By OneTwoMany (Sabre)
Reluctant as Spike was to enter the bathroom, he is nearly as hesitant to leave it. Spike stands at the door, hand on the doorknob, listening intently for signs of life in the house beyond. Bloody stupid thing to be doing, but he's in no mood for questions, let alone curiosity, and the last thing he wants to do is run into a gaggle of Slayer wannabes.
He's dressed again in the familiar black jeans and plain black T-shirt. It made him smile when he realized Buffy had left them for him. His smile widened when he realized they were new. Cheap, chain-store jeans, the type he'd rather have been dusted than be seen in a year ago. But he couldn't give a fuck now, not when she'd shopped for them; shopped in expectation of rescuing him. It was the strangest, most touching thing he could possibly imagine. They'd never, in all their time together, exchanged any kind of gift. He'd never had the courage to risk it; he doubted she'd ever considered it. And yet here she'd gone and bought him clothes. She'd even known what size to buy. Funny that, considering he couldn't remember a single instance in all their time together when she'd paused long enough to check the label.
The house beyond the door is quiet, but he knows it won't be for long. He decides this lull is as good as any other. Finally, he pulls the door open, steps into the corridor and makes his way downstairs, bare feet padding along the thick carpet.
He's almost at the basement door when the sound of Giles' voice, cool and deadly calm gives him cause to stop.
"I see you got what you wanted."
"And what's that then?" Spike asks as he turns to meet the Watcher's glare.
Giles looks even older, more exhausted than usual. The lines on his face are etched deeper, his brow furrowed in a crease, gray hairs sprouting on his receding hairline. Humans age, and it's been a while since Spike's seen this one; but surely not that long? Last time was during that ridiculous farce that resulted from Red's mind-wipe spell. A year? Sounds about right, even though it seems like so much longer. So much has happened since then.
"You know what I'm talking about." Giles' tone is severe, cutting, and Spike has the sudden sense that he's about due for a scolding. How bloody ironic, given that the last time they spoke he was calling the bloke 'Dad.' Definitely a moment best forgotten.
"Know what, Watcher? Not in the mood for chit-chat, much less twenty questions. What happened between the Slayer and me, that's our business. If Buffy wants you to know, I'm sure she'll tell you; you being her Watcher and all." He turns back to the stairs. "In the meantime, I'm gonna waste the rest of my day getting some hard earned kip."
Spike's through the door and partially down the stairs before Giles' deep sigh reaches his ears.
"Spike, please, a moment."
Spike is mildly disgusted to find that he stops immediately. He's never been able to put his finger on it, but there's always been something about Giles that gets his attention, despite his long-lived aversion to authority figures.
Spike remembers in vivid detail that long, awful night when Giles was a guest of Angelus; the night that saw the birth of his uneasy alliance with the Slayer, and the beginning of the end of his life with Drusilla. Remembers how Giles' screams had echoed through the empty rooms of the mansion, until at last they had petered out into hoarse groans and half-choked sobs. And yet the Watcher had withstood it all, the worst of Angelus; had held out for duty, or pride, or for the love of a tiny blonde girl who'd already started to pull on Spike's own heart.
It's impossible to remember that night and not feel a deep respect for Rupert Giles; but more impossible, still, for Spike to willingly show it, even if the bloke is fixing him with the same steel-gray gaze with which he stared down Angelus.
"What?" Spike asks, hoping his bored, tired tone hides any of those pesky uncomfortable feelings.
"I didn't start this to make accusations." Giles' voice is as firm and as penetrating as his gaze.
"Oh, really?" Spike raises an incredulous eyebrow. "You've got a funny way of showing it then, mate."
"Well, if you'd stop with the dramatics and listen to me for half a moment..."
Spike bit back a retort. Okay. "I'm listening."
Giles nods, looks mightily uncomfortable as he pinches the bridge of his nose. The silence around them begins to thicken, and Spike thinks he can actually hear the Watcher's teeth grinding together. Obviously he hadn't expected it to be quite that easy. Should've known ol' Spike just isn't up for the fighting these days.
Spike sighs and leans back against the doorframe. He can glimpse vivid brightness of the day outside through the blinds. The yellow of the sun, the brilliant azure of the sky, the richly fertile green of the grass and foliage, the occasional burst of a more passionate color in the flowering spring garden. Vampires live their lives in black and white and shades of gray, but the presence of the soul has reawakened the poet in him, and a part of him now longs for color.
Finally, Giles' voice breaks through his musings.
"Buffy told me that you went and sought a soul, voluntarily. Is this true?"
"You think I lied...?" Should have known Giles' would never believe that one. So why does he feel so disappointed?
"I don't think anything. That's why I am asking you."
Spike's feels his mouth go dry, and his fingers itch for a cigarette.
"Yeah. It's true," he says, keeping his voice as even as can be. "Went to Africa. Got the t-shirt with bonus soul. Back here to do good. Now, if you'll excuse me..."
"Do you realize the enormity of this Spike?" There's just a hint of something in Giles' voice; something that almost approaches hysteria. "Why would you do such a thing?"
"Why, to save the world and bring peace and freedom to the galaxy..." Spike's voice drips with sarcasm. "Why do you think I got it?"
"Good Lord." Giles half sighs, half groans. He leans heavily against the counter, one hand rubbing his temple as if the revelation has struck up a sudden, crippling headache. Not inconceivable that it had. "Does Buffy know this?"
"Yeah. She knows."
Knows all too well. Knows the need and pain and fear. All courtesy of one horrific night in an abandoned church when, still teetering between insanity and bleary coherence, he divulged everything to her in a typically melodramatic display of drama queen excess. Tears and self-pity and near immolation. No wonder she'd fled; he was lucky she hadn't laughed. God, how could he have been such a fool?
Giles stands in silence for a long time, not looking at Spike. Not looking at anything really, his eyes reflecting a distance that was rare in someone as steady and grounded as he. He's processing, filing, cataloguing, Spike realizes. Doing all those things librarians are meant to do when they get new information. Clearly having a hard time of it too, reconciling this new revelation with the existing mountain of contradictory lore.
"Crusty old books and dry Council sermons not prepare you for meeting a vamp who chooses a soul, eh Watcher?" Spike asks, barely keeping the slightly malicious amusement out of his voice.
"No". Giles answers simply. And the room lapses back into silence once more.
Eventually, Giles raises his gaze to meet Spike's again. It's steady, deadly serious, and nearly all Ripper. His voice is just as fearsome.
"Spike, I don't pretend to know the full extent of what happened between you and Buffy. Nor, do I ever want to. I've learnt that when it comes to Buffy, it is best not to pry into her personal affairs. As I told her, I can not control her, and I will not judge her, not even when she enters into what I consider to be a highly imprudent relationship."
Spike snorted. "That your version of giving us your blessing, Dad?"
"Certainly not!" Giles' eyes flash with the sharp, deadly intensity of an electrical storm. "I will never approve of Buffy's relationship with you. Just as I didn't approve of her relationship Angel. In my opinion, the entirety of your unlives are not worth of a moment of her time. But I am saying this. You have a soul now. Maybe you don't understand the enormity of it. I'm not sure that any of us do. But it is clearly an amazing thing and I don't think it was coincidental that it is happening now."
"Coincidental to what?"
"Coincidental to this; to what is coming. To what is already here. This foe is greater than anything Buffy has ever faced. Greater than anything anyone has ever faced. She needs friends who will stand behind her, no questions asked. Can you do that Spike?"
Stunned at the faith that Giles is seemingly placing in him, Spike can only nod his head once. "Yes."
"Very well. Then you do not have my blessing, but you do have my acceptance."
"Er...Thanks. I think."
Giles sighs deeply. "Very well then Spike. Now, get dressed. We have work to do."
Standing on the porch, Buffy watches in mute surprise as Spike and Giles go at it with staff and blade. Thrust, parry, twirl. Elegant blocks, complex foot movements, crafty changes in stance, all made look easy through Spike' exquisite grace and Giles' years of experience. She feels her lips begin to curve into a smile at the sight of the awe plastered across the faces of the young women who stand watching. This display is probably the last thing they expected to see tonight - the last thing she expected, for sure - but it's far from unwelcome.
Unconsciously, Buffy's gaze is slowly, inevitably, drawn to Spike in particular, and she finds herself scrutinizing his movements. To the girls, he doubtless looks amazing, sleek, and nimble and totally deadly, but her practiced warrior's eye immediately recognizes his weakness - The slight caution in his movements, the odd stiffness, the occasional flitter of his eyes and the brief grimaces that are quickly hidden. He's still injured, and she can can't help but feel a little - offended, or disappointed? - that her Slayer's blood isn't a total cure-all.
Still, not bad; big improvement from last night, when walking was an issue. She's a walking vampire-fountain-of-life. Sometimes, being the Slayer really did have it's bonuses.
The demonstration comes to an end, and Giles beckons Rona to come forth and take the blade. The girl is hesitant, scowling reluctantly, her street-wise attitude not quite disguising the shy trepidation in her face. She's clearly not pleased at being singled out as the demonstration model, to be put through her paces like a prize pet while the others sit back and watch. She's gonna have to get used to it, though. Being watched is all part of the fun Slayer package.
Buffy's always been watched; by Giles, the Council, her friends, her two vampire lovers, unnamed chroniclers, various demons, the Powers, and who knows what else. She feels that she's lived her life in a fishbowl - blurry faces belonging to unfathomable beings watching her every move for their personal enjoyment. Or maybe not a fishbowl, but a stage. Hadn't she sung that once? That's life's a show for everyone, but the Life of the Chosen One plays out on a particularly grand and gorgeous stage. It's a spectacle for a sell-out crowd. No wonder she's acquired the acting skills to deserve a standing ovation.
In the yard below, Spike and Rona circle each other slowly, the girl cautious and serious, the vampire slightly grinning in that intense, vampiric way that still frightens Buffy, reminding her that Spike remains The Other. He starts his attack suddenly, jabbing the staff. He's slow, but not exactly gentle, and they both yelp as the wood cracks against Rona's ribs. She retreats slightly, but her dark eyes are ever more determined, her posture wary and ready. When Spike tries to same attack again, she blocks it easily, and her next series of parries is more impressive still. The girl's got spunk, Buffy has to give her that.
Buffy's never had that, that training to be a Slayer; never knew a time when being one was something to work towards and practice for. She'd learned and adapted. But even after all of these years, it's all still an act; an extended, obsessive period of method acting designed to present a comfortable and acceptable fa‡ade, a persona to appear in chronicles and histories, to satisfy the demands of her mysterious destiny.
And she'd fooled everyone... Except Spike. She'd never been able to fool Spike. But then, she'd never needed too. With him, there was so little need for pretense. So little point, really. Those steely blue eyes saw straight through her artifice and lies. Spike wasn't interested in perfect Buffy; he didn't need her to be a hero to hang onto. He knew her, understood, and always - always - loved her.
Spike looks up and sees this, her face appearing to brighten even in the dim evening light. His gaze is lean and hot and hungry, where hers is green and cool, and as she meets its stare, she feels the last of her lingering doubt evaporates beneath the penetrating fire of his blue-flame eyes. This is her Spike, here before her, fully souled, but still with all his passion and wit, still possessed of that intense and adoring love that threatens to consume him from within. All here, and all hers, should she want it.
And, oh, how she does.
Spike's still looking her, his lips curled in an endearingly cautious half-smile. They exchange a brief, indescribable looks. A mutual acknowledgment that they will talk, later. She forces down the rising heat, the sudden feeling of dizziness as Giles beckons for the next potential to take to the ring, and the training starts again.
Unable to watch any longer, Buffy escapes into the house.
Suddenly the thought of cooking dinner for a dozen seems significantly less intimidating.
"You're smoking again."
Spike glances up form his position on the steps of the Summer's back porch. Buffy's standing in the kitchen doorway, the back-light from the kitchen illuminating her hair and casting her slender form in an alluring silhouette.
"Er, yeah..." he responds, before trailing off uncertainly.
He worries for a moment that she is scolding him, but her smile is as wide and bright as a distantly remembered sunrise, and her eyes are sparkling with a twinkle of amusement that he hasn't seen on her weary face in so long. She's teasing him. He drops his gaze to the smoldering cigarette in order to hide his delighted smile. It's been so long since either of them has been in the mood to be playful, to participate in any kind of their usual witty repartee.
Spike fixes his gaze on the smoke as it weaves and dances its way skyward, drawing intricate patterns in the air before dissipating slowly into the cooler night sky. Funny, how he notices little things like that again now - the beauty of swirling gray, the exotic orange flare of the burning paper; simple things, unnoticed for more than a century, are once again absorbing.
William's influence; the wanker.
Spike shakes his head slightly to clear the ghostly cobwebs.
"Nabbed it from your Watcher," he replies with a shrug.
He can hear the laughter in her voice; tinkling little bells that cause his skin to dance and his heart to soar. She's in a rare mood tonight, charming and tantalizing in all her girlish good humor. He wonders what's gotten into her, and whether he can seal it in.
"When he worries for you, yeah. Not his brand, though. Think he bought them for me. Rupes is an okay bloke, once you get to know him."
"Giles mentioned over dinner that you'd had a chat."
He did? That surprises Spike, and he wonders briefly how much to say.
"We came to an understanding. Of sorts."
"I'm glad, Spike."
Buffy covers the few paces between the porch and the steps, and then plunks herself down next to him. The move's a strange combination of clumsy and graceful, like she's coordinated but couldn't care less. It strikes him as an open move, devoid of pretense and posturing. He continues to watch her out of the corner of his eyes as she fidgets for a second, then folds her hands in her lap and follows his gaze into the night.
This is a familiar position, hip to hip, parallel stares. But this quiet companionship, the giving of conditional comfort had seemed foreign to him before, even unnatural. He'd let his heart guide him and put on a good show at it, such a good show, in fact, that the seed of their friendship was planted here. Now, nearly two years later, it's finally in bloom.
He thinks they're friends. Hopes they are. Still sometimes hope for more than but...But Hope is a mercurial little bitch; sweet and painful in turn, and he doesn't let her seduce him too often. Right now, though, he feels himself giving into the sweet agony of Hope's embrace, allowing her to remind him again of how so close, and yet how far he is to that which he so craves.
And yet, even as he longs to reach across and take her hand, to touch her and love her, a part of him thinks that this - this friendship - is enough. Spike reminds himself of how blind he was last year, how damnably stupid as to believe that frantic, grasping shagging and random acts of violence could amount to a real relationship. He'd been kidding himself the whole time; convinced himself that if she was fucking him - pitiful, evil, disgusting him - then she must have felt something, some connection beyond the physical. Why else would she debase herself? But, oh, he knows her now. Knows with the clarity of hindsight that it was never about him. It was always about her and her need to punish herself for being alive. She'd not seen him at all, and certainly never loved him.
You don't feel love for just a Thing. You use it.
Funny thing is, Spike still can't truly think of unsoulled vampires in quite such simplistic terms. He wonders if even Angel can. He's no problems dusting the ones he doesn't know, the barnyard bloodsuckers that are a dime a dozen in Sunnydale. He'd never had a lot of time for minions, so nothing much had changed on that front.
But then there is Dru. Evil and twisted as she was, the mention of her name, the memory of her soft hair and white body, of their century of togetherness, still kindles a certain dark fire in his heart. Did she love him? He doesn't know. But he loved her, right? Would've died for her. Probably still couldn't kill her, ranting threats aside. No, he can not think of Dru as a thing. Not yet, maybe never. Doesn't even know if he wants to.
Bloody hell, the soul is making him melancholy tonight.
"It's a beautiful night," Buffy comments suddenly, breaking through his thoughts and offering him a reprieve from his depressing inner monologue.
He has to smile at that. Damned if he'd admit it out loud, but she's right. The clouds have begun to clear and the nearly full moon casts silver shadows across the yard. Best of all, she's sitting beside him, heart calm and steady, color in her cheeks and mouth turned up in a smile. Beautiful indeed.
"You're in a blinding mood tonight, Slayer."
"Huh?" She raises an eyebrow in confusion, brow creasing slightly in a way that makes him grin.
"Happy, pet. You're happy." Another drag from his cigarette, a long exhale. He's scrupulously remembering to blow the smoke from Buffy's cancer-sensitive human lungs.
Buffy shrugs a shoulder, pushes a wayward strand of hair behind one ear. "Surprised, huh?"
He shrugs a little. It is and it isn't. "Long while since I said that, ain't it? 'Tis good to see."
'Cause, if he believes her friends, believes her, then Buffy is often happy. Just never when she's around him.
"Well, I've got a lot to be happy about," she says determinedly. "I had a great day at work. I came home to find Dawn in an unusually happy mood. Then I see you and Giles, with the working together. And you up and about and being helpful and teacher-y." She flashes that gorgeous smile again, the one that reaches her eyes and lights up all of her features. "That was a good moment. So, yeah, I guess I am feeling remarkably generous and open-minded about everything right now."
"That right? Your feeling 'generous' are you?" Spike smirks softly, figures he can get away with a bit of fun. "You know Slayer, 'm still feeling a bit weak. Seeing as you're feeling so 'generous' and such... 'Nother taste of the good stuff would heal it right up..."
He's careful to keep the words gently teasing, without a trace of serious intent. He's not sure how to handle this new easiness between them. But he hopes his eyes reflect the depth of his gratitude.
The glint in Buffy's eye is a delight to see, and her reply almost makes him fall off the stairs. "I'm sure we'll find plenty of opportunities to let you... taste me."
Spike's stomach drops, and it's as if the seat beneath him falls away as well. 'Shocked' isn't a strong enough word, but his mind refuses to submit another. His jellied brain refuses even to comply with his subconscious' demand that it closes his gaping mouth. And then, this thinking process stops entirely as she reaches over and threads her fingers through the hair at the nape of his neck, and begins to caress the skin there gently with her slightly callused fingers. The movement is soft, gentle, and intimate, much like the pattern of his thumb on her wrist the night before. He feels her touch reverberate through every part of his body.
He knows this can't be happening; the flirting, the touching, the sexual innuendo behind the offer of more 'tasting.' He must be dreaming, or deluded, or maybe both. Or perhaps she's simply joined him in Gah Gah Land. He'd thought when he was a kid madness was contagious; this must be proof.
"Buffy..." he begins, but his voice cracks and dies. Fuck.
"Shh, Spike," Buffy coaxes softly, much as she would a child. "Don't say anything. Just...enjoy the night."
Spike usually follows his blood, lives by the motto. But right now, he's not sure that's such a great idea, lest he mess up this most amazing of moments. Buffy is so calm, so beautiful like this, skin white and hair glistening silver beneath Artemis' light. He feels his still heart ache, his love and adoration and desire sore. He knows thousands of lines of poetry, masters a-plenty, and not one does her justice. His strong, amazing Slayer.
A long moment passes as Spike struggles for control of his turbulent emotions, and his rebellious body. He can't leave it at that. Impatient, demanding as always, he needs to know what this is about. Finally, he swallows and licks his lips. Looking at her is suddenly too much, so when he speaks, he addresses some spot on grass between them.
"We back together then?" he asks.
Buffy draws a quick, harsh breath, body tense. But she exhales slowly, her clothing rustling softly as she turns to look at him. The seconds seem like hours as he waits for her response.
"Do you wanna be? Back together?"
Her words cut through flesh and bone as a sword, penetrating him to the core and leaving him speechless. For a moment, Spike wonders if he has misheard, and then if he has misinterpreted. Only a question, he reminds himself sharply, not an offer. But his answer escapes his lips before he fully has tome to think.
"Do I... Do you need to ask? Course I do! God, Buffy, more than anything. I'd do anything for you. Be anything..."
Only, the words aren't true. Not really. And as he they pass his lips, his voice fades and he looks away; buries his gaze in the garden, somewhere amongst the strawberries. Silence suddenly falls between them, and the night air grows thick and heavy beneath the weight of memory. Spike can sense the burning blood rise in Buffy's cheeks, can feel the slight shudder of her body and then the rise of her heart as she wraps her arms around herself.
"I thought we went over this last night."
"Spike..." Her voice fades beneath he silent gaze.
He grinds his teeth as he searches for words. When he finally speaks, it is with unusual slowness and consideration. "Last night, you said you were scared of hiding, of bottling everything up and lying to yourself. So am I. I love you Buffy. You know that. Love you more than anything. But I don't want to be your security blanket again. I don't..." His voice cracks. Becoming a habit, that is. He looks up, pleads with his eyes as much as his voice. Please understand. "I couldn't bear it, Buffy. Not again. Please don't ask it of me."
As he finishes, Buffy's features relax, and he can almost feel the ripple of her body as the relief washes over her. He can certainly smell the slightly salty tang of the tears that suddenly glisten in the corners of her large, green eyes.
"Oh, Spike..." Buffy allows her hand, long forgotten on the back of his neck, to glide across to cheek, leaving a trail of fire in its wake. "You're not going to be my security blanket again. I don't even need one anymore. Security blanket-free me!" She pauses for a second, perhaps waiting for a smile, but he can't quite manage one. The liquid pools in her eyes begin to overflow, tears leaving trails down her cheeks, but her voice is soft as silk. "No more hiding, Spike. I want us to go in there now, together, hand in hand. You and me. You as my boyfriend. They can deal."
Spike wonders if he heard that right, because suddenly there are insects in his head, buzzing wildly, worse than the chip, tickling his mind with images. Last night; this...this declaration, what she is offering, it's almost too much. He stares at her for a moment, assessing her countenance, confirming to his screaming mind's satisfaction that, this time, she is being honest, with him and with herself.
Her face is open, clear, and he knows she's telling the truth. Spike finds he has no choice but to close his eyes against the wave of relief, happiness and desire.
Boyfriend. Stupid term, but it makes him deliriously happy anyway.
Spike feels her lips against his eyelids, first one, then the other. He opens his eyes to meet hers, bright and caring. And then everything feels to be melting as her captures her lips in what feels, to him, like their first real kiss.
Continued in Chapter 5b