By OneTwoMany (Sabre)
"He's not getting any better."
Giles' rich baritone seeps through the floorboards from the Scooby meeting below, as Spike's realization that he is the topic of discussion drags the weary vampire back to the world of the living.
"Maybe he needs more blood." The higher, earnest voice of Red. Perky and helpful. How bloody ironic that it is so often she who comes to his rescue in moments such as this. She, who, Buffy exempted, he has probably hurt the most. He doesn't deserve this from her, not when her mind should be filled with images of the night in the factory, the attack in her dorm room.
"More blood?" Xander, his tone disgusted and resentful. Only to be expected. "We've already exsanguinated half the cows in Wisconsin. How much of the stuff can one scrawny vamp swallow?".
"Yeah," Dawn's voice now, rising from a position near Xander. "And how are we gonna afford it?"
"My question precisely." Demon-girl, always practical. "Saving your vampire is all well and good, but you need to eat, and money doesn't grow on trees."
A long pause, and he waits for her words, her defence. She doesn't disappoint.
"We'll find a way. I promise you guys, we'll find a way."
Lying in her bed, eyes fixed on the beige ceiling, Spike lets Buffy's voice wash over him, feels her words sink through his skin, warming, calming, balm to both the physical ache and the deeper, more crippling pain that tears at his heart and mind. Always, he believes her, that she'll find a way to save him. She never fails when it's about the people she cares for, and he now knows himself to be one of them. But oh, Buffy, don't you know that you shouldn't care? That this will only hurt you? That you should let me go? That I need you so much and can't let you go.
Closing his eyes, he feels the warmth recede beneath a rising tide of self-loathing and guilt, which crashes over his ragged sanity. It's easier, he's learnt, to indulge such feelings than to fight them or ignore them. Tried both, he has. First, not listening, blocking out the voices by concentrating instead on his uneven, unnecessary breathing. Then strengthening his resolve with images of himself, strong again, fighting at her side. He'd succeeded in neither. The seductive lure of Scooby-discontent, soothed by his Slayer's words, had won. And now he hangs on every word, loves that even as they smother her with words of truth, Buffy still defends him.
The downstairs discussion has drifted now, from the damaged vampire upstairs to the house that also needs mending. Xander and Giles are discussing handyman priorities, considering means of fortification; Anya advises Buffy on the insurance, while Dawn listens as Andrew blathers about the benefits of combining the cheque for the telly and VCR and purchasing a Ti-Vo. Spike snorts softly - not a bad idea. Elsewhere, he can hear the chattering voices of the SITs, gossiping about Joe Millionaire and American food, until one speaks up and requests that they be more careful about wasting food.
Wasting. Now that's a word he rightly owns. He's wasting away. He's wasting resources. He's a waste of space.
He stares down at himself, at the sheet covering what is left of his body. His hand, lying in rest on the white sheet, has shrunken back to its normal size, bones almost mended, but now stark and defined against his shrunken skin. His wrist is as narrow as a girl's. He should do something about this, get up, go downstairs, buy his own juice using his own dosh. But instead he stays here, in her bed, surrounded by her. Damned if he would be move, even if he could.
His musings are broken by the sound of the door closing below, loud and firm but not a slam. Not Dawn, then. Still, a Summers. Buffy, probably off to patrol. Listening intently, he can overhear the distant murmur of voices below. The whelp is accompanying her, probably bitching about him. Good, at least she isn't alone. Xander may be useless, but in his newly soulled state, Spike can not but feel admiration for the boy, brave as he is. All those years, side by side with Buffy, lending his heart but unable to touch hers. Spike understands that, respects it even.
Wishes he could join her, considers it briefly. Do him good, some hack and slash, a spot of violence. But the old rush isn't rising, his demon too broken and put to care, and the brownish-red on the sheets warns against it besides. His gaze is drawn to another small red stain on the sheet, right above his hollowed abdomen. He's bleeding again, the wound having likely come unstuck during his troubled sleep.
Another thing that touched him, rightly stained in blood.
It's all about blood. Always has been, from the moment he clawed his way out of his coffin and into the dark London night. Born to slash, and bash, and bleed. Dru'd told him that, and oh, he loved her for it . Taken her lessons to heart, every one of them, and every one of Angelus' tortured teachings too. Excelled at this new form of expression, this beautiful poetry written in red, lyrics he owned completely.
But now the slash and bash holds little attraction, and the only blood that he intends to spill again is his own. Funny, how slight his desire to replenish it. He should be worried; no matter how sharp and cruel the Harbinger's knife, his wounds should long since have healed. But instead he feels only numbness while he watches with morbid fascination as the red begins to spread across the tawny sheets until he again drifts off into a chaotic, restless sleep.
She's a warrior, made to fight. Kicking, punching, slaying, staking. Instinctive, controlled, precise. It's what she understands, what she's good at. The rush, the power, the knowledge; unique, special, extraordinary. And all so totally her.
She thinks she's almost happy now, in this graveyard, fighting off a gaggle of Satreach demons. Icky, creepy, scaly things, they are, the adults a particularly unflattering shade of orange, but she knows from experience that they are tougher on the eye than on the wits and body. More typically found curled up over a cheap beer at Willies, or maybe enjoying someone's Siamese on a spit than picking fights.
But too bad for them that they'd wandered into the Slayer's path tonight.
The term feels comfortable, finally. Once again it's something she is, rather than a burden to carry. Unasked for, yes, but no longer unwanted. She wonders, now, how she could have been so resentful of her calling last year, while she was so oblivious to everything else?
Or almost everything. Swirling leather, flashing eyes, a cocky smirk, the smell of tobacco. She remembers the intensity with which he fought and fucked and drank and snarked, the tender way in which he listened, or moved his callused, knowing hands over her body. The instant recall sends an unbidden shiver down her back, leaves a tingling in her limbs. Adds to the adrenaline and turns her lips up into a wide, almost feral smile, as the first of the strange demons comes at her with a drunken bellow, and launches at her in its strange, vaguely kangaroo-like hop.
Buffy stands and waits for a fraction of a second, stepping neatly to the side at the last moment, her smile growing still broader as the Satreach gets several steps behind her before realising its mistake. The second, on its tail, receives a foot in the stomach, followed by a surprise as Buffy drops and throws it backward, into its friend. The collision makes a satisfying crunching noise.
Easy, natural, fun. If only it were so easy to put the rest of her troubles behind her.
Out of the corner of her eye, Buffy sees Xander make an appearance, moving out of the trees with a speed that belies his size. She springs back to her feet, turns her attention back to the remaining handful of demons, secure in the knowledge he'll take care of Dazed 1 & 2, while she handles their friends. Being Xander, he'll probably just knock them unconscious. Brutish and stubborn as he can be, he isn't usually into the unnecessary euthanasia for the terminally stupid.
Unless they are vampires who get where he can't.
The thought comes unbidden to her mind, but she ducks away from it, leaving it standing as she quickly, releasing a high roundhouse that connects with demon temple. The impact drops thought and beastie alike. Yet, as she sweeps her leg out in a trip, she thinks again how she, at least, misses him. His flashy moves, crafty skills, his running commentary and ill-placed jokes. She wants him back, her vampire companion. Her one partner; her only equal.
Xander's voice, shouting a warning, brings her back to battle as another demon leaps to attack.
Spike wakens with a start and a strangled gasp. A kaleidoscope of images flashes through his mind, brutal and erotic at once. Flying fists, ripping fangs, long white necks, heaving breasts, nails tearing at skin in fear and passion alike and blood. Blood everywhere. Then Buffy, rising from the red before he pulls her back into it. A horrible nightmare, yet no different from his dreams for a century past. Sleep is a seductive enemy now, and he almost wishes insomnia would fight for him as well.
Panting quietly, Spike wonders how loud his cries where were, doesn't know whether to be relieved that no one comes to him. Closing his eyes, he extends his senses through the house. The flock of new birds must be out, the giggly resonance of their voices and distinctive signatures of their scents not evident to his senses. Dawn is gone, too. Must be Friday then, Buffy'd not allow her to go prancing round with her mates on a weekday. Might have taken the other girls, too, or maybe they went with Red. Giles is here, somewhere below. Likely in the dining room, studying in what is left of his library. Andrew, too, sleeping downstairs on the couch.
He is alone upstairs, then, surrounded by silence. Once a curse of his alienated life, the quiet is now almost a blessing. No words to cut him, but also nothing to distract him from picking at his wounds.
The scent of blood still engulfs him, and as he opens his eyes again he sees that there is a mug of it beside the bed. The handle is still slightly warm, he'd only just missed whoever it was who brought it. He drinks it down rapidly, the bland taste on his tongue doing nothing to improve his mood, but the thought of anything else would surely bring a wave of nausea. Notes with interest that his wounds have been cleaned and re-bandaged as well, although the sticky sheets are still the same. Best to use them as long as possible, anyway. They'd be useless after this. Stained and filthy. Yet another waste. Another reminder that he doesn't belong here, in Buffy's bed, indulging in her protection even as he further stretches her scarce resources.
So very selfish, he thinks. Shouldn't the soul have put a stop to this, wasn't it meant to make him a better man? A hero, like bloody Angel? Someone who, at the very least, wallows alone? But apparently not his soul. Just his luck to get the defective one. Makes him pathetic and weepy, even as every part of him demands that he take what he can from her. He revels in being here, lying naked beneath her sheets, breathing air heavy with the tang of sweat, leather, the detergent of her cheap shampoo and the lingering sweetness of her mock-label perfume.
Exactly what he wanted. Too much to give up.
He can count on one hand the number of times he'd had her in a bed. The night she was invisible, that was the first. She'd come to him intent on re-living the glorious release of that night in the wrecked house. No thought of repercussions, no fear of Scooby intervention, no inhibitions or shame. The whole thing had been a riot to begin with, until he'd realized what she was really about. Next, the cuffs, when he'd chained her hands as she lay amongst the lush rugs on the floor of his crypt. She'd trusted him to tease her, but had protested and threatened, eyes strangely fearful, when she'd realized he was carrying her to the bed. Scared, perhaps, that the softness would break her where stones and dirt and metal could not. Still, once he'd deposited her on the bed she'd turned the balance of power as she always did, making sure the both of them gasped and cried and screamed.
That had been a good night and his cock swells at the memory. A moment's guilt, and he allows his good hand to wander across his chest then down his stomach as he pictures her as she was, laid out before him, golden skin, glistening with sweat, luminous against midnight blue sheets as she writhed beneath him. They'd fought and shagged and played for hours that night. So clear, that memory, pleasant and perfect and unbearable in its sweetness and promise of hope.
But that memory is too sweet for his melancholy mood, and he finds inside that his mind travels, unbidden, to an encounter more suited to his honest mood. He remembers with glee the spot of patrolling, their dance of power, the allure of her sweat soaked body as they laughed over the scattered dust. Such twisted images of sex and violence are too much, and Spike gives into his need, moves his hand to his burgeoning erection, stroking hard as he remembers the way he'd kissed her, and she'd kissed him. Thrusting tongues, grasping hands, the connection of superstrong bodies. The way she'd tripped him, landed on him, then the desperate grinding motion that had brought them both off.
Lying in the grass, beneath the sparse light of the quarter moon, he had taunted and cajoled her to stay with him. He had thought then he was charming, of course, but knows now he was right pathetic, begging and pleading, and she'd seen right through him. She'd taken off for home, to her little sister and welcoming friends, and he'd gone home to his darkened crypt. Drank some, smoked, then drank some more until, with no expectation of company, he drifted into a restless sleep, a fitting end to another night of vowing that things would change.
Only she'd returned. He'd woken to find her surrounding him, ripe, reddened lips making a path down his neck and chest and her hot little body wiggling against his. His hands had clasped the sheets as she'd traced his nipple with her tongue, zeroing in and biting down with such force that he'd felt a ripple of agony. At the memory, his hips lurch off the bed, a gasp escapes his mouth and he almost comes. Pleasure and pain, sex and violence, right and wrong. Messed up, fucked up, all blending together in his exquisite, golden goddess.
Eyes squeezed shut, he summons the image again. Buffy, moving down his body, hair falling over his chest as her nails leave pale pink marks across his skin. Remembers how she had paused when she'd reached his straining cock, hazel eyes meeting his from beneath darkened, mascara-thickened lashes. He'd known at that moment that it wasn't about love or fun or even pleasure. She was getting off on the power, the freedom, the knowledge that he would do anything, expect nothing. He was hers, body, heart and absent soul. But as her hands had traced his thighs, and her lips had closed around him, he'd not cared a bit.
The bittersweet memory of her games is enough to bring him off. A few quick spurts, easily cleaned up, mess disposed of quickly in the trash. A fitting end to his reminiscing.
Reality's a bitch.
"That was possibly the lamest demon attack ever," Xander says as they make their way onto her driveway. His hands are buried in the pockets of his baggy fatigues, his gait a little tired but still steady.
Walking at his side, Buffy recognizes the feeling and has to agree.
"Uh huh," She groans, "A handful of Satreach demons isn't my idea of a challenge. And hog-tying them and keeping them for the girls seems...wrong. I can't believe there are so few vamps. Usually that'd be a good a thing, but how am I ever going to get the girls used to combat if we never get a decent fight?" She throws her hands in the air, a picture of righteous frustration. "Vamps. Never around when you need them."
Xander shakes his head. "Love to, Buff, but diet, remember?" He pats his stomach. "Single man, now. On the prowl. Must look...prowl-like."
She giggles at that. "I think you look fine, Xander. But if you insist on losing a few extra pounds, I totally support you."
"Thanks, Buff. If I look fine now, I'll look even finer when I'm trim, taut and terrific. Maybe snag me the woman of my dreams."
His mirthful brown eyes meet hers, and something passes through them. There are moments between them, moments like this, when Buffy wonders if Xander is hinting at the possibility of something more. They share a comfortable trust, an admitted love. Companionship, reliability, security. Isn't that what romance is meant to be about, what sensible people choose? Not the short-lived passion found in novels, but an enduring friendship built on foundations of stone?
She's thought about Xander, especially over this summer, contemplated the ease with which they fell into being a 'family'. Dawn would approve, had all but said so. And she believes that Xander would take her up on any offer, despite whatever may linger between he and Anya. But such thoughts were fleeting. A three-bedroom bungalow and a man with a nine to five job are not for her. Xander may fall into adventure, but his priorities in life are increasingly mundane. House, car, job - no, career. She, Slayer, Chosen One, can't fit into that mold. She's not even sure that she ever wanted to, and knows she doesn't now.
So she responds as best she can, a gentle smile, a pretense of ignorance.
"She's out there, Xander. And when you find her, your weakness for twinkies won't mean a thing".
He takes her brush-off in his stride. Probably used to it, if he even meant it as she feared he did. "Here's hoping. Anyway, have to be on-site tomorrow morning. Might actually get some work done. Marvel at that concept."
She smiles a little wider. So easy, this relationship. "So, I'll see in you tomorrow?"
He nods, fishing car keys out of the letter box, along with the requisite junk mail. He'd learnt the hard way it wasn't clever to leave sharp metal objects in a pocket when on patrol.
"Bright and early. Or dim and late. Either way, I'll be there".
With a jaunty wave, he turns to unlock his car, it's silver coloring darkened in the night. A nice car, symbol of success, the comfortable mundanity she rejects. She stands and watches as he swings open the door, as he starts the care engine and backs into the empty street.
A sigh escapes her, and she briefly scans the advertising pamphlets. Can't see much in the dark, which she is vaguely relieved about. Money is short, and a sale at The Limited would do her in. Still, she squints in the darkness as she wanders up the driveway to the porch, reaching the steps before she remembers that the front door is boarded shut, repairs still not completed. Yet another item on Xander's extensive to-do list. She'll have to remind him tomorrow, beg yet another favor. Or maybe she'll just put Andrew to work. Little weasel needs to start earning his keep.
Rounding the back of the house, she carefully deposits the junk mail in the garbage. No sales, no temptation, she thinks, and feels remarkably proud of herself as she approaches the back door. So proud, she almost misses the petulant undertones of Dawn's voice as it wafts softly across the yard.
The words are muffled, but Buffy knows what they are about. Dawn is rarely reticent with her thoughts, and her opinions on Spike know no restraint. Yet there is a difference between actual discussion and verbal sparring, and conversations about the vampire invariably become the latter. Buffy wants Dawn to understand, but knows she fails to explain. She has tried for the rational, the sensible, the 'we need him to fight' and 'he has information'. But the arguments are weak and Dawn, possessed of their mother's insight, and a hardened heart more similar to Buffy's own, is not so easily fooled.
So Buffy finds herself perversely interested in this seemingly bitter conversation. She stands at the kitchen door, hand on the knob, listening to her sister's complaints, hoping to find insight from words not spoken to her.
"I still don't get it. Why's he still lying around, hogging Buffy's bed? Aren't vampires supposed to heal fast or something?"
"Yes, Dawn, they usually do," Giles replies. "Spike's injuries are grievous, yet even that can not account for such remarkably slow healing. I am beginning to question whether he is making progress at all, whether, indeed, he will get better."
"Good." Dawn's words, more vicious than a Harbinger's knife, and Buffy almost winces as they slice. "I hope he doesn't.".
"I don't want to hear it, Giles," Dawn cuts him off. "Not if you're going to defend him, too."
"Far be it for me to 'defend' Spike, Dawn." Giles' tone is steady, with perhaps a slight undertone of irritation. His patience, too, is wearing in places. Still, Buffy holds no illusions that Giles is protecting Spike. He has always treated Dawn with a certain indifference and confusion, uncertain as he is about her place in the world, her value. "But he has a soul now. A soul he fought for. It is a remarkable thing. Spike deserves our help and compassion, Dawn, if not our trust. My advice is that should try to give them to him."
This is the first time, Buffy realizes, that she has heard one of her friends enunciate such an opinion. Words she needed to hear, even if they are not said to her. She lays her forehead against the door, feels the relief wash over her.
Yes, Giles, thank you.
She is disappointed, but not surprised, that Dawn is less than impressed.
"I can't, Giles. Not after what he did! You do know what he did?"
"I know what he did, Dawn. I know what Buffy has told me. But it is for her to discuss with you, not me."
"You think I'm too young."
"No. I think it is none of your business." He pauses, and Buffy can imagine him removing those glasses, serious eyes boring into her sister's. "Dawn, I have learnt that one can advise your sister, offer good counsel. But you can not rule her. She makes her own decisions, and now more than ever we must trust that she knows what she is doing. Can you do that Dawn? For Buffy?"
There is a pause, and Buffy uses the opportunity to push open the door. "Do what for me?" she asks with feigned indifference.
"Buffy," they chorus. Both look surprised, Giles a little guilty, Dawn more than a little annoyed.
Her sister's blue eyes dart to the door, then back to her. "That was so lame. I know you were listening. Borrowing stalking habits from your rapist boyfriend. You really need help." She turns, storms out, and Buffy knows that something has happened her, something beyond the conversation she had just overheard.
Giles sighs, rubs a temple, then fixes Buffy with his intense blue gaze. "She's been petulant all night, Buffy. Not to mention loud. I think...I think you probably need to go and talk to Spike."
Buffy quietly pushes open the door to find him standing against the bed, half-dressed, battered jeans slung low on narrow hips, but back still bare. Even in the dull light of the bedside lamp, she can make out the greenish smudges and darker, blue-tinged stains the that sully the expanse of pale, smooth skin. He stands awkwardly, right arm raised at an odd angle as he tries to pull a black t-shirt over his head and shoulders.
"What the hell you do think you are doing?" her words startle him, and he shudders and tilts a little, coming close to falling before gaining control. It scares her to see him like this, so battered that he doesn't detect her presence, that he sways like a sapling in the wind at the sound of her voice.
"What's it look like I'm doing?" He responds gruffly, voice muffled by cloth. "Getting dressed, aren't I?"
And yes, he is, except that 'getting dressed' is a generous description of the awkward, painful movements, many of which seem dedicated more to staying upright than pulling on clothes. The sight is absurd, and were it not for the warning from Giles, and simmering anger, she likely would have laughed.
"You can't be serious," she says.
He struggles a little more, pulls the t-shirt over his head. He turns to face her, revealing a stomach and chest still bandaged, white skin and whiter gauze stained with red. Impossible not to notice how frighteningly slender he's become, gapping clothing and jutting bones. He looks vulnerable and fragile, but the sharp lines of face are settled in determination and when he speaks again his voice is steady.
"Bloody serious. Gettin' out of here."
"And going where?"
He is still fighting to get the shirt all the way down, and she quickly moves to help him. He guesses her thoughts, steps back jerkily, as if afraid of her touch. Collides with the dresser, scattering a picture frame, pens, the empty mug. They both stand shocked for a moment, like deer stuck in the glare of their own high beam emotions.
"Sorry," he begins to lean over the to collect the mess, but flinches painfully. Broken ribs mean he can't bend down. Another moment, searching for what to do, then he seems to abandon the idea of cleaning up, decides instead to finish dressing. "Boots," he mutters, moving further away again.
She kneels down to pick up the discarded items herself, watches his bare white feet shuffle across the room as he moves away from her. Long toes; she remembers how sensuous they feel against her calf. Feels her color rising, like the drops of left-over blood had spilt from the fallen mug and now stain the carpet. But it's ruined already, what's one more mark?
As she collects the pencils, she asks, "Spike, please, what brought this on?"
"Nothin'. Nothin' but a sudden burst of dignity."
"Spike..." She stands, replaces the discarded items on the dresser without taking her eyes off him.
"I won't have it, Buffy. Everyone talkin' 'bout me, like I'm a cripple or a waste. Need to get outta here. Let you sleep, here."
From his words, she knows. Giles was right. Dawn, the conversation outside, the one in the kitchen, he heard them all. Still proud, her Spike, despite the raging insecurities, his finger-tip grip to on sanity. Proud, but easily wounded. Having let her and her sister pierce his armor once, he's now defenseless against their incessant attacks. She hopes she can repair the damage.
He's holding onto the bed-head now, shaking a little from exhaustion. Likely not going anywhere, whatever his bluffs. The temptation to point this out, to say something more, is strong. Reason comes naturally to her, and she can think of a million reasons that would make him stay, solve this problem now. You're being controlled by the FE. I don't want you to leave because I can't watch you. You're a danger, a menace. You need guarding.
But suddenly it's important to her that this be his decision, not a detention.
She lays a calming hand on his arm, gently pushes him back. "Just stay tonight. I'll work something out tomorrow." Touching him like this, with gentle caresses, is still strange to her. Does it feel as awkward to him as it does to her?
"Spike, please, stay."
Head tilted, he absorbs her words, eyes heavy with confusion. Finally he nods, deflated, moves into her grasp. As she helps him back beneath the covers, the she wonders again at this magnificent creature, killer of her kind, who conquered his inner darkness even as she succumbed to hers. That he still has such faith in her astounds her; just the power she has over him excites and terrifies her. Only this time, she knows she's not going to misuse it.
Continued in Chapter 3