By Gwyneth Rhys
That I may be
Within your cup
Like a mystery,
Like wine that is still
The night was filled with fragrance, sweet and round and heavy. It was early days yet when everything still bloomed, not having succumbed to the dry, desiccated life of a Northern California summer. Honeysuckle that made you giddy, lilies and summer lilac, but best of all the heliotrope.
He'd learnt the names of plants and flowers when he'd worked the garden, committing to memory the Latin terms she gave him since the common names were so different from the ones he'd heard growing up, and harder to remember. Not just because of the regional differences, but time. Some things, like love-in-a-mist, had stayed the same, but mostly it was new to him, a strange little world. Spike enjoyed that. These days he needed something to wrap his mind around, to help fill up his blank days and repetitive nights.
Spike sat in the small courtyard garden with his book and whisky in hand, not actually reading the words on the page, just breathing in the scents. This is what vampires ought to do for a living, if they needed to make one -- the business of smell. A perfumer, say, since they could discern the most minute differences between odors. Where did one have to live to do that kind of work? France, probably. That wouldn't be bad; he'd lived in France, knew its streets and dark alleys. You could probably set your own hours, too -- work at night, no questions asked.
As much as Spike longed for a change of scenery, a change of existence, this was home now, and he was disinclined to leave. Not exactly a hellmouth up here near San Francisco, but enough demonic energy to keep him busy. From the beginning he'd experienced a strange compulsion to pick up where Buffy left off, after she'd moved on to whatever life he'd tried to give her through his final act of sacrifice. At least, once he'd understood that he was back again, returned from the dead without so much as a by-your-leave. It would have been nice if whoever had brought him back had stuck around long enough to say why, when, what, and who, but that was the supernatural for you: no social skills to speak of.
There were mystic energies here, all kinds of ne'er-do-well goings on, and he had a duty now. A calling. Spike gazed up at a moon framed by tree branches. He reached over to the glazed pot next to his chair, spilling over with lobelia and pretty colored grasses, and broke off a tiny sprig of the heliotrope, twirling it back and forth under his nose. The scent never failed to remind him of Buffy, that mix of vanilla and ylang ylang and almond in the fancy soap she used.
No, you don't. But thanks for saying it. What had possessed him? He couldn't have come up with something cleverer, some sort of zippy movie-style witticism to acknowledge her without diminishing her feelings? All he could think, then, was of sparing her. Letting her, at long last, live the life she'd dreamt of for so long. But two years on it still beat a tiny rhythm in his head, a nagging, knocking guilt that she hadn't understood what he wanted to do. Spike wondered if she'd ever read A Tale of Two Cities, if she'd have recognized his far, far better thing for what it offered her, what it offered all of them.
"Hey," a voice called from the house. He looked up to see her waving from the window, setting her keys down on the table by the back door. Between the giddy scent of the flower and her resemblance to Buffy, for a moment he was seized by panic, a cold hand around his lost heart. She came out and stood on the porch, and the feeling passed.
"Taking the night off? I don't blame you, this heat... crap, what's it going to be like in a couple months if it keeps up?"
"You'll get used to it," Spike said, but he didn't have to sympathize too much, since he never really noticed temperature extremes, unless of course the sun was right on him setting him ablaze like an overly toasted marshmallow.
She sat down on the step, inhaling the night aromas. Spike had rescued her one night from a vampire attack; she'd seemed to take it in stride, as if a vampire rescuing her from others of his kind wasn't that remarkable. She'd understood right away what he was, somehow, but he'd never asked how she knew. Afterward she invited him back to her place to tend his wounds, as the vamps had put up quite a fight. Introduced herself as Louise, and he liked that -- old-fashioned names were more appealing. Not like that sixties Beach Blanket Bingo name of Buffy. Somehow he'd ended up living rent-free above her garage, converted to a flat that was tenantless at the time. She told him to call her Lou, and he did tasks for her or with her, as they settled into an easy friendship. Shared cigarettes and strange stories, solitude and presence, but never anything more. She didn't ever ask questions of the hows and the whys, and he'd grown to love her a little for that.
Of course it didn't hurt that Lou looked like her, just enough. The way the eyes tilted down at the corner, sad eyes that bespoke pain and experience. The sandy blond hair, the way she carried herself, confident and saucy. Twice they'd tried to change the status of their friendship, a little drunk and randy, but had stopped in time, she reminded of his cold unlife and not able to grasp such otherworldliness; he reminded of what was left behind and lost.
They'd remained friends, and Lou never tried to pick the lock on Spike's heart that held all his secrets, even though he could tell sometimes she wanted to. And occasionally Spike wished he could tell her, but he didn't know the answers to his questions any more than Lou did. More than two years on, Spike still had no idea how he'd got here or why, just remembered waking up, cold and shivering and naked in some dark alley in a nameless town, hair standing up in poodlelike coils as if he'd been shocked, skin blistered and torn in spots.
Eventually he'd found his way north, confused and broken, knowing only that he couldn't look for Buffy because he'd let her go, and he couldn't renege on that. He'd contacted Angel, hoping for some connection to The Powers That Be, but that was not fruitful. Angel grudgingly told him that everyone in Sunnydale had got out alive, more or less, though how Anya's death was included in "everyone" left Spike a little baffled and angered by the thoughtlessness. Though Angel hadn't known her well, that was true, so Spike had let it go. He hadn't been forthcoming about much else, particularly about Buffy, though he offered as much help as he could to Spike -- except the answers Spike wanted most.
"I won't ask penny for your thoughts," Lou said, "because, you know... but I always wonder where you go when you smell those flowers. You get so dreamy."
"Women have been telling me that for years, you know. That I'm dreamy."
She laughed, and he realized that was one thing he'd never once heard Buffy do. The best he'd ever got from her was a grin.
"Where you been tonight? It's later than usual, isn't it, for you to get home?"
"Not so much, when I go out. You're just usually gone, out... doing whatever it is you do. Fighting the bad guys."
The world he lived in hadn't really been discussed when she'd offered him refuge here; nothing about demons and evil and the forces of darkness. But the understanding was there if she wanted to take it; Spike assumed she had. As long as he was useful, they both were happy. He found it hard to articulate, but he liked being useful for a woman, taking care of her. They were easy with each other, and that was what counted.
And if the scarred-over wound of his love -- and his rejection of Buffy's -- sometimes ached with the cold of being alone, then he would turn his attention back to living the way she would have wanted him to had she known he was alive: being Lou's friend, fighting the demons harder, taking care of others.
Even when Angel contacted him one day to tell him about Buffy, he left her alone. Spike had said goodbye for good. It was a promise, and he always kept his promises, soul or not.
"Is it a girl?" Lou undid the tie from her long hair, shook it out.
"You're a nosey parker tonight."
"I have my reasons."
"How much have you been drinking?"
"I resent that! And anyway, no worky tomorrow." Lou was, to his eyes, filthy rich, having inherited this property from her parents, fully paid for. And she was a tax attorney, so money never seemed to be an issue; though he had to credit the long hard hours she worked for it. That's why Spike had been happy to be her charity case, help around the house: he had recognized that he was needed. He was confidant and handyman and general sounding board, which pleased him, especially when he looked at the garden he'd helped her create or listen to the way her car purred as she drove to work every morning. He'd grown to like this useful thing in those final days with the Scoobies. Could only assume that maybe his usefulness in the rest of the big picture was being sorted out by The Powers That Be.
"So, do tell about your reasons." He put the book down and took another drink of whisky, then picked up the chair and moved closer to the porch. He tossed the sprig at her and she caught it in mid-air, inhaling deeply.
"You had a visitor today. When I was on my way out the door for work, someone came by looking for you."
"Probably just the UPS man with my set of X-Files discs." Flashed her a quick smile and she grinned back.
"Not unless the UPS man is a little blond woman about my size, with big hazel eyes."
The spasming in his chest and churning in his stomach were sensations he hadn't felt since he'd come back. They bent him forward, and he clutched his arms tight across his belly. Lou said nothing, but watched him with concern.
"What did she want?" he finally managed to ask.
"To know if you lived here. I didn't tell her anything for sure, though. Just said I knew you."
"She wouldn't believe you." If she'd come here, then she knew her answers already.
"I don't think she did, no, but she left."
"She'll be back. Girl never took no for an answer." Spike had no idea if he wanted that or not; his mind reeled with every possibility, none of them pleasant. Angel must have grassed on him. Maybe that was what she was here for -- to get Spike's blessing so she and the great berk could ride off into a sunset together.
He wiped a hand across his brow, disgusted with his uncharitable thoughts.
"Spike." Lou's voice was firm and annoyed, something he'd rarely heard from her in their nearly two years of acquaintance. "You need to tell me what's the what now. I've left it all this time, and I've tried to respect what you've done for me, but you owe me this at least. Is she trying to hurt you? Does it have something to do with the whole... vampire thing?"
She'd never said the V word, not to him.
"Just someone from the past."
"Someone important enough to double you over in pain." She waved her fingers at him, her sign that she wanted a cigarette.
"You quit. Again."
"I did. But this is one of those smoking times." He held the pack out to her and lit the one she stuck in her mouth.
"Figured there might come a time you'd either tell me to go or ask for the whole story. I haven't been able to tell it, not really. Maybe not even now, but I get that you're thinking I owe you."
"I am." She wasn't demanding as landlords went, or as friends went. But it was clear she needed this now. He lit his own fag, sat back down, and told her the tale, knowing that he was becoming an exhibition of evil in the process. Look at the vampire who tried to do good, recently featured in Ripley's Believe It or Not. He didn't explain about souls and evil natures -- too confusing for the layman really, and that wasn't the only motivation he'd had for his forfeit. Once he finished he waited calmly for signs of her rejection, but she just stared at the crushed butt at the foot of the day lilies.
"So you basically saved the world." There was no awe in her statement, just a mild curiosity.
"I tend to look at it as paying my price. Long overdue for all the wrongs."
"And you don't know why you're here." Lou was trying to fit this in with the visit from Buffy, though Spike was no more certain why she had come here than Lou was.
"I thought Angel -- the vampire in my mob -- had somehow decided to mojo me back. He's got the resources now. But... he swears he didn't."
"Do you think she's responsible? This... what's her name? Bitsy?"
Spike snorted. "No, she couldn't have done, because she wouldn't have waited over two years to see her handiwork. Not her style. And it's Buffy -- equally daft name, though."
"Yeah, and Spike's a stroke of genius."
"Quit while you're behind."
"Sure thing, Drac."
"Knew him. Didn't like him."
She stared at him in utter bewilderment. "Stop trying to pretend this is funny and lighthearted. Whatever reason Buffy had for coming here, it's got to be big."
Spike suddenly got it. Lou was afraid of losing him, especially to this supernatural, unseen world of his that she only half-believed existed. She liked bringing him something close to normalcy. She liked taking care of him. Women always seemed to want to do that for him.
"Think I need to go out." Spike shook his head hard and fast, as if that would take away the need to go all big girl's blouse in front of her. "Make myself feel manly." He rubbed at his face and cleared his throat.
Lou sighed heavily, exasperated, but she didn't try to stop him. "It makes me nervous. I've learned that people rarely pop up out of the blue for no special reason, just to say hi."
This was the thing she couldn't understand about him, because she was, despite her contact with him, a normal woman in a normal life who expected things to be reasonable. She couldn't know that he was a slave, to his passion, to his nature, to his love. He owned nothing of himself anymore. There was no choice for him but to do what his nature demanded he do.
"Need to go hunting. See you tomorrow." He hoped she'd understand.
Knocking heads and thumping demons would perk Spike up. He didn't want to see Buffy if she came back. Coming to him out of her sense of obligation, her need to make him feel better so that she could feel better, too. But the wheel was already turning and she would show up again, he knew that stubbornness all too well. At least, possibly, she might have answers about why he was here.
It was getting on to the wee hours when he returned, and the lights were all out inside the house. Spike felt refreshed and weary, a few scratches and bruises, but this mix of aliveness and exhaustion always appealed to him. Soul or no soul, he liked to be in the thick of it. He entered through the side gate and there she was, sitting on the stone bench in the garden, calmly waiting for him. Did Lou park her there with the information that he'd be back through this gate before sunrise, or did Buffy somehow know the path he usually took to his little bedsit? Spike stopped but didn't say anything, too overcome for words. Numb at the prospect of this confrontation he'd avoided so long. Her solemn gaze traveled the length of his body to his face, inscrutable and unyielding.
"Louise told me you went out. I decided to wait."
"Lou. Everyone calls her Lou."
"Okay." She was different and the same. Her hair was shorter now, just touching the tops of her shoulders, and she had rounded out a bit more, appearing less deceptively scrawny. Toned, he thought. Clothing style still the same, and in the heat she wore a halter top that exposed the shimmery shoulders he'd once covered in kisses, a flowy skirt that split up the front left leg. He moved to sit down next to her and she shifted over to let him.
"Don't know where to begin."
"How 'bout at the beginning?" Her face was implacable; she would not let him off the hook too easily.
"There is no beginning." They were whispering so their voices wouldn't carry up to the bedroom window, but Spike imagined Lou watching, wondering at this reunion. "How did you -- "
"Ah." So that was it, she had gone back to the prat to make her new life with him. Now she was coming to tell him, to let him down easy, disoblige. "Well."
"No, not well. Is that your place?" She pointed up towards the top of the garage and he nodded.
"He wasn't supposed to let slip. Promised, but then he was never good at the promises. You two formalizing it somehow? Red spelling off the curse?"
Buffy stared hard at him, her eyes glittering coolly in the dark. "There is no spell for it. I went to see him because I thought I was ready to find out."
"And did you?"
"Yes. I found out that it wasn't my future."
So that was the reason for her shell-shocked look. She'd been expecting that once she found herself, it would all fall into place, Buffy and Angel 4-ever carved in a tree trunk. But it hadn't turned out as she'd thought it would , and what a crushing disappointment to realize you still had feelings for your last lover, the one who was still around.
"Nice to have a crystal ball like that."
"Upstairs. Inside." She looked up toward the house and he wondered what it was about Lou that seemed to have her spooked. Unless she was jealous and thought he was rogering Lou. That gave him a momentary case of the grins.
As soon as they got in the door Buffy began raining tiny little slaps and punches on him. Not Slayer blows, nothing hard and for real, just girly fists, pinwheeling wildly and punctuated by furious words spat out between clenched teeth.
"You're a moron!" Well, at least that much was familiar. "How could you? How could you not tell me? Two fucking years. What is wrong with you that you could do that to someone you loved? Who loves you back?"
She shoved him hard, this time with her full strength back into the wall, and sobbed against his chest, still slapping at him lightly. "How could you not find me?"
There wasn't much he could answer with, so he just stroked her head and held her with one arm, rubbing the edge of his jaw back and forth across her hair. That scent again, the vanilla and ylang ylang and almond, flooding back into his mind and heart and yes, his soul. The love that spread like a blossom, opening wide inside him, still untouched by the years.
"I wanted... I wanted you to have your life."
"You lied to me!" Her balled fist crashed against his clavicle and he peeled her hand away, kissed each finger as he uncurled it.
"Never. It was easier not to believe. If you really loved me, you wouldn't have gone, would you? And then where would we be?"
"Probably in the same damn place! Together!"
He pulled her head back and her tears and the words she'd spoken made him start feeling it too, the tight edge in his throat, the hot salt at the corner of the eyes. He wasn't going to let her make him cry. She threw herself upwards to his mouth, kissing him through salt and hiccupping sobs. They clutched at each other, sinking down to the floor, kisses and more kisses until she couldn't breathe anymore.
"Angel get the shit slapped out of him too? Or did you save it special for me?"
"No, I flayed him with words." She hiccupped a big breath again. "That was always the thing about him I didn't like, so much. The holding back. So it kinda came out in a torrent. I think he's still icing the pellet wounds."
Spike chuckled; next time he saw Angel he planned to bitch-slap the berk silly for spilling, but Buffy's treatment would have far more impact.
"I don't suppose you have any Kleenex?"
"Not so much." But he got up and rummaged in the kitchen and found a napkin from some fast food place, then sat down beside her on the floor. She wiped her eyes and nose as best she could and then started crying again, while Spike really had no idea what to do.
"At this point, you have to tell me why you're crying, because I'm at a loss."
In his mind, if he'd ever bothered to picture a reunion, it was something very Errol Flynn-ish, sweeping in dramatically to rescue the girl and the girl being up to the task of throwing witty bon mots back at him as they stood together in the setting sun, waiting for the end credits to roll. Somehow this sobbing wreck of a girl didn't fit in the picture at all. She'd never been much of a crier, his Buffy, and he wondered if this was part of the changes she'd gone through in the intervening years. Letting go of the emotions she'd held back like a poker player.
"I'm crying because you're alive... so to speak... and so am I." She hurled herself into his lap and kissed him furiously. After a while he pulled her away, though it wasn't the easiest thing to do.
"There's more to it than that. You're angry, as well. Disappointed?"
"Yes. No. Maybe." Buffy pushed him gently down on the floor and covered him with her body; instead of raining blows she drenched him in kisses -- over his face, neck, chest as she pulled his shirt away. Threading his fingers through her satin hair, he tried to pull her back up but she continued down, undoing his jeans. Running her fingers along his lips, she tugged on the lower lip, bit it lightly, explored his mouth with her tongue until he was nearly undone.
It was so strange, how she acted almost as she had back in those days when she came to him as a reluctant lover, but now was as tender and delicate as that final night in her basement. Silently, fragilely, they had made love as if there would be no tomorrow because they both knew that there wouldn't be, not for him anyway. But now it was this odd marriage of her sexual abandon with that quiet caring, and Spike was afraid he really did no longer know her. Not this new girl she'd discovered in finally living a real life.
Buffy took his sex in her mouth and worked him until he was weak and panting, then just before he could hold back no longer, she licked her way up his chest and pushed him inside her, mouth exploring his own, fingers teasing everywhere. She moved herself in circles, up and down, every possible way, breasts brushing against his mouth as she leaned forward, or across his chest. But it was her eyes that hypnotized him; she kept them trained on his face the entire time, her solemn gaze clouding the pleasure that hid underneath. Breath came shallowly and harshly from her lips, and he recalled it from before, how she hitched in little gasps with an "uh-uh-uh" when she was about to come. He sucked her breasts, twirling his agile tongue around her nipples until she let go and took in a huge gulping breath, body twitching. Spike rolled them both over and lifted himself on his knuckles, thrusting languidly inside her while she watched him with that tender seriousness, until he let go too, collapsing into the cocoon of her arms about him and her legs wrapped round his hips, once more, for real.
They lay in the small bed that had never held more than his own body, or at least, his and the cat's, who sat calmly watching them from the foot of the bed. Spike traced his finger down Buffy's body, up around her hip, her arm, along her neck. He was afraid each time that if he touched her she would vanish, that he'd made it up inside his desperate mind and he really wasn't here at all, just in some hell dimension with this taunting mirage he'd wake up from eventually. Neither of them had spoken, even after lavishing more attentions on each other, as if it were a contest to see who could hold out longest. Well, Spike had always been the weaker one.
"Just wanted you to have the life you dreamt of. It made me happy, complete, to know you would go, that I could give it to you," he said softly, tracing his finger down her spine as she shivered.
Watching the cat, Buffy rolled down to run her hand over its head, making it purr. "Is the cat yours?"
"Lou's. Though it decided somewhere along the line it belonged to me. He. Mr. Peabody."
"I always wanted a pet. Still don't have one, but I could if I just got off my duff."
Spike rubbed his hand over her bum. "It's a nice duff." He pinched it lightly and she yelped. "But I'm still wondering what it's doing in my bed, and why its owner came looking for me."
Buffy sat up and rubbed at her face. This was perhaps the most different of all -- her comfort in being naked with him, no covering herself up or hastily dressing to run away. She kept touching him in a funny way, gingerly putting her hand flat to his chest or the side of his face, as though checking to see that he hadn't vanished, that he too was solid and corporeal. Truly back from the dead. That much at least they had in common.
Slowly, tentatively, she spoke, again with eyes focused intently on his, burning. "Everything got left behind, you know? When Sunnydale disappeared, it took so much of my life with me -- I used to visit my mother's grave all the time, and now there's nothing to visit. The Bronze. Your crypt, my house... all gone."
Sometimes he would see her there, at Joyce's grave, talking for hours. Spike never told her that, but it broke his ghostly heart. For reassurance, he nodded, but didn't say anything.
"We left, first to Los Angeles to make sure everything was all right, and then other places. I saw Angel and it was... odd. Everything felt different when I wasn't the only slayer anymore. Finally we went to England to restart the Council, because Giles wanted to make sure that every girl who was chosen now knew everything they could. He and Faith and I... we found these girls, we taught... it was really exciting at first. We built a new kind of Council, one where the watchers were advisors, helpers. Mentors. They came from everywhere, Spike -- new watchers, new slayers. And then it became what every organization becomes: work and meetings and trainings. I trained and I talked, and Faith and I drilled and explained, and everyone paid me a kind of... oh, what's the word?"
"Fealty." As well they should, he thought, suffused with a burning adoration for this amazing woman.
"Um... sure. Anyway. Giles traveled a lot, Faith did too. Oh, she's changed so much! You wouldn't recognize her, she's not at all like she was. I think being large and in charge just really agrees with her. And Willow, she runs everything. As efficiently as you'd expect, too. Has a really cool British girlfriend who talks an awful lot like you. I never get half of what she's saying.
"And I spent my time in meetings and trainings and all of that, being The Slayer, The One. At first I liked it. But I got lonely sometimes. Before the big fight, I told Angel that I wanted to finish growing and find out who I was. That I needed to know me before I could know who I wanted, because he was so jealous of you. I told him you were in my heart, but that was as far as I could go."
The guilt was like a stole around her shoulders, and he didn't know how to tell her to take it off, to stop worrying it. He'd always known he could never be her dream of life; hoped it, foolishly, but knew deep down it was not meant to be. His mistakes were not hers to carry, though he'd tried so hard to push them on her once she let him in. It was a world away now, and so much misery and pain and forgiveness had passed between them it wasn't worth looking back. Spike took her hand and kissed her fingers, then twined his through hers.
"But, see... when I went to find him, I realized that I'd left it behind. I did know me, and me has moved on. I love him still, he can't ever leave my heart, but that's my past, and I have a future and it's going somewhere different."
"You're the Queen Bee of the Council now." He raised his eyebrows, but she didn't smile for him, still so weighted down by something she wasn't yet sharing.
"Hmm. Maybe not so much anymore." Now she was like his Buffy of old, removed and distracted. She got up off the bed and walked to the window, her arms crossed in front of her chest. "Angel told me about you being brought back and that you didn't know why. Spike... you don't believe me, I know, but my first thought was to find you. It was all I could think about. When you... when our hands caught fire like that, I knew. I knew something I'd never understood before, about what it really means to give and to love. I gave myself and my power to all those girls, I changed the world and so did you, and I knew then that it was love that did it. Love that gave us strength to give it back to the whole damn world. So all I could think was that I had to tell you that."
Why, then, he wondered, was Buffy facing out the window, instead of looking at him? She thought she loved him, wanted to believe it to make his sacrifice real, but it still wasn't in her. Turning to face him, she said harshly, "I know why you were brought back. And it's all about me."
He laughed and beckoned her to come back to the bed, but she stayed. "This is your insane troll logic thing at work? You're barking mad, you little minx."
Nothing he said or did could rouse a smile in her. Something else was going on. This was the tip of the iceberg, but he wasn't sure he wanted to see the under part.
"Can I use your bathroom? I need to freshen up."
Sweeping an expansive hand toward the door, he said, "Help yourself."
Buffy nodded and walked across the room as his gaze followed every delicate movement of her lovely body. This was, he reckoned, probably the only time he'd get to see it again, so might as well drink in every delicious drop. While she was in there, he pulled on his jeans and went down to the garden, the sun just under the horizon so he was safe for a few minutes. He pulled a few more of the purple blossom clusters of heliotrope off, a waning rose that fell to a pile of petals in his hands, and pinched off a few honeysuckle blooms. He gathered them up in his t-shirt, picked one of the most fragrant of the lilies, went inside and put that in a glass of water next to the bed, then scattered the small blooms and petals across it, under the sheet. Still the foolish romantic, even after all these years of violence and mayhem. He never knew whether to be ashamed of this pathetic sentimentality or proud.
When Buffy came back out she inhaled and, at last, smiled. "Wow. It's like a perfume shop in here."
He fell back on the bed with her in his arms, and crushing the flowers brought the fragrance higher.
"What's the kinda vanilla-y smell?"
"Heliotrope. It always reminds me of you. Last night... I was smelling it, almost like I was calling you up from the past, and here you are. Strange, because I hadn't really bothered to pay attention to the plants much this year." He brushed her hair back, letting his fingers linger on her neck. Her one ticklish spot. "It's also the name of a stone, and... it means any kind of plant that turns toward the sun." That was how he thought of her, sometimes: leaving him to go out into the light while he burned from the inside, knowing she was safe, finally and for all time. His flower turning to the sun.
"I love you," she said softly, and kissed him, the years of tenderness and loneliness that had been bottled up inside now unstoppered from behind her lips in their searching caress. He lay her back on the bed and kissed slowly down her chest, belly, inside her thighs, until he spread her legs wide and hooked them over his shoulders, and he was licking and sucking the glistening, translucent flesh, feeling the wetness slip under his tongue. He played her for such a long time, watching her come over and over, grateful sighs like music coaxed from an instrument. Then they fucked slowly as the sun came up high behind the shades, the aroma of flowers enveloping their skins along with sweat and heat.
After they'd dozed for a while he heard a voice call sharply, "Hey! Lovebirds! Get off each other for a few minutes and come to breakfast." Spike turned to see Buffy's sleepy eyes open and a smirk cross her lips. Shouted his okay out the window, and traced his fingers across her face.
"Tell me first, why is my being here about you?" Her little hand was already on his cock, stroking it up and down while it hardened under her touch. He pulled away and shook his head. "Naughty."
They dressed slowly, watching each other. Eventually Buffy said, fluffing her hair out, "I can't, not now. I'll cry again." She took his hand and they went out the door, Spike shielding himself with a blanket as they dashed for Lou's back door.
Breakfast was simple, but it wasn't the eating they were there for. Lou was checking Buffy out, making sure she wasn't going to do anything untoward. And offering Buffy the chance to check her out, as well, see just how tight the friendship was. It amused him, but he was glad they appeared to get along. It was not lost on Buffy that Lou looked a bit like her, and once or twice he caught her wary eye across the table, a wry, bemused glance that told him Buffy saw right through him.
They cleared the table and Spike lurked in the living room, but when the girls didn't come out he snuck up near the kitchen entry to hear what they were saying. The mirror hanging over the sideboard meant they couldn't see him just beyond the corner.
Buffy had been talking about the garden and the house. "I would like something like this, eventually. It's nice and small but really pretty. So he helped you with some of it?"
"Most of the updates happened after he moved in. He can lift whole trees with one hand and big heavy pots I could never touch. My neighbors thought it was funny that I always started gardening after sunset. Vampire gardening, they called it. Little did they know. He does all kinds of stuff -- fixes things, takes care of my car. I give him the room and board. And I know that he goes out and does some kind of evil-fighting superhero stuff, but I didn't ask and he didn't tell."
Both women laughed. It was always sort of peculiar and yet smugness-inducing to hear two women talking about you.
"You love him, don't you?" Buffy asked.
"Not in love with him, if that's what you mean. But yeah. I care a lot. He's kind of like my best friend. I date a lot, but... haven't found the proverbial Mr. Right. It's nice to come home to a friendly male face sometimes, and he's a fascinating study in contradictions."
"And he's easy on the eyes."
"Plus there's kind of a... well, it's not all boring and everyday, having a soulled vampire around." Buffy sounded as though she'd stepped into her school advisor role for a moment, all phonily perky.
Lou cocked her head and looked at Buffy quizzically. "Soulled?"
"He never told you about that?"
"We never really talked about it. Until yesterday, the word vampire never passed our lips. I just kind of guessed that all the fiction was actually true."
"Vampires lose their souls when the demon takes over. When they're turned. Otherwise with a conscience and empathy and stuff, they couldn't feed on humans. They're very dangerous; it's not all Louis and Lestat and all. Spike's one of the only two vampires known to have souls, and are on our side."
Lou put the leftover fruit in the fridge and came back into view of the mirror, and she seemed more interested in Buffy now, her penetrating lawyer's eyes focused intently. "Let me guess. You've loved both of them."
"My duty brought me in contact with them, and both of them fought at my side. I was a slayer. Well, the slayer. Into each generation is born one girl... blah blah blahdy blah. We changed that and now there's lots of us. But back then, I was the big gun, and I had a lot more of the demony contact than most people. Spike was... mostly on my side even before he got the soul. Long story."
"I can see that playing it close to the vest with him was kind of mistake. I could have gotten famous off his stories, I bet."
"Oh, he'd have loved that. He's got such a vain streak."
That was just a bit too much and Spike cleared his throat, coming into the kitchen. "So! No doubt you've things to do today. Plenty of elsewhere things."
Lou stared at him with long-practiced mock weariness. "Flee," she said, and made shooing motions. "I got what I wanted." Her look to Buffy spoke volumes. There was a world women lived in and a language they spoke he couldn't hope to understand. They ran back to his flat and he offered to make her tea, or rustle up some bottled water, but his place was largely devoid of anything a guest might want. Buffy demurred, anyway, and sat on one of the armchairs opposite.
"Could I kiss you some more?" he asked, and she answered "Please." Across the room in a heartbeat, if he'd had one, her mouth locked on his, kissing until he felt dizzy, as if he wasn't breathing when of course he didn't need to breathe at all. They slid to the floor once again, tussling, until he picked her up and carried her over to the bed with its cloud of perfume. They sat this time, locked together, bodies fused by heat and wet. His hands ranged across her back and bottom, drawing her ever tighter the more they thrust, as if he could pull her inside himself. Buffy looked hard into his eyes and said, "You never said you loved me back. Did you stop loving me because you believed I didn't?"
When he touched his thumb to her clit, she exploded above him, body shuddering and wracking, and he waited for her to come down again before answering. "I love you always. In life, in oblivion. It never leaves me." Buffy heaved a ragged sigh and sagged against him, following his thrusts with her own slow hip circles, driving him madder each second.
When they lay, sticky and exhausted, through the early afternoon, Buffy asked him how he'd come back and he said he couldn't tell her, nor where he'd been. It was an empty, dark past, a closed book. "Like limbo, I guess. Maybe I was in limbo because they didn't know what to do with me."
"Isn't that for, like, unbaptized babies?"
"Dunno. Not up on that stuff, I'm afraid. Raised straight C of E, you know, and besides, left the religious mumbo-jumbo behind a century ago." He smiled, and she actually smiled back.
"I never know what the hell you're talking about, but I like hearing you talk, anyway. Lou said you were the strong, silent type, and I thought, whoa, do you have the wrong vampire. But you do act different, now. God, I missed you, Spike."
He didn't want to tell her that of course she hadn't, she only missed him when she found out he was alive again and felt that sense of responsibility that had become her oldest friend. "So you've told me about Giles and Faith and Red, but what about Harris? And my Bit?"
"Dawn is great. Better than great. You won't believe me, I know, but she grieved for you. Deeply. I pushed her back to school and this fall she's going to Columbia, in New York. She says if she survived life on a hellmouth, New York's a piece of cake. But right now she's living with Xander in LA."
Spike arched an eyebrow.
"Not like that, you perv. He's actually running the U.S. branch of the Council. Giles and Willow thought it would be great if we could decentralize, make it less... what's the word?"
"Yeah, that's the exact word they used. And they were right: the Council's not going to be the enemy of the slayers, yanking their chains, but their allies. Dawn's helping Xander start it all up. Then... off to college. I hope she'll be more successful than me."
"Girl's gonna shatter some hearts."
"She will. Xander's dating someone new, a woman who seems pretty cool, and so far no signs of demonhood! The jury's still out, but it's looking good, so go, Xander."
Spike wanted to be happy for them all, but it felt so foreign and numbing. Had anyone ever given a thought to his sacrifice, besides Buffy? Did his actions make any of them reconsider their opinions of him, especially Rupert, who'd tried so hard to rid the world of his presence? It seemed like lifetimes away and yet so fresh and painful. And what was it that Buffy was hiding -- did it have something to do with this great and powerful, new and improved Council she was so peppy about? Whatever it was, he was damn sure it wasn't safe and simple.
"Be right pissed if he found out you were here with me. Him and Giles, probably try to arrange an accident for me."
"No." Her tone held no leeway, so he didn't argue. "I know Giles didn't get my choices at first, but he knew I was right in the end. What a good man you could be, and I'd told him that."
"No reason for him to think otherwise."
"You just... you cling to that. What you were before. To this life of yours now that's totally lifeless, totally... oh, you know."
"Well, yeah. Things change, people change. We used and abused each other for so long, made so many mistakes, you and me. I didn't think we could ever be better than that, but we transcended it all somehow. Found a kind of beauty in all that ugliness."
Spike didn't want to argue with her, it wasn't in him anymore, but there was a rising sharpness in his throat, a heat behind his eyes, as he allowed her emotions to wash into him. She was still so young, somehow, in spite of it all, though possessed of a newfound wisdom and perspicacity.
Buffy said, "Take me with you tonight."
"Lou said you went out fighting evil. I heard there was mystical energy around here, at least that's what Angel said, and Wes. I need a fight, Spike. I haven't had one, a real one, in years." There was a seriousness about her that frightened him, the cast of her voice was too close to the newly resurrected Buffy, miserable and suicidal. She rolled over and crawled above him. "Take me with you."
As if he'd ever had a chance of saying no to her. "All right. Sunset's after nine. What should we do till then? Watch the box?"
She licked and bit his nipple. "I could tell you my ideas..." Spike felt her hand slipping under his balls, caressing and teasing.
"I'm all ears."
The cemetery he patrolled most often was nothing like Buffy's Sunnydale experience, and he warned her it would be a major disappointment comparatively. She seemed content with that, though, and he took her past the park that was also a frequent center of vampire or demon activity just to give her the lay of the land. There was a bar on the outskirts of town he declined to mention, because he'd hung out there all too often when he felt like anesthetizing himself, as she'd so charitably thought, shutting himself off from the world without Buffy.
No promise, either, of actual activity, he admonished, as whole weeks had flown by without the slightest demonic ripple. But as they wandered around, a cool breeze filtering up the hill, he detected the little vampire-rising tingle on his nape that he often got back in the day, and they went on the hunt.
There were two of them, one newly turned -- a woman -- and the other the sire, he guessed, probably trying to create his own little family. Buffy went straight for the attack, though Spike could tell she was stringing it out, hoping for the maximum workout length. Her kicks were off by a fraction, her handwork sometimes too far to the left, and she kept lowering her right, always her greatest weakness. The backflips and scissor-kicks were still snappy and her cartwheel-to-thigh lock thrilling to behold, but she wasn't at one-hundred percent, anyone could see that. Or at least, anyone who'd loved fighting her. Buffy had truly been the best he'd ever met. That opinion had nothing to do with his adoration; sometimes he believed it was the fighting that made him fall in the first place. Spike eventually tossed her a stake, still watching from the sidelines as she pounded out her frustration on these two clueless bloodsuckers. She grabbed it in mid-flip, threw a couple of jazzy quips their way, before dispatching them with one quick jab to the left, one more jab to the right.
Face shining in the moonlight, vampire dust surrounding her like a halo, and he was her helpless slave once again. Spike lit a cig and smiled sadly while she wiped the sweat off her forehead.
"Good workout, that?"
"God, yeah. I haven't fought like that in forever."
"What's that supposed to mean?" she snapped. Still his girl.
"You're dropping your right. The roundhouse kick was way off and you nearly lost your balance. Worst of all, you're letting the jabs veer to the left. If they'd had half a brain between them and even a modicum of fighting experience, they'd have noticed and taken advantage of it. Zippy flips, though."
She rolled her head around on her shoulders, twitched it sideways and gave him a speaking look. "Bite me."
She threw the stake at him, pointy end out, but careful not to target the heart. Spike caught it and flipped it through his fingers, musing. Buffy knew how to make anger work for her, that was her speciality. Even this was off kilter now.
Hopping up on a large headstone, she huffed at him. "You're telling me I'm off my game. And you're way right." Spike walked closer to her, but didn't get near enough to touch. "I haven't fought in two years. All I've done is train, and you know that's not fighting. I hate it."
"Thought you'd welcome it, not having to bear the weight anymore." Wasn't that what he'd tried to give her? And now she was rejecting it?
"Please. Spike. Let me tell you what I need to say, and don't interrupt me until I'm through, okay? I don't know how to say this stuff yet, and won't until I'm done."
He nodded and threw the cigarette away, watching intently. While he'd been expecting the kicker to show itself eventually, now that it was here, he was terrified. He kept having to give her up, over and over, and it was killing him slowly.
"All I ever wanted was that normal life. When I gave the power to all the slayers, when you became our champion, I thought: this is it. Now I can live. But in the past few months I've grown to understand that the life I wanted wasn't the life I needed. You were right when you told me once I was a creature of the darkness." She paused to let it sink in, and he'd said he wouldn't interrupt, but Spike desperately wanted to clarify that. He'd been wrong when he said it, manipulative, trying to keep her in his own world so he wouldn't lose the possibility she could ever love him romantically.
Buffy held a warning finger up. "No interruptions! I know what you're going to say, that you were wrong, but you weren't. I just wasn't a creature of your night. There was darkness in me, always was, and you saw it and Dracula saw it and Angel and Giles... it's not a demon-bar, tequila-swilling, kitten-poker darkness, but I do belong in the night. I do. This is what I was born for, Spike. Slayage. The night. Fighting evil on its own terms. And it's why you were brought back. To help me do that."
He worked his jaw back and forth, frowning, twisting his head. It was maddening not being able to argue with her, not understanding where she was going. Buffy reached out and grabbed the front of his shirt.
"Listen to me. This Council thing, this training... it's not my life. You are my heart. Slaying is my calling. The dark is my job, my... damn, what's that word?"
Nervously, he offered "Milieu?"
"Yes! And it's yours now, it was yours even before the soul. The Powers That Be know stuff, and they don't screw around. They knew already this was what we both belonged to."
Everyone was apparently all very knowledgeable, but he wasn't buying it. She glared at him in the darkness, the intensity of her feelings making her eyes glimmer like cold steel.
"You and I... we're each other's future, don't you see that? We can continue the fight, just like you're doing now, only together. I can't live that life, Spike, I just can't. It took me all this time to understand and you gave me that wonderful, incredible gift. It was the most loving gift anyone has ever given me, and it helped me see. I ran from all of it before, I let it make me miserable and hopeless and degraded. But now I have a choice. And I choose this. I choose us, fighting together."
This could be the end of her speech, he didn't know. He'd got used to those long drawn-out pep talks she gave the wannabes, where every time you thought she was done she'd take a breath and wind up again. But Buffy had that look on her face now, the exact same damn look as when she'd said "I love you" in that hole in the ground and locked her fingers with his, creating their eternal flame.
Just for drama, he exhaled loudly. "Well, what? What do you want me to say, Buffy? That I'm glad you think throwing your life away fighting vamps and demons is a good thing, and I'm behind you one-hundred percent, go team? I didn't give it all up just to save the world, Luv. I gave it up to save you, too. To make sure you got married and had babies and grew old in safety and love or got with Angel or whatever floats your boat."
Her face fell, anger and disappointment and bewilderment all registering in fleeting rotation. But still she persevered. "You're a coward."
"What? Oh, bollocks. Don't start with that reverse psychology shit."
"No, you are. You want to stay here and be alone and lonesome and sad because it's easier than maybe getting hurt again."
He flapped his thumb and fingers at her, and got up and walked away. Only, he knew inside she was right. He was taking the easy way out, because he couldn't bear the thought of her dying again, or of dying himself, of yet another loss. There was only so much a bloke could take.
Suddenly her hand was on his shoulder and she yanked him around to face her. "Stop it! Do you even understand what I'm saying?"
"All too well, my princess." He ran his hands through his hair. "You start slaying again, and then what? Some apocalypse or another and you die, or you're off your game some night, or I'm not watching your back, and one of us is toast. I'll not have you throw back everything I gave to you because you're bored sitting in Council meetings. I want you to bloody live!"
"Spike!" she bellowed so loudly that his ears rang. He'd never once heard her yell like that. "You stubborn limey ass! I'm not throwing anything away." Buffy started pacing around in circles, waving a stake all too pointedly in his direction. "Everything's different now. The Council will be the biggest backup we could ever have, and you and I could just go wherever's got the bad juju, fight the good fight, then move on. When we need to know what's up, we call Giles and Willow. They'll always be there, and nothing is more powerful than Will, nothing. We have things at our disposal now, a world full of slayers, that we could never have imagined before. I can show those girls the real deal, not just talk." Her look was so plaintive and earnest. "Oh! and Giles says there's another hellmouth in Cleveland, so like, we could go visit Dawn and on the way there, be needed. Bet there's others."
He covered his eyes with his hand. "Don't try to be perky. It's not funny. With hellmouths come apocalypses and death and destruction."
"With life comes death, Spike. We can't avoid it, not even a vampire." Something crossed her face then, an understanding. He couldn't tell what it was, but she softened and her eyes were filled with tenderness. "I've dated a few guys. But they never stuck. I felt restless and bored. It was hard, after everything with you. The violence and the hurt -- it's not something I wanted to have gone through, but it taught me stuff. Like how hard real love is to work through. You gave me the gift of me, Spike, you gave me choice. No one ever did that before, not even Angel, so how could some average guy compare? I am a creature of the night, just like you. I belong with you."
The way she stroked his cheek made him lose it, at last, and the tears he'd fought since he first heard of her visit finally came, stinging his eyes. "You deserve so much more than fighting and scrapping and running from place to place. I won't have you throwing everything away so you can chase round with a bloodsucking parasite whose only act of personal redemption was to wear Dame Edna's jewelry and get himself toasted to a crispy critter. What happened to normal life, and marriage and babies?"
"This is my normal life, you idiot. And who says we can't get married? Besides, there's lots of ways to get babies -- we know the best mojo-makers in the business. But that's not what I'm thinking about now. If anyone had told me two years ago, standing back there looking at the big hellhole of Sunnydale, that this is where I'd be, I'd have thumped them. Thinking about the future -- big waste of time."
He laughed through his blubbering and stroked her hair. "My strange girl. You always find the way to destroy me, don't you?"
"You won't commit to coming with me, will you?"
"Can't, Pet. My mind's a big swirly mess."
"You wouldn't believe me when I told you I loved you. Believe me now: I'm going back to the slayage, with or without you. But I'd prefer it with, because I love you."
He took her hand and began walking, back to his little flat, back to the safety of his comfortable world.
When he woke in the morning she was still there beside him, her face so open and sweet. They'd made love furiously after they got back, and he was covered in scratches and bruises, as was she. Unlike the way they'd got such marks before, these weren't from raw sexual appetites teetering on the edge of insanity. Now it was that recognition of lust and power and strength they both shared, their internal darkness -- whether sweet or raging, it was simply one more way to be together.
Together. For some sort of ever, one he couldn't envisage. Even if they lived through such a dangerous life, what happened when she grew bored with him? When she grated on his nerves or she downright hated him, and a piece of pointy wood was easily at hand? What happened if they just grew apart? It was easier to hold on to this imagined Buffy than to deal with the possibility of losing the real one.
When she woke, she dressed and went out for food. Later they spent the day in bed, worshipping each other, eating, getting drunk, fucking and bathing and playing. They'd boffed so often, in so many ways, that Spike felt as if someone had taken a grater to his skin; he was raw everywhere and tired and happier than he could ever have imagined. She was so different without the world bearing down on her shoulders, the light he'd seen in her occasionally now shining so brightly despite her shadowy smiles that he was blinded. In the late afternoon Buffy joined Lou out in the garden, talking. He slept off and on while she was gone, trying to recoup for more adventures.
When Buffy came back in the evening, she said, "Lou thinks you should come with me."
"That's not fair. 's never fair when women gang up together. Bitches."
"She said she needs to rent this place out and make money."
Buffy threw his blue t-shirt at him, the jeans, then hurled the boots and belt at his feet. He dressed while she did, but he didn't know where they were going. Peabody the cat watched unblinkingly from the windowsill, his grim stare making Spike feel as if he were betraying the silly thing, or as if the cat knew something more than Spike did. When they were ready, she took his hand and walked him downstairs, behind the garage where her car was parked. Still driving an SUV even though she was barely big enough to see over the wheel. From the house Lou watched them out the window. She waved sadly as if to say goodbye, and winked at him.
Buffy held out her keys. "Make up your mind, please, now."
Spike shook his head. "Buffy, are you daft? Rupert tried to kill me just because. You think he's going to let me live once he finds out I'm squiring you round for slayer duty? Sticking you in front of hellmouths and ancient vampires and demon warlords?"
"Yes or no. Do you really love me?"
"Of course I bloody do." This was just irritating.
"Do you believe I love you?"
That was a bit harder. "I want to, yeah. But..."
"Then make up your mind."
Christ on a crutch, the way women bossed him around. And the way he let them. "Slayer..."
"Hah! See! There, you said it. I'm still the slayer to you, it's still part of me." She took his hand, unpeeling each finger until his palm was open in hers. "This is our life, Spike. This is why we're here."
Buffy held the keys out to him, dangling just above his hand. He looked back to the window, but Lou was gone. She wasn't much for the goodbyes, he knew. Then he glanced back at the garden, at all he'd accomplished here in this safe, gentle little world that would have him, no strings attached. Spike briskly took the keys from her fingers, bounced them up and down in his palm.
"She's going to send your things on."
"To where?" It pissed him off that Buffy had known he'd say yes, and had already planned it out with Lou.
"Address unknown, just yet. We'll be in touch." Buffy stood on her tiptoes and kissed him, her tongue dancing around his, fingers twining through his hair. "First stop, the hardware store for some black spray paint. Then wherever the bad juju calls."
Spike watched her as she got into the car, her solemn, grim face gone and replaced with a contented smile and loving sweetness. How long would that last? It was now his obligation to find out, he supposed. He was proud that in some small way he'd helped her reach this understanding of what she wanted from life. Been a part of what made her such a woman.
Of course Spike would follow her anywhere. He had to see what happened next to Buffy as she continued to grow. To watch his beautiful lover as she turned toward the sunlight.