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Spike listened to them splash around all day like the children they were, and in the evening he rolled up his pant legs and toed the sand. He remembered I grow old... I grow old / I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled, and kicked at the water as if in defiance.
Then his senses prickled, alerting him to her watchfulness. “Wot?” he asked, consciously slipping further into that old role.
“Nothing,” she said quickly. “You look strange, is all, with bare feet.” She fell into an discomfited silence. He looked down. It was true that his feet looked oddly vulnerable, white and finely boned and entirely human.
He raised his head, saw then that she’d left her friendly little circle around the fire for him. “Go on, now. Don’t want to miss out on any scary tales, do you?”
“I’ve had my fill of those, I think.”
He scoffed irascibly. “Don’t be daft, Buffy. What am I to you?”
“To me?” She frowned. “You’re sad. You’re just very— sad right now. And I get that. But we’re all sad, Spike.” He wondered if she’d prepared this little pep talk. “We’re all missing parts of ourselves by now. You have to—”
“What, just get the fuck over it?” Anger whispered. He knew not what he was going to say to her until the words were already out there, and by then it was too late to snatch them back. “Let me tell you something, Slayer. I’d like to. I’d like to get the fuck over you, I’d like to get the fuck over her, and I certainly would have liked to have gotten the fuck over Miss Cecily Adams before she patronized me towards such an early death!”
“You can’t lay blame here, Spike,” she said, very quietly.
“Oh, from your mouth to God’s giant bandstand in the sky.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means that you’ve blamed me for everything under the sun just about twice, including your very own existence.”
“I was hurting then,” she said, face gone sharp and foxish. “Just like you’re hurting right now.”
“Hurt me with every jagged word you spoke to me that year, and you didn’t seem to care much about it then.”
She ceased to keep her voice lowered. “Where is this coming from? Look, I’m sorry. You know I am,” she told him, sounding a tad less than apologetic. “You’re sorry, I’m sorry, we’re both— Anyway, you didn’t have a soul then.”
Apropos of just that, he wanted to watch the sea drag her under. “That’s just it, sweetheart. A soul means absolutely nothing. A soul means shite, Buffy! I killed both with a soul, and without. I loved you with and without. And her. I loved her, don’t you understand that I loved her always? Don’t you see? Without a soul, I never would have been able to drive that stake home. I would have been able to control myself. This conscience makes me weak. Without it, I would have been—”
“Spike, no, that’s not right. What happened, it was beyond your control. She wanted—”
“Nothing is beyond our control, all right?” he hissed, nearly spinning away from himself. “Nothing!”
“Spike, Spike, you’re not making any sense. Listen to yourself!” He was scaring her now. The buzz of it went to his head. He liked it.
“The truth is— do you want to know?”
“Yes. Yes, very much.”
He drew a breath. “It may sound futile, but the truth is I hurt her without a soul, but I killed her with one. I hurt you without a soul, Buffy, but I’m hurting you right now, aren’t I?”
“Yes,” she said tremulously. “You are.”
“I’m sorry,” he said, and suddenly was, terribly. “I’ll see you later tonight. I’m sorry. Just.”
“Okay,” she agreed finally. “Okay. You know where to find me.”
He did. She left and he looked back down to see a starfish pulsing, undisturbed.
In certain ways, he missed not having a soul. Thought refreshingly maniac without knowledge. Pant after drool.
The world was fogged over for a time. He found that he rather liked it, this new and unnatural daytime existence of his. Sitting on the sand while the gulls screeched above him, and right in front of him Dawn’s long legs cutting through waves as smooth as a dorsal fin. She seemed, he decided, as if she were growing into herself. Sometimes she gave the appearance of looking right on through him.
They all did, actually, and for this reason he never joined their ring around the campfire. He knew where he did not belong.
Kicking stones one day down the shoreline, he met the Watcher in the drizzle. “You shouldn’t have come so far alone,” Giles told him, amiably enough.
Spike scoffed. “Or what? You’ll try and off me again?”
The Watcher tilted his head to the sky as if in reply, to where dispersing clouds complicated things. “It seems to me the sun will take care of such matters.”
“And if it doesn’t?”
Something of his old self thrived, for he’d certainly meant both his tone and his words to provoke, but all Giles did was reiterate, “Then I’d remind you once again that you shouldn’t come so far without accompaniment.”
“Does this rule not apply to you, then?”
“Watch yourself, Spike,” Giles said, and then there was warning in everything right down to his countenance.
“I could kill you with a flick of my wrist,” Spike shot back resentfully. He both wanted a fight, and didn’t. Knew he shouldn’t.
The other man acknowledged this. “You won’t. I know you could. That’s the problem. Buffy—”
“Can take care of herself,” Spike interrupted defensively, if not entirely truthfully.
“She can’t,” Giles said with a father’s strong tenderness. “And neither can you. You can’t even take care of yourself. You’re children, the both of you.”
“I’ll older than you’ll ever know, mate.”
“Yes, of course,” Giles said carelessly.
Spike spun on his heel before he did something he’d regret, and didn’t even know why he bothered, really. The Slayer seemed hell-bent on forgiving him anything. If he took it upon himself he could hold the Watcher’s head underwater, watch his life-force ebb, weight the corpse down. She’d never know that it was he who was to blame, perhaps never even suspect.
Then Giles’ hand closed around his shoulder, warm and rough, and Spike thought for one awful moment that he might vomit. “I do pity you, Spike,” Giles was saying, changing tact. “You’re like— Caliban, perhaps. Yes, that sounds about right, doesn’t it?”
“Well. Aren’t we well-read and clever,” he nearly panted, shaking the hand off. Stumbling rightaways.
“But it isn’t in anyone’s best interests, to love you,” Giles continued. “We touched on that before, I believe.”
“She doesn’t love me,” Spike shot back. “None of them do.” He hadn’t meant to say that last part. Could he do it? Could he fill those lungs full of water and murder? Murder. That was a new word. It had never been that word before.
“Spike, do cease to be so theatrical. It’s always been very tiresome.”
“You brought it up, Rupert. Not in anyone’s best interests. Don’t you think I know that by now?”
“It doesn’t appear so, does it?”
Spike threw his hands up. “Fine. Tell me, what exactly do you expect me to do with my immortality? Keep to myself on my own little Shakespearian prison of an island?”
“Perhaps it would be easier for everyone involved,” Giles told him, nearly apologetically.
“Perhaps. But that’s a deadening existence. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. That woe-is-me Angel bullshite. You want me to be him, you just dress me in a frock or what have you and that will be that, all right?”
Abruptly, Giles chucked. “All right, Spike, all right. I see your point. As I think you see mine, don’t you?”
Spike smiled back ruefully, but it faded quickly. “I do,” he said, and he did. “But I’m sorry to say there’s nothing for it. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my many years, it’s that.”
Giles seemed to accept this, at least. He nodded before he left, leaving Spike to pick up a piece of beach glass, feeling its smooth edges gnaw into his palm. Blood welled of its own volition, and at the sight of it, Spike hurled that shard of glass into the ocean, sending an arc of clear and red across that lightening sky.
He went down again, his fingers sliding through sand and coming up with fistfuls of rocks, casting them into livid looking waves for an indeterminate amount of time until he collapsed to his haunches, gasping for useless air with dry, harsh sobs and if this was too overdramatic, if this was too bloody fucking theatrical, he was sorry, all right? He was sorry. It wasn’t like there was even anyone there to witness this embarrassing display but himself, and it certainly wasn’t like she loved him, and he would have liked to lob the Watcher’s head clean off with one of those rocks, and would have had he had a second go at it.
Oh God, he thought with mind-numbing realization. He was a child, a reckless, stupid child, and always would be.
After awhile he wiped his face clean and went on back in the direction he’d come.
The Slayer met him at the halfway mark with a suckerpunch.
“What seems to be the problem, pet?” he asked, vaguely interested, rubbing his jaw.
“You. You’re so stupid. You’re so—” Words seemed to leave her, as they sometimes did. Her fist connected with his face for the second time. When he struck back at her, she twisted his arm behind his back and drove him on down to the ground. His knees hit hard, damp sand.
“Want it rough this time, do you?”
She cuffed him across the back of the head so that he went down, got a mouthful of saltwater, and came up coughing. “You bint. What are you on about?”
“What am I— What’s wrong with you, Spike?” Oh, this again. “It’s the middle of the day, you stupid, idiotic— idiot! You can’t just fuck off like that. You’ve been gone for hours. How do I know where you are? How do I know that you’re not dead? And don’t say that you are dead, because I know that and I hate that and— God. What have you been doing?”
“Out. For. A. Walk. Bitch,” he said, and waited to see if she remembered. Apparently she did, because she shoved his head down again, violently. He struggled onto his back and jerked her down on top of him. Her face was tight and furious. When she couldn’t escape his hold on her waist she caught him by the hair and yanked his head back so that his throat was wide open and exposed to her.
“You let me go,” she fairly snarled. “You let me go right now, and I’ll let you go.”
“I never wanted to get away,” he choked out, just as fiercely.
At that, she dropped his head as if it were a dead weight, which it of course was. “Let me go,” she repeated, softer.
She stood, brushing herself off. Her hair clung like kelp to her face. Emotion made her beautiful, he recalled, and terrible. He stood as well, keeping his distance.
“Spike. I was worried, all day. I’ve been worrying about you for days.” He heard her huff out a sigh. “Aren’t you even going to look at me when I speak to you?”
“No,” he said flatly, and knew not precisely why, except probably that he didn’t want to see how she reacted when he asked her, “So, how does it feel? Letting yourself be all eaten up by feeling for another person? Do you like it? Do you like the pain, love? It agrees with you, I bet, the martyr that you are.”
She yelped then, a little. He glanced up quickly to see her hopping away from the tide as it rushed in. Then she looked up and saw him looking back and it was too late too avert his gaze. She looked at him looking at her, and her chin wobbled. “I’m not stupid, Spike,” she said unsteadily.
“Not like me, yeah?”
She ignored this. “I know you’re trying to push me away. I’ve pushed you away enough times, haven’t I?”
“Is that a rhetorical question?”
“Okay. Okay, you want to dredge things up. Okay.” Her eyes and the wind cut right down to the bone in that moment. “You tried to rape me. How does that feel, Spike? Do you like the way that feels?”
He gave her what he figured was a glazed, rather anesthetized stare. “No,” he protested.
“Well, do you like me throwing it in your face at every possible opportunity?”
“Buffy, Buffy, you don’t have to throw it in my face. I— remember.” He would not cry, not again and not now.
“That’s right,” she told him wanly. “That’s right, Spike.”
“Buffy.” But now he was the one whose words left him.
“So, why did you do it? Tell me.”
“I did it,” he said thinly, sounding as tinny to himself as a recording would. “Because—”
“Because there’s no— goodness. Inside of me,” he said with a sense of senselessness. “I’m evil.”
She bit at a breeze-parched lip. “And who told you that?”
“You did,” he said, even thinner. “S’true, though. No offence taken. Probably was proud, when you said that.” Except he hadn’t been, had he? Should have been. Wasn’t.
“Spike, when I said that—”
“Look. No, no, you can’t be saying that you were—”
“I’m not,” she told him piercingly. “It was you who was at fault then. I’m saying I hurt you too, and I know it. I’m saying that what I said then wasn’t right, not at all. I know there’s good inside of you, and was even then. I’ve seen it.”
“Buffy, stop,” he said dazedly, and it was that word. No. No. No. Stop.
She finally broke eye contact. “You love me so good sometimes it shames me,” she whispered. “Now let’s get you back to the tents. Please.”
But he didn’t and couldn’t move. He felt disconnected, as if someone had cut the wires that gave him animation. He’d wanted to kill Giles once, and her. And.
She came over and wrapped her arm around his waist. “All right?”
“Maybe, maybe you should just leave off, sweetness. Don’t touch me right now. Maybe we shouldn’t touch each other.”
She held on, like a lover. “Shut up, okay?” she said, not unkindly. “Come on. Walk with me.”
And so he did.
Back in the tent. For a time she ran her hand through his hair, teasing out the curls. Sapped of everything but exhaustion, he let her.
“Don’t need a sitter,” he thought to say eventually. He wished for a cigarette, but of course he’d smoked them all during the worst of that bad time, or so he thought. He didn’t remember it, really, but they were gone and that was that.
“I’m going to sit on you, if you don’t stop this— weirdness.”
“We’ve got a bit of a weird history, pet, if you haven’t noticed.”
“Really,” she said wryly. He couldn’t quite smile back yet. “Your roots are showing,” she told him, studying him intently.
“So are yours.”
“Are you suggesting that this isn’t my natural colour?” she asked, so that he had to smile a bit then. “So, Giles has been in contact with the Coven again,” she told him after a few moments. Oh, right. He was sorry then he’d been so caught up in himself, especially when he saw the barefaced fear in her sleepless stare. “They’re on their way,” she continued. “They got delayed.” Pause. “Spike, what if we can’t be helped? If even they can’t help us?”
“Best to let things play themselves out, I suppose,” he said.
“They want to bring us back with them to England,” she said tensely. “They say if we set a base up for ourselves once we get there, bring in as many of the activated Slayers as we can— if we’re well-fortified, we’ll be able to live, like, kind of normally, I guess.” She gave a short laugh. “Not that anything’s ever been normal, with me, really.”
“I included in that ‘we’?” Spike asked, upon gathering the courage. “Know I’m not normal, either—”
“What am I going to do?” she asked right back at him. “Meet a nice, normal boy? I know that’s what everyone wants for me, but I’ve already gone down that road, you know? It’s not what I want. Spike, you’re—” She stared at him as if he were being obtuse. “You were wrong, you know. I don’t like seeing you hurt. I’ve been thinking about it—” There was a long pause. She drew a shaky breath. “Look, I can accept that you loved her, that— that there’s a part of you that I shouldn’t want.”
“But I do want it, Spike. I know you feel the same way. Now do you understand what I’m saying?”
“No?” he said thinly, as if he were posing another question.
“You don’t have to be afraid anymore either, you know,” she told him, tripping over her words the way she did sometimes when she wasn’t playing the part of the Slayer. “I’m through with running away from things. It doesn’t help. You taught me— that. So— I really just think you should take your own advice.”
Her hands, like her voice, he noticed then, were shaking.
And the way she was looking at him suddenly could have broken him, so wise suddenly, and so striking, and he closed his eyes. He hadn’t meant to slip off, but awoke near the curve of her, the wingtip where waist met hip, knew not how he had gotten there, had to close his eyes again.
“Spike?” she whispered then.
Just a little while longer, lamb. Have to relearn myself again, here.
He awoke to the familiar smell of woodsmoke, alone at last. Dinner time, then. For them. Would be for him soon enough. He was as bad as Pavlov’s bloody dog.
Was shaking what he hoped was the last of the fuzziness off, water off the back, when Dawn came and stood outside of the tent. He waited. Her shadow turned to go and then she said, “You decent?”
“Yeah bit.” Just about as much as always.
She came in and settled down next to him, looking at everything but his face. Finally, she shifted. “I miss being at home,” she told him simply. “Everyone was there.”
“Everyone’s here now, though, right? Just about?”
“Well, you’re not. Not really.” Spike didn’t rightly know how to respond to such a just accusation and was much too weary these days for parrying of such a kind. Dawn seemed to realize this, for she sighed, said, “And Tara. And—” She started once again. “Look, I have these.” Took his pack of fags out of her pocket and showed it to him. “I smoked one. Two. Don’t be mad.”
“I thought you might want them back.”
“That I do. Hand ‘em over.”
She did. He shook one out and lit it with fumbling, uncooperative hands. “Spike,” she said quietly.
“I’m fine, yeah? Takes a bit out of a bloke, this kind of thing.” He took a drag. Eventually: “Whatever happened to that amulet, then?”
“Yeah, what was up with that?” She kept her head down when he couldn’t answer her. “Um, well, I shoved it in my bag, you know, what was left of it.”
“Why’s that?” he asked curiously. “Not like it’s any use to us now, is it?”
“It never was,” she reminded him. “Look, I just shoved it into my bag. It wasn’t something I thought about, really.” She added quietly, “It seemed important to you.”
“Ah bit,” he said just as quietly. “But I’ve missed you.”
Dawn looked at him then, at last. “You’ve been laying low for awhile. Aren’t you bored? You never had much of anything like an attention span that I remember, anyway.”
“Right about now? I’d like to get into a serious brawl more than just about anything, if you want the truth,” Spike answered candidly.
“Buffy would probably be up for that.” He glanced at her sharply, but she didn’t pay him any mind at all. Stubborn, sweet girl. After awhile she grinned big at him. “So, can I have a drag?”
He handed the fag off to her, wondering if the Slayer would indeed be up for it, as she said. Knowing he must have caught up to himself again if he were having such thoughts. Good.
After a smoke and much cajoling on Dawn’s part, he left the tent with her. Sat a bit away from the others, so that the warmth of the fire just reached them. Could feel the Slayer watching him through the flame. He lit another fag, this time with slightly steadier hands, and watched her right back.
Her gaze shifted. She would glance away from him, the flame would leap, she would glance back. He was bemused and halfway to hard when he asked, “Think we’ll be needing more firewood any time soon?”
Buffy shot him a venomous glance this time. Faith said, as coy as could be, “Just about.”
“I’ll just be seeing to that, then. Anyone care to help out? Seeing as how we shouldn’t venture off all unaccompanied.” He said the last part with what he figured was the perfect amount of smugness, then chanced a look at the Watcher and decided to just get himself the hell out of dodge while he was still ahead. He’d made it all the way up the underbrush before he heard her coming up behind him with quick, scuffling footsteps.
“No need to get shirty, is there?”
“If I knew what that meant I think I’d say yes, yes there is.”
“Here now, just because no one else has a sex life to speak of doesn’t mean we should keep ours all private-like.”
“Well, you know, that’s what sex usually is, Spike. Private.”
“Yes. Not in my experience, but I’m sure you’re right. Private. And now we’re all on our own. And in such a secluded area! You see how I engineered that one?”
“You’re brilliant,” she said flatly, and plopped down on a log.
“I am, aren’t I?” He perched next to her, thinking then of the crater that was now Sunnydale, her now terribly distant front porch. “Slayer? You remember when we were friends of a sort?”
“I remember,” she said, though still a tad haughtily. Kicking at rocks. He peered at her to see her downturned face better. At that, her feet stilled.
Her sneakers were muddy. Bits of sand stuck to ocean-damp cheeks, giving her a kind of silver glow. She was dirty and beautiful. Her hair was getting longer, just the way he liked it, the way it had been before he’d named her Goldilocks and she’d gone and flown off the handle and hacked it all off just to spite him. He reached out and fingered a loose, strawy strand, winding it around a finger. Oh, their history. It was as heaving as that ocean he could still hear in the distance roaring; as imposing and as inescapable. It threatened to sweep him away, but he held his very own ground for once.
“Saw you watching me back there,” he told her. She’d been watching him for years, in one way or another, and him her. It was both comforting and terrifying, that. He saw that contradiction in her eyes as well.
She dug one heel into the moss. “I know you did.”
“You remember this too, then?” he asked, hand slipping beneath her shirt. Traced oven-hot skin with his fingertips. Her heel dug in deeper.
“Spike,” she said, perhaps attempting to scoff at him but squeaking instead. “We do this, like, all the time. Of course I remember.” Finally, her lips quirked.
“Thought perhaps we could be both of those things to each other at the same time,” he said nearly shyly, and felt like a right bastard too. Who spoke like that? William - his former self, that decorous ponce?
“I’d like that,” she said, softly, sweet. Like before, in the tent. But then she took his hand and pushed it down and away from her, rising. Took a few steps and hesitated. He waited, apprehensive and restless, watching the horizon of her back and of four-legged clouds that were fewer than before. “But you have to catch me first.”
“What’s this, then?” he asked uncertainly.
She hesitated again. “You know— you know I like it when—”
“When I catch you?”
“When I let you catch me,” she clarified with a smile and a dare and a promise in her voice, and darted away from him. He wavered, shrugged, took pursuit.
And she let him catch her up around the middle from behind.
Had they finally caught up to one another, then?
She let him catch her and he did. Spun her around and she spun with him, laughing out loud for a moment at the sensation so that he wished they could spin like that till they were dizzy and sick with it and stone cold dead, the both of them.
But instead he put her down and she shoved him easily up against a tree and that was even better. Bark bit into his back, but he cared not a lick. I think I was in heaven, she’d said and he’d felt at the time things that he shouldn’t have ever felt. Wanted the seraph then. Lucifer could go fuck himself if William the Bloody had the chance to rest betwixt the Slayer’s parted thighs. Turned out she wasn’t an angel, of course, not sodding likely, that, but he loved her just the same. He loved her just the same.
Now. He loved the way she was still laughing a bit into his mouth. That he mattered to someone, to her, in such a tangible way.
Not much of anything was of importance right about then. So the world as they knew it had left them behind. And he’d never be over Dru; she’d made him into the creature he was. Which was someone who was reckless, and stupid, and a child: always reckless in love, and the world knew he loved as a child loved, forever, unreservedly. Stupidity went without saying.
But there were worse things he could do, he supposed. Worse things he could be. Worse things he’d been, oh yes.
So that was that, then. Ever-ravenous, he lunged in for a taste of her, and kissed again her still smiling lips. And truth hit everywhere.