Disclaimer: These characters don't belong to me. This fic, however, is mine. Please don't take it without my permission.
He liked a good-natured banter as well as the next bloke ... well, probably better, in fact. But lately these had just been getting ... mean. Last time, she'd gotten in a really good shot, and it was still smarting. He didn't feel up to another round, didn't feel up to putting on his Big Bad attitude -- like nothing she said hurt him -- didn't feel like saying mean things to her, ... didn't feel like playing the whole tired scene again, not when he just wanted her to crawl back into bed and wrap her warm arms around him and softly kiss him awake.
Stupid thoughts. Never gonna happen.
Stupid, idiotic, bloody moronic daydreams. The reality was, she wasn't even his friend anymore. Maybe she never was, but for a while there it had seemed like it. She'd really talked to him sometimes, especially after she'd come back. Looked into his eyes, even, and talked about stuff that mattered. But now she never sought him out to talk about her troubles. Now, she was either abusing him, or she was shagging him senseless ... nothing in between. Not that he was complaining about the shagging, mind you, but ... he was getting a bit tired of hearing about how disgusting he was, whenever she didn't have her tongue thrust down his throat. Or wrapped around his ...
No. Not gonna think about that right now.
The rustling noises had stopped. Spike lay very still. Was she gone? Was she looking at him? Was she remembering the pleasures of last night, or cursing herself for coming to him, or wishing she'd brought a stake to put an end to all her troubles? 'Cause, yeah, she didn't talk to him about her troubles anymore because -- the way she saw it -- he probably was her troubles.
He heard a sad little sighing sound, and then a quiet mutter that sounded like "an animal ... a thing" and then he couldn't smell her anymore. She was gone.
He rolled over in bed and pressed his face into the pillow she'd used. It still smelled of her hair, and he cursed himself for a fool for still loving that smell, still loving her.
Later that afternoon, Spike was reclining morosely on the couch in front of the telly when Dawn popped in after school. Without knocking, of course. Like slayer like sis.
"Whatcha watching? Ewwww ... Disney?" She tossed her backpack on the floor, plopped down beside him, and grabbed the remote right out of his hand. Such cheek!
"Hey! I was watchin' that!" Spike grumbled when she changed the channel to some idiotic music video with synchronized dancing pretty-boys. Bunch of prancing poofs.
Dawn eyed him curiously and asked, "What's your prob? Did you really want to watch ... what was it?" She changed the channel back. "Beauty and the Beast? Pathetic much?"
Spike scowled, and she turned off the television. "What's wrong? You've been in a bad mood all week ... longer!" She crossed her thin arms over her chest and peered disapprovingly at him. "And watching all these maudlin movies! I mean, really! Yesterday it was An Affair to Remember! What guy likes that movie?"
Spike glared at her, "What I do in my own damned crypt in't really your business, now is it? And I'm not a 'guy,' remember? I'm a vampire! An animal! A thing! An evil, big bad vampire animal thing!" He growled unconvincingly. "And who the hell cares what movies I watch?" He was pouting now, and he could tell, but couldn't seem to stop.
Dawn rolled her eyes, "Sheesh. I care, you moron. I'm your friend, remember? What's up with you lately?"
Faced with her persistent gaze, Spike just let out a heavy sigh and rubbed his hands over his face, wishing he had a drink. Bourbon would be nice.
Glancing up into her wide eyes, Spike asked, "What do you think would've happened if he didn't change?"
Dawn blinked. "Huh? What are we talking about? Cary Grant? How did he change? Like when he got old and ... hey, is he dead?"
Spike rolled his eyes, "Not bloody Cary Grant ... the beast. What do you think would've happened if he hadn't changed at the end? If he'd just stayed a beast? What would Belle have done?"
Scrunching up her nose in thought, Dawn smirked at him, "There's a point here somewhere, right? Okay ... well ... I don't know ... I guess I think Belle would have stayed with him, I mean if he hadn't died. Because she'd already decided that she loved him, when she thought he was a monster. That's what broke the spell -- right?"
Nodding quickly, Spike insisted, "But what if it didn't break the spell, what if he just stayed a big ugly monster?"
Crossing her arms again, Dawn insisted, "He wasn't ugly! He was kind of cute, especially when he was all dressed up for the dancing, and when they were in the snow, and when he gave her the library, and all that ..."
Spike sighed impatiently, "Never mind."
"Okay, okay ... yeah, I still think Belle would have stayed with him, and they would have lived happily ever after and she would have had his little furry beastbabies. Why are we talking about a Disney cartoon? Are you taking a poll?"
Rolling his eyes, Spike mocked with effort, "Yeah, for Demons Quarterly. I write a regular column."
"Hey, ya know, I'm supposed to meet Tara at the mall in a little bit for a movie. Want to come with us? We're seeing the new Jim Carrey, so I'm not sure if it'll be depressing enough for you, but please come! Pleeeease? I know Tara won't mind. And you could come through the tunnels to meet us there. Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeease?"
Oh no. The puppy dog eyes. And she was sort of bouncing slightly on the couch while giving him the puppy dog eyes. Resistance was futile.
A couple hours later, Spike found himself strolling beside Tara and Dawn through the darkened streets of Sunnydale with his usual cocky step, telling himself he was just seeing them home safely. They dropped off Dawn first, and both Spike made sure to keep hidden from the windows at the front of the house, lest Buffy think he was angling for an invitation. He hadn't seen her since last night, since she'd fallen asleep in his arms after sighing and panting and screaming his name so many times he'd lost count.
Nope. Not gonna think about that.
He noticed the blond witch was keeping out of sight of the house, too. Made him feel a little less alone, in a weird way. Dawn hugged him tightly and kissed him on the cheek before she ran off to the front door and went inside. Spike shrugged his shoulders slightly to Tara in embarrassment, but she just smiled softly in return, "She loves you."
He looked away, at the few stars visible in the sky, then back at Tara's face. "Time to get you home, Wicca. Never know what kind of nasties might be lurking about." He smiled slightly.
"Actually," Tara began uncomfortably, "I was sort of hoping to talk to you. A-about Buffy. And Willow and Dawn, too, but mostly about Buffy. I think something is wrong."
Spike shoved his hands into the pockets of his duster and started walking in the direction of the blond witch's new apartment, "Think you've got the wrong bloke for that one."
Tara followed him, reaching out a hand to tentatively touch his arm, "Please?" He stopped walking and looked back at her, his eyes hooded and unreadable. "You're the only one Buffy's really seemed ... connected to since she ... since she came back. You're the only one she really talks to, the only one she seems to really trust. Is she worrying about Willow, or Dawn? Is it ... just ... the ... back from heaven thing? O-or is something else going on? She just seems ... off. Different. And I've been worried."
Spike's brief and bitter laugh was her only answer for a few moments, as he leaned his blond head back to gaze again at the faint stars above them. When he spoke, she had to lean closer to hear his quiet murmur, "Just about solstice time, innit, Wicca? Time for things to change. Pagan rituals, all that."
Tara watched him patiently, until he finally turned to meet her eyes again, his own still dark and unfathomable. He didn't say anything for a long time.
Suddenly, Tara blinked, her mouth forming a little 'o' of surprise. "D-d-did something ... did something happen between you and Buffy?"
Spike's bitter smile was her only answer. After several more moments, him watching the stars, her watching him, he answered quietly, "Guess you could say that."
Tara nodded slowly, "And ... she's scared? Because of all the stuff that happened in her past? And ... m-maybe ... maybe she's not being so nice to you? More than usual, I mean?"
Spike's coat billowed around him as he turned in shock toward the blond witch, "Bloody hell! You reading minds now, blondie?"
Tara touched his arm again gently, "I just ... I don't talk so much. I hear more. I see what's going on. It must be scary to her to feel close to you, when you're what everyone else tells her she's supposed to hate. And ... you ... you m-maybe ... you maybe think maybe she's right."
Spike shook his head in disbelief, "Christ, why are you doing this? What do you care?"
Tara smiled softly, "I spent most of my life thinking I was a demon, that no one would ever love me, that I couldn't have a normal life. I ... I know a little bit about how you might feel."
Spike lowered his head slightly, "Yeah, I guess maybe you do."
Her hand light but warm, even through the leather of his coat, Tara prompted gently, "But you're making sure she sees the rest of you, right? Not just the demony part? Y-you ..."
She hesitated while Spike squirmed uncomfortably, intently examining the grass at the border of the sidewalk now.
"Y-you're still ... you've told her you love her, right? You're still there for her, right?"
His hands fisted in the pockets of his duster, Spike growled, "Yeah, I told her I loved her ... right after she threw me into a sodding chimney and told me I was pathetic and worthless to demons and humans alike. Right before she grabbed me and kissed me and ..." He broke off suddenly with a mirthless smile. "Well, we don't need to tell campfire tales with all the details, now do we, pet?"
Tara blushed brightly, "N-no, probably not. But ... Spike ... look at me ..." The blond vampire finally looked back at her face and his eyes were shining with unshed tears. Bloody hell. Pathetic and worthless was right, he thought.
"Spike," she watched his eyes closely, "does she still know you love her? I mean, does she really know? Are you sure? Is there any possibility that she's confused? Have you talked about this all since it happened?"
Spike glanced guiltily at Tara, then back up at the stars. "Well, uh, we've mostly traded insults along the lines of 'You're just convenient' and 'Vampires get you hot,' that sort of thing."
If it was possible, Tara blushed even more brightly. Spike could feel the heat radiating off of her skin in the shadowy light of the residential street. The heat became even more noticeable when she leaned toward him, urgency in her tone, "Tell her, Spike. Make her see. Make her remember the rest of you. That's not all you are. We all saw that while she was gone. She saw that before she ... left. She saw that when she came back. Show her, make her see it."
She paused for a moment, then finished quietly, "I know you love her, and you're a good man, Spike. What you did for her, and for Dawn after she was gone ... the way you worked with us ... you deserve to be happy." And after one more brief pause, even more quietly, "So does she, even if she doesn't believe it." Then, even more quietly, so quietly that only a vampire would have heard it, "Take a chance, Spike."
Spike watched the stars for long silent moments, aware of the woman next to him, aware of the kindness she'd offered, a rarity in his decades of experience. When he was sure his emotions were under control, he rested one cool hand briefly on Tara's warm one on his coat, then let go again. "Let's get you home safe and sound, magic girl," he said softly, and then offered his arm in an old-fashioned gesture. Tara moved her hand so that she was holding his arm gently, and he gallantly guided her down the street toward her new home.
Later that night, Buffy's mouth was full of toothpaste when Dawn's auburn hair and pale face appeared behind her in the bathroom mirror. "Heyevheapivacy?" She asked around her industriously scrubbing toothbrush.
Dawn eyed Buffy in the mirror and asked her, "Do you think Belle would have stayed with the Beast at the end, if he hadn't gotten turned into a prince. I mean, if he'd stayed a monster?"
Buffy blinked. "Wha?" The toothbrush had stilled its movements. She spat into the sink and turned to look at her younger sister. Buffy shook her blond head in confusion, "What are you talking about?"
Dawn insisted, "Beauty and the Beast. It's a poll. Do you think Belle would have ditched him, or would she have stayed with him, even though he stayed a beast?"
Buffy rolled her eyes and put a bit more toothpaste on her brush, "I so do not have time for this, Dawnie. Get ready for bed ... you've got that test tomorrow." And she began brushing her teeth again.
A week later, Buffy lay still, trying not to move her eyes behind her eyelids. She was pretending that she was still asleep as she reached out with her senses to locate Spike in the chilly subterranean crypt. Some small noise had wakened her, but she wasn't sure what it was. Perhaps a door closing? Perhaps he had left? It didn't feel like he was in the bed with her, and she couldn't hear much around her ...
She nearly sighed with relief, but kept still, just in case she was wrong. Last night had been savage and desperate and intense. She wasn't ready to see him ... knew she'd say something even more hurtful than usual because she was feeling more vulnerable. God ... this had to stop. It had to. It was so wrong. Why did she keep coming here? He would never be anything but a monster, a "creature of the night," as he liked to put it. But ... wait ... wasn't she sort of a creature of the night, too? That was beside the point. Spike is a vampire, she reminded herself sternly and silently, evil evil bad guys, vampires. Kill them, not kiss them and touch them and ...
So not going there.
Well, it seemed like he was really gone, so she wouldn't have to brace herself for the post-coital insult-fest. If she could just find her clothes and get home ...
But as she began to come more completely awake, she began to perceive strange sounds around her. The tiny flickerings of candles? He'd lit candles before he left? That was odd. And when she moved beneath the sheets, things didn't feel quite right.
Buffy opened her eyes to see the crypt lit by dozens of fat red and white candles, illuminating a strange collage of red and white around her. Pieces of white paper of various sizes were taped to the walls, lying on the floor, piled on top of her in the bed, placed on the pillow beside her. Bright red rose petals mingled with the white paper as they slid across the sheets and onto her skin, making her shiver slightly at their softness. When she moved her head, rose petals and tiny daisies fell from her hair, some of the daisies tangled there where they'd been intertwined with strands of her hair.
What was all this? And how had he done this without waking her? On the table beside her, a white porcelain bowl held several succulently red strawberries. Mmmm ... breakfast. She suddenly realized she was hungry. And no wonder, given last night. But she'd already decided not to think about that, hadn't she?
She sat up slightly and took a strawberry, which was delicious and sweet. At the same time, she reached for one of the pieces of paper beside her on the bed. It seemed to be a poem:
I love to see your trusting hazel eyes
As you relax yourself into my care.
I love to stroke your golden, silken hair
And share with you your laughter and your cries.
I know that I am one you yet despise
And yet your precious tears with me you share --
I'm gifted, just to hold a jewel so rare,
So good, so bright, and also growing wise.
Sometimes I watch you sleeping and I see
The gentle woman 'neath the brave and strong.
I wish this world would simply get along
Without you, and set your sweet spirit free ...
In freedom, you yourself could choose what's wrong
And it might not include your loving me.
Eating another large strawberry, looking around her with startled eyes, Buffy picked up another sheet of paper, and another, and another. Some were snippets of songs; others --many -- simply read, "I love you, Buffy Summers" in Spike's elegant, old-fashioned hand; others contained brief descriptions of things he found beautiful about her; others described past experiences they two had shared, and told what the moment had meant to Spike. But many, many were poems ... so many poems ... some even she could tell were terrible, others made her cry ... but ... so many poems ... and all about her! One had a title written at the top, or what seemed to be a title, which read "At Least":
In nights of passion, my heart she does take
And squeezes me so tight, so warm, so near
I know eventually my heart will break --
For one thing has become painfully clear:
'Tis I, the vampire who has cause to fear
When at the slayer's touch I feel this shiver --
'Tis I who sheds a secret, hidden tear
When my body responds: a helpless quiver.
My heart can feel no blame but does forgive her --
Her instincts, teachings, tell her I can't feel.
She cannot see emotions like a river
Flowing through me -- To her they are not real.
She looks at me and sees naught but a beast ...
But I have had these precious nights, at least.
Spike woke suddenly in his bed, not knowing what time it was, but hearing a noise above him in the crypt. He drew on a pair of black jeans and walked barefoot to the ladder, peering upward and listening. Some quiet sound was coming from above, as if someone were rustling papers and talking softly. And then he recognized it ... Buffy's voice ... one of his poems ... she was reading it aloud in the crypt. He leaned his head against the ladder and silently listened, his every muscle tight with nervousness:
"You come to me to help you learn to live
Again in this world, loud and hard and bright.
To do so, you must learn too to forgive,
To re-embrace what your heart feels is right.
I know that this is hard, this endless fight
Against my kind, the evil, cold, undead,
But as we battle demons in the night
I long to help you rest your weary head.
And in those nights, with our personas shed,
We touch our hands together, friend to friend,
And as I hold you in our passion's bed,
It's some of my own strength I try to lend.
There's room for you to hurt, to need, to grieve --
I'm here. I'll hold you. And I'll never leave."
By the end of the last line, Buffy's voice was oddly muffled. Spike steeled himself, and began slowly climbing the ladder until his head peeked above the surface into the shadowed room. Buffy was standing near the door, holding several sheets of paper, her eyes wide and dark, tears shining thinly upon her cheeks.
They stared at each other silently as Spike slowly finished his ascent, stepping onto the stone floor of the crypt and facing her, tension and vulnerability evident in his posture and even in the simple state of his near-nakedness. He saw Buffy swallow subtly.
"Do you ..." Buffy began, then coughed, clearing her throat awkwardly. She glanced quickly at Spike's eyes then down at the papers in her hands, glowing whitely in the dimness. "Do you ... do you think that ... Belle would have stayed with Beast at the end of the movie?"
Spike blinked. "What?" His voice was quiet, tense as it echoed from the corners of the tomb.
Buffy glanced up at his face and watched his eyes warily, holding his gaze this time, though uncertainly. "Do you think she would have stayed with him, even though he was a monster? Even ... even if he hadn't been human? Do you think she could have really loved him anyway?"
Watching her face closely, Spike asked softly, "What do you think, love?"
Buffy nodded slightly, almost imperceptibly, but his heart sang at the subtle movement. "Yeah," she whispered, watching his eyes, "I think maybe she could."