All About Spike

Punishment
By HarmonyFB

The situation is so absurd, even he can see it. She's bustling around, getting ready for bed, hair hanging loose, skin freshly scrubbed. In the old days, he could have closed his eyes, pretended that the nightly ritual would end with her crawling in next to him. Tonight he knows she'll bed down with a stake. Not that she'll sleep. That's good, he thinks. Surely she knows that the ropes she's tied around him aren't enough? Could snap them right off if he wanted to bad enough; he's strong again, now, no longer half-starved. The side benefit of he stops thinking about it, shies away from facing it. How can he live like this? How had Angel? Angelus was a thousand times worse than he'd ever been; how could he live with himself now? Maybe he was...

His train of thought is broken by Buffy, clad in sweats and tank, the curve of her breast visible through the thin fabric. Can't help it, the sight makes him hard, and that sickens him. Even now, is that all he can think of? He turns his face away in shame, because there's no way she won't notice, no way for him to hide from her hard, bright stare. Sure enough, she's coming across the room toward him, oh, christ, touching him, checking the ropes. Her fingertips dig into his back, and he flinches away. He can smell the remnants of soap, the shampoo in her hair, and it brushes softly against his shoulder as she leans over him. It's torture, worse than torture, so close and he can't touch her. Can't ever touch her, now. He's smart enough to know it wasn't all that likely before, but now? Not ever possible. Not again.

He wonders briefly if this is hell, if she really did stake him, or if he died in that bloody cave, and this is his endless punishment. Be fitting, wouldn't it?

She moves away, again, back to the bed, turns down the covers, and lays her stake where he always imagined he'd lie, if she ever let him in. Sudden laughter bubbles out of him; he's too weak to keep it down.

"What's so funny, Spike?" Her hands are still on the bedspread, her head cocked thoughtfully to one side. He doesn't have to see her face to know she's frowning; he knows her that well, at least.

"Not quite how I pictured spending my first night in your bedroom."

She whips around, hurtful remark at the ready. It dies on her lips when she sees the tears on his face. She suddenly realizes how much worse it has to be for him, being here, of all places, with her. "Oh, Spike - I - I'm sorry."

"Don't be. No call for you to be sorry." He looks away, unwilling to meet her eyes. But, oh, when was the last time she spoke to him that wasn't command or accusation? Unable to stop himself, he asks, "Do you remember the first time you lot tied me to a chair?"

She laughs a bit, then. "That awful Thanksgiving. Giles never did forgive me for messing up his kitchen." She lies back on the bed, remembering. "Be three years next week. Doesn't seem like - " Bites her lip to keep a sob from escaping. Three years ago. Giles was still here, Mom still alive, she was still in college, and...she suddenly reaches over to snap off the light, pulling the covers up over herself. "Get some sleep, Spike."

There's silence for a moment, then she hears his low, unsteady voice. "You should have killed me."

Sigh. "Spike - you didn't know. You were being - "

"Not tonight." His voice cut across hers. "Then. Should have killed me, instead of feeding me. Why didn't you?" His voice is pleading, shaky. Is he crying again?

"You - you were harmless."

He lets out a bark of derisive laughter. "Bloody hell, Buffy! Nobody's harmless," he says, bitterly, "least of all, me. You ought to know that by now. Should have known it then." She hears his shaky inhalation, can all but see his trembling features in the half-light. "You knew what I'd done. Should have killed me straight off. Saved us all a lot of pain."

"Spike..." Her voice falters. "Yeah, I'd have saved myself a lot of pain, because I'd be dead now." Buffy struggles with the words. Easy to feel, hard to say. "I - I'd have killed myself last year if it wasn't for you. If you hadn't-" Swallow. "Spike, I'm so sorry we- "

"Don't-Buffy, don't."

"Ok." Relieved, she lets it go. He knows. He always knows, he doesn't make her say the hard things out loud.

"Shall I tell you, if I see...it, him? I, I don't always know."

"OK. Spike?"

"Yeah?"

"Thank you. For saving me."

"No, Buffy, I didn't- you shouldn't-"

"Spike, shut up." That at least is familiar.

In the darkness, Buffy's steady breathing is keeping company with him and his ghosts. The ghosts that crowd round, last to first, and it isn't ever going to stop, was it? "You were right, Father," he mutters. "I finished a useless drain on society." The bitterness rises in him, and he can't stop it.

"Spike?" Buffy's voice sounds sleepy, irritable. "What are you talking about?"

"Buffy? Why didn't you kill me tonight? Should've done, you know. I'm not good for anything, anymore." Tears again; he'd drown in them, perhaps.

In the darkness she pauses; a thousand answers to that question, a thousand spins. Finally, she decides on the truth. "You're worth saving."

Maybe, he thinks, maybe this isn't hell after all.

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