Kennedy was the first one who actually articulated more than one syllable. “Oh, fuck.”
Buffy spared an acerbic glance at her, and nodded at the couch. No one, she noticed, sprang forward to help her with Spike, which earned them all a fraction of a scathing look. After all, it’s not as if he was a person, she thought darkly. But getting him onto the couch took precedence over her irritation---for now, she thought----as she struggled to minimize the pain she caused him. She wondered if the effort was apparent. “Get a blanket,” she snapped over her shoulder. In an odd way, she wanted him to notice and them not to. It would be impossible to sum up the curious arch of their association in a few succinct sentences under the best of circumstances. Now, worried about him---and hell, about herself, too----she wondered when, exactly that had happened.
She eased him onto his back, wincing at the fresh blood welling from the wounds. More scars, she thought. “Get bandages,” she muttered.
No one moved. She tucked one of the pillows beneath his neck and straightened up, looking back.
No had moved. Dawn, arms crossed firmly over her chest, seemed to sum up all the potential Slayers’ feelings; their expressions ranged the gamut from curiously disgusted to slightly perturbed. Dawn had evidently assumed a position at the end of the pique spectrum with her seriously ticked look. “Dawn? Can you get a blanket? And some bandages.”
“For who?” Dawn snapped. “Him? Or you?” With that, she turned and stomped to the stairs.
“Dawn,” Buffy said softly. There was nothing gentle about her tone, though. “Get blankets.”
Dawn stopped on the stairs. Muscles tensed in her back as she froze. “Fine,” she whispered. “Fine.” Her footsteps were inaudible as she went up the stairs.
All the girls exchanged tense glances, each avoiding Buffy’s eyes as if they’d planned it. Giles idly glanced from one to the other, wondering which one—of the girls, that is---would crack first. There was almost a poof! as they scattered in all directions. Buffy and Giles were left exchanging ironic glances.
“I’ll check on Dawn.” He spared the wounded vampire on the couch an unreadable glance.
With the room vacated, Buffy glanced around guiltily and then sat down next to Spike’s hip on the couch. At the contact, his swollen eyes opened slightly. She could tell he was searching for something ironic to say, and that reassured her. If he had enough spirit to try for sarcasm, he wasn’t hurt that bad.
“I knew you’d come.”
Fuck, she thought. He had, too. “I’m supposed to say something sarcastic, you know,” she whispered back. And shivered. Keeping secrets from the others in her own house? “So stop it with the sincerity, okay?” She cleared her throat in an effort to bring her voice back up to speaking level. “ I have to maintain, here.”
“Beats me,” she shrugged. “I just know I’m supposed to be doing something. So knock it off with the touching moments.”
“’s all your fault,” he muttered. He cleared his throat again. “Didn’t have to come get me, you know.”
Words dammed up in her throat, and none of them could get out. Of course I had to come get you. I couldn’t leave you there, not after all this. Not after…everything. And then everything else. Her eyes blurred.
“You can’t see real good right now, can you?”
There was a rusty sound that could have been that throaty chuckle of Spike’s, much altered by his injuries. “No, am I missing something?”
“No.” Buffy said firmly. “No, you’re not. Most definitely not.”
Blankets thumped down on the floor beside Buffy, and she found herself confronted with The Wrath of Dawn. It’s like Mom, except younger, Buffy thought, mentally filing that remark away for use in future sibling warfare. “What?” Dawn snapped. “You. Said. Blankets.”
“I didn’t think I had to say anything about manners,” Buffy said quietly. High road, she thought. For once. Let her have a tantrum. There wasn’t any time for them any more. She picked up one of the blankets and with precise, methodical gestures, flicked it open and over Spike. Dawn caught the way she gently smoothed the blanket down over him, and grimaced at the way his hand touched hers.
“Yeah, I’ll have to go look up the part about r—“
Dawn gulped as Buffy suddenly snapped nose to nose with her. “Kitchen, Dawn.” She said icily, and Dawn swallowed what felt like Iowa. Oh, shit. There was an extremely fine line between annoying the elder sister and outright pissing her off, and she’d tripped over it in her ire at Spike. She went from nervous to frankly scared when Buffy helped her along with a not-so-gentle hand at the small of her back. They both went through the kitchen door a little faster than intended, and found themselves blinking owlishly at Giles, sipping a tumbler full of Scotch at the island. Everyone looked guilty. Giles gulped his Scotch and managed to evaporate past them, already removing his glasses for polishing.
Dawn skulked to the center island, arms crossed rigidly in front of her. “Yeah, so?”
“What is your problem?”
“My problem? My sister is hanging out with a rapist..,Awk!” Dawn looked down at her sister, suddenly nose to forehead with her, and found her a little less contemptible. She forgot, sometimes, about the Slayer speed and strength now and then, seeing only the sister amidst the irritations of weapons and invitations and dust heaps. Oops.
“You---You’re not supposed to do that.” Dawn squawked, stumbling backward, hand at her throat, freed from Buffy’s hand. “That’s not fair!”
“Why not?” Buffy stared at her, and Dawn suddenly thought, That’s the way she looks at vampires. Oh, God, oh, God.
“Because it’s not fair!” She took another step back, just to be safe, but of course, there was no safe around Buffy. “You can’t…”
“Why not? You pissed me off.”
“I---Well, so?” Dawn found the counter at her back, more frightened than she wanted to admit. This was her sister, fake memories or no, and suddenly, she was frightening. Suddenly, she was the Slayer, and she was no vampire with supernatural powers, but a normal teenager, with only Clearasil at her disposal. “I’m always pissing you off. You can’t go around doing that, you’re so much stronger than me, it’s unfair, that’s what it is, it’s…”
“It’s what?” Buffy asked softly.
“It’s..It’s….unfair! You’re just in a bad mood because I’m…because I’m pissed off about Spike.” She tried recrossing her arms for emphasis, but she couldn’t find the belligerence to do so. She was left fumbling, finally clutching her bony shoulders with nervous hands.
“So? It’s your fault I’m pissed off.”
“No, it’s not, it’s your fault! You have no impulse control.”
“You know, Dawn,” Buffy said quietly. “That may be true, but you know what? I’m really, really tired. I haven’t slept in days, and I don’t know who’s real and who’s not. So why shouldn’t I get a…little pissed off? I’m just so…I can’t think, Dawn. And I love you, you know that? But, God, Spike….”
“You just….” Dawn choked. “You just want a boyfriend.” Her voice cracked and she compensated by being bitter. “You’ve always had boyfriends.”
“I’ve had boyfriends.” Buffy agreed softly. “But not like this.” She looked down at the chipped polish on her bare toes. “I’ve had boyfriends who were bad to me. But I was bad to him. Like I’m being to you now. I shouldn’t have, and he shouldn’t have. And I shouldn’t be like this with you right now, should I? But I just can’t help it. I’m supposed to be better than this. I’m supposed to be a hero. You know what? You’re a key, but you’re more normal than me. And Spike isn’t normal. But together, we’re…normal.”
“Yeah, right….But he tried to…”
“No.” Buffy said firmly. “That’s not right.” She crossed her own arms, then, tightly, and gave a little shiver. She’s so thin, Dawn thought. “I mean, I don’t know what to do. Am I normal, do I have to be act normal? But I can’t be, because I’m the Slayer. And I’ve gotten used to being the Slayer. Hitting things solves most of my problems.”
“But…” Dawn’s eyes widened. “Oh, yeah, I know what you’re doing. I pissed you off, is that what you said? Did you piss Spike off?”
“No, I didn’t,” Buffy said sadly. “Maybe it would have been better if I had, you know?” She stared at the ground, chewing at her bottom lip. “I just…God, it’s not easy when someone loves you, you know? Especially when you don’t…feel loveable. That was me last year. I mean, Xander and
Dawn’s insides twisted wretchedly then. And I was stealing all the time, she thought. “Buffy---“
“No,” Buffy said firmly. “Besides, if Xander is going to go around telling you stuff that’s not your business---“ At Dawn’s shocked look, she defiantly raised an eyebrow”---Well, is it? Is your, your love life my business? You better not have a love life, by the way,” she added.
“Well, this is different,” Dawn said. “What if Spike tries to rape me, too, huh? Or Anya? Or Willow?”
Buffy shook her head quietly. “You know, that’s why Xander shouldn’t have…shouldn’t told you. Does it help if I tell you that Spike would never do that?”
“Oh, yeah? How do you know that? I bet you never thought that he’d—he’d try that with you.”
“The important thing,” Buffy said quietly, “is that he never thought it, either.”
Spike groaned and blinked when she spread the blanket over him. Dawn tiptoed up the stairs, a momentary truce declared, or perhaps just enforced, and Giles sidled back into the kitchen. The Slayers had evidently evaporated.
She was left smoothing the blanket over him and, and laying a wet washcloth over his swollen eyes. “Better?”
“Better,” he murmured. Her hand lingered on his forehead, and his joined it, even while his lips tightened at that small movement. More intimate than any of the sex they’d had; bodies bared but nothing else. Long before he’d gotten the soul, he’d known what pain was, seeing what he’d once been in her eyes, what he could never be again. Funny, now, when she touched him, it was more vivid than sex, more intense than orgasm, more naked than nudity. He felt human now, and once that would have enraged him. Now it comforted him, despite the teasing knowledge of the nemesis lurking elsewhere. Her faith in him lessened that fear. She knows what I can do, he thought. She believes in me. And with that knowledge, he could, too.
“You were hard on Bit,” he muttered.
“I have to be,” she muttered back. “And why shouldn’t I be?” He could hear the smile in her voice, even if it was too painful to open his eyes. “Here you are, defending her.”
“Have to, don’t I?”
“Don’t I? And you’d be doing the same, too, if I said something…unkind.”
He could read the silence like he could read her eyes and smiled. “She’s a good girl, Slayer. Like you. Should be proud of her, taking up for you like that.”
“She knows you have a soul.”
“But I didn’t when I…”
“And I did when I…”
“And it seems if the powers that be are going to give you all these responsibilities, maybe they should give you extra strength, too.”
“They did! I heal faster than…”
“Do you?” He asked softly, and rolled painfully onto his side. She reached out and cushioned his movements with her hands, strong and gentle at the same time, and it struck him more forcefully than all the sex they’d had. It wasn’t even the rescue that loomed in his head, enormous; it was the way her hands pressed gently against him, trying to bear his weight off his injuries. It was the smallest of gestures, almost unthinking, but before this, it had been reserved for her friends, her family. Was he either?
“Of course I do,” she said quietly. “Maybe that’s why I keep forgetting why some stuff hurts so much. It just doesn’t last that long for me.” He could hear her shift as she turned away, smell her perfume, her scent, shift and float as she moved.
It cost him something, but he reached out and grabbed her shoulder. “Yeah, that’s it, pet.”
“What?” Now she sounded annoyed, and he had to smile, hearing her heart speed up. “You’re smiling.”
“Yeah? Well, you’re so smart and so stupid sometimes, you know that, Slayer?”
“I’m reconsidering those chicken wings, Spike.”
“Threatening an invalid, are you?” In spite of the pain, he managed to crack open his eyes and blink at her, before the pain made him relax, made him close his eyes with a sigh. She was shaking her head at him, partly amused at his bravado, but partly worried as well. “What next?”
“Well, I’ve got a busy day planned for stealing candy from babies, but now…”
“Oh, I’m scared, I am.”
Buffy looked at him, suddenly buffeted by images of another time, another place. Spike’s crypt, long days past, another lifetime ago. Another beating, but not the one she’d administered. “I should have been nicer to you after Glory tortured you,” she said quietly.
“No, you shouldn’t have,” he responded promptly.
“Shut up just once, would you?”
“I’m a hundred and---“
“Do you count all the years? Or just the ones as a vampire? Because I always wanted to know.”
“I’m going to say this, Slayer, so just give up now.”
“Oh, yeah? Well, there’s a few things I have in mind, too, so---“
“Later,” he rasped out. “No, you shouldn’t have.”
“Okay, why not?”
Why not? Even his mind spluttered at that one. What he felt and what he could say were two utterly contrary things. Buffy stared at him as he struggled with the lump in his throat. Why did it feel so awful to feel his humanity again? Wasn’t it supposed to be a wonderful thing? Wasn’t being a vampire a reduction? “If you had, then, really…” Finally, then, he found the courage for something he’d not dared to do. He reached out and touched her face, unbidden and uninvited. “It would be different. I know it.” He was beaten and bruised, so weak he had difficulty moving. She was little better. Last year would have found them much the same, except now neither was the source of the other’s pains. In that, he found some strength. “I just don’t want it to be any different than now, okay?” She molded his hand to her lips, and he shook his head against the idea that reality could equal his imaginings. “That’s all.”
“Well…” Buffy muttered irritably.
He squinted at her.
“I don’t feel bitchy at all anymore.”
He had to laugh at that, even though it hurt. Upstairs, Dawn’s door slammed. “I could be annoying if that would help.”
Buffy gave him a small, wry smile. “You couldn’t annoy me if you tried, right now.”
Spike squinted at her again. “Well, then, I’ll have to try, won’t I?”
She leaned in close, so he didn’t have to squint, close enough to kiss, close enough to see without pain. “I dare you.”
Continued in Chapter Two