By Gwyneth Rhys
If I tell you...
Will you listen?
Lover alone without love
The light, the warmth. The air was thick around him, damp smell of moldering cardboard and laundry and cold concrete that had become like home now. Her home, now his home, refugee center and training camp and hostage hideout. She held them all around her, believing they belonged here, afraid and angry that they believed it, too. Spike could see her chest rise and fall, hand stretched out near him like a silvery branch reaching towards spring light.
He was dreaming. Or at least, he must have been dreaming, because she wouldn't come to him like this. The night waiting to seep into daybreak, coldest part of the day, too many people above and around to hear her mistakes in the silence of the earliest morning. But he blinked a few times and still she remained, hand connecting, skin passing electric charge like plug into socket, live. Alive. The shackles clanked as he reached up to settle his own rough fingers over hers.
"You don't need those anymore," Buffy said vehemently, and poured herself over him like warmed honey. Gently she undid the left, kissed the inside of his wrist, then slid the other one off, holding his hand in hers. Her heart beat against his chest, rhythm of mercy and life, and Spike could hear it in the blood moving through arteries and veins with the pulsing swooshing sound of a storm tide. No, of course he was dreaming. This would never happen.
She was barefoot, wearing only tight blue flares and the white white shirt. Lying wrapped around him like those dreams he'd given up on so long ago when he learned there were no dreams now, only hopeless wishes trapped tight inside his breast, a swollen heart. Hair that fell around his face like clouds as she pressed her cheek to his. Her fingers moved up and down his arm, burrowing under the fabric of the T-shirt, testing.
"Keep telling you it's safer this way," Spike finally said, after deciding that in a dream, something surreal and ludicrous would come out of his mouth instead, or Buffy would respond in a foreign language while changing into a hydra. Neither happened. Reality bent in directions it was never meant to.
"You're out of the woods now, I know it." Her voice like riddles, questions neither of them had ever dared ask, impossible to answer. "You brought me back tonight."
So this was her thank you, a taste once again of what had driven him here so long ago, but nothing more. Thank yous by their nature were never more than ephemeral. "Didn't. Thank Red for that. Although, on second thought, perhaps not this way." Her laugh against his body came in little wisps of wind, blowing across his chest and neck. When had she ever laughed with him? Now they talk like companions, touch like they've known each other for years.
"She couldn't have done it without what you did. We're a team." He wondered if she was inviting him, at last, telling him he was no longer an outsider. There it was, that incandescent spark of hope and desire, flaming inside his chest, an old wound.
"It's been so long..." he said, and wasn't certain what point in the past he was referring to, but maybe she would understand and explain it to him. "Something was missing. Took a while to find it."
"The coat," she said quietly, and lifted her head, nodding in the direction of the post where he'd hung it. "I think I liked it when it was gone. It's like... it reminds me of things..."
"I know." All this time he'd known she could never really forgive him, but he'd stupidly hoped it. A precious obsession that blinded him, leaving him vulnerable to that blade of disappointment aiming to slice down on his neck.
"No, not that," she cut him off bluntly. "Of us before. What we were like before, when we didn't know any better." Words freighted with past and future, a present so heavy he couldn't hold it.
Spike stayed silent, listening to her heart beat, the soft breath. Sucked down inside that Technicolor whirlpool, synesthesia of emotions in brilliant jewel tones, blood red and black heart, all their history together and separately.
"What did you see when you were there... wherever you were? You'll have to tell someone sometime."
"I can't talk about it."
The way her body tensed was as familiar to him as his name. Her muscles clenched tight, body quivering, and the harder she tried to pretend she wasn't afraid, the more she shook. Before he'd always let go of her when she was like that, pretended he was not her protector. She was afraid to be afraid. Instead he wrapped his arms around her this time, folding her inside what puny strength he had to offer. His arms and legs responding to their sense memory imprinted with the knowledge of her body and his together, one life. Spike cradled her and absorbed the shaking doubt as she peeled it away, onion-skin layers translucent and crumbling under his power.
"Talk about it anyway."
When she sighed he knew it wasn't the coat that had given him his strength tonight. It had been love, the very thing he'd been afraid he'd lost somewhere back there in Africa. The voyage of rediscovery to find his old self led him instead back to feelings he'd believed had long since rotted and died. Ancient relics of emotions for both, a world history away.
Tiny thin fingers threaded through his and squeezed tight. "They showed me something. A vision, I don't know if it's a true one or not. But hundreds -- maybe thousands -- of those vamps, the one the First conjured up. There's no way we could fight an army that large."
She didn't even know how casually she spoke these days. "You said 'we.'"
"Of course I did. Don't you know by now?"
He did, he did, but he daren't believe it.
"I want to tell you how I feel about you. But I don't know what to say. I want it to be different, but when I say things to you, they come out the same as they've always come out -- wrong and mean and cruel."
"Nothing I didn't deserve."
"That's not true anymore." Her voice had a cast to it, though, sharp like ground glass, piercingly frustrated. "Why won't you believe me?"
"I look at things through different eyes now. You saw that with him, you know what all of this... this soul and this knowledge means."
Buffy placed a kiss on his neck, ran her hand along the blade of his jaw. "You've been a part of my life now in so many ways, I don't know how to live it without you. I don't want to. I told you that."
It was her stolid determination that always tripped him up, left him blankly flailing at the ghostly mirage of love and affection she dangled somewhere out of reach. If she wasn't so serious about it, he could believe it was a joke.
"Not being ready to do without someone isn't the same as wanting them in your life. You're saying those things because you're afraid." Spike ran his hand up and down her back, felt her skin twitch; he wondered if it was out of revulsion or desire. It was hard to imagine a place where desire could have hidden, waiting all this time and after so much ugliness. "It's how you are, how you want to believe in things."
This was the difference now with them, even if he had changed in his own way, even if she was different in hers. Not the coat that mattered, not the skin of his self, not an attitude or a belief -- just simple words that she paid attention to. They listened now, like friends, like lovers.
"This job has made you grim. There's a girl under there somewhere, I've seen her, full of light and love. That's your greatest weapon, what you can inspire in others. It's what'll win it for you."
"You make it sound like you won't be around to see it. Stop that." Only for the first time in months, her voice was light and gentle.
"I've given up pretending that this was the right thing to do." It was his duty now, Spike felt, to steer her on a different course. There would always be jealousy and disappointment about the date and the principal, about knowing Buffy's future would lie in someone's hands other than his own, but he'd grown to accept it as he'd grown to accept the madness and the fear and everything else that had altered inside. He was alone in all this, nothing had really worked out as he'd planned, and now he was merely along for the ride as far as she'd let him go. No more illusions about what she meant to him; no more delusions about what he could mean to her.
And then she'd throw him the curveball, like now. Suddenly Buffy was looming above him, her sad eyes that turned down at the outside corners gleaming in the darkness, and her hands were on either side of his face. "In fairy tales someone's always kissing someone else to change them or fix something. Turn a frog into a prince, or wake someone from a coma or whatever. You've already changed so much." She brushed her lips against his softly, a phantom of a kiss, and gazed at him intently. "What, I wonder, will happen when I kiss you now? Will you change some more? Maybe into someone who believes in himself as much as I do?"
Buffy kissed him harder this time, her lips hot against his, opening his mouth to hers. Changing him again, no longer chrysalis wrapped inside the smothering cocoon of failure but butterfly stretching wet wings, waiting to be pulled up and away to the warmth of the day. Hearing the passion spoken on the tongue of a bird, musical language of joy and love even though he couldn't know the meaning. His arms held her fast to keep from falling off this cliff he stands upon the edge of.
When finally Buffy drew away, she smiled and said, "Hello." And he wondered what he looked like to her, so unused to his own appearance, still bemused by seeing himself when the First came to him in his own unaccustomed shape. All this time practicing cool detachment, and now he must look like the hopelessly hopeful, hungry animal he so didn't want to be.
Her head drooped to his chest, hands placed flat against his ribcage. "Spike," she whispered. "Do you still love me?"
When he couldn't answer, the silence felt thick and cold between them.
"Are you not answering because you don't know, or because you're afraid to tell me the answer?" A tinge of panic colored her voice.
"Both." The truth unvarnished, something he hadn't even known until just that moment.
Her fingers circled lazily around his body. Sometimes when she thought about things, it was like he could hear it ticking in her head. There was a deliberateness and caution about her that had always amused him. "If you think about it, will you know for sure? I can wait. There's time."
Spike chuckled. "Haven't got any of that, luv. No. Answer's the same as it's always been -- I do love you still. It's different, but still there."
"Everything's different now," she said, raising her head to kiss him.
His hands tangled in her gossamer hair and she drew his shirt up, tracing nails over his skin. As she tugged it over his head he moved to stop her, but she lightly smacked his hand away, and kissed his neck, collarbone, chest, lingering where his heart should be. Shyness settled on him like the hand of a stranger, coldly unfamiliar.
Her warmth and passion were like a balm to his aching soul, though, and she touched him and purred at him in just the right way to ease him into it, make him respond in kind. An echo, reverberating inside some dark long tunnel of his past, but growing louder as she kept kissing him and moving her body against his. Spike was afraid to close his eyes, fear gnawing that when he opened them again she would be gone, his desperate manifestation vaporized by reality. But after he did close them and she covered each eyelid in kisses, he looked again and saw her there still, framed within his hands. The white blouse slid over her shoulders, bronze in the sodium lamplight that snuck through the basement window. He let his hands hover over her skin, absorbing her energy flow like some lustful shaman. Intoxicating him, hardening him, making his chest tighten with desire.
Buffy traced pecks of kisses down his chest, his stomach, sliding his jeans off as she covered his cock in more kisses before taking it in her mouth. Embarassment swirled around him, this act so casual before, now somehow inappropriate, unfamiliar. But not to her -- she knew how to make him respond the way she wanted, she loved this control and abandon. In her mind she had already been here, done this, ready and willing and able. So he relaxed into her passion, let her recover those memories.
Before it had always been raw and harsh, the way both of them needed it to be; now she was taking him down a different path, gently giving and cherishing. Buffy held him on the brink of climax for a while before she pulled herself up towards him, smiling as she slid him inside her, sweet wet hollow filled only by himself now. He sucked in a breath and she giggled at his shock. Spike couldn't find a place to put his hands, he wanted to touch her everywhere at once, and she arched her hips toward him, back and forth, rising and falling with his own. Just as he was about to come she locked his hips still with her thighs, kissed him deeply, and said, "See. We're good together. This is us, being good together." Buffy resumed her motion and Spike heard the words still reverberating in his head over the din of guilt and remorse. He let go and crashed off that cliff, a freefall into space, into her heart. The cool patina of sweat that covered her skin was his signal that she had climaxed at some point, he hadn't even noticed, so lost in this strange territory that he was oblivious to the old landmarks. Then she staightened over him, stretching legs down over his, leaving him still inside her.
They lay together quietly, both of them enveloped in the safety of silence. Such rare precious moments away from the bedlam of the household; even rarer moments of understanding and comfort in each other. It was easy to remember the time she came to him like this as his wounded enemy, far too easy to expect that she would get up now and leave, taking her pleasure with her and leaving him with resentment weighing on his heart. Instead she stayed, stroking fingers along his skin, the rise and fall of her chest making a soft harmony with the breeze outside.
So this, really, was human love and love returned, a soul flaring incendiary inside you, burning, transformation in flame and heat and light. The poets had got it wrong all those years; it wasn't bucolic pastorals and singing choirs of angels, it was fire so hot it melted the core of what you were, fused it to someone else.
The tangerine light of morning crept towards the edge of the window. Spike wasn't certain if it would be enough to have this only once; the First wasn't patient, after all, and would call on him again. In the same way that you become greedy for the power and the thrill of death once you're turned, you become desperate to know grace again when someone has bestowed it on you in a glancing blow of absolution. It turned you childish and weak, selfish and blind.
"Time you got upstairs, don't you think?" he asked. "Just imagine the hollering and staking if Rupes or Harris finds you down here. Though I think the girls might have a chuckle. Might make them see you in a more human light."
"No. This stays just between us for now. I don't wanna hear anyone telling me it's wrong."
That left him gobsmacked and she must have felt him tense with shock, because she sat up, pulling her hair over one shoulder, and smiled sadly at him. Then she reached down for her underclothes, but hesitated before pulling them back on. "I hate this sneaky thing. It's so last year. And plus? It's not the same, and it's not like we're cheating on someone or something."
Tracing his fingertips over her shoulder, Spike just "mm-hmmed" as she pouted prettily.
Christ, she had no idea what she was saying or doing, he was sure of it. Couldn't possibly know that she was some kind of alchemist, having turned dross to gold -- or at least her idea of gold -- just by letting him love her. She'd re-created him through her wounded hate and her terrified affection and need, yet she was completely oblivious of this magic trick she'd pulled off. The hiding she must have taken over removing his chip, the disdain she'd suffered for helping him, and she didn't even really see it all still. Didn't know what she was capable of.
He was nothing, a dirty, creased piece of blank paper under her feet, but she'd picked it up and twisted it, tender folds along this line and that, until he was transformed like an origami sculpture, colorful altered shape of something almost beautiful. He'd once told her that death was an art she made with her hands; now Spike could see that Buffy's hands created life, transformed it, just as easily.
It didn't even matter if tomorrow she pretended it hadn't happened. If all the harrowing steps he'd taken to get this far had taken him in the wrong direction. A butterfly doesn't stop to think if the work it did to achieve its few days of life were worth it; it just flew.
Spike watched her dress, lying back and enjoying the view. Buffy let him do the buttons of her shirt, and then covered his hands in her tiny ones. "Go back to sleep now." He didn't have the heart to tell her that he almost never slept anymore and hadn't been sleeping tonight when she came down here. She needed this illusion he was normal. Pressing her cheek to his, Buffy's lips grazed his ear. "No more doubts, okay?"
Nodding, he let go of her hand. When she reached the top of the stairs, she turned back to him, haloed in the light, glowing like his angel, his Lucifer temptation. Her sad smile was a consecration of everything he'd done for her. Even without the chains around his wrists, he was bound to her, shackled here forever. Prisoner of her light, willing and free.
The lyrics at the beginning belong to Frou Frou, "Dumbed-Down Love."