Sequel to When a Man Loves a Woman
VAGUE DISCLAIMER: The characters belong to Joss and co.
CONTEXT: Read Try a Little Tenderness and When a Man Loves a Woman, or you won't know where this is coming from.
COMMENTS: This is the final part of the trilogy that began with Try a Little Tenderness. Yes, I know I said I'd call it Respect, but having considered the Buffyverse long and hard I decided to head off in an entirely different direction. So if you're up for it, climb aboard the Midnight Train to Georgia. What can I say? Read your ticket: it's gonna be a long journey, with lots of stops; no guarantees that I won't slaughter any pesky sacred cows that wander onto the track; no guarantees we'll actually make it through the darkest hour before dawn.
DISTRIBUTION: If you want to link to this, or put this on your site, it's only fair to me that you let me know…..
X RATING: NC-17
The reflex is immediate, automatic, almost instinctive. Two fists through the lid of the coffin and her head and shoulders follow through like a battering ram. Thank God. Thank God. She almost weeps with relief. She's not six feet under.
But there's still darkness and, again, a sense of enclosure. She stretches out her hands to map her position. Clammy stone walls behind her and on either side. A stone ceiling so low she cracks her head on it when she tries to stand up. A stone floor that strikes her knees a crippling blow as she drops to all fours. And suddenly there's a draught on her face, brisk as a slap. Like a warning.
Cautiously she reaches forward to test the floor ahead and… it isn't there. She's on some sort of ledge. Oh crap. She knows what this is.
It's a crypt. A catacomb. A filing cabinet for corpses. Leaning forward, over the edge, she gets a sense of enormity, of musty breezes and clanging empty spaces. Dimly she makes out a honeycomb of shelves faraway on the opposite wall -- tier upon tier upon tier. What is this? Some out-of-town storage depot for the dead? Cut-price RIP for the masses? Forget cemeteries. Slash your costs and stack em high -- two hundred feet high by the looks of it. And she's level with the top. She drops her head and there in the distance below she sees light and movement. Feels a faint spidery tingle and reels back. Who's down there? She has no idea.
She's wearing? A sheet -- rucked and twisted round her body like she's just woken from a bad dream. Or is this the bad dream? She's so disoriented she can hardly tell. What else is she wearing? Nothing else. She's Buffy as Nature intended. Buffy in the buff. And that's not right. Mom would never let -- no, Mom's dead. But there should be a dress. As a mark of respect. To afford her some dignity. Last time, she had a dress…. There was a last time? Of course. How else would she know about coffins? Oh God….
Gotta focus. How did I die? Glory. No. That was last time. Suddenly her memories give her vertigo. She has to hold on to the empty coffin to steady herself.
And now she's desperately, madly, shuffling her memories like they're a Tarot deck. Trying to deal out the story of Buffy all in the right order. Understand what just happened and you'll know what's to come. And yes, here's a sequence of events that makes some sort of sense, and here he comes -- of course, the very last thing -- death, hanged man, fool and king of hearts all rolled into one….
Spike. Ivory arms, a pair of cobalt eyes, a chair and a sheet which kept getting in the way. Spike suiting up to do something dangerous. Doing it to her. Her hand flashes to her throat. Two puncture holes, wide set and sore. Did he… No. It was nothing like that. She stares into the dark and her pupils dilate to take in the enormity of what Spike did. What she let Spike do.
Doesn't matter that she's alone on her shelf, she checks to see no-one's watching. Drops her hand casually inside the sheet, lets it slip between her legs. Fresh evidence. The evidence is fresh. Buffy and Spike. Just now. Hardly a moment ago. And click click click, logic suggests that there's been no time to die, however suddenly. No time to be laid out and wept over. No time for coffin selecting. No time for hymns or hearses, orations or autopsies. No time for any of the long drawn out soul-shrivelling business of death.
Therefore she can't have died. Neither can she have been brought back from the dead. "Good," she tells herself. "Not dead is good." But all at once she's sick with shock and shaking. She has to wrap her arms around herself to hold herself together. Talk herself through what's happened, though still she doesn't understand. All she knows is she's been torn from her loved ones. Ripped from his arms. That's where I was. And Dawn will be crazy with worry. It isn't fair on her. She shouldn't have to live like this. None of us should. And there her outrage hits a barrier and dissipates, because she knows how the world works, knows how she works, what work she's meant to do.
She peers over the ledge and again there's a spidery tingle. Then, crouching in the dark, cursing, tying herself in knots, she tries to do something with the sheet. Transform it into a sarong. A sari. Work with me here. Even a toga'll do. Anything, just so I'm not naked Buffy in a sheet.
When -- oh God -- when is this ever going to stop?
Rips a long splinter from the coffin lid and jams it between her teeth. Squares her shoulders. Begins the long climb down.
He wakes into darkness and knows exactly where he is. Exactly where she is in relation to him. Musta slipped from his arms while he was sleeping. He draws her close again. Moulds himself around her back. Listens to her heart. Stronger now. A slayer's rhythm. Throbbing like an open invitation.
He buries his face in her neck and lets his demon surface, because where's the harm in it? Lets his fangs graze her skin. Poises them over the soft wounded spot from the time when she let him drink her. There's an electric pulse from flesh to fang and at once he's hard and hungry. Two days old, and the wound's still tender. He thinks that it will always be tender. Tests its fragility with his fangs. Twin punctures capped with a veil of new skin. The barest pressure would slit them open. He groans. Slides a hand between her thighs, coaxing her leg up, out of his way. Eases his hips forward. And he's poised. Taut as a steel spring. Like a steel trap ready to snap around her. His fangs are humming. His cock is singing. The slightest movement. The barest pressure. He closes his eyes, hair-trigger happy. She murmurs his name. Jesus Fuck. It's too much for a man to endure.
But he's not a man…. He raises his head and squints at the clock. Nine p.m. That's 21 hours she's slept since he brought her home. Twenty-one hours marathon kip. He'd no idea Buffy liked her bed so much.
She's slept through the Scoobies' return from hospital. Slept through their whinging complaints about misinformation. And what's the point of having a phone if you don't bloody use it to tell us where you are? That was Giles. Slept through an interminable whispered discussion of Slayer physiology.
"She's doing fine," he'd told them. "Heart, breathing, I've got them covered."
"And you're what? A qualified doctor?" That was the Whelp.
"Just a vampire, mate. With preternatural hearing and a predator's ability to spot weakness in his prey." And bloody hell. Nice one Spike. Just tell it like it is. Remind them who you really are. Give the Whelp an excuse to get snarky. Give the Watcher an excuse to pinch the bridge of his nose, screw up his eyes and try to shut the world out entirely.
And then of course the Whelp was right on his case, turning on Giles, saying, "Uh, right. So you really think we should be letting Hannibal Lector here play nurse?" And the Watcher was muttering, "Good lord. It's nothing to do with me. It's up to Buffy." And the Whelp was saying, "She's asleep or haven't you noticed?" and Red was snapping, "You wanna wake her up, Xander, why don't you holler a bit louder?" And everybody was getting overwrought and the Sweet Bit was standing by the closet, pretending to be transfixed by Buffy's wardrobe, so that no-one would see -- but he could smell -- her tears. And he'd wanted to smooth things over for Buffy's sake. Because this -- all this bickering and the Sweet Bit crying -- would make her sad.
So he'd dropped his gaze and let it soften. Then turned it on the Whelp. "Thanks," he'd said. "Nafra. A word I'll never forget." Extended the hand of friendship, which the Whelp gaped at in amazement, like it was an object of wonder or possibly a tarantula. But he would have done it. Was about to win him over, was about to seal the deal, when the Whelp ruined the moment by yelping. "You're hot. Your hand's hot. You're turning human!"
Bloody hell. Share it with the whole of Sunnydale why dontcha?
"Nah," he'd said. "Still cold and heartless, mate. Was just warming my hand on Buffy's arse before you lot swarmed in like a plague of … " He was clean out of patience with them. Dismissed them with a wave. "Annoying plaguey things."
All things considered, it was just as well that the Slayer was oblivious. But that was only the opening stage of her slumberthon. She slept straight through the Sweet Bit's desperate mute night-long vigil by the side of her bed. Slept through Willow's offer of breakfast and Giles' offer of tea.
"Let her be. She's fine," he'd told them. And eventually they'd gone downstairs. Left him in peace to strip off his clothes and fall into bed. Fucking exhausted. Totally knackered. Had just enough strength to pull off her clothes so he could curl round her, his lips at her nape. A hand on her belly, a hand on her breast. Got you. At last.
But now he's all slept out, thrumming with energy, whiplash ready for whatever comes next. And the Slayer's still sleeping. It's a dangerous combination, fraught with wicked, tantalising possibilities that he can't afford to explore. He shakes the demon off his face and rolls off the bed.
"Look at me," he tells her mute and uncomprehending body. "Poncing around all self-denying and heroic. I'm turning into sodding Batman. Not that you'd notice." He pulls on a shirt. Drags on some jeans and pauses, considering her face, half-hidden in pillows. Pretty baby. Sweet soulgirl. So soft with sleep. He can't resist her. Peels back the covers. So trusting. So exposed to him. So easy to… And suddenly he's tucking the sheet back in, jamming his hungry hands in his pockets, clenching his jaw.
"I'm violating my inner demon for you here," he tells her as he heads for the door. "See, there's no end to my manly self-sacrifice. I'm even gonna go downstairs and talk to your friends."
She doesn't understand. Where did this place spring from? Why has it snapped around her out of nowhere like a trap? It's giving her an allergic reaction. Got her in a cold sweat, got all the little hairs standing erect -- and she's Buffy, denizen of demon nests and sewers, initiate of secret government initiatives gone wrong, house guest of Dracula. She familiar with unnatural. She's got a handle on abhorrent.
Every ledge she passes holds a coffin. And every coffin is shattered like an empty shell. So many broken egg shells…. She knows she should count how many, make with the guesstimates for width and height, hold all the numbers in her head, do the math.… But she really can't care. She recuperating from serious injuries. She should be at home, in bed. She thinks if she can just open her eyes, really open her eyes, Mr Gordo will be there and Willow's lips will curve in welcome. Yes, and Xander will be beside her, beside himself with the all-hail and welcome queen of hearts and Buffyness. And of course Giles is home and he'll take off his glasses so she can see his eyes when he says "Buffy, dear child". Yes. And she won't need eyes to feel Dawn's hand in hers, and Tara's presence, awkward and essential on the edge of the group. She'll just lie there absorbing the homeyness of it all, until she's strong enough. And then she'll say, "Where?" And they'll say, "No worries, Buffy. He just went out to get some smokes. He'll be back in a minute."
She pauses, elbows braced on the edge of one shelf, feet on the ledge beneath. Tries to wipe her eyes on the sheet. Not usually so crappy and pathetic. Begins to ease herself down to the next level and stops. Hears Giles saying, "You can't afford to be sloppy, Buffy: This could be very serious. You are the slayer. And within you is the core of what you are. Breathe into it. Let the world fall away…."
The world's already fallen away, Giles! I don’t know where I am.
But she's a good girl and tries to do what Daddy tells her. Turns her eyes inwards to the explosive strength laid down in her muscles and wrapped around her bones, to the lessons of past battles hardwired in her nervous system. Turns to the killer at her core. Focuses on the lessons of survival: preparation, self-reliance, vigilance. Never let down your guard. And suddenly she remembers Spike. Lunging at her. Driving the lesson home. Because sooner or later you're gonna want it. And the second -- the second -- that happens you know I'll be there. And this gunshot handclap is forewarning that I can and will invade your space. And these words are my pledge that I will lay you waste.
No. She presses her forehead against the cold stone. You can't bring that in. It doesn't count. It was too long ago -- and it was just a lot of Big Bad bluster even then. Twisted, posturing, dysfunctional, yeah -- but he was trying to say he loved me in the only way he knew. Her fingers clench the ledge. She's got to keep her grip. I won't let go. I trust him. But trust suddenly seems a fluid thing to her and she has to test it. Tries to summon a raging bloodlust. Stretches her face. There. Look. He didn't turn me. He didn't hurt me. He didn't do anything that I didn't ask for.
Except, just now -- just then -- whenever it was that they did that thing together -- at the very last moment, he turned his face to her and she didn't know him. Enough. She yanks the black-out curtain across her mind. Because there's an agony of betrayal back there struggling to get free and if she catches so much as a glimpse of it she'll climb into one of those empty coffins and die.
"Jesus!" he snorts. "Do you lot eat anything other than pizza? I have a more varied diet and I'm a sodding vampire."
He wanders through to the kitchen. Discovers a single wizened apple in the fruit bowl. Takes it back to the livingroom. Lobs it at Dawn.
"Don't want to look like it? Then eat it. That's my philosophy, and it works for me." Goes back through to the kitchen. Pulls a carton of blood from the fridge and suddenly his demon's in his face, ravenous, gagging for it, shredding the carton with its fangs, downing it in one. He slings the empty carton into the bin. What the fuck am I thinking, letting my blood get so low? Returns to the livingroom….
"Another thing," he tells Dawn. "Eat proper meals or you'll end up snacking on something unsuitable." Something entirely fucking inappropriate, like the one thing that makes your unlife worth living. It actually crossed my mind. I wanted to… Nah, I didn't. It was a love game. I was just playing. Can't you tell playing when you see it, you stupid dead dick?
Zips upstairs just to check she's alright. Yeah, still sleeping for California and heading for the all-US catatonic league. But he's so fucking restless, so fucking wants her to be awake. So wants to grab her by the shoulders and shake her. And so doesn’t want to be caught in a selfish act when everything here, now, for Buffy and Spike, should be… he just wants it to be beautiful.
Well if he can't have beautiful just yet, he'll settle for dutiful. William the concerned and considerate tends his invalid sweetheart. Inspects the wounds on her shoulders. Draws back the sheet to check her ankles. Raises her legs to eyeball the backs of her knees. Healing nicely. Nudges her legs apart and the doctor act can go find some nurse act to fuck because he's done with it. His head comes to rest against her inner thigh. Now this is beautiful and this she wouldn't understand. He barely understands it himself, why it soothes him to lie between her legs, lapt in her warmth, breathing her in and breathing her out as if breathing's a prerequisite for being. Sending little breezes from his lips to stir her curls. Returning a smile to lips she doesn't… it makes him smile to think she doesn't know how pretty she is. Does she know she smells of him? That he's marked this place as his? That this is his world, the place where he belongs?
He thinks about being her lover and what that means, where it leads. Inside her, of course, and that's where he plans to go, hard and fast, gentle and slow -- whatever it takes to tease out those moments of ecstasy, as many as he can, for him and for her. But is that all it comes down to? Is that enough? Because he knows what he's like, how greedy he is, prowling, persistent, always hungry for more. He wonders if he's got so used to howling for the moon he won't know how to stop even though he has her. And suddenly she's there in his head, laughing. Rolling about in an entirely unslayerly manner. It's such a fucking unlikely image, he freezes it. Examines it. Not a memory, because it can't have happened. Not a premonition because it's totally bloody impossible. He sighs, and lets the pretty picture go. Releases freeze-frame Buffy to growl like a wild thing and arch back on the couch, laughing, raising hands quite naked of stakes, wiggling her fingers as she swoops down and tickles her child. And Jesus that hurts so much. It’s the moon. He wants it. Can't have it. Has to bury his face in her belly and swallow his howls.