Disclaimer: Thanks be to the Joss. The Joss is good. In the footsteps of the Joss do we gratefully warm ourselves, nor expect we thanks or remuneration. (Though feedback would be nice ...)
She hadn't seen the vampire in a few days; the usual pattern, fight, sex, fight, and he'd storm off. He hadn't managed to stay away this long before, though. Time to visit and remind him of what he was missing, she'd thought on patrol that night. She'd stop by on her way home.
She looked around her in surprise. The crypt was nearly bare. There was a cardboard box holding some clothes, standing by the ladder to the lower level. He couldn't be -
"Are you moving?" She heard the vampire coming up the ladder behind her, and as she turned he appeared, his duster slung over his shoulders, a couple of books under his arm.
"Slayer." He nodded and walked past her and dropped the books into the box on top of the clothes. "What brings you here? The usual? Sorry, it's not on."
"You're moving?" Buffy said, ignoring him. "Have you found a better crypt? Why - "
"Leaving town, Buffy. Spent the last few days getting rid of stuff. I was coming by your house once I finished packing up. Say goodbye." He turned and studied her. She was looking up at him in disbelief. "Figured I owed you that much. And I wanted to say goodbye to the Bit."
"But - you can't leave, I - " she trailed off and looked at him closely. A calculating expression crept into her eyes. "Oh, I get it." She laughed shortly. " It won't work, Spike. Am I supposed to fall all over you now, weeping, begging you to stay? You're pathetic." She looked away from him. "Never going to happen."
He shook his head. "Thought you might take it that way." He shrugged and closed up the box lid. "It's not always about you. But you can think what you like."
"Oh, right." A familiar expression, the bored, sulky, petulant 3-year-old "I'm not listening to you" one, settled on her face, and he sighed.
"No point talking to you, is there, Buff. God knows I've tried."
He shouldered the box and began to walk past her, out of the crypt. He was nearly at the door before she turned back to him. "Spike? Where are you going with that?"
"To the car," he said over his shoulder. "This is the last of it."
"But - you're really leaving town?"
"You're slower than usual tonight, Slayer." He turned to face her. His face had a look on it she didn't recognize. It wasn't angry, or anxious, or triumphant, or calculating. He just looked tired. "Yes," he said. "I'm leaving town. I've been here long enough."
"I - " Buffy stopped and started again. "Why?"
"Fact is, I've had it."
"Had it how? You've had it lots of ways." The scornful edge entered her voice again. "What, your feelings are hurt because I don't treat you like Prince Charming? Get over yourself, Spike." She started towards him and raised a hand to lay on his chest. "Feel grateful you get what you do."
He caught her wrist and set her hand back down carefully by her side before she could touch him. "I did, to begin with, Slayer." He let go of her arm and began to move away. "Thing is, I don't anymore."
"Oh, right." The scorn was still there, but a touch of bravado had joined it. "Tell me I'm not the best you've ever had." But she was looking at him uncertainly.
He sat down on the edge of a sarcophagus, facing her. "Sure. You're that. But you know that's not all I wanted. And it's not enough."
She moistened her lips. "You're serious." He said nothing. "But surely you couldn't have expected - " she began again.
"Us to play footsie under the rubble? Read the newspaper together? You to treat the man you're fucking with a trace of respect? Kindness? Friendship even? Yeah, I did expect it, Buffy. Not immediately, but eventually." His eyes never left her face. "I thought you were that kind of girl. Maybe you were, once."
She broke his gaze and looked down. "I've - you know I've had a lot to deal with."
"I know." His voice was gentle. "But I've cut you slack, and cut you slack, and cut you slack some more. And I haven't got any left."
A curl of contempt crept back into her voice. "So this is the "Buffy came back wrong" speech again? Somehow everything's all my fault?" Her gaze met his defiantly, angrily. " Thanks so much. I really don't need this."
"Not sure of that, hon." He began pulling his coat on as he spoke. "But this isn't about what you need. It's been about what you needed for a long time now.
"This is about what I need. And I think I need some fresh air."
He looked away from her and began checking his coat pockets. "Car keys," he muttered. "Thought I put them in here."
She watched him, a stunned look beginning to creep into her eyes. "Will you be back?" Her voice sounded young and uncertain suddenly.
He looked up towards her and shook his head. "I'm about used up, Slayer," he said simply.
"But - " she swallowed and stared at him. "I thought you loved me, Spike."
Silence fell for a moment. She stared at him, shocked. "You stopped," she said. "You're saying -" she fell silent under his gaze.
"What did you expect, Buffy?" His face still held no anger, only weariness and compassion when he looked at her. "Did you think you could treat me like dirt forever and it would make no difference to how I felt? What kind of man would that make me?
"I tried to give you time, and I tried to give you what you needed. And I let you treat me like dirt and I just hoped you'd figure it out. The girl I thought I knew, the one I loved, she'd figure it out eventually. She'd get over it, and see why she really kept coming round. She'd realize it wasn't just the sex. She'd start treating me with a little respect. We'd have something good. I had faith." He snorted. "Funny thing for me to say. But I did."
"But it didn't stop. It never got better. You kept using me as your punching bag. With a vibrator attached. And one day I realised, that girl, the one I thought I knew, she didn't exist. Maybe she never did. Maybe I fantasized her. Maybe she died and didn't come back after all. I dunno.
"But the Buffy I thought I knew would never treat a lover with contempt. Even if he deserved it. And I did my best not to deserve it.
"The Buffy I thought I knew, the Buffy I loved, she would never use anyone the way you were using me.
"What did you expect, Buffy?" he said again. "That you could do anything you liked to me and it wouldn't change the way I felt?"
"But you're not a man," Buffy said. She still looked stunned, off balance. "You're a vampire. You're supposed to like fighting."
He shrugged and began to rise. "As I said. No point talking to you, is there. I'm just a vampire to you."
"No, that's not what I - " she stepped closer to him and he looked up at her warningly. She stopped where she was. "I only meant, I thought it didn't bother you. I mean, you put up with Dru for a century."
"Dru loved me."
"But she cheated on you!" Buffy said.
"The world's not a tidy place, Slayer," Spike said. He ran his hand through his hair, and it began to curl on his forehead. "She cheated on me, yeah. Made a fool of me, ran circles around me. Was crazy as a loon besides. But she loved me."
"But - but I love you too." Buffy began to sound desperate now. Her eyes were damp. He looked up at her and she swallowed. There was pity in his gaze.
"You just figure that out? " he said gently. " I've known it all along. That's why I thought things had to get better. But it didn't change the way you treated me, did it."
Buffy swallowed again. Her eyes were about to overflow and she blinked ferociously. "I didn't think it bothered you", she said again. She moved closer and put her hand tentatively on his arm.
"You told yourself you thought that." He didn't respond to her touch and after a moment she let her hand drop. "I think I made my feelings about it clear, many times. You just didn't want to listen. You were enjoying your little games too much to stop."
"But - " she stepped a little away from him, still looking up at his face. "Can we, uh, can we at least talk it over? Maybe we could work things out? I had no idea you felt - I mean, you gave me no warning ..."
He looked down at her soberly and her voice trailed off. "Buffy, I gave you lots of warning. I tried and tried to talk to you. You know that. And every time I tried, you'd cut me off. You'd insult me, throw me out of your house, walk off without answering. I've done everything I can to salvage this." He shook his head. "There's nothing to talk about now."
"But we could - " she put her hand back on his arm, gingerly, as if she was afraid to offend him. "I really ... isn't there anything ...?"
"Buffy," he said quietly. "I'm really sorry. I'm not doing this to hurt you. I hope you work things out for yourself. I hope you have a good life. But you're just not the woman I thought I knew."
When she didn't move, he moved his arm gently away from her touch and stood.
"I'll go by your house now to say goodbye to Dawn. Maybe you want to stay away till I'm gone, I don't know. I won't be long."
Buffy nodded, swallowing, her eyes on his face. "Is there anything I can say to change your mind?" she said in a whisper.
He shook his head without looking at her. "I'm past that, Buff. Sorry."
She licked her lips and looked at his averted face. "But I never meant - " she started, but stopped when he raised his hand. He picked up the box again, balancing it on one shoulder. Then he turned back to face her.
"Goodbye, Slayer," he said. "Take care of Dawn."
She nodded, swallowing. "Uh - take care of yourself, Spike," she managed. "Have a good life."
"I'll try." He shouldered the box again, and bent and kissed her cheek. "Don't look so tragic, Buffy. You'll do okay."
She nodded. "Spike?"
He turned his head, one foot in the doorway.
"I'm really sorry. I really am."
He nodded. "So am I."
The night swallowed his figure. She stood in the denuded crypt, looking at the empty doorframe. When she could no longer hear his footsteps, she began to cry.