He blinked, and looked up, Buffy's voice breaking the silence that had settled over the room once he had gotten control of himself. She and Dawn still sat on either side of him, the Niblet as quiet as he was, leaning on his shoulder. Angel still stood in the corner, a silent witness, his very presence irritating Spike to no end, far beyond the tiny blip of self-satisfaction he got knowing that Buffy was fawning over him in front of the older vampire. The humiliation he was feeling was pretty much overshadowing all his other emotions. Add the massive headache that was driving him to distraction: he was having a bloody wonderful day.
He shifted uncomfortably, not meeting Buffy's eyes, not wanting to see the pity in them.
"Uh, yeah," he replied, clearing his throat. Dawn stirred, lifting the weight of her head from his shoulder.
"I'll get it," she piped, in the eager voice of a teenager wanting to be useful. She hurried from the room.
Uncomfortable silence followed. He heard Angel shift on his feet behind him, and unconsciously gritted his teeth. Perfect. Just perfect. Not only had he gone off his rocker, he had broken down in front of the great poof. He was never going to live this down. And that goddamned fear creeping around the edges of his mind, the fear he was doing something wrong, was making him even angrier. He was fine now. Better.
"We're going to need to get you cleaned up..." Buffy said softly, flicking a flake of dried blood away from his neck. He could feel it sticking to his upper lip as well. He had no idea how it got there. Of course, he couldn't remember very much of what happened anyway. For the better.
"Yeah," he said again, suddenly amused at his own monosyllabic responses. Why did she care?
The door opened and he stiffened. Forcing away the growl that tried to claw its way out of his throat as an unconscious reaction, he looked up to see Dawn entering, holding a mug filled to the brim, her face so tight in concentration at not spilling it he almost chuckled. But all humor left him at the sight of the rest of the Scoobies and some green bloke he didn't know hovering in the doorway behind her, anxious looks on their faces.
This was ten times worse than the Watcher's bathtub.
Dawn smiled and returned to his side, handing him the cup.
"The others wanted to see how you are feeling."
Nauseated. He almost said it out loud, eyeing them wearily, as one by one they filtered into the room, Red with Tara in tow, followed by Xander and his girl. The green-skinned demon leaned on the door frame, studying him so intensely he felt like squirming. His muscles tightened. When he felt the handle of the mug crack under his tight grip, he drained the cup in one gulp, and set it aside.
"So, um, how ARE you feeling?" Willow asked finally, when he didn't speak.
He looked up at her, meeting her eyes. He had a sudden, and very disturbing flash of her terrified face, inches from his own. The vision swam for just a moment, before he was again looking into her pity-filled gaze. Pity. He shuddered and turned his head away in disgust.
"Good." She half squeaked, half breathed. "We were all, um, worried."
He snorted before he could stop himself. Them worried about him. Funny.
"Spike!" Buffy scolded, swatting his arm.
He froze, his eyes suddenly on the floor. He squeezed them shut a half second later, growling at his own response. It wasn't like that was something she hadn't done a thousand times before. From Buffy, the gesture was almost playful, seein' as she wasn't drawing blood. She had done much worse to him, and he to her, over the time they had known one another.
Buffy watched him, furrowing her brow at his reaction, before her eyes widened in understanding. She gently stroked his arm where she'd slapped it, as an unspoken apology.
"Do you need anything?" Harris spoke, fidgeting. Spike's eyes widened in incredulity, but he didn't look up.
"Guys, I think it's too much. Too soon. Is it dark yet?" Buffy asked, her hands still working to soothe the vampire.
Xander nodded, frowning a bit.
"Dawn, Spike, and I are going to my place. Alone. He's exhausted and needs to rest."
"Are you sure?" the Protector of All Things Fluffy asked from behind them. "He's still not very stable..."
Spike drew a shuddering breath, hands clenching in the effort not to leap up and attack Angel again. Buffy was allowed to speak as if he wasn't in the room; he was used to it. HE wasn't.
Sensing the growing unrest in him, Buffy tightened her grip on his arm.
"Yes. He doesn't need to be overwhelmed right now, okay? You guys are great, but this is just too soon. Xander, can you drive us?" She glanced at Dawn, and they both stood, Buffy gently pulling Spike to his feet.
"Sure! Of course!" Xander stopped, as if knowing his enthusiasm seemed forced. "I'll, uh, bring the car around."
Everyone followed Xander out, except for Angel of course, who still seemed intent on keeping guard, and Tara, oddly enough.
Sensing her eyes on him, he glanced up, aware of how pathetic he looked, with Buffy half-supporting him.
Tara chewed on her lower lip, her eyes glistening. With pity or understanding, he couldn't be sure.
"You're in...pain," she stated, stepping closer.
"Tara, I don't think..." Buffy started, but Spike cut her off.
And suddenly, she wasn't the shy, soft little girl anymore, but the wise and nurturing figure he'd seen glimpses of over the course of the years. She placed her hands on the sides of his face, ignoring his wince, and gently forced him to meet her eyes.
"I was lost once too. It will be all right." She kissed his forehead, and pulled back, hands dropping to her side, the shy half smile returning. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "Welcome back. I'll give Buffy a tea that will help your head."
The drive had been taxing. No one had said a word until they had reached the Summers' home, and then it was only goodnights and a strangely heartfelt and embarrassing 'Feel better soon,' from Xander. Buffy sent Dawn to bed, though the girl nearly had to be pried from his side, and guided him upstairs to the bathroom, where she left him alone and went to prepare the tea.
He gripped the edge of the counter, looking down at the sink. Even the whelp was pitying him. He was sure that Angel was as well. It was just too much. He was not supposed to be pitied! He was a creature of the night, he struck fear into the hearts of...well, demons. He looked up, staring into the empty mirror, frowning softly. He wondered how terrible he looked. If it was anywhere close to how terrible he felt....
'See? You're nothing..." a taunting voice called from his memory, holding a mirror before his face....
He squeezed his eyes shut, turning violently away from the mirror, jumping when he saw Buffy standing behind him.
"Drink up." she said with forced cheerfulness, holding the steaming cup of tea out for him. He did as he was told, draining the contents quickly, relishing the burn the heated liquid spread through his cold throat and stomach.
"Thanks." he said quietly, setting the cup on the counter. She busied herself, grabbing a towel from the rack and setting it aside, as if she had suddenly forgotten what she wanted it for. He sank down onto the toilet seat, watching her silently, as she began drawing a bath. She can't even look at me anymore, he thought, closing his eyes.
He flinched when he felt her fingers at his chest, his eyes snapping open to meet hers. He growled again, softly, and looked away.
"Shhh..." she whispered, biting her lip. "It's alright. You've been through a hell of a lot, Spike, not to mention worrying me nearly to death." He furrowed his brow, disbelieving. The first button of his shirt came open under her fingers, and she moved on to the second.
"When I thought you were gonna die, or be braindead, or whatever, I suddenly saw this whole big stretch of a world without Spike. A Spikeless world. And it sucked. I realized how much I would miss you..."
"I'm sorry...to have...uh, worried you," he said softly.
The second button popped open. He was suddenly very self-conscious.
"Don't be sorry."
"I can...do this myself." He said, referring to the bath.
"I know." The third button, followed quickly by the fourth. She hissed softly, her eyes widening. She quickly finished the rest of the buttons.
"Don't..." she warned, making full use of her Slayer voice when he tried to twist away. She studied his skin, gently peeling back the rest of his shirt.
"Bastard." She hissed, studying the bruises that covered his pale skin. There was a barely healing burn close to his navel. Remembering what Angel told her of Warren's journals, she pulled Spike to his feet, and removed the shirt, turning him around.
And there it was. A wicked ugly stab wound on his side. It was scabbed over, and healing, but it still looked painful.
He was silent, fists clenching. She didn't say another word, just divested him of the rest of his clothes, and guided him into the bath. She took her time, bathing him slowly, gently, until his muscles were no longer knotted and tense, and the water was growing cold. Draining the tub, she pulled him out, and started to dry him off. The dead look in his eyes was driving her insane. She wondered, briefly, if that's how she looked when she first started to go see him.
She guided him to her room, closing the door. He stood there, staring at her bed, clad only in the white towel she had secured around his waist. Coming up behind him, she ran her hands up his back, tracing the corded muscles underneath. He tensed, turning his head slowly to meet her as she moved around to stand before him, never breaking contact with his skin. When she met his eyes, they were no longer dead, they were angry.
"I don't need your pity, Slayer." He ground out. She smiled.
"There you are. I was wondering when you would show up." Her fingers slowly made their way up his chest, careful of his wounds. "And this isn't pity. I am just reminding you. Touch can be good."
She studied his eyes, tilting her head. The anger was gone. The dead look was as well. What remained was something she couldn't put her finger on.
She wrapped an arm around his neck and pulled him down, kissing his forehead.
"Come on. You need to rest."
He nodded slightly, swallowing, and let her guide him to the bed. He settled in, closing his eyes and inhaling her scent from the pillow as she covered him up. She joined him moments later, wrapping her arms around him, spooning him, and stroking his arm softly as he fell asleep.
Continued in Chapter 14