Something Other Than Dead
A conversation on the back porch. Set a day or so after "Potential." Standard disclaimers apply.
Rated PG. It's schmoopy, not smutty.
Big thanks to Nautibitz for coming up with the title. And to little_bit, hold_that_thought, Nongenius and sunbrae for trying, bless 'em. Oh, and to James Marsters for having a really good idea for Spuffy and mentioning it in the NY Times.
She knew he'd be out there before she opened the door. Only place left these days where someone could be alone. Peace and quiet had always been rare visitors at Casa Summers, but lately they'd been driven out by the much noisier and needier houseguests. Buffy wondered if they would ever come back inside. But at least they could still be found outside. Usually in the presence of her favorite chain-smoking vampire.
Blowing out a sigh, she stepped out on the back porch and closed the door, shutting the chaos in behind her. Sure enough, he sat on the steps, elbows on knees, cigarette dangling between his fingers. He turned his head a little. Not enough to look at her, but enough to acknowledge her presence.
He called all the girls that. She supposed he could easily have expected Molly, or Dawn, and not known he was talking to her. But he did know, and she knew he knew, because it always sounded different when he said it to her. Personalized. Spoken low and affectionate, and she could hear the welcome in his voice even if she couldn't see it on his face. Buffy smiled. "Mind some company?"
He turned all the way and looked at her then, the barest hint of a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "Never yours."
She'd been holding her sweater shut against the chilly night air. Suddenly feeling warm, she let it fall open as she took her place beside him. They both faced front and just sat for a while in thoughtful silence, him working on his cigarette, her looking at the stars, both of them as relaxed as two seasoned warriors could be, knowing what dangers lurked in every shadow.
Buffy took a deep breath and caught a whiff of second hand smoke. On reflex she opened her mouth to complain but shut it again when she realized she didn't really mind. Not after she'd come so close to having him and his smoke permanently removed from her life. If they both stayed alive long enough for him to give her lung cancer, then she'd give him a good what for. Until then she supposed she could put up with it.
She cast him a sideways look. He seemed to be in deep contemplation of the filter, rolling it between his thumb and forefinger as he stared at it, completely lost in thought. The furrow of his brow and the tight set of his jaw belied the otherwise peaceful picture he presented. Buffy wondered just when she'd started associating Spike with peace and calm, anyway.
Finally, he noticed her watching him. With that bashful little half-smile that was becoming almost as much a trademark as his smirk, he bent down and stubbed out his cigarette between his feet. "Something on your mind?" he asked as he straightened back up.
Buffy shrugged. "Just wondering what's on yours. But don't mind me. I don't want to interrupt your brooding."
He glanced at her, annoyed. "Not brooding. Thinking, is all. There's a difference."
She leaned her elbow on her knee and propped her cheek against her fist. "That looked more to me like dwelling, at the very least. Anything you want to talk about?"
He opened his mouth, then shut it again and shook his head.
He looked at her again, his eyes meeting hers for a split second before dropping back to the ground as he shrugged. "'S nothing, really. Just thinking about what you said the other night, to the girls. 'Bout how we're all the same animal inside."
Buffy sat up. "Spike, I ... you know I don't...." She sighed. "I can't let them think that there's even a chance that they'll meet another vampire like you."
"It's not that you said it, Buffy. It's that you were right."
She stared at him for a moment, not sure what to say. Then she let out a half laugh and shook her head. "Do we have to go through this again? You're more than that."
"Yeh." He reached down to rub a scuff off his boot. "For now."
"Meaning that that thing is in me. Animal, demon, call it what you will, but it's part of me and it's not going anywhere." His hands gripped the edge of the step. "And the First knows how to unleash it." He looked at her, his gaze steady this time, and she saw something in his eyes that she'd never seen before: fear. "That son of a bitch has me loaded up and we both know it's just a matter of time before it decides to point me at the girls. At you."
"No, we don't know that. Everybody is working on figuring out what this thing did to you so we can reverse it."
"What if you don't?"
"We will. There is a way to keep the First from getting to you again and we'll find it." As she spoke she rested her hand on top of his. He looked down at the gesture, and Buffy felt her cheeks flush. She gave his hand what she hoped was a reassuring pat before drawing her own back to her lap. "Trust me, Spike."
He barked out a laugh. When his eyes met hers again, they seemed to reflect his true age. He reached up to touch her hair, ever so lightly, then pulled away. "That's never really been the problem, has it?" He stood and paced the grass in front of her, hands shoved deep in his pockets. "Still, maybe I shouldn't stay here."
"I could go back to Harris's ... maybe the crypt ..."
"Least then if I do go off that'll put some distance between us. Give you time to get ready. To do what needs doing."
"Spike ..." Buffy stood up. "I need you here. I need you to help me keep them safe --"
"That's what I'm trying to do, Buffy."
"--and I need to know that you're safe. And you need to be here. In a real home, with people who care about you, not stuck in a closet or, or in a tomb --"
"Thought you said it was comfy."
Buffy stopped short. Then she put her hand on her hip and glared at him.
He smirked -- not the irritating cocky one, but the one where she could tell he was fighting not to smile -- and scratched his eyebrow. "I only want to help, Love."
"You are helping."
That time he did smile, just for a second before ducking his head. "Um..." He looked at the house. "It's getting late. Maybe we should--"
"What's on your face?" She hadn't noticed it before, what with the dark and seeing him mostly in profile, but when he turned toward the house she saw a dark smudge on his left cheek.
He gave her a puzzled look as he wiped at it, then looked at his hand. "Oh," he said, and shrugged. "'S just some dirt."
As he wiped the rest of it off with his sleeve, Buffy realized he was covered with it. His jeans and shirt were stained. It had even gotten under his nails. "Have ... have you been digging?" She didn't mean for it to sound accusatory, nor did she mean to look so worried, but judging from the crestfallen look on his face she hadn't pulled it off.
"It's nothing, Buffy. I was just ..." He sighed. "Bugger."
"Spike, what ..."
"C'mere." He motioned for her to follow as he turned and walked to the side of the yard.
Buffy felt a sinking feeling as the shadows swallowed him up, but even so she went after him. Before she could catch up, a light shined in her eyes. She blinked and stepped back. As her eyes adjusted she saw that it wasn't just one light, but lots of little white twinkling Christmas lights strung all over a wide trellis. They lit up this whole corner of the yard -- or, what was left of the yard. The grass ended at her feet. Bare dirt stretched between her and the trellis. Some paving stones had been laid down the middle, and a large hole had been dug on one side. "What's this?"
Spike came to stand beside her. "Big plot of dirt."
She gave him her "duh" look. "Why is it in my yard?"
"Because it's going to be your new garden."
Buffy blinked. "My ..."
"I hoped to get most of it planted in time for your birthday." He shrugged. "Wanted to surprise you."
"Oh," she breathed. She looked back at her soon-to-be garden, imagined it full of plants and flowers, imagined herself spending time here, watering and pruning and taking care of it. "This is so much better than an arm in a box."
"Nothing." She turned back to him. "This is just ... it's ... wow."
Spike smiled, and this time he didn't fight it. It spread from his lips to his eyes, causing the skin to crinkle up at the corners in a way Buffy found utterly appealing. "I know it doesn't look like much now, but ... well, that'll be a pond," he pointed at the hole, "or maybe a fountain. And Harris is building an arbor to stretch over the walkway, it's supposed to have a built-in bench ... Oh, and," he waved his hand at the trellis, "the lights were Dawn's idea."
"I love this," said Buffy. "This is ... nobody's ever ..." God, she was totally choking up.
"Yeh, well. I figured you deal so much with death, thought it might be nice if you had a place to go that's all about life for a change."
Buffy had to wipe her eyes.
Beside her, Spike chuckled softly. "Ironic, innit? A dead man trying to give somebody life?"
She discreetly wiped her nose. "As ironic as William the Formerly Bloody, trainer of Slayers?"
"Point." He shook his head. "Irony really seems to love me these days."
Buffy turned back to her garden. "Irony's not the only one."
She realized what she said about the same time he did. She looked at him, and he looked back at her in utter disbelief. That quickly faded to guarded hope as he caught sight of what she imagined was an "Oh shit!" expression on her own face. Too late to play it nonchalant. Buffy knew that with her next words she could either kill his hope or tear down his guard. She wasn't sure which she should do. Didn't know which she wanted to do. It was too soon, too complicated. They had been so bad for each other in the past. Had that changed?
He had changed, no question there. She liked to think that she had too, but had she really? Or was she just fooling herself? She realized that they were still staring at each other, eyes locked, and his grew more hopeful with each rapid beat of her heart. She had to do something, say something. Anything. But what?
As her mind raced, her gazed fell to his lips, and she licked her own. She knew what she wanted to do. She wanted to make it better for him. It defied all sense and logic, but there it was. The only thing she wanted more at that moment was to kiss him. But she couldn't kiss him if she couldn't say what he needed to hear.
Buffy swallowed. "Spike, I--"
The back door slammed open, and Molly ran out on the porch. "Buffy, come quick!"
She and Spike each blew out a long breath and jogged over to the porch. "What's wrong?" asked Buffy.
"It's Andrew! I think Dawn and Amanda are really trying to kill him this time. Vi and Rona are trying to hold 'em back--" Molly was cut off by an incredibly girly yet male scream. Her eyes grew wide. "I don't think they're doing the job."
Buffy sighed. "Where are all the other grownups?"
"Xander and Anya went to the store to get more milk for in the morning. Willow and Kennedy have already gone up to bed."
"Great." Buffy threw an apologetic glance to Spike, then started up the steps. Spike grabbed her wrist.
"I got it," he said. "You go savor your present some more."
"You sure? It's not like they haven't practiced beating up vampires."
Spike considered this. "You hear another scream like that, come running."
Buffy smiled. "Got it."
"Don't worry, Mr. Spike," said Molly. "I got your back."
"Right then." Spike motioned her inside. "Let's go."
Buffy reached out and grabbed his hand. He stopped and looked at it, then at her, a question in his eyes. She gave it a squeeze. "Thanks."
He searched her eyes for a moment, then gave her a satisfied smile, and nodded. "Least I could do." He slid his hand out of hers and followed Molly inside.
Outside, Buffy fumbled around in the dark until she found a lawn chair. Then she dragged it over to the edge of her garden and curled up to wait. Maybe when Spike got back they could work on it together.