Disclaimer: I don't own any 'Buffy' characters, totally the other way round.
Spoilers: up to 'Entropy' - it branches off after that.
Summary: The beginning of a Spike story that picks up after he and Anya you know what. Might turn out S/A.
Feedback: Please! Any feedback! negative, positive, violently abusive, transparently insincere, totally irrelevant etc. - I'm easy and desperate...
His mind kept going back to what had happened between him and Anya in the shop.
How she had touched him, his hand.
What had come afterwards had been hungry and passionate, but desperate, with a taste of cold comfort about it, so that its memory was warm and chilling at the same time.
But how she had laid her hand on his as he held the glass to her lips, curled her fingers over his - when had he been touched like that?
With softness, with deliberation, with a look that was pleading and grateful and confiding. He had never felt so human, or so greedy.
His mind kept going back to Buffy, as well. Walking away. Looking knives and stakes and disgust at him for two beats - her usual measure for a dirty look -and turning on her heel.
Then he'd known that he'd lost her, thrown away the last stake he'd had in her: all his power had been in her guilty compromise in keeping him there, closeted - her secret addiction, filthy treasure - and in her jealousy.
Had he thought he'd won something at the wedding, making her jealous of his attention, of his body? She had been jealous - and she had been caught by surprise, knocked for points by the bitter ambush.
Yes. He had thought so - so why was he compelled to prove himself wrong,to give up those precious footholds?
Knowing that he - at least for an hour - had wanted Anya more than anything in the world, seen nothing but her, held her as though she were precious, magnetic - hadn't drawn Buffy back to him. It had shocked and hurt and freed her. It had shown her that what she thought she held captive in him (someone to love her insanely, exclusively, and forever; someone for whose pain she could not be held to account; someone invisible in the economics of love - something for nothing, in fact) - didn't exist. That Spike was, if not 100% human, at least alive enough for another human to do just what she'd done: take refuge, help herself to what was there. He wasn't her own delicious narcotic, her private nightmare and dream. He was real.
Had she seen his hand trace Anya's cheek as he had traced hers, the exact same softness melting the lines of his hard face? She hadn't - the camera signal for the shop had not been picked up by Willow's computer until later. But he didn't know that.
He was realizing how much Buffy liked being loved - realizing how much it had meant to her to have so much urgent and enduring, greedy and selfless love poured out before her. Not used, but saved, banked, to be drawn in emergencies.
She had asked him to die for her, the night of the nearly-apocalypse. To save Dawn's life, but for her, because he loved her.
In these hard times - back from the dead, but not entirely, sense of self running low - she'd been forced to make withdrawals, damaging inroads on her hoard of banked up love. Her rainy day had come, and she'd put her frozen self in real danger - he had to believe this -of being dragged into loving him in exchange.
Tonight that was all over. What he'd held, stored up in Buffy, what she'd held stored up in him - he'd blown it all. She was free to hate him now.
Bet it feels sweet, he thought.
He knew - he felt free to hate her too, a bit. The only times he'd felt respite this crushingly painful and stupid year had been a few randomly scattered moments when she'd thoughtfully behaved like such an abusive cow that rage had flooded back.
Just convenient. He'd been angry enough, for a second, to drink her blood so fast he'd give himself hiccups.
Never lasted long. Even her arrogance was dazzling to him - pure and perfect and complete. He could never compete. He was hopeless, he was lost. Abusive was how he loved her.
Just before the house had come down she'd said, teeth clenched, 'You like me because you enjoy getting beat down.' He had forced it out of her, out of the huge store of undeniable things she refused to know that she knew. But he had hardly noticed its truth himself: it was too near the bone - loving and being beaten down weren't even separate ideas in his mind. He thought of Anya. Thankyou, she'd said. He thought of her gentleness and her gratefulness as a present. Something he'd never been given. Something he could take away with him.
He lay in his crypt, the sober two-fifths of him confusedly expecting an outraged caveman to burst through the door, intent on giving him a belting.
It had happened before.
No-one came, though. After a while there was no more scotch, and memories of the last few days began to seep through the mist. He didn't fancy that, really didn't. He'd go get something from Willy's. Some bourbon to keep the edges off. Some overpriced juiced-up pig to remind him he's a has-been and a doormat and a misfit.
He felt better though, after a meal. Still back-to-the-wall suicidal, still abased and powerless and bereaved, but less shaky. Didn't care to be seen around the Hellmouth trembling like a blossom in the breeze, sniffling like a girl because the Slayer didn't want a little bit of pet fang any more... he frowned and kicked a squashed pepsi max can. Big Bad.
He knew he was getting near the Magic Box, but he carried on anyway. As he got closer, he could see lights in the window. It was late - he hadn't really expected anyone to be there, thought this was just another piece of pointless pilgrimage to a Buffy place. Could it be Anya in there, he wondered? She was the most likely, it was her place now. She'd be working late, naturally, taking her mind off the wreck, off the feeling of having no sensitive manly beefcake to go home to.
Would she still have soft glances for him, now?
No, he thought, casting around for the facts, weighing them up. Not a chance. He wanted to see her, though. See if she's all right, he thought. Kind of owed her, seeing as...
He lit a cigarette, leaned against the doorframe of the shop. Watch me, Buffy, he thought, I'm moving on. Stalking a totally different girl -uses me for a different kind of sex to blot out the totally different ways she's screwed up her life.
There's a noise from inside the shop; a female voice, plaintive:'damn!'
The voice decides him - it reminds him that she used it, days ago, to confide in him, thank him, to say drunk, sugary, strangely-skewed things softly in his ear. He's already done clinging to the fringes of a girl's life - repeatedly, he's taken it to the limits. He'd still do it if Buffy gave him one more fraction of a chance, one more crumb. Give him an inch and he'll camp out in it. But he's not going to start another round. If Anya's got no time, fair enough, he thinks. I'll get gone. Stubs out his cigarette. Knocks and enters.
She's sitting at the table, with books and charms stacked around her -but she's leaning on one arm, too depressed to be stock-taking. He clears his throat, not knowing what to expect, and she looks up. He moves closer, not sure what to say. She stares at him like he's the Russian Revolution and slaps her book shut.
'You idiot' she says, clipped and accusing.
Her hardness doesn't crush him. He sits down, for a moment almost happy, feeling like he's found himself another unpredictable heroine.
'Hi,' he says. Instead of 'huh?' But for some reason she's furious.
'What kind of stupid are you?' she demands.
'What's my choice?' he asks cautiously. Dru used to have these sudden mood swings.
'You actually thought she was going to fall in love with you?' she asks scathingly, 'I wasted all that sympathy on you! You gave me all that 'this girl' crap, and I thought you were having a real relationship with someone, and then it turns out it's just you, being too stubborn and too dumb to know when you can't win.'
Her voice is cracking with bitterness and he doesn't know why. He looks down at his hands on the table. He was unprepared for this, unarmed. No backhanders ready.
'She could,' he says in a low voice. 'She just won't.'
Anya leans forward, holding his eyes. Hers are bright and seem further apart than usual.
'She. Can't.' He can feel her breath.
Words pour out of her, harsh but still deliberate, still precise: 'Who do you think you are, Spike? You're not human. You're nothing. You're a lame demon walking around in a stolen body. You're not worth her love.'
He's speechless at these sudden, unbearable stabs. She's animated, her gaze distracted, her voice rising.
'You think you're cool? You're just embarrassing. All your little comments? They're not clever, they're inappropriate and rude. They're meant to show that you're too smart to care about stuff, but they don't. All they show is that you don't belong. You're trash. You're just a cute piece of demon ass, good enough to screw but not to marry-'
She stops. She's been yelling. Spike's looking at her, and she sees only concern in his face, his hurt look wiped away by alarm.
His shock brings her back to herself and she begins to cry, which relieves Spike, who knows what to do with crying girls. He slides off his chair, puts both arms round her, kisses her, wipes her face with his sleeve, calls her darling and pet until she's quiet.
He sits back down and she sniffs. There's a pause and then Anya gives a weak smile. 'Aside from that,' she says, 'Glad you stopped by.'
He smiles sideways up at her, awkward after the sudden explosion of tension. It's exactly like that other aftermath in the showroom of the Magic Box, only all the merchandise is intact. He sees her noting that too.
'Thank heaven for small mercies, right?' she offers him ruefully, wiping her nose. He's about to offer her his flask when they hear a voice:
'Hey, come on, the light's on - we'll get you some water.'
It's Xander, from just outside.
She freezes; he stands up, makes for the back room, but she stops him.
'No time,' she breathes sharply, and pushes him behind the counter and under it.
Great. He'd been romanticizing, thinking they'd been villains in exile together, demons in love. He's just a skeleton in another Scooby closet.
The pulse at Anya's throat is fluttering like a canary in distress while she watches the door open. He'd been fooled by her anger -he'd thought it was resentment: it wasn't; it was fear that she wouldn't get him back.
Xander comes in, one arm around Dawn, who looks pale and boneless. When he sees Anya he looks down.
'Hey,' he says - she doesn't look like she can speak. 'We - uh - we were just walking, and Dawn isn't feeling too good, so - I thought, maybe, some water...'
Nothing clever. Barely even anything coherent.
Anya looks at Dawn, half-leaning on Xander's arm. 'Are you ok?' she asks, distracted by how young and ill she looks. 'Are you going to vomit?'
'I don't think so,' Dawn says, sounding frail and unsure. Xander sits her down at the table and Anya passes her a bottle of water from her bag, unscrewing the lid for her first. It's disconcerting to have them show up together like this. Two smart talkers denuded of their armour.
Silence falls as Dawn sips. Spike, watching in the shadow of the counter, sees Anya twitching around the table, closing the books, shifting jars and candles and some things that look like horns.
'I'm ok,' Dawn reassures her, still in a small voice. 'I'm not going to barf on your stuff.'
Anya starts. 'Right. Great. So - how come you got sick? Where have you been? Did you have drugs?'
Xander's been staring at the floor. 'I was just picking her up from a party,' he says. 'No drugs.' He looks at Dawn suddenly. 'Right?'
'No!' says Dawn. 'No drugs, no alcohol, no magic, nothing bad. I forgot to have dinner, I guess. I'll have something when I get home.'
Anya looks at Xander. 'Should we call Buffy?' she asks.
He takes a long time to answer.
This situation is making Spike feel ghostly - silent and invisible, but palpable in the room, in Anya's tense awareness of his gunpowder presence, in Xander's inability to look at or speak to her.
The things the three of them said, the last time they were all within earshot of each other, hang in the air. Xander can't manoeuvre round them easily. In the end he says, 'She's at work. I haven't really seen her. I mean - she's been really tired.'
'How are you?' Anya asks him.
'Fine. Great.' He's not ready to talk properly. He wants to take Dawn and go, but she still looks too shivery.
'Yeah, you look great,' says Anya, more sharply than she means, but it's disturbing her how awful he looks. His colour is dirty margarine; his face has sagged and bagged away from the bone; his dark eyes are murky, and the straight lines of back and shoulders he's been growing into are broken. Gravity's winning, pulling him down.
Spike, looking at him, feels a shock of pain that is almost entirely physical. He may be soulless, but of all undead men walking, Spike must be the one most drawn to life, and this rapid leaking of vitality jars him. Never mind that he'd rather sit through a beating than a conversation with Xander. It's just - last week he looked strong and beautiful and in control, and now he looks like scrap. That bites. Especially as he's partly Spike's own wreck. Guy needs a good bout of violence, he thinks. Too bad I can't help him out.
Anya, having reached deadlock with Xander's bleak and evasive gaze, turns to Dawn. 'You want some cookies?' she says kindly. 'They'll raise your energy levels.'
Dawn smiles, 'No thanks. Don't really feel up to all that chewing.'
'Well - I've got some milk in the back. Or you could have juice.' Dawn accepts juice, and Xander and Spike both wonder how much time Anya's been spending here.
'Feel ready to try heading yet, Dawnster?' Xander asks, aiming half- heartedly at his usual bantering style.
'Where's your car?' Anya asks.
'Uh - Willow's got it. Late night grocery shopping. She said she'd pick up some stuff for me too. And then Buffy called, said she had to work late, and Dawn and I got stuck riding Shank's pony.'
Once he's able to form the words, he keeps them coming. He just wants to keep communicating with her, keep them linked by a neutral buzz of unloaded sound.
But all she hears is how quickly she's become dispensable, how effortlessly the Scoobies have closed ranks, filling the gap where she'd been.
'That's just swell,' she says, and Xander nearly topples over to hear hate in her voice and see tears in her eyes. 'But who gets to stay home and sit at the window with the boiling oil?'
'Anya? I- I'm sorry-'
'Sorry for what? Sorry you settled? Sorry you wasted time making do, when you could've gotten in a few extra years of drooling over Buffy?'
Spike steals a look at Dawn. She's got a bit more colour now, but she's very still, leaning her cheek on her hand, staring down at the table. She shouldn't hear this, he thinks.
'Don't talk about Buffy,' Xander says, jaggedly. It's not what he means, not in a you're-not-fit-to-mention-her-name way, but he'd felt like he was reaching dry land, and now he's as much adrift as ever.
Anya looks like she's been hit, like she's damn well going to hit back. Spike shuts his eyes and leans his head back against the counter. If she's going to take it out of Buffy, using swear words and in front of Dawn, they'll just have to deal with the scarring later.
'Don't talk about her? In case I verbally transmit some vampire-screwing cooties she doesn't already have? I probably caught it from her, Xander! If anyone - '
'Don't! Stop it!' Dawn stands up, knocking a jar of marbles off the table. It smashes and they bounce. Three visible and one hidden pair of eyes watch them. Dawn, still weak from her giddy fit, begins to cry.
'Please. Don't yell anymore. He said he was sorry. He's not even talking to Buffy, not properly. I just wish everything would get back to normal. Can't you just make it up?' crying quietly, harder and harder, 'I wish you could just make it up.'
Xander looks ashamed. 'Hey, Dawn. Come on, we'll get you home. We're ok. We can finish this another time, right?'
But Anya is turning away. How can she resist this? It's what she wishes too. Sighing, she lets her ugly face push past her beautiful one. The pendant, hidden, begins to glow through her sweater. But although her face is shielded, Dawn sitting at the table can see the glow, and she guesses what it means - she's been up close and personal with one before. Quick as a flash she's across the room, grasping Anya's arm, somehow ripping the chain and snatching the necklace. Anya screams and clutches at it, but Dawn holds it behind her and screams back.
Xander crosses the room in one step, shooting an arm out in front of Dawn, pushing her backwards. It's faster than he's moved in days. He stands with his arm around Dawn, staring.
The veins sink and fade. Anya turns her human face into her hand and cries, half-turned away from him. They're both thinking the same thing: she's let herself be turned into something he has to protect children from.
Without a word he turns towards the door, guiding Dawn, his haggard face blank. But as they reach the threshold he turns again, takes the jewel from where it lies in Dawn's hand, and hurls it violently and wordlessly across the room, where it smacks a carving and falls. Then they really go.
Anya stands where he left her, still wracked with low, rapid sobs. She doesn't move when Spike stands up creakily from behind the counter, but when he crosses the room to pick up the pendant she turns. She looks at him like she's forgotten where she is, like something's wrong but she can't remember what. Buffy looked at him like that once, after whisking him like white of egg to the soft peak stage. Drowned, guilty, lost eyes.
He steps towards her. 'Yeah,' he says in a voice that bites, banging the pendant down on the table. 'I'm the idiot round here.'
Anya lies in bed, thinking of Spike. Thinking about him in much the same way as she'd slept with him - for his anaesthetic properties. Last night, after the argument, he'd been kind to her. Well - he'd called her a life- wrecking insane bloody cow, and he hadn't done it in a nice voice. But he'd waited while she'd swept and closed up the Magic Box, walked her home, and given her all of what was left in his flask before he'd left. And, half-out the door he'd stopped, given her a look and said firmly, 'Don't hang yourself.'
OK, she'd had prettier compliments in her life, even without the advantage of a human body. But just now she feels immeasurably glad of some proof that someone knows she's desperate; knows she's a life-wrecking insane bloody cow, and still wants her not to hang herself.
The thoughts that are beating at the edge of her consciousness are of Xander. What she's trying not to hear is her own voice saying 'It's over. You screwed up.'
He's everything to her. All her reasons for being human.
He'd said, 'I plan to live a long and silly life, and I'm not interested in doing that without you around.'
Hadn't he meant it? Had he changed his mind?
She thinks of all the times he's reminded her, about taking things too literally. Maybe he never knew how literally she'd agreed with him, won't know how much more literally she agrees with him now. Life's never seemed so long, or so silly, or so wholly uninteresting as it does today.
Tears run sideways out of the corners of her eyes. They've been doing that all night, off and on. Interspersed with the kind of dreams you get when you eat a cold pizza, eleven fruit roll-ups and peanut butter out the jar, right before you go to bed. And she hasn't done that since the day before yesterday.
So she thinks of Spike, floats Spike thoughts through her mind and concentrates on them, like you concentrate on the tune you hum with your fingers in your ears to drown out gross stories or the sound of Harrison Ford trying to drown Michelle Pfeiffer. Or the bit with Thumper in 'The Jungle Book'. Things you really don't want to hear.
I'll be late, she thinks. The shop. The dollar signs don't spring up in her eyes at the thought: they haven't been there for a while. Neither have the little love hearts; only the spinning circles of stars and tweeting birds.
She gets up to dress, leaving symmetrical tear stains on her pillow.
Continued in Part 2