By Elsa Frohman
Spoilers: Through Help
Summary: Just wishful thinking on my part.
Buffy negotiated the maze that was the basement of Sunnydale High School. She'd worked out a system. You had to memorize "landmarks" as you went. They'd be different next time she came down here, but remembering a particular filing cabinet, packing crate or stack of unused student desks would help in finding her way back.
She hadn't been down here since the previous Friday, when she'd come to ask Spike if he knew anything about the threat hanging over Cassie Newton's head. He hadn't known anything useful, but he had come through for her when it mattered.
"Spike? Are you here?" She called out to him again. She wouldn't find him if he didn't want to be found. That much was clear. The basement was never the same twice, and it concealed him when he wasn't feeling up to facing visitors.
She rounded a corner and found him, crouched between two packing crates, mumbling in a voice too low for her to make out the words. His bleached blonde hair stood out in the shadows of his makeshift lair. His clothing was black, a ragged shirt with a torn sleeve; dusty, black jeans. His face was turned down so he didn't have to see her.
"Spike, there you are. How's it going?" she said, settling down on the floor to sit cross-legged just outside the nook where he crouched.
He glanced up at her, but seemed to wince when he saw her. His face went back down and a hand came up to hold the top of his head as if he were afraid his brain would burst forth through his scalp.
"St. Alphage," he mumbled, "by the Wall. Not open anymore. People went away. They didn't care anymore. Couldn't keep the place up."
"I was thinking about something I said to you last week," Buffy said haltingly. "I said I thought it was worse when I was with you. But I don't think that's true. Or, at least, I don't know it's true. I don't know what it's like for you when I'm not around. It's just that you seem ... disturbed when I'm here. I thought maybe I was causing it."
"All Hallows, Lombard Street. They tore it down. Used the bits to build the one in North Twickenham. It's gone now."
"But you asked me to stay with you. I couldn't really do it right then, you know. I was trying to save Cassie -- the girl. You helped -- but it didn't help. Tried my best, and so did you, but she died anyway."
"St. Albans on Wood Street. It burnt out when the bombs came. Wasn't the first time. Burnt in the Great Fire too. But this time they didn't put it back up. Just the tower now."
Buffy could hear the words, sitting this close to him, but she wasn't getting any sense from them. He'd been so sharp. His words could cut like razors. He'd look at her and see the truth, no matter what façade she put up to hide herself. Now the words just tumbled out and scattered -- no sense, no purpose. He was just making sounds. He was disheveled, dirty, unwashed. Spike had always attended to his hygiene. It hurt to see him this way.
"I wish I knew what to say to you to make you better. I'm supposed to do that, you know. It's my job. Listen to the students, talk to them and make them better. But I don't have a clue. They come and talk to me and I'm never sure whether they're baring their souls or scamming me. I don't have your ability to see through people. So I just sit there and listen and try to look like I care. I think I care. I want to care..."
"St. Giles, Cripplegate. Bombs got that one too. Germans rained fire. And St. Giles was no more."
"I'm afraid sometimes. I'm afraid I'm not up to this. I'm afraid I can't really help -- I'm just mucking around. I think, why are these young people coming to me? What could I possibly offer them? I'm not that much older than they are. It's not like I'm this wonderful success story for them to copy. What the hell am I doing here?"
"St Ethelberga the Virgin in Bishopsgate. Bomb got that one too, but not in the war. Only a little while ago."
"I wonder if you can even hear me?" Buffy said sadly.
"I CAN HEAR YOU!"
Buffy startled. He was looking straight at her, his blue eyes wide and intense.
"What do you want?" he said, his voice angry.
"You need information?"
"No. Not right now."
"I'll help you."
"I don't need any help right now. But thanks."
"Why are you here?"
"I... I thought you might like some company."
The fire drained out of his eyes and his head sank back down. The hand came back up to grasp the top of his skull.
"If I'm bothering you, I'll go," Buffy said in a tiny voice.
"The oranges and lemons. You have to have both. Can't do with just one."
"Right, oranges *and* lemons. I'll remember that."
"When will you pay me?"
"Maids in white aprons."
Something about that rang a bell.
"Oranges and lemons," Buffy repeated. "Ring the bells of St. Clemens."
Spike nodded in satisfaction. "Old father bald pate."
"Ring the bells at Aldgate. It's a nursery rhyme. I remember that. When will you pay me, ring the bells at Old Bailey. When I am rich, ring the bells at Fleetditch." Buffy smiled, pleased to have cracked the puzzle.
"You're talking about churches, aren't you?"
"Remembering the ones that ain't there. Somebody has to remember. Gone. Nobody prays there. Nobody's saved."
"Churches you remember from when you were alive..."
"St Mary Aldermanbury. Nothing but rubble."
"Spike... is it better or worse for you when I'm here? Because if I'm making it worse, I can go away."
"Not worse," he said, his hand rubbing the top of his head.
"Good. Because I don't want to make it worse for you." Her voice wavered as her throat tightened. "If I could make it better, I would."
She wanted to reach out and touch his face, but she remembered how he'd flinched away when she tried to touch him back at the church. Her hand started to move toward him, but she pulled it back. She fought back a sob. There was so much she wanted to say, but she knew that if she started saying the things on her mind, she'd be dredging up all the things that hurt him. She'd be talking to make herself feel better while pouring salt in all his wounds.
She looked away, the sight of his clear, blue eyes more than she could bear. But she looked back again -- she owed him that much. He deserved to be seen. He was holding out his hand to her.
She reached out and put her hand in his. His cool fingers closed around hers. They sat in silence for a little while, hand in hand, just looking at each other.
The grief that had overtaken her, the sense of loss, the feeling that he was beyond her reach and would never come back, flowed away. She could feel him here with her. He wasn't what he had been, and never would be again, but there was something else -- something nascent and innocent coming together where the vampire -- no man -- she had known had been.
"This is wrong," she whispered.
He cocked his head to the side to look at her, a gesture so reminiscent of the Spike she'd once known.
"You're comforting me. I came down here to see if I could comfort you."
"Yes. You're my light. I can see by you. Your radiance warms me. When you go, it's dark."
Buffy shook her head. "I don't see how you can see me that way, after all I've done."
"It's not what you've done. It's what you are."
"I don't deserve..."
"Yes, you do."
"Are you going to come back to me?"
"I'm here. This is my place. I've always been here."
He let go of her hand and started to rub his head again.
"They're coming. You have to go now."
"Spike, who is coming?"
"I have to be here for them. You have to go."
"Spike, focus. Who is coming?"
Buffy startled back from the force of his voice. She scrambled to her feet.
"I'll help you fight them!"
"No, no, no, no, no."
He curled in on himself and turned around so his back was to her. He rocked, beginning to hum a tune she didn't recognize.
She put a hand on his shoulder, but he didn't react to it. It didn't seem like he knew she was there anymore.
"Spike, I'm going to come back. I won't leave you alone."
He rocked and hummed, oblivious to her.
"I want you beside me," she said softly.