A/N: HAPPY BIRTHDAY pfeifferpack! It’s not much, and it’s not done (lousy academia!) but it’s all for you. I just hope you don’t mind your prezzie doubling as a prompt requirement.
My outline has this at 5 parts, and I’m about halfway through. I’m hoping to be almost complete by the time my long weekend is over.
Thanks to elizabuffy, megan_peta, spikeslovebite, and dusty273 for betaing. And tospikeslovebite for the gorgeous banner.
And again…HAPPY BIRTHDAY, pfeifferpack!!!!
Chapter Notes: Timeline: Picks up immediately after Tabula Rasa.
Disclaimer: The characters herein are the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. They are being used for entertainment purposes out of love and admiration, and not for the sake of profit. No copyright infringement is intended.
He remembered the taste of her kisses well. The way they burned. The hint of her raspberry-flavored gloss rubbing against his lips. The strokes of her tongue as she explored his mouth. The feel of her heady gasps and the roll of her succulent little whimpers. The way her needy fingers wandered across his body, as though she was unaware of the unspoken barriers placed by her own decree. She explored his chest and arms, grasped his shoulders and cupped his cheeks. She touched him as though memorizing him with her hands. As though attempting to imprint him on her skin, so she could carry him with her whenever they were apart.
It was with the same aching desperation which she’d kissed him when they were under Willow’s spell two years prior, only then, her lips had curled upward then in a futile, however adorable attempt to keep from smiling. Even while under the delusion they were getting married and going to live merrily ever after, Buffy had exhibited a rich need to consume him completely. As though she’d known all along their time was limited.
Buffy wasn’t smiling now, but her mouth was more demanding than ever. She nipped at his lips, sucked his tongue desperately between her teeth, pressed his face between her hands and whimpered when he pulled away to allow her breath.
The way she gasped against him–her brow pressed to his, her eyes closed–made the ground beneath his feet tremble. She was setting him on fire, but he didn’t dust. The world was burning and he was burning with it; Buffy took everything he was and made it her own. The fan of her heady little gasps against his lips. The whispered touches of her curled fingers against his cheek. The way she thrived with need. The way she asked for everything.
Then she was kissing him again, and every inner barrier fell apart.
She couldn’t know what she was doing to him, could she? She couldn’t know how he’d craved this, craved her, longer than his memory to reach. She couldn’t know that giving him her mouth without admitting the feeling behind it—the feeling he tasted in every sinful caress, was slowly eating him away. He would dissolve. William the Bloody would be no more, done in at last by a slayer.
By the Slayer. By Buffy Summers.
The woman he loved.
“Taste so good,” he murmured, sucking her lower lip into his mouth. “My Buffy…”
“Yes. Can’t run from this,” Spike swore ardently between kisses. “You can’t hide. I’m here, love. Let me in.”
“No.” The word was short, abrupt, but definitive. The word paid no mind to the way her lips stole one last kiss from his. Instead, it rang with profuse astonishment—the same which eventually leaked into her eyes as she tore herself from his arms, palpably horrified at her own daring. As though the solace he offered was as tainted as the demon in his chest.
Spike doubted Buffy would understand, much less believe the pain she caused simply by turning away from him. The pain which hurt more than the sting of a slap against his cheek. More, even, than her words. Hits and punches were defensive mechanisms; words often lied for the sake of self-preservation. But the blow she dealt by turning her back on him was damn near fatal.
“Why do I keep doing this?” she asked, her voice low and the question obviously not one she wanted answered. It killed him how hard she trembled. “Why?”
“You know why,” Spike replied softly, swallowing hard as his feet dared a step forward. “You need—”
“I don’t need this,” Buffy spat, whirling around, her eyes glaring daggers. “This is—”
“Wrong,” he finished for her. “I know, love. Sing me another one?”
“I just—you…” The animosity in her eyes flickered and died, falling again to the agonized despair which did little more than rip away pieces of himself. Pieces which couldn’t be healed or recovered. “Why is it you?” she asked. “Am…is there something…wrong—”
“With you?” The suggestion alone robbed his useless lungs of even more useless air, but he felt the rip anyway. As though his innards were being yanked out for everyone to see. And even though it made him ill, the devil on his shoulder whispered that if Buffy thought there was something wrong with her, she might not object to doing something wrong with him. The devil went ignored. It so often did these days.
“There’s nothing wrong with you, sweetness,” Spike insisted, daring another step forward. “Nothing.”
“I can’t feel anything,” Buffy said, her tone soft, the heavy scent of her tears washing over him. “I can’t…but when I’m…when I touch you…” She shuddered and twisted around again. “There…there must be something so…I feel…but you can’t…”
“You don’t believe that.”
The desperation in her voice had him thoroughly unmade. “Spike—”
Spike inhaled sharply and quickly sealed the space between them, seizing her wrist. “Look at me,” he said thickly, raising her hand to his face, his fingers stretching over hers so that his hand rested atop hers as she cupped his cheek. “Look at my eyes.”
He half expected her to jerk away as though scathed. She didn’t. Instead, Buffy swallowed hard and obeyed, her gaze locking with his, and he was so startled by her compliance it took him a second to collect his thoughts. To summon the words he wished to piece together. The wealth of what remained unsaid between them could fill a missile silo. When he looked at her, he had the urge to babble everything—to hell with coherency—in a mad rush to get it all out overwhelmed him.
“Do you think I feel nothing?” he murmured, fearing her answer but forcing himself to ask it all the same. “Do you really think can I touch you without trembling? That I don’t break every time you cry? Do you think it’s bloody easy for me? Seeing you need an’ not bein’ allowed to…it kills me.”
Buffy stared at him numbly but not unmoved. He knew for the way her moth fell open, closed, open again.
“Do you really think I can’t feel it when you ache? Tell me.” His fingers closed tightly around hers and held, his jaw tightening as he fought to keep control. “Tell me I feel nothing.”
The words arose behind her eyes. He saw her grasp them. Wrestle them down. Saw her fight to spit them out—the same old song and dance. The road much traveled. She knew every turn. Every twist. Every crack. Every tiny imperfection. Every stop. Every bloody talking point. Buffy was a master of this road. The hand she dealt vaguely resembled a Bible-thumper who refused to see the value in science or reason. Buffy and her jihad against the love of a soulless man.
Even if he had given her something real. The kisses they’d shared since her return had seemingly demolished the friendship toward which they were working. She hadn’t run from him before Sweet and his merry band of Broadway demons seized Sunnyhell’s vocals and made everyone warble over their innermost secrets. No more than she’d run from him after discovering to which lengths he was willing to go in order to protect her. To protect her and Dawn. Buffy had been friendly to him then. Accepting. Open.
She’d looked him in the eye and spoken to him as she spoke to her friends.
She’d made him feel like a man.
How was it only two glorious kisses could rip that away? Was he getting too close? Had he gotten too close? Perhaps she was seeing that he could be what she needed. He was the only one who could make her laugh these days—that much had definitely not escaped his attention. He was the only one she actively sought out…or he had been until he confessed it was killing him: being so close to her and not having her. Until that sodding chorus line wanker of the underworld decided to muck up his life by taking away the very thing which made getting up worthwhile.
Even if seeing Buffy everyday without touching her had been slowly doing him in, there was nothing he’d looked forward to more.
“Tell me I feel nothin’,” Spike whispered again. “Tell me it din’t happen…seein’ you lying in sunlight. Knowing…knowing everything I’d ever wanted to be was…you were so bloody far from me. From all of us. An’ I couldn’t stop staring at you. I think…fuck, I can’t remember who dragged me away. Who pulled me…’cause I would’ve dusted there. The sun was coming…an’ you were gone.” His eyes fogged with unwanted tears, and he sniffed the sniff of one who was trying to maintain dignity while recounting the single-most painful incident of his life. He held himself upright, bidding away tears to little avail. Spike wasn’t one for waterwork sympathy; he never had been. And he didn’t want to cry and force Buffy to manufacture responses which had no feeling behind them.
He’d cried his weight in tears since she left, and a good bit more since she returned.
“Living in this world without you in it,” Spike continued, haunted. “Walkin’ by your grave every night an’ knowing there was something I could’ve done to make it so you wouldn’t’ve jumped. It’s my fault, see. I bollocksed everything up. I could’ve…an’ then you’d’ve never been raised, ‘cause you would’ve never died. An’ you wouldn’t be in such pain now. Knowin’ I could’ve done something…could’ve prevented it…”
His brain registered the soft protest in her voice. His heart did not. His heart was dragging him down a path of unwanted memory.
It had been a night funeral. Spike hadn’t requested it—in fact, the days following Buffy’s death, he’d barely put two syllables together. The prospect of saying his final goodbyes to the woman he loved had loomed over him, condemning the shattered remains of his heart to starve for the lack of her warmth, leaving him thoroughly bankrupt at the mere thought. He couldn’t stomach the idea of watching her sink beneath the ground. He couldn’t fathom how the world could continue now that her light was extinguished.
Willow and Tara had shot down Xander and Giles’s protests over the funeral arrangements. Always the pragmatic gits, they’d known that a nighttime funeral would attract attention from local baddies—unwanted attention—therefore the Scoobies had unanimously decided to employ the bot to keep local demons fooled. But Willow and Tara had desperately wanted Spike to attend. He deserved it, they said. He’d risked everything. He would have died in Buffy’s place were he given the chance.
He was, according to them, one of the gang.
Xander had quickly used the nighttime arrangements as means to invite Angel. It made sense: if there was going to be an extra measure taken for the sake of a vampire, the boy would want the vampire he loathed least present. He would want to pretend the arrangements weren’t for Spike.
It didn’t bother Spike, this mentality. The fact that Xander had ceased making jokes about dusting him was about as much as he felt he could expect. There was simply too much bad blood between them to expect a fix of any sort. So Angel had attended, looking regal and very important. He’d laid flowers on her grave, a wiser-looking Cordelia at his side.
He hadn’t looked like a man in his shoes ought to look. He hadn’t looked like the love of his life had died.
He’d looked sad, but resilient.
Spike, on the other hand, couldn’t remember a blessed word anyone said. He vaguely recalled sitting beside Dawn, who had clutched his arm so tightly it would have otherwise taken a crowbar to pry her off. There had been a fleeting moment of satisfaction in the Bit’s refusal to accept Angel’s hug or respond to his questions with anything more than a clipped, often monosyllabic retort. She’d made it clear she was in Spike’s corner, and that meant more than he could rightfully express.
After all, had it not been for his mistakes, there wouldn’t have been a funeral. Buffy would be alive. Dawn had forgiven for it, no matter how much pain it caused.
When it came to the funeral itself, the only thing Spike remembered distinctly about the funeral was his part. The part where he’d gotten to speak. To spread flowers across her casket. Willow had asked him to say something. She said Buffy would have wanted it.
And so, for the first time in as many years, he’d written. He’d written endlessly about her. He’d written until his hand cramped. Until he couldn’t see the parchment for his crying. Until ink bled with tears. Until the words he wanted were secure.
It would be the first time he’d read his work, or had his work read, since the night he was sired. He wanted to do her justice. And though Spike had initially rejected the idea of penning something himself—William the Bloody Awful Poet’s work could never hope to honor Buffy—there was something so impersonal about flipping through his many poetry anthologies. There were ideas and concepts which seemed to touch the very fringe of Buffy’s inherent grace and strength, but nothing which embodied her completely.
Bloody awful work that it was, at least it came from the heart.
He’d read for her. He’d read it in front of a congregation of people who either hated him or hadn’t the slightest idea who he was. Giles had dabbed his eyes. Angel had given him a look of mixed confusion, disgust, and admiration. Dawn and the lover Wiccas had wept openly. Afterward, Xander had shaken his hand.
And none of that—the acceptance, tentative and fleeting as it was, of Buffy’s best mates—had mattered to him. They allowed him to patrol with them—asked it, really—and made a point to tell him it was just as much because of what he’d done for them as it was his super-strength. They handed custody of Dawn to him at every opportunity—something which told him just how much he’d earned their trust. All summer, they’d fought side-by-side.
Buffy returned and the camaraderie disappeared. It was as though none of it had happened…at least among the menfolk. He hadn’t seen much of the witches since the Slayer’s raising, and for good reason; every time they were near, his temper flared and his demon roared to explore the boundaries of the chip. How could they have done this without telling him? How could they have ripped Buffy from the afterlife without trying to sodding find her first?
If little Red had enough power to raise the dead, she bloody well ought to have the power to try and find the girl before she tried to raise her. They hadn’t cared; none of them had cared a lick, as long as Buffy came back.
And now…she was standing just feet away from him, her spirit broken, her eyes lost, the warmth he’d so treasured sapped into nothingness. Having Buffy back was likely the closest thing to Heaven he would ever reach; at the same time, he loved her too much to wish this for her if she didn’t wish it herself. Had she not come back, he would have fought tooth and nail to keep her where she was. To him, there was no doubt to where she’d gone after the jump.
Any ninny could’ve pieced it together. A soul like Buffy’s didn’t go to any incarnation of Hell. Had the blessed Scoobies bothered to chat him up, they would’ve known it instead of justifying their presumption based on what had happened to Angel. To a vampire.
They’d thought a vampire and a slayer would meet the same fate in death.
Different strokes for different folks.
Perhaps had Buffy disappeared completely, Spike could have understood this line of reasoning. But she hadn’t disappeared; she’d left her body behind. If Hell had taken her, there would have been nothing to bury. Nothing at all. The circumstances were as different as bloody night and day; how anyone could study two thoroughly independent lines of thought and arrive at the same conclusion was astounding…and it made him believe, on some level, that the red witch had known.
She’d known what the others could not, and she’d concealed her knowledge for her own benefit. The rest of the Scoobies, perhaps, had told themselves that Buffy and Angel’s independent deaths were the same thing at the core, merrily ignoring that Angel was consumed in a hell dimension entirely; he hadn’t been killed by his banishment. Buffy had been killed—and therein laid the difference. The difference no one paused to consider.
Had Buffy not left a body behind—had there been nothing of her after the portal sealed—there would’ve been no need for a sodding spell. Spike would’ve gone after her. He would’ve found a way. He would have traipsed the planes of Hell, battled demons, challenged Lucifer himself, and gotten her out. He would’ve saved her—the rest be buggered.
Only it hadn’t happened like that. Buffy hadn’t been lost to a hell dimension. She’d jumped. She’d found peace. Those left behind had grieved, but their tears were for themselves, not for Buffy. They were tears of pity. Her light was gone.
Her light was still gone. Heaven hadn’t allowed her light to escape with her. And here she was, looking at him strangely; unaware of how much he wanted to say but couldn’t put into words. Not knowing how to rightly make up for his fault at her being here. He maintained: had he been quicker, cleverer, stronger…had he done anything just a hair differently, she wouldn’t have jumped. She wouldn’t be here. She wouldn’t be wading through endless pain.
She wouldn’t be so cold.
“My fault,” he said again, his voice empty.
“No. No, Spike, it wasn’t your fault. It was no one’s fault.” Buffy’s thumb tenderly stroked his cheek, surprising him out of his reverie. And without warning, she was close. God, she was so close. For a second he thought she might kiss him again, but instead he found her in his arms.
“It was no one’s fault,” she whispered. “I…but thank you.”
He had no bloody idea for what she was thanking him, but he wasn’t about to piss away the opportunity to hug her tightly. It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing; he knew it. Buffy might turn to him for passion and physical comfort, but hugs were above the physical. Hugs implied comfort on levels no one ever entrusted with him. He wasn’t even certain if she could understand the significance of her own action.
“I was just…” she murmured into his shoulder, sniffing. “I was so happy.”
“I know, kitten,” Spike replied, resisting the urge to bury his face in her hair while still inhaling her scent as though it held the antidote to every poison ever concocted. “She din’t mean it.”
Buffy pulled back, but only slightly. “How can you say that?” she demanded. “I thought…I thought you would…aren’t you mad?”
“Outraged,” he agreed. “But she din’t know what she was—”
“I can’t believe you! Of course she knew what she was doing! Tara said she…she thought about doing a spell to take my memory of Heaven away. Well, she did.” Buffy laughed bitterly. “She took it and everything else away, and I was happy. I was happy not being me. I was happy being free to…” Her eyes met his but darted away just as quickly, her cheeks reddening. “I was happy being someone else.”
Understanding crashed over him. They weren’t discussing the resurrection now; they were talking about what had happened tonight. They were discussing tabula rasa.
He couldn’t help but be surprised. For what he and Buffy had shared while thinking they were other people, he’d thought she’d never refer to it again. Granted, it hadn’t been much, but it was a lot.
“Oh, that spell,” Spike said, pulling her into his arms again before she could manage another inch away. “Sorry, love. Our Sabrina’s been castin’ all kinds of wonky mojo of late; ‘s a damn bitch keepin’ up with which spell you’re—”
“You thought I meant the resurrection.”
Spike fell silent and he nodded. Buffy didn’t try to wiggle away. He took comfort in this, if nothing else.
“I was happy tonight,” she said again, her eyes growing distant. “I…everything was so…so normal. Didn’t it feel like that to you? Like everything was normal?”
He offered a half-smile. “Not sure I know what normal feels like, love.”
“You thought you were human.”
“Don’t hold it against me.”
Buffy shook her head. “You…you said…you said you didn’t want to bite me.”
Spike frowned, appropriately flustered. This wasn’t the sort of thing he wanted blabbed around; the fact that he was so in love with the girl that even upon forgetting he was in love with her, he had no desire to be the vampire he once was.
“I don’t,” he said softly. “Not like…not like that, anyway. I haven’t for a long bloody time.”
It was the truth, and he knew she knew it. That didn’t mean he wasn’t astonished when she nodded. When her eyes reflected only acceptance and no argument. If her casual acceptance was surprising, what she said next absolutely floored him.
Spike inhaled sharply. “What?”
“You’re the only person who’s been decent to me since I got back. Who hasn’t asked me how I’m doing every five seconds.” A soft, sad smile nudged her lips. “I just…I’m so…God, Spike can you…I can’t sleep ‘cause they’re worried. And they want me to tell them it’s okay, that I understand and forgive them when all I wanna do is scream and cry and curse and demand how the hell they could’ve done this to me. After all I’ve done…all I’ve…sacrificed for them and they…they thought…” Fresh tears blinked in her gorgeous eyes. “How could they think that?”
“Bugger if I know, pet. Always figured the lot of them to be rather thick.”
Her eyes brightened with an unexpected flash of mirth but she didn’t laugh. Her anger was too strong to be killed by a quick line. “And then tonight…” Buffy shuddered, at last easing herself from his embrace. He missed her the second there was air between them, but he was sharp enough to know when she needed space. At least she wasn’t running; she was staying right here. She was still with him. “Willow…what she did…she keeps doing it. She keeps trying to fix everything. ‘Whoops! Buffy’s dead, let’s bring ‘er back.’ And then when that doesn’t work as she planned, it’s all, ‘Better make sure she can’t remember how happy she was before I fucked everything over.’”
The harshness of her tone, not to mention the unprovoked use of the f-word—something Spike had never before heard her say—nearly made him fall over.
“And I was happy,” Buffy repeated. “For a few…for a little while tonight, even with the wigginess of not knowing who I was or…or you or any of…it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered, because I didn’t have this thing on me. I could be a responsible sister. I could smile. I could even flirt with a vampire without it being a big thing.”
Spike managed a weak, hopeful smile. “Nothin’ stopping you now, love.”
“Do you have any idea how happy I’d be if it was that simple?”
“I can make it that simple.”
Buffy’s laugh rang without any humor. “Spike—”
“It kills me,” he said abruptly, his tattered heart foreseeing the gentle dismissal and ducking out before she had the chance. Not that he minded the gentle dismissal. It was a step above the pop in the nose to which he was so accustomed. “Watching you. No point in askin’ when a blind man can see it’s…there’s nothing a one of us can do. Your mates wanna pretend like they know what Heaven was like for you…that they can know what it feels like…bein’ where you were.”
“I’m a vampire. Told you I know a thing or two about torment. About Hell, even if I’ve never been there.” Spike paused. “Live as long as I have, an’ it’s a stretch to find somethin’ you haven’t done, yeah? Well, I know how I feel about hell dimensions versus here. Figure the fall from Heaven to…not much of a stretch.”
Buffy grinned, fully this time, and the sight was so beautiful his knees about buckled. “So earth is your heaven, huh?”
“’Course it is. It’s where you are.” Spike glanced down and released a long, trembling sigh. “An’ it kills me to see…to see someone so…someone with your light as you…lookin’…so…an’ if it’d be…I don’ know what to do when I’m not touching you, Buffy. Especially now. Now that I’ve…” His hand migrated upward as though it operated in a separate sphere, his fingertips gently caressing her lower lip. “…kissed this mouth. Felt your heart beating against mine. Even if I…but if this is…if being near me is makin’ it hard on you…makin’ it…”
“Being around you isn’t making anything hard on me,” she replied.
His hand fell to his side again. “Could’ve fooled me.”
“Being me is hard on me. When I’m with you, everything seems clear…” The revelation should’ve made his heart jump. It didn’t. Even with the new light in her eyes, she couldn’t hide the cloud of confused despair. Spike might make everything clear, but she was out of her mind trying to piece together why. Why him and not someone else. Why the soulless vampire and not her soulful friends. Why notanyone but him?
“But you don’ want it to be me, right?” Spike said softly.
Buffy sighed, blinking tears out of her eyes. “I don’t know what I want anymore. I…” Her voice broke again, her attention drawn to the sudden openness of their surroundings. They were still under the stairs at the Bronze. The air was compiled with noisy chatter and the soft tones of the singer on stage. They were surrounded by people. And yet, while no one did anything more than cast uninterested glances in their direction, he could tell she felt on display. He did a bit, himself.
And without preamble, he felt something hard crash in his chest. This was it, then. She would run off, bid him goodnight, and the next time she saw him this monumental thing they’d shared might as well have never happened. The openness. The honesty. The communication. She’d be back to pretending he was dirt beneath her boot. Like his lips had offended her by daring to approach hers. Like he was anything but the friend he wanted to be. The companion.
God, if she’d only let him, he would make sure she knew she was the most cherished woman on earth. She was so close but miles away. He could touch her without feeling her. Her kisses made him weak—her tears even weaker. And while he yearned to be near her always, the prospect that his continuous cameos were making things worse, making her feel even lonelier, was damn near crippling.
“Do you wanna get out of here?” Buffy asked suddenly. And her words were so startling he had to give himself several long seconds to process them.
“You…you wanna…with me?”
She nodded, shifting her weight from one foot to another in such a manner that a dumber man would assume she was nervous. “Yeah,” she replied. “I…I can’t go home. Willow’s there with the thousand apologies and I don’t…I can’t deal with that right now. I don’t wanna stay here and I…I don’t really want to be alone.” Buffy met his eyes timidly. “We could…patrol. Or…just, I dunno…walk? We could—”
“Sweetheart, is there a single scenario running through that head of yours which features me turning down spending time with you?”
“It might be Opposite Day.” She smiled weakly. “I—uhh. But…don’t, ummm…about the you and me and the kissage. It’s…I’m still kinda confused and…well, confused sums it up nicely. So…could you not—”
Spike held up a hand. “Anything you ask. I’m yours to command.”
“Good,” she said, then froze. “I mean about the…lack of pressure. Not the other thing.”
Buffy licked her lips subconsciously, thankfully missing the hungry way his eyes followed that magical tongue of hers and the shadow of a pout to cross his face when it disappeared inside her mouth again. “You…wanna walk or patrol or—”
“Let’s grab some food.”
“Y’know…the stuff you eat?” Spike nodded at the door. “Know of some dives in this town that are surprisingly good without bein’…well, beneath you.”
His luck was going to run out. Whatever had possessed the Slayer was certain to come back and seize her personality, warping her back into her detached, melancholy self. The version which turned down any semblance of help he had to offer. Buffy would never—
“Lead the way.”
Spike tried hard to keep his jaw from hitting the floor.
Never say never.
“Right then,” he said, seizing her hand without thought. She didn’t pull away. “Come on, then.”
Then he turned and was dragging her through the crowd. She kept close, her fingers tightening around his whenever a thoughtless couple tried to separate them by crossing paths.
She held onto him like he was her anchor.
And for the night—for the rest of their lives—he was determined to be just that.