing that her stomach had finally settled, although she wasn’t hungry, and the mere thought of food still sickened her. Buffy sat up gingerly, letting Spike’s hand fall away. The vampire’s chin was tucked against his chest, and he was obviously sleeping deeply. He had stayed with her all night, Buffy realized.
‘What the hell am I doing?’ Buffy asked herself. If Spike had been any other guy, Buffy would have latched onto him and never let him go months before. He had taken care of Dawn while she was gone, he’d saved her life when Sweet had nearly caused her to dance to death. He had stayed with her while she was sick.
Not to mention the fact that he was the best kisser Buffy had ever run across.
Buffy tried pushing herself up into a standing position, but the aches that had settled into her bones after a night on the floor chose that moment to make themselves known. Buffy gasped a little, trying to gain control over her limbs, and not having much luck. Before she quite knew what was happening, Spike was standing, and she was in his arms.
“I can walk,” she said, more a token protest than anything else.
He cocked a scarred eyebrow. “Uh huh. Just for once in your life, Summers, do me a favor an’ enjoy gettin’ taken care of.”
It was good advice actually, and Buffy decided to take him up on it, resting her head against his shoulder as he carried her back into her bedroom. Since her eyes were closed, Buffy didn’t see him wrinkle his nose. “Can’t be good for you to be in here,” he muttered.
“What?” Buffy asked.
“Smells like a bleedin’ sickroom.” Spike turned around. “Bloody hell. You need a bath, luv. It’ll help bring that fever down.”
Buffy opened her mouth to protest and then shut it with a snap. She was tired of it all. Tired of being a student and the Slayer and a mother to Dawn. She was tired of looking after Willow to ensure that her best friend didn’t go off the deep end with her magic use. She was just plain tired, and for once, Buffy didn’t want to be the strong one.
She didn’t want to be wise, and she didn’t want to stop and think. “Only if you’ll help me.”
Spike’s eyes widened so far that Buffy was afraid they were in danger of falling out of his head. “What?”
“I want someone to scrub my back,” Buffy replied. “And you’re the only one here.”
For a moment, Spike considered refusing. Buffy was sick and obviously not in her right mind. He would most likely be taking advantage of her, and that would be wrong. It would be better to wait until she wasn’t in a weakened condition, and then if she still wanted him, Spike would be all hers.
Oh, hell. Who was he kidding? This might be the only chance he’d ever have to see Buffy naked. Spike knew he’d be insane to pass it up, and crazy was Dru’s territory, not his.
“Alright,” he said, with a deep, unneeded breath. “I’ll just run the water, an’ you can-”
“You can scrub my back,” Buffy repeated. “Unless you don’t want to…”
Spike backpedaled. “No, that’s fine. Whatever you want, luv.” Inside he was exulting. Buffy wasn’t going to back down, and he felt the hope flare. Maybe the Slayer was finally ready to let him in.
And maybe as soon as she recovered, Buffy would change her mind. Spike didn’t want to get his hopes up too high.
He set Buffy down on her feet, making sure she was steady before starting the water for the tub. “Why are you doing this?” Buffy asked.
“You know why,” he replied in a low voice. Spike refused to look at her, afraid that he would once again see the disgust in her eyes. “Much as you might hate to admit it, I love you, Buffy.”
It was the first time she’d acknowledged it aloud-the first time she’d accepted the truth of it in his hearing. Spike didn’t know how to respond. He watched the water fill the tub, finally shutting off the taps. The silence swelled to fill the bathroom. “At least you admit it,” he finally mumbled, turning to face her.
Buffy stared at him. The long months since her resurrection had marked Spike, as much as the time she’d been gone had. She had pulled him in and pushed him away. She had told him her secrets, and had taken for granted that he would always be there.
She had used him.
“I know you love me,” Buffy repeated, suddenly ashamed of herself. She could decide to throw caution to the wind, but where did that leave Spike? She’d have her itch scratched, and he’d be left wanting.
It wasn’t fair, and that meant something to her for once.
He could sense the change in her from where he stood, and he nodded shortly. “Right. I’ll just be outside if you need me.”
“We need to talk.” Buffy spoke to his retreating back. “When I get done.”
“Whatever you want, Slayer,” he replied, his voice suddenly tired. “Innit that the way it always goes?”
It had, once again, been too good to be true. Spike stood in Buffy’s room with the sudden desire to leave. What was he doing here? It wasn’t like it was going to make a difference to her. Buffy was always going to view him as beneath her. And not in a good way, either.
In a sudden burst of energy, Spike started stripping the sheets off the bed. He would have opened the window to let some fresh air in, but it was edging on mid-morning, and that would be a sure way to get crispy-fried. He wasn’t so depressed as to want to do himself in yet. Spike supposed he should just be grateful that he’d remembered to close the blinds before the sun rose.
Spike was staring down at the dirty sheets on the floor, trying to figure out what the next step was supposed to be, when he heard Buffy clear her throat behind him. He turned to see that she’d wrapped herself in a towel, her hair still damp. “You didn’t have to do that.”
“Thought it might help.”
Things had been completely comfortable between the two of them for a while, but the distance had sprung up between them again. “Thanks.”
She opened her mouth to speak, and Spike picked up the sheets. “I’ll just take these-” He stopped.
“The laundry is in the basement.”
“I’m just going to get dressed, and then I’ll meet you downstairs, okay?” Buffy watched his face for some sign of what he was thinking, but there was nothing.
“Right.” He left abruptly, leaving Buffy to wonder just what had changed. Or maybe nothing had changed, and Spike’s mood had simply swung, because sometimes he could be moodier than she was.
Spike kept her waiting in the kitchen. Buffy was dressed in her comfiest clothing. She was halfway through a cup of tea that she hoped would stay down, and eyeing a stack of crackers that weren’t looking completely evil. The Slayer was beginning to think she’d have to go after him in the basement, but the stairs weren’t looking any too thrilling.
She really hated being sick.
When Spike finally did emerge, Buffy was ready to chicken out again. After that kiss they’d shared, right after he’d saved her life-again-he’d been the one to want to talk. She had put him off until after Willow did her memory-wiping spell, when he’d come to find her in the Bronze. Buffy hadn’t talked about the kiss, but she’d told him that she was pissed off at Giles for leaving, that she felt like she was drowning, that she wasn’t sure she could trust anyone. She had poured out her heart to him, and he had listened and not said anything at all.
The kiss had never been brought up again.
Spike’s expression caused Buffy to steel herself. She decided that she hated the blank look he got on his face. She would much rather him wear his emotions on his sleeve, because that was just so Spike. “I’m sorry.”
Her apology caught him by surprise. Spike had expected her to ignore what had just happened, much as she had ignored everything else of importance that passed between them.
Well, unless you called him trying to kill her repeatedly important. Buffy seemed to remember every single one of those instances.
“For what?” Spike wanted her to spell it out.
She sighed, knowing that this was probably going to be difficult. “For taking advantage of you.”
“Haven’t done anythin’ I didn’t want to do,” Spike replied stubbornly.
“No, but I feel like I’ve taken you for granted.” Buffy shifted uncomfortably. She really didn’t like doing this talking thing. “I know how you feel about me, and I’ve been using that.”
“You think I don’t know that?” Spike asked incredulously. “I wasn’t born yesterday, Slayer.”
Buffy hated this. This was why she avoided this kind of conversation. It was uncomfortable and annoying, and Spike always seemed to come off as the more sensitive one. “Then what do you want, Spike?”
Now that was a scary question, Buffy realized after the words had left her mouth. She wasn’t certain that either of them had ever asked the other that. It was way too open, and he could reply with anything. Then Buffy would be required to deal with it, and there was a good possibility that she wouldn’t want to.
“I don’t want anythin’,” Spike replied softly. “Just-I want you to be happy.”
It wasn’t what Buffy had expected at all. She had expected him to clearly define what he wanted from her, not for her. To say that he wanted to have sex with her, or to be with her, or that she would love him.
Sensing her surprise, Spike continued. “It’s not about wantin’ somethin’ from you, luv. It’d be nice if you had some sort of feelings for me, but more than anythin’ else I just want you to be happy.” Unable to help himself, Spike reached out and brushed her hair away from her face.
Buffy captured his hand in her own. “Spike-”
Misinterpreting her gesture as yet another rejection, Spike tried to tug his hand away. “It’s fine.”
“It’s not fine,” Buffy said. “Look, Spike, this really doesn’t have anything to do with you. I can’t love you. I’m not sure I’m capable of loving anybody. Just getting out of bed is a problem some days. I don’t have the energy for a relationship.”
“So, what?” Spike demanded. “You’re just gonna give up on it? That’s not what livin’ is about, Buffy. Lovin’ you doesn’t mean I need anythin’ from you. I just want to be here with you.”
“And what happens when I can’t make you happy?” Buffy asked.
“What the bloody hell does that have to do with anythin’?” Spike demanded. “Dammit, Slayer! You’ve been makin’ me miserable for years now. You really think me bein’ happy has anythin’ to do with me bein’ in love?”
She was stymied. Spike had a really good point. As far as him being happy went, that hadn’t changed the way he acted towards her, or what he’d done for her. If she really thought about it, Buffy had to admit that Spike had probably been happier when he was trying to kill her. “No, but-”
“Love is what makes this whole planet worth livin’ on,” Spike said earnestly. “If I didn’t love, I might as well be dust. Lovin’ you-it’s worth it.”
She stared at him, hardly knowing what to say. “I don’t love you, Spike.”
“I know that,” he replied, his expression wistful. “That doesn’t mean you never will.”
Buffy hated to admit it, but it was true enough. “No, it doesn’t.” She let the meaning behind her words hang between them. “Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day.”
“Yeah.” Spike still wasn’t really looking at her.
Buffy hesitated, and then said, “I doubt I’m going to want to go out, but you could come over if you wanted. We could watch a movie or something.”
“Why?” Spike wasn’t quite ready to let this go. He was tired of leaving things unsaid, was ready to clear the air between them completely, even if that meant he ended up on the outside.
Buffy squirmed a little bit. “Well, isn’t that what people who, you know, are interested in each other do? They hang out or-date.”
It was only his enhanced hearing that allowed Spike to pick up on that last word, it was said in such a low voice. “Date?”
“I’m really not ready for a relationship,” Buffy warned him. “I don’t have the energy.”
He had her on the ropes. Spike realized that she was not rejecting the idea of a relationship with him because he was an evil vampire, but because she thought she needed to do something. “So what are you suggestin’?”
“That we-” Buffy realized that she’d painted herself into a corner. By asking Spike if he wanted to be with her on a day traditionally recognized as being for couples, she had suggested that they have a relationship. Which was exactly what she had been insisting she didn’t want.
Spike reached out to grab her hand, sensing her dilemma, and judging that now was the time to go in for the kill. “I’m really not askin’ from anythin’ from you, luv. Just knowin’ that you’re not doubtin’ my love for you is enough.”
It was more than not doubting, Buffy knew. It was also about accepting, and she couldn’t help but see how he felt. The old “vampires can’t love” argument had never worked for Spike, and it was time she stopped lying to herself.
And maybe, just maybe, she did have a little something to give him in return.
“If it helps, I do like you,” she said softly.
A smile tugged at the corners of Spike’s lips. “Do you now?”
“Most of the time,” Buffy qualified. “You can still be a pain in the ass.”
“I could say the same for you.” Spike’s gaze turned serious. “So you really mean it? We’re goin’ to give this thing a shot?”
That wasn’t what she had said, and yet Buffy found that she was unable to argue. She did want to give this whatever-it-was between them a try. She had a sneaking suspicion that if anybody could bring a little happiness to her life, it would be Spike, if only because he was the most persistent person on the face of the planet.
“Yeah,” Buffy said. “I think we can give this a shot.”
Though his expression didn’t change, Buffy watched as Spike’s eyes lit up, and he leaned over to give her a gentle kiss on the lips. “I love you, Buffy.”
“Yeah,” she replied. “I know.”
And it felt just a little bit like heaven.
From Songs for Strangers and Pilgrims
If love is not worth loving, then life is not worth living,
Nor aught is worth remembering but well forgot;
For store is not worth storing and gifts are not worth giving,
If love is not;
And idly cold is death-cold, and life-heat idly hot,
And vain is any offering and vainer our receiving,
And vanity of vanities is all our lot.
Better than life’s heaving heart is death’s heart unheaving,
Better than the opening leaves are the leaves that rot,
For there is nothing left worth achieving or retrieving,
If love is not.