By Annie Sewell-Jennings
Sequel to The Waiting Season
SUMMARY: As old friends return to Sunnydale and life begins to move on, a new adversary comes to town and shows Buffy more about herself than she ever wanted to know. B/S
SPOILERS: Through "Grave"
DISCLAIMER: The characters within this story are the property of Mutant Enemy Productions, except for the ones that you don't recognize, because I made them up all by my lonesome. Aren't I cool? No? Shut up. You don't know me. Bitch. Music will be disclaimed as it is used, and it will be used occasionally. Like in this chapter. Really, it will.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: I have had this idea brewing in my head for what seems like an eternity, and only now is it finally coming together on paper. Or screen. Whatever. Anyway, the necromancy information is a combination of genuine research and Lovecraft's mythology, as well as some embellishments from yours truly. It may help if you read my The Waiting Season series of vignettes to help establish this story, and those are also on my site.
I'd just like to make a shout-out to my beta dawg, Devil Piglet. Big props to her mad grammar skillz. You know you a pimp.
Chapter Three: Crossing the Threshold
This was another one of those moments.
Spike stood at the edge of her sidewalk, his head tilted as he stared up at her, draped in shadows and cut out of moonlight. There was an expression of absolute wonder on his face, that lovestruck sigh frozen on his lips, all of his danger and defenses stripped away by the bone-shaking depths of his love. His face was absolutely naked, and every emotion was etched into his eyes like scars. Regret, passion, anguish, fury... It was the first time she had seen him since she knew, and it stole her breath away.
Through the veil of leaves and branches, Spike could see the slender shape of her outlined by the lamps and candles in her bedroom. He smelled the scent of her, that lemon balm that was so tartly tantalizing, the ginger and cinnamon of winter Buffy replaced by citrus sweetness. Tangerines. She smelled of tangerines and orange peel. For the first time in over a hundred years, he wanted to write again.
This was not a good sign.
Ever since that morning on the beach, the poet within was trying to escape. Life was suddenly filled with rhyming couplets and iambic pentameter, from the oppressive madness of the heat to the way that the young girls looked in their bathing suits. Yet nothing was as inspirational or deadly as the way that Buffy Summers looked on top of her roof. The curve of her belly. The twist of her ankle. The sweat sheen on her collarbone and pretty, slender neck. She was a sonnet waiting to be written, patient and sweet.
Spike almost turned around and ran away.
Clutching the robe to her breasts, fingers shaking from fury and fright, her eyes devoid of any emotion other than disgust. "Ask me again why I could never love you," she spits at him, and every inch of her body screams betrayal, bloody betrayal. And he doesn't have to ask, because even if she might have loved him before, it is all over now.
Even as he walked up to her front door, feet heavy and reluctant, Spike was terrified of what she was going to do. This scenario had been played out in his head a thousand times on the ride home. What was she going to do when she saw him again? Frankly, he wouldn't be surprised if she dug the stake into his chest without blinking. He'd deserve it. He expected her to give the ice princess routine again, all dull-eyed and hateful, spitting his unworthiness at him and throwing him on his ass for even stepping onto her precious property after that. She was a skilled warrior with words, throwing bitterness and spite at him like knives, never missing her target. Then again, he never did much to conceal his weak spot with her. He wore his heart on his sleeve, begging her to rip it to shreds.
He did not expect what he got.
Laughter, heady and mirthful, trickled down from the roof and onto the grass, and she jumped off of the roof in a smooth, fluid plunge. Gracefully, Buffy landed on her feet in the plush greenery of her front yard, and then ran up to him with her hands behind her back, eyes twinkling and smile stretched across her pretty face. She looked almost elfin in the bright spill of moonlight, wearing nothing but a pair of sleep shorts that revealed far too much for her own good, a flimsy camisole and acres of golden skin. Radiant, that was what she was. Absolutely radiant.
A bright flash of light suddenly blinded him, and Spike scowled, raising his arm to shield his eyes from the hot whiteness that had invaded his eyes. When he lowered it, he saw that Buffy was standing there with an impish expression on her face, holding a battered camera between her tiny hands. "Sorry," she apologized. "Had to get a shot of you, all gobsmacked and wigged. It's a good look for you."
Well, this isn't quite the way I thought this would turn out. Still, Spike supposed that it was preferable to an afterlife in an ashtray. He'd been wondering if she was hiding a stake behind her back when she pranced up to him, but he warily worried that the camera might be worse. Permanence troubled him. His mouth twitched into a semblance of a smile, a whisper of his old, cocky smirk. "I'm not wigged," he protested, and she snorted.
"You're wigged beyond belief," she teased, arching her eyebrow and poking him in the chest with her finger, an imitation of slaying. "What, you thought I'd kill you on sight? Thought that you were dust just waiting to happen? Think again."
This was the way that she wanted him back. No more angst, no more pain, no more anguish and bitter, bitter hate. She wanted him back on her front porch, platinum hair glinting underneath too much moonlight, eyes so dark that she could almost forget that they were blue and not black. No fighting, no screaming, no low, snarling hits of fury. Just back, solid and real, where she could have her photographs of him and capture him on celluloid for forever and a day.
There was a moment of awkward silence hanging in the air, and Buffy inwardly flinched when she realized that it was that... Thing. That thing that had happened between them. They would have to actually talk about it, something that she had been dreading all summer. The lazy, cowardly part of her wanted to just bury it in her big old sandbox of taboos and never bring it up again, but she didn't want the rest of her life with Spike to be uncomfortable.
Sighing, she gestured to the door. "We're going to have to talk now," she said, and Spike instantly felt that twinge of wussy William's fears tear through him. Oh, God, she's going to make me say it. And I'm going to have to apologize, because I'm a total nance who can't read the obituaries and laugh anymore. Remorse was a pain in the ass.
Spike tried humor to deflect her. It was one of his best defenses, except that it rarely worked. "What, you've been taking bluntness lessons from Anya all summer?" he said, laughing weakly, and she rolled her eyes, shoving him on the back towards her front door.
The Summers house, the scene of a thousand unspeakable crimes. It brought back far too many memories, standing before her staircase and letting his gaze drink in the sensible décor and the eccentric African-influenced crap-art that Joyce used to gush over. A thousand ghosts seemed to haunt this plain, terribly suburban house, all upper-middle-class taste mixed with unholy horrors. Whispers and trickles of girlish giggling flooded his ear, reminding him of the way that Dawn laughed when she was prone to childish antics as opposed to teenaged posturing. Fuck, he could almost smell that terrible Chai tea that Joyce always used to brew at nights, permeating through the walls and mixing with his stalking smokes.
God, it was almost enough to bring him to his knees.
Worry rumpled her brow as she frowned at Spike, looking so stunned and almost anguished at the threshold. Something had changed in him, like a part of that wild temper and love of brawling had been tamed and precariously caged. Still primal, still devilish, though. The saunter was still in his stride as he'd swaggered up her sidewalk, but it was more subtle than it had been before. She wondered if this was what Willow would be like when she returned home -- dampened.
Clearing her throat, Buffy walked past him and into the kitchen, ducking her head and letting her hair hide her face as she padded barefoot onto the tiling. "Um, we don't have very much right now, Anya still has to go the grocery tomorrow," Buffy said, frowning at her barren refrigerator. "And I don't have any blood on me, except the stuff that's in me, and hey -- off-limits here." She craned her neck around to flirt with him with her eyes, but it did not seem to raise his spirits or his mocking, maudlin humor. Okay, then. No more funny girl. She tried for sympathetic. "I think Mom still has hot cocoa around..."
An impatient sigh fell from his lips, tired and almost weary. "Fuck the hot cocoa," he said. "Got any booze?"
Ah, there he was. That was her alcoholic vampire, the one who always reeked a little bit of last night's cheap bourbon and liked his red wine "loaded". Smiling, Buffy stood on her tiptoes and tried to reach for the tall cabinet, but with her petite stature, it did not work out very well. Quickly, Spike came to her rescue, reaching up and rustling through the cabinet.
Close proximity achieved. She was met with the cool radiation of spent cigarettes and distant lands, of history and open roads. Closing her eyes, Buffy drank in the scent of him, of all of his lovelorn days and murdering nights, and it was everything that his left-behind cigarettes could not deliver to her. Her bones seemed to melt underneath her hot skin, and she wanted nothing more than to just sag against his lithe, supple body and let his sinews and scent give her solace.
"Here," he murmured, and she blushed a little, giving him a shy smile before turning away with a bottle of Jim Beam in her hand. She was hotter than the desert, more moist and sparkling than the African coasts in her sweat and shorts, and Spike watched her with a little bit of amazement as she (again, on tiptoes) reached up to the cabinet and pulled down a tumbler to fix his drink.
Buffy looked ravishing, more beautiful than he'd ever seen her. Even at first sight in the Bronze, even in that pivotal moment when enemy turned into inspiration, she paled to this new version of herself. Hair a bit longer, more curl to it, sun-soaked from long summer days outdoors. She'd put on a bit more weight, not so fragile like she used to be, and more pink and curvaceous. More... Alive. Happier. Healthier. All of this accomplished after he left.
"You've gained weight," Spike said bluntly, and then he winced, covering his face with his hand. "And that was a completely stupid thing to say."
Instead of glaring at him with dagger-eyes, she just laughed airily, patting the luscious curve of her belly with her hand. "I'm always hungry lately," she confessed. "I think I just like the feeling of being... Full. It's of the weird, but hey, I don't have to shop in the Limited Too anymore." Her eyes flashed teasingly at him as she swept past him, graceful and almost floating above the ground with the precise, pretty movements she made. "Come on, sit down. Let's make with the talking before the sun comes up and everyone gets up. Lots to catch up on, right?"
Purposeful. That was the word that he was struggling for. Buffy looked like she'd discovered something wonderful, like she'd woken up one morning and found the Secret of Life in her box of Froot Loops. Confident, serene, enlightened. Almost sagely, but in a sexy way. That was why she'd never looked so beautiful before. Buffy had come into her own, and there was nothing more intoxicating than a woman who knew what she wanted in life.
All done in his absence.
"Should I have even come back?"
Oh, fuck. He'd said that out loud, and it came out sounding bitter as vinegar. Stunned by his own outburst, Spike sat there like a ponce, hating the fact that he could no longer say what he wanted without nancy William whispering about propriety and politeness in his head. Couldn't that demon have given him another soul? One with a backbone and a good toss of punk would've been brilliant.
"Of course," Buffy said, mildly taken aback as she sat down across from him. "Duh."
Duh. That was her answer. He couldn't take it anymore. Snarling, Spike shoved his drink away from him so violently that it fell off the table, exploding in a mass of shattered glass and spilled liquor, ice cubes slipping and sliding on the kitchen tiling. The chair fell out from under him as he leapt to his feet in a dramatic sweep of black, face tense and eyes desperate.
"What the fuck is this?" he raged, throwing his arms out and begging her to give him answers. Always begging. "Where's the hating, and the fighting, and the steely eyes and the threats? Aren't you going to beat the snot out of me and tell me to stay out of your life? Tell me how I'm a violent, murdering bastard, and, and, kick me in the bloody balls and throw me into the fucking street!"
In a furious flash, he was on his knees in front of her, thrusting his chest at her and giving her a look that just dared her to do it. "I tried to rape you," Spike said in a dark, terribly serious voice. "Would've done it, too, if you hadn't remembered you were a big Slayer and pushed me off. Ever think of that? Ever think that I was dead fucking serious about it? Would've torn that ugly little robe off of you and had my way with you until you were dead in the ground. Would've..."
She silenced him with a kiss.
Not one of their patented fucking-as-kissing types, but one of those flimsy, wisps of a kiss that left him shuddering and shaken to the core. A whisper of lips against his, barest brush of a palm against his cheek, and this feeling of deep, aching longing that he'd never felt before. Not in her, not in any woman when kissing him. No wars lay there, but just the ashes and ruins of what they'd once had together, and the promise of gentleness in the future.
When she pulled away, Buffy looked down at him with this glance of absolute, heartbreaking emotion, raw and yet soft all at once, too real to come from the glass doll he'd left behind, broken and bruised in her own bathroom. She smiled at him, inches away from his face, and he stared at her in awe as she crooked a finger and traced the sharp incline of his cheek. "It's okay," she murmured. "Everything is going to be okay, Spike. It's over."
It was over. Not them, not their fiery, disastrous parody of a romance, but that urgent, hateful spite that bubbled between them since the beginning. That loathing and disgust that she threw in the face of his stupid, naïve love, all exonerated and finished. "It can't be," he said, still protesting, always happy to look a gift horse in the mouth. "You didn't..."
"What, have my revenge?" Buffy said, arching her eyebrow. "What do you want me to do, Spike? Go wake up Anya and wish for some boils on the penis? I'm sure she'd be more than happy to accommodate me, but if you want the truth, I'm tired of being bitter. It's not of the fun. So stop asking me to punish you, because I'm not going to do it. Sorry."
Spike was flabbergasted. This was not the welcome he'd expected to receive, not at all. He had spent the last two weeks hiding in his crypt, trying to prepare himself for the beating of his lifetime, and instead he got a girl who joked with her eyes at him and strung kisses out like promises she intended on keeping. Most puzzling damned thing in the world, and he honestly did not think that he was equipped for gentleness. Rough and tumble. Fight it out. Take it to the streets and throw sticks and stones at each other until the cows came home. That was more familiar.
Disappointed and disgruntled, Spike slumped against the counter and put his face in his hands. "Oh, bugger all," he grumbled in exhaustion, and Buffy ran her hand through his hair, trying to tease the rumpled curls out of that stupid hair gel that he used (and he thought that Angel used too much of it -- please).
"I know," she said in mock sympathy. "It's so terrible of me not to beat you to a pulp and leave you for dead." Startled, Spike looked up, and saw the hollow wrinkles of regret forming around her eyes. "Yeah, you heard me. I fucked up, too. That's why I'm saying that you need to get over what happened in the bathroom, Spike. You say that you would've done it, you would've raped me if I hadn't fought back. Well, guess what? I did do it. That night in the alley..."
Screaming at him, tears in her voice and falling from her eyes like acid rain, and her fists are a fury of black-knit anger as she pounds them into his face, rearranging his sculpted features like putty. Hatred and disgust are thick in her voice, thick like his swelling skin, and she's a vial of spite in red leather and sorrow. There is regret and horror on her face as she realizes what she has done, but he opens his big mouth and she's done with him. Even as he pleads, as he whimpers her name, she is moving and he's too tired, too hurt to go after her...
"Not the same," Spike said quietly, looking down at his hands. "Didn't try to... To violate you."
Wincing, Buffy gritted her teeth and clenched a fist, frustrated at his sudden guilty remorse. "God, Spike," she said, an edge of bitterness tinting her musical voice to a sour note. "It's not like what I did to you was much better. I mean, come on. I used you, like a vibrator, like a thing. And that's... That's inexcusable. Unforgivable. But you know what? It's over. It's done with. I can't go back and change what I did, and neither can you. We can sit here all night playing whose-fault-is-it, but it's not going to make a difference. We. Fucked. Up."
She had gone over this a thousand times in her head, lying in her bed at night when everyone else was asleep and content, aching for the arms that she didn't know she wanted until it was too late. Until he was gone. Looking back and realizing that she loved him, not understanding the why and the how after what he'd done to her, and then finally noticing that he wasn't the one who'd done the shitty things. She was. Her fault, half of it, more than half, but what could she do?
She could change.
Her eyes wandered away from the slouched, sad vampire leaning against her kitchen counter to the refrigerator and its magnet note. Don't worry. Everything will be fine. Wait for me. The last words of Willow, the only words of Willow, pasted on her refrigerator like a memorandum. It was what kept her going, that promise of better days, that knowledge that there were good things and good people in her future, even after the sorrow and despair of the past year.
"Things got so horrible," Buffy sighed, her hands till absently toying with the loosening curls of his hair, petting him and soothing him like a pained kitten. Of course, Spike did not protest. She'd never been tender with him before, and there was nothing more soothing to his new, aching soul than the touch of her fingers against his scalp. "Tara's gone, Spike. She's dead. Warren killed her in my mother's bedroom, and Dawn was with the body for hours alone."
The wild, alcohol-induced dream before he'd returned to good old Sunnydale resurged in his mind. The witch dressed in white, sitting before him and telling him his fortune, and then the bloodstain on her dark sweater when she whispered to him in an aching voice. She'd been nothing more than a ghost, a faded memory moving towards the light, and he felt tears spring to her eyes. Spike had never realized it before, but he loved the girl. She was sweet and kind, gentle and honest, and he'd loved her from the moment he'd seen her in tears before her parents in the Magic Box.
"God," he whispered, his voice strained, and Buffy kept talking, her fingers methodic and hypnotic in his hair.
"More than that," she said, her voice faint and sad. "Willow went mad. She tried to destroy the world, and then she disappeared when Xander saved us. She's gone, Spike, and she says that she'll be back, but she was just so... Empty. I don't want to be like that." She dropped her voice. "Not anymore."
Cocking his head to the side, Spike looked up at her with a sense of wonderment, and when Buffy looked down at his face, she fell in love again. It was one of those moments where her heart spun towards the moon and then plummeted back to earth. Spike looked at her without barriers, without his snarls and taunting, and gave her that plain, undressed look of naked love. The depth of his love for her was earth-shaking. It spoke of destroying armies sent to slaughter her, of suffering and sacrifice, and of a passion so rich and delicious that her hands started to shake in his hair.
"I'm drowning in you, Summers."
Before he could react, Buffy reached up on the counter and took his picture, no flash, because the shadows would only complement him. Spike blinked in surprise, and then the moment was gone as his star-struck gaze was replaced with a scowl. "Are you going to be doing that all the time now?" he said, and she flashed her eyes at him.
"Get used to it," she said, replacing the camera on the countertop. Sighing, Buffy stood up and stretched her back, looking tiredly at the spilled Jim Beam and the broken glass on the floor. "Do you always have to make a mess wherever you go? I'm totally not picking that up."
Flustered and thrown by her mercurial moods, Spike scrambled to his feet and tore off a couple of paper towels, quickly attending to the broken glass and liquor. "Oh, right," he said. "Terribly sorry."
As he hunched over the spill, Buffy stood frozen behind him, eyes wide with shock, feet planted firmly to the floor. He'd apologized. It wasn't like it was the first time, or even the first sincere time, but there was something different about this one. There was an almost embarrassed, clumsy manner to him as he cleaned, something completely different from every action he'd ever made before. Spike was usually liquid, moving smooth and catlike, oil personified. He'd never scrambled like this, and the way that he spoke...
"Where were you all summer?"
He stilled over the pile of glass, and she thought that she saw his shoulders slump. "Africa," he said, and she was startled.
"Wow," she said, clearly floored. "Africa. That's... Weird."
Spike barked out a laugh that was loaded with irony. "Yeah," he said bitterly. "Weird's a good way to describe it."
Buffy swallowed, crossed her arms over her chest. "What did you do there?" she asked, and he wondered what to tell her. How to tell her what he'd done. The penance that he was paying, the nightmares that he was suffering through in the stupid, trite name of unrequited love. He wished that he was martyring himself for something more original than a woman.
Fortunately, the itching at the back of his neck gave him an escape, and Spike stood up, holding damp paper towels and shards of glass in his hands. "Sun's coming up," he muttered, and he dumped the broken glass in her waste basket, trying to ignore the troubled look on her face as he made his way to the door. "Appreciate the attempt at a drink, pet, but time's up for me."
As he walked out of the door, Buffy leaned in the threshold, staring after him as he started to walk down the sidewalk. Not a touch, not a whisper, not a confession. Her heart sank as she saw the stiff, guarded way that he'd walked, and she thought for a moment to run to the closet and grab his coat for him. But she thought better of it as she looked at the way that he walked, so different and changed from the saunter and swagger of the vampire she'd known before. The duster wouldn't look right, and she wondered when that came to pass.
"Spike," she called, her voice drifting dreamily through the last moments of total darkness before the sky lightened and the sun made its presence known. He turned around, seeing her slender figure holding up the doorway, the summer breeze pushing and tugging at her loose hair. "When will I see you again?"
Buffy had to stop doing this. Had to stop asking for him, stop touching him, stop reaching out to him with both hands open, because he'd only end up shitting in her palms. Just the way that his luck ran. Couldn't have it all, could he now? She'd changed over the summer, discovered some sort of radiant happiness that made her glow and shimmer, and he didn't want to sully it with his talk of joining the shadows and engaging in the dance.
Furiously, she shoves him away from her, throwing him to the ground in a sprawl of black leather and bad intentions. "It'll never be you, Spike," she snarls, throwing a spray of confetti dollars onto him before that self-righteous, knowing look condemns him, and her words are his executioner. "You're beneath me."
"When you develop those pictures," he said, his voice dark and tired, like death frozen over. Hard, determined, distraught. A twinge of regret touched his eyes briefly, and then as her heart broke, he turned and walked away, disappearing into the shadows.
Silently, Buffy raised her camera and took another shot of him fading into the dark, where he belonged, letting the sunlight banish him from her world as always.
As she swung the door shut behind her, Buffy sighed and buried her face in her hands, her heart aching and her body dejected and tired. He had not come back the same as he'd been before, and she wondered what exactly had happened in Africa to make him this changed, distraught shell of Spike. She remembered the devilish smirking, the honey-coated taunts and teases, all directed at her with utter sincerity behind them.
Before she could stop herself, she was pulling the coat out of the closet and inhaling the scent deeply, drinking in his lost cigarettes, his sourly spilled alcohol, and all of the ashes and dust still clinging to the tiny imperfections in the leather. She wanted to smell that scent again, to taste that darkness and brilliance on his skin, and yet buried beneath his burned and charred smell was the fragrance of kiwi and lime. It was her smell, clinging to his coat from spending too much time crushed together with her denim jackets and winter shawls.
She'd buried him beneath her, and the thought was absolutely heartbreaking.
A knock sounded suddenly and tentatively at the door, and Buffy whipped her head around, her heart leaping into her throat. He came back, he came back for me, and...
When she opened the door, Willow stood there on the front steps, older and thinner than she'd last seen her. In the darkness, her hair was a shade more tarnished and rusted than its former glory, and there were fine dryness lines beating the path around the corners of her eyes. Too many tears spent, too many roads traveled, and yet a tired serenity clung to her and offered solace in repair for all of the ruin she'd left in her wake.
"Hi," Willow said in a meek, uncertain voice, and Buffy embraced her, welcoming her home.
(end part three)
Continued in Chapter Four: Forget-Me-Not