By Gwyneth Rhys
But the ultimate reason to hate it: well, of course, Buffy Summers. And there wasn't a bloody thing he could do about that.
Spike stood in the shade of a group of trees, looking out at the orchards that spread beneath him along the softly curving valley of farmland far outside Sunnydale, in central California, and lit another fag. In the early morning before dawn he'd driven out here, one of the few places he knew of that had trees whose leaves changed color and dropped. As far as his eye could see, there were yellow and orange leaves carpeting the ground, a sea of gold. Like Buffy's hair. Sunlight dappled through the trees across the leaves, creating spots of gold on gold.
There were so many things to think about, and nothing to think at all. It wasn't about intellect at all now. Everything was about animal instincts. They'd kissed, they'd walked to her home and kissed again and parted, and now he had no idea what to do or say. Inaction and inarticulateness weren't his usual problems, yet suddenly here he was, dumbstruck and heartsick. Well, he'd be heartsick if he had a heart.
If she came tonight, Spike wanted to be ready -- to know the precise thing to say, the appropriate gesture to make. But nothing was coming to him. And anyway, he'd probably made a bollocks of everything with that little Tony and Maria routine last night.
Grinding the cigarette out -- not good to set fire to anything out here, sitting in the middle of it -- he sat down on the ground, his coat spread out under him. He liked being out here, it was just that little bit cooler and less California-ish, greener because of the irrigation lines, and so much quieter. This dislike of California almost made him want to go home at times, which was strange. He'd been more than happy to leave that dank, cold, gloomy shithole of a country, but the worse things got for him here, the more nostalgic he got for home. Funny, he hadn't thought of it like that for such a very long time.
The sunlight wasn't something Spike missed much; he didn't care for the outdoors in day anymore. Not until Buffy, anyway. The tradeoff of immortality, power, everything he'd got once he'd been turned, was more than enough for him, and it wasn't like he needed the old vitamin D. Only now he found himself like this so often, gazing at the harsh sunlit world Buffy lived in, wishing he were part of it, knowing he could never be.
The gold of her hair, the soft earthy color of her eyes. He could see them when his eyes were open, see them when his eyes were closed. He'd touched her hair when he sang to her and she'd let him. Touched it like he had a right. She'd given him entry.
An involuntary shudder coursed through him, remembering that for one moment he had felt like he was alive again. If he'd really ever been alive before, when he was still human, and he wasn't so certain about that.
Why hadn't he stayed in England or the Continent? This lust for killing slayers, this stupid quest, and wanting to make Dru healthy again, had led him on a path to his own destruction, but the only one he could blame was himself. Still, he wanted to blame someone. Coming here, he'd lost Dru when she got healthy, lost his ability to kill, lost his sanity, and he'd never even bagged the damn slayer. Instead she owned him.
The day he'd decided to risk it all and kill her anyway -- pain in his skull or no pain -- that was the day he should have turned his killing skills on himself. Spike had seen her sitting there, crying, and when she looked up at him he knew with absolute dread that he was looking into the face of his doom, seeing the future of his complete destruction.
Spike waited until day's end, the early sunset of autumn making it easier to drive back before it was late. No matter how cool he tried to be about it, he was anxious to see if she would come to him. Even though he was terrified to find out if they could overcome everything, with a fear he hadn't felt since he was... well, William.
When he returned to his crypt, he grabbed the bottle of whiskey he'd been working on the night before, and fussed up the things he'd thrown about on every available surface to try to pretty it up for her and make it feel a bit less like a lair of the undead. Give it a more girly spin.
And then he looked up, and she was there, standing quietly, hands at her sides. She had a white sweater on, a soft, fuzzy number that nearly glowed in the dark, illuminating her face like a pearl under moonlight. Tight, stretchy blue trousers. Her hair pulled back, the curls she'd made pouring out from the band like foam on that gold sea. Buffy sat down on the chair he'd fancied up with a few well-placed blankets, not really looking at him, past him, he thought. As afraid as he was. Maybe more so.
"I like the decorating. Very Martha meets Lestat." She finally gazed at him, her huge oval eyes so sad, filled with so many worlds of pain.
"Wanted to make it a bit less crypty. More comfortable for you, since you're here so... often." Spike wondered if that was a tactical error. Well, he couldn't cock it up any worse than singing his goddamn feelings for her.
"I..." Buffy didn't say anything else, just looked at her hands. Finally she trained her gaze on him, and it felt like sunlight, burning him. His chest felt full and tight, as if he had a heart again and it was cracking in two.
"Yeah. Same problem here," Spike said conversationally. "Can't figure what to say." He moved towards her, and sat down on a table next to her. She didn't move away, so he took it as a sign that it was all right. "Buffy." But those were the only syllables he could come up with.
"You were right," she said, quietly. "I do feel ashamed. I don't know what to do, or how I could explain it. What you sang..."
"But you do feel something. For me, I mean." He tried not to sound too eager or hopeful.
Buffy didn't answer, but she reached her hand out and pressed her fingertips to the back of his hand. Her touch was so warm and he wondered what it was like for her, to feel that coldness in him. Would it only confirm for her the wrongness of being here, of wanting, for even one half-second, to be with him? "You've always known things about me I didn't even know myself."
Nothing could have prepared him for that; it knocked the only wisp of wind in his lifeless lungs right out of him. "Have I?"
Then she bestowed on him a smile, a sad one, but a smile nonetheless. He reached over and touched her hair, the golden lock of it that had fallen free across her cheekbone. He'd touched her before almost like this, but always through hate or when something else controlled them. Now it was just them in control, their own wills or fates.
"What do I do? What do *we* do?"
He laughed wryly. "You think I know? I'd have wagered that you've known me long enough to understand I'm the most witless prat around when it comes to life." That brought a true smile to her face. "Or death. I have experience in both."
"Which works for me. Although I don't recommend putting it on your resume."
"I'll remember that when I apply for the night counter at Dairy Queen."
"So the question's still there."
He took her hand, her cold, tiny hand. This was no place for her -- cold and dead, stale air, the lingering touch of death. Not that he had much warmth to offer her, but he enclosed her hand in both of his.
"There're things I suppose I ought to say, but I'm buggered if I know what they are."
She laughed, quietly. "Should we patrol?"
"I think the demon underworld can have a free night of destructive bacchanalia. I want to know what you're thinking." She hadn't taken her hand away.
"What am I thinking?" She brought her other hand up and rubbed at her temple. "I'm thinking that I may have gone insane after being resurrected. Or that I became stupid. Or that there's something seriously wrong with the cosmos if you and I should be sitting here holding hands, or kissing, or..." Buffy searched his eyes, desperately. "Why? Why this? It makes no sense. We've tried to kill each other for years, we've hated each other with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns, your behavior used to sicken me, you built a shrine and a *robot* of me, for God's sake, and all I can think of lately is how much I need to know you're near me."
"Don't hold back. Lay it all on the line, I can take it." Spike unfolded her hand from his, touched each one of her fingers and spread his left hand flat over hers, on his knee. Her little hand that was so powerful, that had hit him in anger so many times.
"They always say you're supposed to yank the Band-Aid off fast in one motion, instead of inching it off slowly."
"Look, Buffy. I haven't got any answers. The only thing I know is that I've had more time to absorb this feeling. I think I've loved you for a long time, enough that even Dru noticed it and gave me the boot. That's really what drove me back here, you know, her giving me the old heave-ho. Said you were all over me. She was mad, but could see things in people they didn't want to see in themselves. So that whole Gem of Amarra business worked out nicely, and I could fool myself for a long time thinking that's what brought me here, and then what kept me here was that sodding chip. But it was you. I just didn't know it. I got a head start on you, I guess, is what I'm trying to say." And here was Buffy, next to him, her hand in his, the real gem in this world. Dru was an exquisite lunatic, Harmony a witless, glittery slag, but Buffy, she was the real thing, the 24 carat gold, the diamond to outshine any other.
"I just keep wondering... what happens next? What kinds of things would we talk about in the evening -- your past kills, how much you miss terrorizing and snacking on people? How long before that chip runs out of power -- what do you do then? Am I supposed to look the other way while you feed on people, do the very thing I'm supposed to kill you for? And you said my friends couldn't deal -- understatement of the year. They'll turn such a cold shoulder we'll have a white Christmas."
She sounded regretful, he thought. "And maybe most of all, I wonder, is the having the same as the wanting? How fast would you get tired when you weren't wanting anymore? And then what will you do, and what will I have to do to you?"
Well, he was going to fail this exam, obviously. "Something to drink?" Just as she said, "Again with the no-ing," Spike said, "And I'm *not* offering you the good stuff, since I know you can't hold your liquor. I got you some sodas, just in case."
Buffy slid her hand out from under his. "That would be nice." He could tell she knew he was avoiding answers.
Spike got up and grabbed a can out of the ancient icebox he'd dredged up from the rubbish heap and handed it to her, sitting down on the arm of the chair. Maybe he could inch closer to her until she let the heat of their closeness cloud her resolve. Yeah, that's the ticket.
"I don't know what I feel for you, Spike." For the first time since he'd turned, since he'd decided he was another being entirely, he wanted to be called William. But he couldn't say that to her, she would laugh in his face. What stupid names they had, anyway. Spike and Buffy. It would have been better if he'd stayed William. "I only know that when I'm around you, it's the only time I seem to feel anything at all."
"Well, let me put it this way," Spike answered, pulling the tie off her hair, watching it cascade around her face and shoulders. "Nothing we could do together would make me lose my soul." She looked down at her hands, then took a drink from her soda. Avoiding the truth in his eyes, the truth of her past. "What conscience and goodness there is bubbling up under the surface, that's all for you."
"Doesn't it seem like the worst kind of fate to keep finding yourself drawn to the very thing you're supposed to hate and kill? What is it about me that I keep doing this?"
That cut like a scalpel, even though he knew she didn't mean it that way. "Fancy a walk? Bit chilly in here for you, I think." He stood up and held his hand out to her, and she got up. They walked out through the cemetery in silence, along the road, then to the park, where eventually she sat down on one of the swings, and he sat next to her. Buffy looked up at the stars, and Spike looked at Buffy.
"Do you know much about me?" Spike asked her after a while.
"Oh, the usual. Killed two slayers, William the Bloody, railroad spikes, yadda yadda."
It was far too tempting to smile smugly about that, and he couldn't help it, but she didn't see him, fortunately. "Yeah, well, just a lot of good publicity, that." He rested his cheek against the cold chain. "I meant about me before I turned. Suppose not -- why would those watcher blokes be interested in any of that?" He sighed. "I was a complete ponce, sensitive poet type. You'd have laughed, if you even noticed me at all, which I doubt." She turned to look at him, the surprise undisguised. Well, that was partly the effect he wanted. "But you see, the thing about that was the same thing as now -- I was in love with someone, right after being in love with someone else, and probably would have been again after I'd recovered from the latest broken heart, if I hadn't literally run into Drusilla. It's who I am, and nothing that happens seems to change that part of me."
Even though he waited, Buffy didn't say anything, just gazed at him with those huge eyes. She was wondering why he would tell her this, as if she were expecting some punchline to come.
"I'm telling you because I want you to understand what it means to me to say that I love you, Buffy. I love you more than I ever thought possible and I don't have any idea where it will lead, most likely to pain and misery for us both, and I don't know what will happen and I don't know why it happened in the first place. All I can offer you is this core of who I am, who I've always been. There used to be a heart here, and that shell of it is all I have to give you." He made a sort of twirling motion with his index finger near his temple. "It's like some vestigial memory, whatever they call it, of being human. It's there, it's just not... needed, most times."
Spike took out a pack of cigarettes and stuck one in his mouth, but Buffy made a scolding "hhrrr-hhrrr" sound in her throat, and he put it back. "What, you think it's going to kill me or something?"
That got a cute little smirk. "It's just a filthy habit."
"And I've got plenty of those, I know." He looked up at the sky. "You know, all the things you hate about me... Well, you can't imagine what it does to you, to be turned. See, there I was, this unnoticeable, pathetic wretch, and suddenly I was imbued with this power. What's not to like? You have immortality, unbelievable physical power, no fear at all, and you're freed of all the earthbound issues like morality and propriety. In Victorian England, *that* is something, let me tell you. That was a world where entire hours-long conversations could be had over the quality of the coddled eggs that morning for breakfast, or whether you should bring your brolly because it might rain. It was all about the right things to think or say.
"But none of those things made a difference anymore. Suddenly, you had power. Like nothing you can imagine. You start to feel like a little god. It's heady and wild and it changes everything. I can't say that I didn't -- don't -- love what it gave me, especially when I compare it to my life before. I was a force to be reckoned with." Spike turned to look at her, but she was staring straight ahead.
"And I found I liked the violence of it, wanted it. It escalated over the years, like an addiction, me trying to overcome what I'd thought of as my limitations when I was human still. You find yourself laughing at the expectations of the mortal-bound world, the morality and the silly little rules.
"All those things that make up a soul -- conscience, empathy, regret or remorse for bad deeds, morality -- well, they don't come as part of the special free gift offer when you're given immortality. And up until now, I never much cared, really. But now I try to find those things in me, when I can. If William the sensitive poet is still in there, then I can try to find that vestigial part of him that makes up a soul. I can't say I'll succeed most times, but I can try."
Someday he would truly die -- get staked, get his head cut off, dusted by sunlight, or find holy water in his vodka -- and then Spike would go to that real hell, find out just what torments awaited something like him. Buffy was a window into a heaven he could never know, just for this little while.
"You make a good show of being a low-rent punk, don't you? I guess you've fooled us all."
"Sussed that, have you? Well, it's probably just that overcompensation thing again. We men have such trouble with that."
Buffy got up off the swing and stood above him, her thighs pressed to his knees, hands on the chains of the swing above his, but she didn't touch him. If there was one thing he enjoyed most about her recently, it was the way she didn't feel they had to talk most nights. She trusted that he was all right in silence, and he liked that a great deal. It was incomprehensible that with her neck exposed like this right in front of him, he only looked on it as something he wanted to kiss, not to bite. Just to feel her blood pumping beneath her skin, warm and strong, not to drink from. It would be nothing for her to stake him right now, to pull something out from behind her and drive it right into that empty space he'd once called a heart. Did she know or care how willing he was to leave himself open and vulnerable to her? All the times she'd wanted to get rid of him; now it would be as easy as snapping her fingers.
A little shiver passed over her and Spike realized she was cold, so he stood quickly and put his coat over her shoulders. Long on him, it came down to the ground on her. They started to walk back to his place, when they heard something at the edge of the cemetery. "Did you hear that?" she asked, and looked around for something she could turn into a stake.
"Yeah, sounds like show time." They came around a small hedge and saw someone -- something -- crawling out of a grave. Buffy dropped the coat to the ground and went after the vampire, bare-handed, and Spike watched her for a moment. He'd been ostracized by his own kind ever since the chip, and especially after he'd found out he could hurt demons and vamps. He needed the violence, craved the violence. While it meant he was even lonelier, the only method to satisfy his addiction was to fight alongside Buffy like this. And he still hadn't got over the strangeness of it, more than a year on. He grabbed the coat up, pulled a stake out of the inner pocket and threw it to her. She caught it in mid-spin-kick, snatching it out of the air as if they were some perfectly matched team and had practiced this maneuver a thousand times. She staked the vampire quickly, the dust exploding around her. When Spike came up to her, she was panting a little, her face flushed with color.
He traced his hand along her cheekbones, her jawline, running the backs of his fingers over her ivory skin. Buffy turned to go and he followed her, putting his arm gently around her shoulders. She let him.
When they reached the crypt, Buffy stopped and looked up at him. He wasn't used to seeing her afraid, but there was definite fear in her eyes. Then she blinked and that flicker of concern was gone as she stepped inside. Spike was hungry, but he would never have blood in front of her now. Mostly he just stuck to his whiskey, and it helped with the shaking he got when she was near, anyway. One would think that after more than a hundred years, he'd be better about this love stuff, but one would be wrong. She went down underneath, where she rarely went, and he followed.
"Spike. I understand what you were telling me. About yourself and your past. I just... I don't know what to do about it."
"You do what you need to do today. And tomorrow, you do what you need to do then."
Buffy shook her head. "You make it sound so easy."
"Well, then, I'm definitely telling it wrong." He leaned back against the cold wall and took a swig from the bottle.
"Oh, God, you must be hungry. Do you want me to leave?" So she'd sussed that too, then. Had the girl figured everything out about him already? Didn't do to take all the mystique out of love so early.
"No!" Then more calmly, "No. I'm fine." He hated thinking of her revulsion, but then, she'd never turned away from Angel over it.
"If you got the chip out, would you go back to turning Sunnydale into your smorgasbord?"
This was the trick, answering questions like this. If he answered with what he *thought* she wanted to hear, then she tended to see through him and she made her disgusted face at his lying. But if he answered truthfully, or even half-truthfully, she'd be back in full superior-slayer mode. He had such trouble remembering what the right human feelings were, and he kept cocking it up when he tried, which only pissed her off more.
"Not going to say I don't miss it. But what you want is more important to me. Look, Buffy, the chip means sweet f.a. now. It stopped me in the first place, but now it's about you, not some piece of silicon. Makes it a bit more complicated for me, but that's all right. Hell, at least I have a little variety now, it's not just human, human, human all the time. Though mind you, the nice thing about feeding on one thing was you never had to worry which wine was appropriate. But I'll survive." There was doubt in him about all of this, but he wasn't going to let her see it.
"You always do."
He came close to her, taking in the scent around her. The one advantage of being an animal -- all of his senses were heightened and it made everything a different experience. The chip couldn't take that away. "We have that in common. Death doesn't take us out, does it?"
And without any warning, he saw tears glimmering in her eyes. "Why did it have to be you who understood me?" She was angry now, tragically, helplessly angry. "You're the only one who does and you're the only one I want to be near and you're the one I wanted gone for so long I can't even remember a time in my life I didn't hate you."
"That's the funny thing about love, isn't it? How close it is to hate. The only emotion that can match it pound for pound."
"I feel so alone, wherever I go. Except here." And she burst into tears, the ones she'd held back all this time, her tiny body wracked with sobs. Spike picked her up -- God, she was as weightless and foreign to him as a beam of light -- and she cried it out, her tears wetting the front of his t-shirt. He sat down on the bed he'd made, holding her, letting her let it out. The way she clung to him, the way she let go, left him gob-smacked with the realization of it: Buffy would never love him, never stop doubting herself. But she would let him love her.
Her arms came up around him and she pulled herself tight against him, finally quieting. Smoothing her hair, Spike pressed his cheek against hers. He wondered if she had any idea what she was doing to him like this, the heat that was racing through him, alive again.
"In the day you can be where you need to be. Night is our time." He almost laughed at himself for saying it, that poetic rubbish he thought he'd left behind a century ago.
"It always has been," she whispered. Buffy leaned down and kissed him, tenderly this time, her lips wet and salted from the tears. "Don't let me be alone. Don't let me feel dead to everything."
Pulling her down with him, Spike said thickly, "You're not. You never will be." He caressed her shoulders, felt the skin underneath her sweater, scarcely able to believe he was touching her flesh. Buffy was above him, around him, within him, like the memory of sunshine. He was swept under her, bathed in her light, drowning in the sea of her gold.