Spoilers: Mild through All The Way.
Disclaimer: Joss made them. He now teases us with them mercilessly.
Distribution: Just ask me.
Feedback: It'd be lovely.
Thanks go out to Tracy, who did the beta.
Author's Note: (Actually, it's more of a Buffy-fan's note:)
I loved last night's episode!
That's it. You can go on with your day. :)
He watches her.
He's always watched her; he used to think he was the predator, and now he sees himself as he really is-- the hunted. Her hunted. Slave to her whims and desires and helpless under her gaze. He hates being helpless, and revels in it at the same time because he loves her.
He goes to her side in those predawn hours that she sleeps. Because in those hours, there is nothing but her breath, her heartbeat. No chance for anything else. He watches as she slumbers and he is given a measure of peace.
She kissed him once, a long time ago. That memory burns through his consciousness. It was a light kiss on his lips, feathery even, and given only because she was grateful to him for helping her, but he hoped that eventually it would bring more.
Now he doesn't care about more; this is enough. To be able to be at her bedside, even without her consent, and reassure himself that she's alive, and well, and breathing. He'd been alive for over a century, and those months that she was gone were the longest weeks and days and minutes he'd ever experienced. He ached for her to be back.
She comes to him sometimes and he listens when she talks, complains, or even asks for advice. Asks him. She tells him things, confides in him, and although he knows-- *knows*-- he will never have her, he sometimes thinks he sees something in her eyes... A telltale sign of yearning, deep and painful.
He wants to touch her there, in that place she hurts so badly.
He knows he is a demon. His love for her is confusing and precious and terrifying. He doesn't understand it, but he understands where it comes from. It comes from the way her hair falls, and the small pauses she takes in her sentences before saying something important, and her roundhouse kick. It comes from the fact that she looks so frail in her sleep, so soft and delicate. That look of frailty is a fallacy, he knows, a deception, because she's strong, the Slayer, but he loves her all the more for it. Loves that she can look that innocent after having seen the things she's seen; after having done the things she's done.
Sometimes she moves restlessly in her sleep and it is in those moments when he knows she's thinking of her death. Of her life after death. She had been finished, she once told him, and the way she said those words made him hurt, somewhere deep in his chest. So when she moves like this, he takes her hand. He tries to be subtle, to be gentle so that he won't wake her, but she calms anyway at his touch.
He likes to think that she knows that he's the one touching her.
But, like so many things, that doesn't matter. What matters is that she does calm and her breathing slows again and her face smoothes and he helped that, whether or not she knows that it was him. The tears that fall silently from her closed eyes slowly dry on her cheeks and that pleases him.
He remembers the time when he would have loved to see her cry and yet he does not remember it; it seems faraway, distant, unreal. He hates her pain with the same passion that he loves her now.
So she calms, and breathes, and he listens to her heartbeat.
* * * * *
She senses him when he comes into her room.
She remains still and quiet so that he'll stay, like he's stayed on past nights, and she feels relief at knowing that he'll be there, with her, when it gets hard.
It always gets hard, every single night.
She has trouble sleeping now. She remembers things she would like to forget and forgets the things she knows she ought to remember, but having him there helps. He grounds her. Makes the world solid again, and easier to bear.
She dreams about him sometimes, in those moments she drifts off. She dreams of fighting by his side, and how he protects her. She feels safe with him. She doesn't feel safe anywhere else. He's become her anchor, though she hasn't told him yet.
She feels fear for the way she's starting to see him. She's the Slayer, and he's a vampire with no soul. But he does have a heart, unbeating though it may be. And he loves her with all of it.
There are other dreams, as well, dreams that frighten her with their color and sound and texture. As real as the world she lives in now. She thinks the dreams are a thin veil between this world and the world she left behind, and she sees that world with longing.
And then he touches her hand, holds it, and she feels peaceful again.
She hasn't the courage to tell him that she knows he comes to her. He has come nearly every night since her return and she fears that once she confesses that she knows, he'll stop coming. He'll leave her alone.
She's already so lonely.
So she justifies her small deception by telling herself that she never asked him to come. That he came on his own and that if she had been asleep, she never would have known, giving him no cause to go.
There will be a time when he knows; that time is coming quickly. But not yet. She's only able to rest when he's there, and she doesn't want that to end.
She thinks of the time he begged her for something, the smallest sign that she could love him someday. Somewhere inside of her, she knows she's giving that sign to him now, as he holds her hand. As she lets him into her room, lets him sit by her bed and watch her. He may not realize it, but this is his sign.
She's already learning to care about him.
Love can't be far behind.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
There's a thought in the back of his mind as he scales the tree outside her window: it will be different tonight. He ponders this for only a moment before brushing it aside, because the only differences can be bad ones. That she won't be there. That she'll wake up and tell him to leave.
So he ignores the thought and slides her window open, crawling silently inside.
As he straightens, and inspects her, he hears the sound of her heavy breathing, deep and slow. Her form is different underneath her sheets, more curved, more female. He pauses to take this in before realizing that she lies nude under those sheets, that only a thin layer of material is covering her from his eyes. She sleeps this way only after a good fight. He imagines that her night clothes are too restrictive after she's fought, her tense and bruised muscles and wild hair, the blood sluicing off her in the shower.
But he knows of no fight that happened tonight.
He sits down in the chair beside her bed and looks at her. Her skin is flushed, as though she's exerted herself, and her breathing is slightly irregular now that he listens intently.
Unsure of what to think, it passes through his mind that she is perhaps dreaming again and so he unthinkingly takes her hand, wanting to spare her the tears that evening.
When her hand, usually soft and pliant, squeezes his own, he starts, alarmed. Her eyes open to slits and they look the color of midnight in the dark of her room, but she doesn't turn him away.
"Please don't leave," she whispers, and her voice seems loud after the usual hush. "Please."
The word 'please' also startles him and he cocks his head to one side. His mouth opens but no words come out and finally he drops her hand and sits back in the chair.
"You're awake," he finally says.
A smile tugs at the corner of her mouth, but it seems scared. Is she scared of him? he wonders.
"Yes," she returns at length. "Will you stay?"
"You..." He searches for the words that are on the tip of his tongue, "You don't want me to leave?"
She sits up, holding the sheet around her bare breasts and her shoulders glow softly in the moonlight. "I... If you stay, you can..." She doesn't know how to finish, or even what she is offering, so she falls silent under his hooded gaze.
It seems surreal to him. "I can?"
"If you want to."
"Can I stay without...?" He understands what she was saying, and what he is denying need for, though the need is suddenly very strong inside him, and he understands the lunacy of it all, but he didn't come for that. Not this night. He came to listen to her heartbeat, to her breath.
A deep sigh escapes her and she looks up at him fondly. "Yes," she says and her relief is tangible. He smiles slightly as she lays back down. "Do you want to get in?"
The thought of being close to her is something he cannot deny need for, and he stares at her uncomprehendingly as what she asked sinks in. Finally he nods and kicks off his boots and sheds his jacket. He pauses for a moment, unable to believe what he is about to do-- what she is allowing him to do-- and then slips underneath her sheet.
She nestles against him comfortably and he thinks of how they seem to fit together. She smells the smoke on him and, strangely, it pleases her. Because it's him, it's part of him, like the peroxide in his hair or his accent or the way he walks.
For the first time in months, she knows she will be able to sleep easily, in his arms, like he knows that he's never been to a better place than her bed, lying beside her.
Her feet slip between his and even through his socks, he recognizes that her toes are cold, so he rubs them with his, heating her up, and grins to himself about the absurdity of it all, of how domesticated he feels, and about how much he likes that feeling.
Then slowly but surely, she falls asleep in his embrace.
And he stays awake, listening to her breathe.