VAGUE DISCLAIMER: The characters belong to Joss and co.
CONTEXT: Try a Little Tenderness assumes some time has passed after Hells Bells and everything else follows on from there, in total denial of any reality that Joss & co create.
DISTRIBUTION: If you want to link to this, or put this on your site, it's only fair to me that you let me know…..
At least the answer makes sense. It's a place. She can get there. Dawn is staring at her from the other side of the room, a question in her eyes. She decides there's no time to explain. She should hurry. So that's what she does. She hurries out the front door and down the street. Bizarrely she's thinking that she should have learnt to drive. Should have got him to teach her to drive. Maybe she should run? Running, she can do it in five minutes if she pushes herself. She starts to run. Thinks "This can't be slayer speed," and presses her body harder, but she can't keep pace with her mind, which is sprinting ahead, vaulting over the wall, weaving through the tombs. She knows the shortest route door to door, of course she does. Suddenly her breath is coming in gulps and her heart is pounding her ribs faster than her feet pound the pavement, faster than those racing thoughts speeding in front of her, throwing up mirages and nightmares of what's ahead.
And then she really is vaulting the wall and when she lands her legs almost give way as if they don't want to take her any further towards this thing. Oh God. Can't handle this. Arms, legs, heart still pumping, but uncontrollable twitches, trembles in her muscles like maybe just once she'd pushed them too hard, or maybe…. Oh God. Door's off its hinges. Xander, cell phone in hand.
"I phoned Tara," he says, but she's already dropping through the trapdoor, a clear jump and then more with the legs refusing to hold her up. So much blood. How could anyone have that much blood in them?
It's like someone's punctured him, shaken him up and used him to spraypaint the room. His discarded body has been flung into a corner. Willow crouches over it. She's got blood on her jeans, blood on her hands. She's kneeling in it. How will they ever be able to mop it all up and squeeze it back into him if Willow sticks her dirty great boots in it?
Willow looks up. "There's no sign of life," she says. "But I don't know what to look for. How -- how can you tell?"
Somehow Buffy gets across the room. There seems to be a thin film of blood on everything, pools of it on the floor. She lets her weak knees sag to the ground. That's done it, she's sat in his blood too. Now what will they do?
"He's not dust," she says.
"I think he's dead, Buffy -- I mean really dead."
"He's not dust." Buffy slides down to sit between his legs. Leans in. Makes herself look. Oh God. This is beyond Glory, beyond cruelty. William the Bloody. Except none of it seems to be inside him anymore. The worst of it is his face -- it's almost unscathed, but his eyes have rolled up into his head. She's seen his eyes blue and she's seen his eyes black. She's coloured them black and blue herself, and every shade of purple. Now, finally they're white, blank as statue eyes, as the eyes of a death mask. Nobody home.
"He's not dust." She says it again, and then: "I've been here before. I know what to do."
Willow looks at her. "Maybe we should let him go, like -- like I should have let you go." Doesn't she realise that's not an option?
"He won't go to heaven," she says harshly.
"We don't know that, Buffy. Maybe the soul of the man -- the man that he once was, will finally be released into a heaven dimension. We don't know." Yeah, well so Willow learns her lesson and Buffy gets to stand in Willow's shoes. Nice dramatic reversal. Thank you, Powers that Be -- and just fuck off, she thinks. Quit messing with my life.
"Willow, please, I need to be alone with him." And after that it doesn't matter whether Willow stays or goes because it's just her and him. Or her and his body - his empty, soulless, bloodless corpse. It makes her think of her mother's body. All dead things look the same, like a mockery of life. And suddenly she thinks that he never was a dead thing until today. He was full of life. So now she's got to fill him full of life again. Set him going. Oh God. She wraps her legs round his waist and pulls him into her so that his head lolls against her shoulder. Hard to do this in a businesslike way, but she's going to try.
"William," she whispers. His left hand falls against her thigh. She can almost imagine it's a caress, but there's no force behind it, no volition. She shifts him slightly, pulls her hair free and bares her neck.
"Come on, William," she whispers. "You need to feed." She's completely unprepared when he convulses, arching backwards out of her arms, head cracking against stone. Was that a muscle spasm, a death throe, or is he saying no to her? She scrutinises him, slumped limp and lifeless against the wall, then slowly she begins to peel off his T shirt. It comes away in sticky rags, carved into manageable segments like his flesh. It's pitifully easy to unwrap him and she finds herself murmuring, "Poor William," over and over until she's done.
She pulls off her own T shirt and draws him close again, pressing the cold, bloody mess of his torso against her, letting him feel her down the length of him. "OK, let's try again." She wraps her arms around him, one hand stroking up and down his spine, the other reaching for the back of his neck so she can position him, It's laborious. She has to brace her back against the dead weight of him and her hair keeps getting in the way. There, that's it. She can feel his mouth against her jugular. She pictures the artery jumping against his cold lips.
"Feel that?" she whispers. Her hand's ready at the back of his neck when he jerks away. "I knew you were there."
Soft against her throat he mumbles "I gotta go, Buffy."
Oh God. "Don't go," she whispers. "I know you won't hurt me. I know you won't take too much. I want you to have it."
"No," he sighs, and tries again to shudder out of her arms.
Why does he have to be so difficult now? Can't he see that it's just not possible for her to let him go? She tries to relax her arms. Remembers the night when she smashed Angel's face to force him to feed. But this sunny morning in SunnyHell violence isn't going to work. Not on this one. He's too far gone. Floating away from her, almost out of reach. She tightens her grip on him. Oh God, why does she have to be such an iron fist. Why can't she be the velvet glove? Where did all her kindness go?
It's like heaven out here. Sunshine and birdsong and a blistering blue expanse of sky. Like heaven, but not quite heaven, because after all this is the hell mouth so - hey - it's actually got much more in common with hell. They sit in the doorway to the crypt, sunk in their own thoughts, waiting for Tara.
Willow straightens and nudges Xander out of his reverie. "Dawn."
She's all out of breath as she runs up, but the instant she pulls to a stop she starts kicking her heels as if this is the most casual of encounters. "Buffy ran off without saying where she was going, so I -- hey!" she says, noticing Willow's clothes, "Have you been painting? Is Spike decorating or something? Looks like his choice of colour, very psycho killer."
"Um, Dawnie…." Willow swallows. "Maybe you should wait for Buffy at home."
"What's wrong?" she instantly wants to know. "Why are you two here? Where's Spike?"
"Spike's dead," says Xander. Just call me blunt man, he thinks. Certainly can't be the sharpest tool in the box or I wouldn't be sitting here while my best friend rolls around in a bloodbath with a wasted vamp.
Dawn is unphased. "Yeah well, I like him that way. He's a vampire. He's supposed to be dead."
"We don't know he's dead," says Willow. "We don't know anything. I just think we shouldn't mess with things we don't understand."
"What do you mean dead?" Dawn suddenly snaps to attention. "Did someone dust him? Is that his blood? Where is he? Let me in. Let me go inside and see him."
No. Both Willow and Xander are quite adamant about this. They rise as one to block the door. Spike in his present state isn't a fit sight for anyone's eyes, let alone those of a motherless teenager with a social services case file. No. No Spike oggling will be tolerated. None whatsoever.
Xander tries to calm things down. He gestures them all back onto the doorstep. "Either Spike's dead, or he's dying," he said. "We don't know. But Buffy's with him."
"Well, I want to be with him too."
"Sometimes grown-ups need to be alone together," says Willow.
Dawn rolls her eyes heavenwards. "Have you done some soul-swop mojo with Xander because you're speaking his lines. Besides if Spike's dying, he's not going to be in the mood to -- what was it?" She glances at Xander. "Oh yes, 'be tender'." She makes big with the air quotes. "And he's certainly not going to want to 'be tender' with Buffy. She wouldn't know tender if it hit her over the head with a freight train."
"Dawn!" Willow is scandalised. "Buffy's a really kind and loving person. I mean a-aside from the saving the world stuff. She really cares about people. She really tries." She stares off into the distance. There's something wrong with that last statement. Certainly Buffy tries. But she never used to have to try, she just was. "Anyway, right now she's trying to help Spike," she adds lamely.
Dawn isn't impressed. "How? By packing him on his way with a flea in his ear. That's what she usually does." She pauses, catches Xander's eye. Decides to pull out the big guns. "Mom died all alone," she says in a small voice. "I don't want Spike to die alone, or with Buffy. She hates him."
Xander sighs. Time to be an adult and with no promise of tenderness anywhere on the horizon. He wishes Anya were here to tell it like it is, to dish up the bare facts with a chaser of "Whoops, sorry. Should I have added some garnish?"
"Dawn," he takes her hand. "Much as I hate to say it, Buffy really cares about Spike. I don't know what she sees in him, but she sees something and she's scared as shit he'll die. I saw her face when she came through this door… So, sick vampire, lovesick slayer, you work out the math. I'll give you a clue. Drinks are on Buffy."
"You said you'd never leave me," she whispers. She can't quite remember whether this is true. He's said a lot of things, and mostly she just hasn't listened. But it feels true. It's the sort of thing he would have promised her if only she'd asked. She can imagine the conversation:
"Tell me you'll never leave me."
"You know I'll never leave you."
Simple as that. So why has she made such a mess of this? She's like a faulty compass, been pointing him in every direction but the right one. He doesn't know -- how can he possibly know how to behave. He looked to her to learn how to show her love and what did she show him? Self-loathing. It makes her squeeze her eyes shut and grimace when she thinks of it. He said that he was in love with her and she tossed him across the room. He asked her to talk to him and she showed him her back. He begged her to explain and she used her fists and her feet to explain just what an obscenity she thought he was.
Oh God, Oh God. How has she fucked this up? Did he offer her something beautiful and did she pervert it? Did she beat it to a bloody pulp? Did she do this? No. No. It was a demon.
She takes a deep breath. Tries again. "You said you'd never leave me." His lips press limp and mute against her throat. No answer. Nobody home.
Tara peers down into the shadows below, then quietly closes the trapdoor.
"You're right," she says. "Buffy's trying to get him to feed off her." She comes back to stand next to Willow beside the sarcophagus. "Doesn't look like she's having much success."
"Can't you just do a healing spell?" says Dawn.
Tara shakes her head. "This is Buffy's deal. " She clears her throat, "Um, she -- she's got quite a heavy scene going on down there and it's going to get complicated and dangerous very quickly if we start piling witchcraft on top of it."
"Slayer's blood," snorts Xander. He kicks the fridge open and peers inside. "Tipple of choice for vamps the world over. You'd think he'd keep a supply in the fridge."
He turns and looks at the three women -- well, two women and a mystic key who's doing a very convincing impression of a sullen teenager. They've all crossed their arms. He gets the feeling they're going to resist any sort of intervention.
"That's Buffy down there," he reminds them. Tara chews her lip. Dawn fiddles with her hair. Willow narrows her eyes and looks resolute -- about what? About standing there and doing absolutely nothing?
"Please," he says. "Work with me here. We know the plot line and I for one don't want to watch the reruns. So Plan A: do we let dead boy drain her dry and then risk the mad hospital dash which may or may not be successful? Or Plan B: do we go down there now and stop him while she's still in with a chance?
"OK, let's say he's still alive and able to feed," says Willow. "You want to be the one to kill him, Xander?"
Xander thinks how less than an hour ago he and Willow came calling, all civilised and Scoobie-like, to see if Spike had any information about Carver demons. Well, yeah, as it turned out Spike knew all about Carver demons, he had all the information anyone could want -- information that was up to date, hands-on and impressively encyclopaedic. In fact what Spike didn't know about Carver demons wasn't worth knowing. He told them that Carvers were killing machines That they came equipped with every implement in a butcher's armoury. That they beat you with tenderizers and pierced you with skewers. That they sliced you and diced you and generally hacked you around until you were quite dead. He explained all this without once opening his mouth. He just let the facts speak for themselves while he scared the shit out of them with the whites of his eyes.
"No," says Xander. "I don't want to kill him. He's been carved up quite enough already." He slams the fridge door shut and strides around the crypt, rummaging through Spike's stuff.
"So let's reject Plans A and B as equally unacceptable and proceed with another plan, which in my case is Plan AB." He unearths a couple of pint glasses and a kiss the librarian mug. "Hey, didn't we give that to Giles a couple of Christmasses ago?"
No reply from the intransigent trio over by the sarcophagus. He sighs and digs in his pocket. Produces a Swiss army knife. Knew it would come in handy one day. "OK," he says, rolling up his sleeve. "If you'd like to queue nicely, Nurse Harris will show you how it's done. This is blood donation in the field, so to speak, so no whining about unsterile procedures, and absolutely no fainting, please."
He looks up at them. There's a general uncrossing of arms and unclenching of teeth. Willow even claps.
"Yay, Xander! I'm in," crows Dawn.
She feels like she's all played out. No more options, no more games. It's getting more and more difficult to keep her panic under control. She tries to shift her neck invitingly under his lips.
"Spike," he murmurs.
She burrows her forehead into his shoulder, willing herself to stay calm. "I know you're Spike," she whispers. "But underneath all the big bad bravado, underneath all the kick-ass crap, there's this thing inside you that you hide, and sometimes I catch a glimpse of it and -- it's William to me. And he's so full of love he takes my breath away. I know he'll give me anything. He'll forgive me anything. And I want him so much but I'm so afraid of him because he can destroy me -- because maybe I'm beneath him and maybe one day he'll see that and he'll leave me."
His lips part against her throat. The tiny hairs on the back of her neck stand up as if his breath has passed over them. She knows that, except for talking and smoking, he only breathes when he's excited or upset. His tongue flicks across the pulsing blue vein in her neck and then his lips close and he's still. Oh God, what do women do when their babies won't feed? How desperate do they feel? Do they feel as desperate as this? Panic rises like a bubble inside her. She tries to clamp it down but it bursts out of her throat in a great gasping sob.
"Please don't leave me."
Oh God. She clenches her jaw, trying to gulp back the hysteria before it overwhelms her, blinking back tears and staring over his shoulder at the grimy bloodstained wall. This is a terrible place. She thinks she can't breathe. She's been here before. She can't breathe.
"You know I want you." It comes out in a desperate gasp. "You know I need you. How can I tell you I love you when that's your cue to leave?"
"Everyone leaves." She can't seem to speak except in harsh ragged cries. Oh God, take a deep breath…. "Now you're leaving and I love you and I don't know what to do."
She's aware of his fingers curling at her waist, weak as a baby. His lips mumble against her neck, tiny nuzzlings. He's so helpless and now she's so lost in grief and despair that she can't help him any more.
Blunt human teeth scrape across her pulse point and without warning his fangs descend and he penetrates her and she can surrender to relief, abandoning herself in a storm of tears, laughing through her sobs, totally incoherent. She calls him her baby, her love, her honey, her sweetheart, all the words he's lavished on her. Words he's twisted into taunts, corkscrewed up into his sarcastic remarks. Words she wouldn't let him deliver to her any other way. Now she gives them all back straight and honest. They flow out of her without a by-your-leave. She rests her head on his shoulder and lets herself shake like a leaf. Lets herself moan. Lets herself go.
She feels his arm snake up through her hair to cradle her head. His other arm circles her and draws her even closer. She can't see his face, but she can feel his cheekbone sharp against her own, she can feel the contours of his mouth pressing against her, the rhythmic pressure of his lips and tongue. And as the sucking grows stronger and more insistent, she realises he's wearing a man's face to drink her blood.
It's Tara that draws the short straw and gets to serve up Spike's Scoobie blood. In fact, they don't bother to draw straws; she just lands the job by default. Of course Dawn wants to do it, but there's a general consensus that this would somehow be inappropriate. Xander's in agreement, but somehow fails to understand how come Dawn is the only one to be protected from monstrous and disturbing sights. He's impressionable, he's sensitive, he's prone to nightmares too. Willow dithers. So in the end Tara just picks up the mugs and sets off down the ladder.
The air's thick with the sounds of sex. Get in and get out quick, she tells herself. Keep your head down. But it's hard not to see them when you're walking towards them. They're crouched together in the corner, naked to the waist, breast to breast, heads buried in one another's necks, oblivious to everything but themselves. She tries to keep it all at a distance but she can't. That's Buffy mewing softly, and that deeper sound is a thrum in Spike's throat as he sucks Buffy's blood. She feels her own blood rushing to her face.
She sets the mugs down on the floor close by them.
"For you, from all of us," she says. Before she can straighten up, Spike reaches out and touches her hand for a moment, rolling up his eyes to her. They are hazy and blue, and she can see the curve of his lip working against Buffy's throat. His other hand is kneading Buffy's breast.
There's something deeply shocking that he's doing this without his game face on, as if he thinks he's a man and that this is what men do. As if he thinks he can combine it with other things men do. She turns away quickly. It's too intimate to bear. It goes way beyond sex, into a category of things that are both innocent and obscene at once. And yet somehow she's glad she glimpsed it. She thinks she's just received some weird voyeuristic privilege to witness two such rare and exotic creatures in their most secret moment, to see human love and animal need so nakedly laid out in front of her.
I know I'm a monster but you make me feel like a man.
She's quiet now. The tremors have subsided. She's back to herself, a self she hasn't been for years. This is how it should have been with Angel. She nestles against his chest, gives him butterfly kisses. Thinks maybe she'll lick his wounds, but she's too tired and boneless to know where to start. She wonders if they'll ever need to speak again. Truly it's enough to slump against him, encircled in his arm; to raise her eyes and see him tip the librarian's mug to his lips. The blue is back in his eyes again, gazing at some far off place. His face still and thoughtful as if he's trying to figure this out, work out how she wants him to be.
She thinks maybe she should show him. "I want to be kind to you," she whispers. And this creature that has an answer for everything doesn't know what to say. He just drinks up his blood like a good boy and smiles. Caresses her neck. Smiles and looks like he might cry.
Instead, he puts down the mug and tries to kiss her. She can't help but draw back from the moisture on his lips. Blood of Willow, Xander, Tara? He lays his cheek against hers. "It's slayer's blood," he says.
"Thought I'd finish the good stuff first." She doesn't know how to answer because she doesn't understand. "Dawn's blood," he whispers. "Your blood."
She kisses him and realises it's true that she likes some monster in her man. But mostly she likes man in her man, and somehow she knows that's what he wants to give her. He wants her to make him feel like a man. She wants him to be her man. How convenient is that? Suddenly it all seems so clear and simple she almost laughs out loud.
"Stop smiling," he murmurs against her lips. "I'm having a serious manly moment."
Well if big brother's the only role he's allowed to play, at least he's going to play it properly. After all, he loves her. He steps gingerly down the ladder. Stops halfway. It smells rank in here, like an animal's lair. Guess it's the blood coagulating on the walls, the floor, every fucking surface. Oh man, this is disgusting.
He forces himself to look at them. At least they're semi-decent, so long as Buffy keeps her back to him. He clears his throat.
"Buff, are you OK?"
"Yeah," she says, without raising her head. "Just been crowned queen of the OK." Her voice has a soft lilt that reminds him of Anya after a particularly satisfying bout of love-making. "Spect I've got one hell of a hickey though."
He can see Spike smiling into his beer mug. Smug bastard. Here he is having his heart lacerated, forced to consider the love he's lost and the love he never managed to win. And here's Spike swilling his life's blood out of a pint pot swiped from the Bronze.
"That's my blood you're supping there."
You walked straight into that one, Harris. Spike closes his eyes and considers an infinity of possible put-downs. "You sure of that? Could have sworn this one was pig's blood," he wants to say. Of course, he could always just gag. Instead he raises his eyes -- pure blue eyes, candid and devoid of mockery.
"Thanks," he says.
It's the first time Xander's ever been on the receiving end of a Spike charm-offensive. He's totally thrown off kilter. "You OK?" he asks.
"I think I've died and gone to heaven," says Spike. Then he buries his face in Buffy's hair and whispers, "And I ain't never gonna leave."