All About Spike - Print Version
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Six Foot Deep
By Kita (Donna M.)

DISTRIBUTION: Yup, just let us know where.
SPOILERS: Through "Wrecked."
COUPLE PAIRING: Spike/Buffy. Yes, Donna and Jess are writing Spike/Buffy. The moon should be turning to blood any day now.
SUMMARY: Resurrection is a bitch.
RATING: Errr. Ummm... R? Sex. Violence. Dead squirrels. Really gross French poetry.
FEEDBACK: "To coin a popular Sunnydale phrase, 'duh.'"
DISCLAIMER: What's the Numfar of this fic? Joss is the malevolent god that owns all.



We all come into this world in the same way. Naked. Covered in blood. Screaming.

No one really remembers birth. Which is good, she supposes, because who wants to remember that? The cold, the violence. The feeling of alone-ness chewing up your cells.

But after, if we are blessed, we aren't alone anymore. After, there are warm blankets and the steady thrumming of a heart. Milk and lullabies. The safety of being kept, the surety of being held. This, Buffy remembers. Except that in her memories of Mother, she is not an infant.

She is not made of flesh.

But she knows Love.

She knows Peace.

She knows Heaven.

*****

Spike doesn't know much of anything for the first three days.

He knows he needs a cigarette. He's stretched out in the back of Xander's car, too battered from his ten-story fall to sit up straight, a blanket shielding him from the early morning sun. He needs a fucking cigarette, and if he can just concentrate on the intricacies of lighting and inhaling then everything. will. be. okay. But one of the broken ribs has pierced through his skin- he can feel blood pouring from the wound, soaking his jeans, and when he digs his cigarettes out of his pocket they are soaked with blood.

There are hands- Xander's? Tara's?- that carry him to the back room of the magic shop, draw the shades tightly against the sunlight. Willow, her eyes distant and hands shaking, perfunctorily examines his wounds and declares that most of the bones that had scarcely healed from his tryst with Glory have been re-broken in his fall from the tower. And that's when he figures it out: it's not supposed to get better, he's just supposed to get used to it. She disappears then, joining the others in the shop- he can hear the low murmur of voices making plans, deciding what Must be Done. Only Dawn stays, holding his hand, her small, bloodstained fingers tightly clenched in his broken ones. He can't look at her; her eyes are the same color as her sister's. He concentrates instead on a small shard of sunlight cutting through the blinds: if he stares at it long enough, he thinks, maybe his brain will shut the fuck up. Maybe that voice in his head will stop screaming her name over and over and over again. The arm that isn't fractured stretches towards the window and his fingertips brush against the light. The burning makes his mind stay quiet for a few seconds until Dawn reaches up and bats his hand out of harm's way.

"Don't," she says softly, and there is something frightening in her voice, something so much older than her fourteen years. "Not you too, Spike. You're not going anywhere."

//counting on you to protect her//

But it *is* the end of the world, he thinks. Dear God, it's the end of the fucking world.

Night comes, and Giles wakes up Dawn, who has fallen asleep on the floor next to the vampire's makeshift pallet. "Will he be okay?" she asks sleepily as Giles leads her away. Spike doesn't answer. The bleeding hasn't stopped and he can still feel his ribs shifting underneath his skin, trying to knit themselves back together without even asking his fucking permission. It hurts too much to move. Xander pauses at the doorway, looks back at him. There's something vaguely akin to sympathy in his exhausted, bloodshot eyes.

"What do you need?" he asks.

Spike screws his eyes shut, swallows hard, and speaks for the first time that day.

"Tequila?" he says hoarsely. "Whiskey. Anything."

Xander gives a curt nod and leaves. When Spike wakes the next morning there are three bottles of Jose Cuervo beside him. He doesn't know, until much later, about the hypnotic spell Willow is forced to cast on the undertaker so they can procure a coffin without producing a body, or the grave that Giles and Xander dig without Spike's aid. The next two days are a merciful blur.

*~*~*~*~*

Day three.

"They wouldn't let me help," Dawn says petulantly. "I mean, I know her fashion sense better than anyone. I've stolen her clothes often enough."

Spike stares out the window at the late afternoon sun and tries to block out the sound of Dawn's voice. She's babbling like a goddamn idiot, sharing all the funeral-preparation details that Spike would rather gargle holy water than hear, but he's not about to tell her to shut the hell up. The funeral's scheduled for two hours after sunset, just long enough for Willow and That Fuckhead to drive back from L.A. That should give him plenty of time to get good and intoxicated before the event. No way is he facing the ponce sober. No fucking way.

"And Willow was all like 'but Buffy hated that dress, she'd never forgive us if we buried her in that' and then Tara just said 'for God's sake, Willow, just pick out a dress already' and you should have seen the look on Will's face. She looked like Tara'd slapped her or something. And then she started just screaming and crying and stuff started flying all over the room like in *Poltergeist* and I figured it was time to bail." She takes a sip of her first beer, wincing at the taste, as he drains his sixth and tosses the bottle into the trashcan behind the magic shop's counter. They'd kick his ass if they knew he was giving the Niblet alcohol hours before her older sister is to be buried.

"Can I have a cigarette?" Dawn asks abruptly. She looks anxious, as if he might refuse or even reprimand her. He takes one from the pack, lights it, and hands it to her silently.

She coughs slightly at the first drag, then smokes in silence, watching the smoke curl around her fingers. "I feel like I shouldn't."

"Shouldn't what?"

"Be here. Like I was made to open a door that's closed and locked for good." She stares out the window and blinks hard. "Kept alive to save a world that doesn't need me and wouldn't notice if I was gone."

He stubs his own cigarette out on an Orb of Thesula. "I know how you feel."

*~*~*~*~*

Three.

He hates funerals. He can't remember his own, but remembers crawling out of the dirt to find a tall Irishman he didn't recognize standing at his graveside, smoking a cigar.

"She was supposed to meet you here," he said dryly, "but she forgot."

They always forget.

((you taste like ashes))

He fucking *hates* funerals. Remembering human life as if it's something important. Recognizing death as if it's something monumental. Bollocks. Fucking melodramatic humans. Just part of the process, is all. He'll get through. Three, three and a half, three and three-quarters and there's alcohol waiting for him back at the crypt.

Whatever movie-of-the-week image of Buffy's funeral he might have cultivated in his mind, the event itself proves something of a disappointment. He keeps on the edge of the group, chain-smoking, Dawn hanging on his arm, while Angel stands next to the coffin as if it's his God-given right, and that's enough to piss Spike off from the get-go; silly Spike, to think he has any rights in this matter when he's never even fucked the lady in question before expediently leaving town. No, it certainly wasn't supposed to turn out this way. In one final, humiliating display of bad taste, they get into a fistfight at her graveside following the funeral.

Spike never quite figures out who started it- too little blood and sleep and too much tequila for three days now. He remembers- much later, when he is sober- that Angel said he had no right. No right to have been there when it happened, and no right to be here now. And Spike wishes it were true. Wishes that it had been Angel, instead, on that tower.

Angel wouldn't have fucked up.

And he realizes, of course, that the fucker has a point, that he has no sodding place here, but he'll be damned if he's gonna stand there and listen to that overgelled wanker *say* so when he was a hundred miles away when it happened. It's a really fucking bad idea, he knows, but can't bring himself to care. Kicking Angel's ass- or getting his ass kicked by Angel, whichever it is- makes him feel alive for the first time in three days.

He keeps expecting Will to do her "separate" bit again, but she stares right through them both as if they aren't even there. He punches Xander in the nose when he and some skinny, bespectacled mini-Giles attempt to pry the two vampires apart and is rewarded with a splitting headache to supplement the black eye, bleeding nose, ribs cracked for the third time in two weeks. He can hear Dawn weeping hysterically.

((not now spike *please* not now))

Not now. Not while it's so inappropriate, so fucking inconvenient, and she's oh so sacrosanctly *dead.* And he never wanted this, to be the one expected to behave in front of the children. He killed his parents and siblings well over a century ago and he doesn't want to be Dawn's big brother now. He can't stand to be around them anymore, to look into living, breathing faces marked with regret and stupid Shoulds and Have Tos. Fucking wankers. He wants out, but. He fucking *promised,* didn't he? Idiot.

"He's sorry," Cordelia says, rubbing mascara tear tracks from her cheeks with grimy fingertips. "He won't say so, but he is. He feels bad about what happened." And Spike isn't sure if she means what happened tonight, or everything that's happened for the last hundred and twenty years, but it hardly matters anymore. In the car, the ex-Watcher mops blood off Angel's upper lip.

He doesn't deserve any comfort. Neither one of them do. But- fuck it.

"He always feels bad about something." Shuffles out his cigarette, staring at the dirt. Lights another. He feels uneasy around Cordelia and her raccoon-smudge eyes, embarrassed to grieve in front of someone who called Buffy a friend back when he was still trying to kill her. Because Angel was right. He doesn't have any right to be here. Shouldn't.

((i'll dance with you, pet. on the slayer's grave.))

He looks around, half-curious, for someone to dance with.

"There's nothing here," she responds flatly, gaze sweeping across the desolate cemetery. It's been how long since she's been back in Sunnyhell- a year, two? He wonders if she misses this fucking hellhole. "There's nothing for anyone here, especially you. Sooner or later you're gonna realize that, Spike." She sneaks a look over her shoulder for her coworkers, then plucks the Marlboro Red from his fingers and takes a deep drag. "This stupid town's made up of cemeteries, you know?"

"It's like that everywhere, I guess."

"No. Not like it is here." She takes another drag and watches a vacant-eyed Giles shepherd Dawn into the car, and he wonders, briefly, if she misses Buffy. Misses gossiping in homeroom or sipping lattes at the Bronze or whatever the fuck it is they did in years past. He doesn't miss her, because she never gave him anything to miss. Nothing but a few fading bruises and some halfassed regrets, and he's not crying because he hasn't anything to cry about. He hasn't. And he really shouldn't be here.

Three. If he can just get past today. Then it will be four and that, at least, will be something different.

"Everyone spends their time here waiting on each other to die," Cordelia muses. "It's such bullshit."

He snatches his cigarette back and wonders what it would be like to follow. Taking refuge with a Grandsire who isn't any less dead or grieving than he, and they could take their pain out on each other in spades and the hating would feel good, like something sharp and clean, like blood that flows in bright trickles and never dries in dark-brown patterns on concrete or hands. Like something that still made sense. In the car, Angel angrily shoves Wesley and his handkerchief away, and Spike sighs and shuffles out his cigarette. He wishes he could be like Angel, pushing love and affection away with a martyr's complexion and an oh-I-must-be-going-now voice; surely it must be easier to live that way, to love that way. But he can't. Spike reaches out with both hands, grasping anything resembling love with greedy claws, and pulls it tight to his chest, snarling at anyone who attempts to take it away. It has always been thus, and Spike knows he won't go where he's not wanted; he's already died once this month. "Go home, Cordelia."

*~*~*~*

Nine.

"So you just- quit on her? Is that how it is?"

Snapshot of your fucked-up life: defanged vampire standing in the Hellmouth's largest grocery store with the dead Slayer's best friend's recently un-brainsucked girlfriend, arguing about your responsibility towards a teenager who doesn't technically exist. He should have fucking stayed in Prague.

"She asks about you every day."

Tara's eyes are fiery, her jaw firmly set. Spike awkwardly swings his basketful of Guinness and Marlboros back and forth in one hand, avoiding that gaze. The witch and the Key are on aisle seven, picking out breakfast cereals. "I can't, okay? I just can't." Can't go back to the Summers house, full of dead memories of dead women who gave him ax-blows to the head and pipe organs to the spine. Can't go back to that house where he drank hot chocolate and stole sweaters. Can't.

"She thinks you blame her," Tara says seriously. "For what happened to Buffy. Do you?"

He almost laughs in her face. Because it's so ironic. In, you know, a sick kind of way.

Tara glances around for her lover and then drops her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "I know you loved her," she says, almost tenderly. "The others might not believe it, but I do."

He tightens his grip on the shopping basket and looks away, his throat tightening. God, this was so fucking much easier when he was trying to kill them all the time.

"And you know it's what she would have wanted," Tara presses. "For you to be there for Dawn. For us all to take care of her."

'Til the end of the world, Spike thinks again. Even if that happens to be Day Nine. "Fine," he says hoarsely. And thus becomes a reluctant quasi-member of the fucking Scooby Gang.

*~*~*~*~*

Seventeen.

"You know," Xander snaps, eyes blazing, "you really have the *least* right, of any of us, to be complaining about this." He kicks a spool of wire out of the way and glares at Spike.

((spike, I can't help myself. I love you))

"I just don't see why we're looking for the goddamned thing."

((should I start this program over?))

They found the body about an hour ago, wires tangled and twisted in heaps of rubble; he closed his eyes against the cracks. They still can't find the head. They've been looking since nightfall.

They found blonde strands in a pile of wreckage awhile ago, but aren't sure which Buffy they belonged to. Patterns of fluid on the ground from the fractured skull. Fucked-up Rorschach that doesn't want interpreting. He remembers watching the broken bones shift beneath her skin as Giles carried her body back to the car.

((should I start this program over?))

She was dead when she hit the ground. He *knows* she was dead when she hit the ground. Mystical energy, Willow said a dozen times or more, like a mantra. That doesn't make it any easier. She cracked the concrete when she landed, frail body hitting hard enough to bounce. He saw.

((should I start this program over?))

"We need it," Xander says stubbornly. He grinds his teeth and paws through a pile of scrap metal. Nothing. Rats and rubble and dust.

"The hell we do."

"We can't do this without her," he says plaintively, and Spike knows he doesn't mean the robot.

Quiet footsteps behind them- "Found it," Dawn says softly. She holds the head carefully, wrapped in her fuzzy powder-blue sweater. "Let's take her home."

*~*~*~*

Twenty-two.

The first thing thing he sees when he entered the living room is her head on the coffee table, wires trailing from her neck like bright silver entrails. The body lies sprawled on the floor, legs akimbo, plastic flesh glaring brightly through clothes tattered from the fight. The synthetic skin has torn and pulled away in places, exposing dull nickel and gleaming copper, snaking along the curves of her body. As he watches, a sallow-faced Willow plugs a cord in the back of her neck and taps the keys of her laptop until lips twitch and eyes snap open.

"Spike!" the head says enthusiastically.

He fights the urge to vomit and runs headlong from the house. After that, the nightmares get worse. It takes Dawn a week to convince him to return.

*~*~*~*

Forty-one.

He's the bitchboy, he knows, and can't bring himself to care. They only call him when they need something and ignore him otherwise. They bitch when he can't be reached; he got a cell phone for that very purpose. Well, stole a cellphone, and they bitched about that, too; Slayer of Slayers, former Master of the Sunnydale Hellmouth, and the wankers won't even let him get away with petty theft anymore. He starts baby-sitting Dawn in mid-July, when Giles abruptly stops filling the post. "He isn't feeling well," Willow explains hastily. Giles is drunk. In the unabridged, thou-shalt-not-speak-of-it Scooby lexicon, it means that Giles is drunk. Spike is very proud of the fact that he's falling to pieces in a much more subtle manner than the ex-Watcher is. The vampire is, after all, Coping. Or at least the closest semblance of it that anyone's likely to see.

*~*~*~*

Seventy-four.

They yell at him for being mean to her, as if he's hurting her fragile little plasticene feelings; and it's fucking ironic, he thinks, that he's the only one who seems to remember that it isn't real. Bits of plastic and programming and wisps of fake blonde hair and he's the only one who still realizes that it isn't. her.

He suspects that, six months ago, Willow would have gone crying to Buffy if the Big Stupid Vampire had hurled the better part of Joyce's crockery at her head. Now she just narrows her eyes and deflects the pots and pans with a light gesture and some muttered Latin, doubtless aware that he wasn't aiming that well anyway. Pavlov's dog caught on eventually, after all, and contrary to popular belief Spike isn't *that* bloody stupid.

"I don't see what right you have to complain about it," she says hotly. "You're getting what you paid for, after all."

A casserole dish shatters inches from her head and he winces at the searing flash of pain behind his eyes.

"Will you calm down?" she screeches, fear starting to tremble at the edges of her voice. "I'll reprogram your fucking sexbot if it bothers you that much. Just get out."

He goes home, and there's pictures of her, and stakes, and sweaters, and goddamnit if he can't bear to look at those either.



II

Eighty-two.

Giles has that look, the look of a man about to rabbit off. Captain Cardboard looked that way most of last year; at least the old man had the decency to wait until she was in the ground.

Scoobies, vampires, patrolling and it's another night in Sunnyhell. The vamp is easily twice Spike's size and has him pinned to the ground and neither one of them has a stake; and there's really no fucking point to two vampires trying to kill each other without a stake, which is the *real* reason that vamps don't attempt to fight to the death very often, because it's all a big damn waste of time. So it's all punching and kicking and clawing and each trying to break the other's neck, until he finds himself with his fists full of dust, being straddled by the Buffybot, stake in her hand and triumphant smile on her face.

"I like this position best," she chirps, slipping the stake into her waistband.

He closes his eyes. When he opens them he can see the others on the edges of his vision and knows they've gone pale, their expressions stunned. He's tired of this. So fucking tired. "Get off me," he says sickly.

"You can make me if you want to. I like it when you make me do things." Cheery inflection unchanged, eyes utterly devoid of hurt or even basic understanding, and how had he ever thought this could be *her*?

I can't do this, he thinks, panic rising in his chest. Oh my God, I can't do this, eighty, eighty-one, eighty-two  and I just can't.  "Get the fuck off me," he growls, and the Bot blinks in confusion. The Scoobs look sickened and horrified- all but one. And Spike realizes. That Willow hasn't fixed the bot, hasn't even attempted to fix the bot, and she did so on purpose. Because she's making sure he gets what he paid for. He's being punished.

"Oh Spike, you know I love it when you- "

He can feel a scream of grief and rage building in his throat before Willow rushes forward and hits the switch at the nape of her neck. The Bot's eyes flutter closed and her head sags to one side. He shoves her off his lap and she clatters beside him in a heap of plastic. He sits up slowly, fighting tears. The others are stunned into silence and Willow looks panicked, terrified of what she just allowed to happen. "I'm sorry," she babbles, "I'm sorry, I didn't-"

His fist slams out quickly, making sharp contact with her cheekbone. It'll bruise tomorrow, bright patterns of purple and blue, and he will enjoy seeing it: proof that he's still really here. For now, he curls on the grass in agony. The chip has gone off with such viciousness that his vision goes gray and his nose spurts blood. He lies on the cemetery ground, badly shaken, synapses screaming.

Xander and Tara both lunge forward simultaneously, furious, and Xander nearly decks Spike before the Watcher pulls him back. "Go home," he says sternly. "All of you, go home." He then turns, offers a hand to Spike, and leads him back to his crypt.

"If you lay a hand on any of them again," Giles says sharply, "I'll stake you myself, never mind the bloody chip." Spike doesn't care; he just wants Giles to leave. He's sitting on the stone bier, arms wrapped tightly around his knees, tears rolling silently down his cheeks and he feels like he's about to crack into a million pieces.

"In any case," he continues, his tone becoming more kind, "I'll talk to Willow about reprogramming the robot." Giles gets the bottle of whiskey from a nearby shelf and offers it to him silently. "You know," he says softly, "whoever said it gets easier with time clearly didn't have a bloody clue."

Spike looks up over the lip of the bottle and realizes. "You're leaving, aren't you?" he asks flatly, and Giles nods.

"She loved you, y'know" he says quietly. He doesn't know why. Maybe because Giles looks like he desperately needs to hear it. Maybe because he wishes desperately that someone could have said it to him. And he realizes in that moment how much he hates all of them for that. For their chance to be able to treasure that memory of friendship when all he has is the memory of bruising.

Maybe after another eighty-two days, he thinks, another two hundred, another thousand, he'll be able to forget his rage and grief and pain and simply remember that he once loved her.  Remember that there was once something good about that.  He hopes.

*~*~*~*~*

A hundred and forty-five.

It hurts, but that's okay. Part of the process, yeah? 'Cause he think things are gonna be all right, maybe. That he can keep going, even if he can't move on. In late August Spike arrives to drive Dawn to her first high-school dance. He stands in the doorway and watches her primping before the mirror, confident that the glass will not reflect the maudlin, defanged vampire-babysitter who loved her dead sister. All she sees is an excited girl preening in a pretty white dress, and that's how it should be. Buffy's dead. When he's awake, Buffy finally feels dead to him.

But: He still dreams about it, every. fucking. night. Rolls over crushed ribs to see her fall, graceful, swan-dive, arms stretched cruciform, eyes accusing. //i'm counting on you to protect her//until the end of the world//

And part of him, the part that does not want this guilt, doesn't want this goddamned ache, still believes that the world ended that night. That they're all dead and none of them have the sense to lie down. He doesn't want this, so he wakes.  Wakes and shakes his head hard to clear it, breaths in acrid lungfuls of crypt dust. Lights a cigarette and draws his knees up to his chest, trembling.

It's just a dream. And this, too, shall pass.

*****

She remembers feeling her mother nearby. No physical sensation of it, just a comforting certainty. She remembers knowing that the world was still intact, dimensional walls sturdy and strong. She knew that Dawn was alive, that her friends were safe. Sad without her, perhaps; but they would be okay.

She doesn't remember thinking of Spike at all.

No one alive remembers this because her friends didn't know her then, and Dawn

(Dawn isn't real)

and her Mother

(Mommy is dead).

But: when Buffy was seven, she fractured her arm in three places. The bone stuck out through her skin, shiny and smooth like the white keys on her father's piano. She remembers how the doctors looked at her when she quietly walked through the door of the Emergency Room alongside her mother. She clutched the wounded arm tight to her chest, and just stared at the men in their white lab coats. "In shock," they said. They gave her pain medication through a needle in her vein. "Unusually high tolerance for pain," they said. She didn't understand the words. Didn't understand why they were so surprised that she never once screamed.

Buffy didn't scream when The Master killed her. When his fetid breath washed over her face and his talons closed around her neck, and she knew she was going to die. She was sixteen then, and she was not ready. But it never occurred to her to scream.

She didn't scream when she had to kill Angel. When he stared up at her, innocent and stripped, and she thrust a sword through his gut and sent him to eternal damnation. She cried for three months. She saw his face in every nightmare, but she never once woke up screaming.

Buffy didn't scream when her Mother died. But oh, she'd wanted to.

The world tilted and her insides came rushing out. Guts and blood, milk and cornflakes. Choking her so she couldn't scream. She vomited instead, and when she was done, Giles was there. She sobbed into her pillow all that night, and when she woke up the next morning to buy a coffin for her mother, she had no voice.  

But when the hands came (she remembers them as hands though they couldn't have been hands, because there was no flesh there, no form; but they seemed to be hands, huge and cold and hard as marble) and tore her away from the place where she was Finished,

When she woke up in her own coffin to feel her skin creep and stretch and knit itself back together over rotted bone,

(((Angel's bed is too soft and there are too many pillows. The paneled walls are too dark, and the canopy is too close to her face. Drabbles of sun filter through the blinds. The window is open, she can feel the outdoors creeping in. Wet, hot and confining, no breeze. A filmy pink glow crawls over Angel's bare chest and arms. He doesn't flinch away.

She can smell pancakes downstairs. They're burning.

She rolls over to face Angel. He is still, his skin is warm. Between her legs, sweat, and the scent of sex.

"Angel?" softly, but he remains asleep, wrapped in layers of linen. Too many damn linens.

Satin against her cheek as the light shifts. Splinters from the walls she can brush with outstretched fingertips. Her nails are dirty. The canopy drapes across her face and chest, sticky, heavy. Hot. Too hot.

"Angel...Angel I can't...."

"Shhh," he whispers, pulling her closer. Thrumming of a heartbeat by her ear now, steady and strong.

Pancakes. Pancakes and milk.

"Shh," he says. "We don't have a lot of time left.")))  

When she took her first breath and coated her new, pink lungs in cemetery dirt and dung beetles,  

(((In Angel's shower, watching the water run over white tile in never ending rivulets of red and brown. He is scrubbing her hair, and the dirt falls away in clumps, swirling, swirling, until the drain is clogged with it.

With her.

"Give me your hands," he says, and she does. Watches in silence as he digs the clay from beneath her nails, and gently cleanses the gashes on her knuckles with sweet smelling white soap.

The sheets are white too when he carries her back to his bed. Lays her upon the clean cotton.

It spreads beneath her until she can feel it. It spreads until the shape around her body is outlined in dark colors and grit. Dirt and small scurrying things. It spreads until she can see it, and she tries to scream.

But Angel is kissing her, and he tastes like cream and sugar, and she forgets everything else. So familiar; this cadence of muted pillowtalk, this broad chest as her bedframe. Which is strange really, because it never actually happened.

"We shouldn't," she whispers into his mouth, "Your soul."

"I can't be truly happy, Buffy," he assures her. "Not without you.")))  

When she punched at the wood encasing her under six feet of earth and realized that her strength did not return along with her breath,  

(((Spent with sleep and sex, her limbs aching and heavy. And there are maggots crawling in his sheets. They make sounds like a thousand tiny batwings. She wants to shove them away, wants to scream, but she can't. She can't breathe, and she can't move and she can't-

//Osiris, Lord of the Dead//

"Shh," he says again. He is standing by the bed, looking down on her and the maggots. The light catches the silver cross around his neck. The damned pancakes are still burning.

//Here lies the Warrior of the People//

"Willow," she breathes, "is Willow here?"

"Everyone is here, Buffy," he tells her, sinking down onto the filthy mattress beside her. He doesn't seem to mind the maggots, and they do not come close to him.

His arms slide around her, lift her, and she is boneless, weightless and without form. Without-

"No..." she breathes again. Breath can make things real. Breath can make things happen. Breath can make things.

"No..." she says again, but there is no sound.

She is crumbling. Bits of her falling away, skin and teeth and nail, until Angel holds nothing but slivers of golden hair and clumps of dirt.

And breath.

//Let her cross over//

"Made of clay, Buffy. In the beginning, we were all made of clay."

"Ribs," she says, staring at the memory of his bare chest.

He rubs his dirty palms on his jeans.

"I'm sorry," he says. "You know there are things that I can never give you." )))  

When she dug and clawed and cried out for god but no one answered,

Then Buffy screamed.

*****

One forty-eight.

"I do."

Her face is grave-pale, her eyes bleary, squinting at the light.  He remembers.

"Clawed her way out of her coffin, that's how."

Ragged nails and bloody knuckles and he can *feel* that vicious tightening of claustrophobia in his throat. Dirt and dust a hundred and twenty years old and he remembers: Boy William in a box, trapped in one of those slender pine compartments that passed for a casket in the nineteenth century and beneath her, beneath them, oh so beneath it all.  Fingernails scraping for purchase on his own coffin-lid and he couldn't breathe and didn't yet realize that he no longer needed to. Does it matter? Fear is fear.

"Isn't that right?"

*Was it easier for her?* he wonders, staring at her bloodied hands in horror. *Or harder? Who's weaker, a dormant Slayer or a fledgling vampire? Her coffin was modern, stronger, oak and steel, but her grave was shallower. Only four feet and not six- Xander and Giles dug to exhaustion and I was still useless, a broken-boned, drunken mess. They bury them deep in England, lest the bodies float to the surface when the rains come. But I didn't have to breathe.* He's channeling William now, and he knows it- three days old and terrified and he remembers scrabbling to the surface, choking on dirt, mint-cool sharpness of the night air, the ember of his grandsire's cigar glowing in the chill darkness, the betrayal of being left in a box. //she was supposed to meet you here, but she forgot.// *They forgot, those bastards forgot her. Oh, God, her hands.*  Bloody knuckles gleaming brightly in the lamplight.  Torn, ragged skin.  He remembers how small and perfect her hands once seemed to him.

"Yeah," she whispers, and glances down, as if ashamed. Because there's nothing glamourous about being neither here nor there. "That's what I had to do."

"Done it myself," he murmurs. She's here. He's not dreaming, she's here.

But is she? Her fingers are lank and lax in his trembling hands; he stares into her eyes and she stares back but he knows she doesn't see him. "How long was I gone?" she asks, and he wants to reply, "Are you sure you're really back?"

"Hundred and forty-seven days yesterday," his voice responds automatically. "Hundred and forty-eight today, 'cept today doesn't count, does it?" Do you know where you are, Buffy?  Do you know who's holding your hands?  Can you feel how hard I'm shaking?  Where were you?  Where are you now?  I don't remember anything, just Dru's fingernails and the warmth seeping from my body, and waking to darkness and cold, and three days had felt like only moments. But you... "How long was it for you, where you were?"

"Longer," she says softly, and he just nods.

And then they come in, all screeching and screaming and human blather and pounding of feet. He shrugs the damp, chill silence of the grave off his shoulders, and slams the door when he goes.

The brat and the demon emerge ten minutes later, find him weeping quietly behind the tree where he has spent so many nights. "I hope you're not going to start your little obsession now that she's around again," Xander sneers, and Spike realizes that the game is up. Bleeding in the backseat and tequila offerings and how many times had he saved the whelp's life in the last five months? How many times had he patrolled so that the rest of them could throw dinner parties in Xander's cozy apartment that he didn't care about not being invited to? How many times had he watched Dawn so the rest of them could hang out at the Bronze?  But he'd done it all and he hadn't bitched about it once, because he thought it meant something, that he was doing something she would have wanted, paying some kind of penance, and he mistook their strained politeness for appreciation when all they had been doing was baiting the super-strong bitchboy so he would return to save their asses once again. Oh, but the game is up, the game is so fucking up, and who the fuck cares about the chip when he slams the boy up against the nearest tree? What the hell is one measly headache after the last hundred and forty-eight days?

"You didn't tell me," he grates out, throat choked with sobs. "You brought her back and you didn't tell me-" He's horrified at how betrayed he feels. Christ, this is where loving her has brought him. This is what it's done to him.

"Well, now you know," the kid says snottily, and Ways to Kill Xander Harris When I Get the Chip Out, Nos. 317-322 are quickly added to Spike's mental list.

"I worked beside you all summer."

"We didn't tell you. It was just ... we didn't, okay?"  Fucker.  Stupid, childish fucker.

"Listen," he growls. "I've figured it out. Maybe you haven't, but I have." Because they forget. Spike is frequently irresponsible and always immature- he considers it one of his inherent charms- but they forget that he's a hundred and twenty fucking years old, he's seen death and horror and apocalypse that they can't even imagine, and he knows better. That there are some things that you don't try to fuck with; you just try to keep living in the wake of the collapse, the way he's been trying to do every day for the last five months. And these stupid, ignorant children, even after years of living on a Hellmouth, still haven't figured out happy endings are just a pretty, half-assed falsity. Especially that arrogant little bitch who thinks she can take life and death into her own hands. "Willow knew there was a chance that she'd come back wrong," he says insistently, "so wrong that you'd have-" He can't say it. "That she would have to get rid of what came back, and I wouldn't let her. If any part of that was Buffy, I wouldn't let her. And *that's* why she shut me out."

"What are you talking about?" Xander says nervously. "Willow wouldn't do that."

"Oh," he says slowly. Willow has done that, and Spike knows she will do more. "Is that right?"

"You're just covering. Don't tell me you're not happy," the boy says defensively, and Spike snickers. Does Xander think it's all better now? Does he think it's *over*? Christ, it's just beginning. And Spike thinks ((knows)) they're all daft not to realize.

Consequences. Always. consequences. Repercussions. Pound of flesh.

And you pay and you pay and you pay.

*****

That night she dreams. Scraps of song, dark and brutal, hint of rent flesh and shattered bone. She follows the cadence down, down. Whispers and shadows in a crypt. He is reading by candlelight, his thick accent reminiscent, but...wrong.

She cannot see his face, just the barest curve of jaw, the familiar tilt of head. He does not turn when she enters.

"The flies swarmed on the putrid vulva, then,"

"Jesus," she flinches. Breathes. Heat and sin, and all around her the scent of melted wax. "What the hell kind of poetry is that?"

"A black tumbling rout would seethe,"

"Whatever happened to love sonnets?" she asks him, fingers reaching for that long, dirty brown hair, brown coat covering lean shoulders, brown ribbon in the tangled curls.

"Of maggots, thick like a torrent in a glen,"

He shrugs off her touch without bothering to face her. Continues to read aloud with a smoother voice she still cannot place. It sounds so young. She can't remember young. Dark. She remembers dark.

"Over those rags that lived and seemed to breathe."

"What are you talking about?" she demands; angry. Not afraid. Not of him. His posture stiffens.

He slams the book closed and gestures to the four post bed where Angel lays still, silent, asleep. "Why don't you save the deep thoughts for naked-boy, over there? That's really not why I'm here."

She reaches for him again, feels the swell of light muscle and crinkle of leather. He turns to face her, now platinum and sharp. The scar on his left brow is open.

"Why are you here then, Spike?"

The book hits the floor with a dull thud and a small splash, and her gaze follows the sound. Sees his thick black boots covered in crimson, seeping from the steel spikes which nail both his feet to the floor.

Derisive laugh. "Just where the fuck do you think I'm going to go?"

******

One hundred forty-nine.

One fifty.

One fifty-one.

She's back, she's alive, it's over. But it hasn't. stopped.

And that night he dreams the same damned dream all over again. Watches her fall. Hears the crunch of bones. Soft whispers of blood.

And the night after that. And the night after that. And the night after that.

In waking hours too, she comes to his crypt, drawn to the scent of dust and mold. Dirt and earth. His eyes drop when she enters, in an expression of deference she never would have expected from him. It angers her as much as everything else. He offers her a seat, talks to her of forgiveness, promises her that from now on he will catch her when she falls. And she wants to laugh, wants to say, "Spike, don't you see? You *did* save me. You're incompetent and you're weak and your failures got me into Heaven. It was all the rest of them that damned me to Hell."

But of course, she doesn't. She sits there half the night, and she doesn't say anything at all. He lets her stay anyway. He smells like Death.

And she wonders what it would be like, to wrap her legs around him and take that scent into herself. Because he is not Angel, and he does not have a soul, and he would kill her. Once upon a time, he would.

She imagines him, naked and pale, covered in a thin sheen of sweat. The firelight paints his skin, molds monsters out of wide planes, shapes demons out of sharp angles. Orange and yellow licking at his toes and sweeping the backs of his legs.

She sees him bathed in flame, his coat curled around his feet, his bare arms outstretched. She wonders how long it would take before the fire turned him to dust. She wonders if he would scream.  

Next time they meet it is in the shadow of midday. She offers her secret to him there, like a child, open palm outstretched. Then she walks into the sunlight where she knows he cannot follow. She feels his stare for hours.  

The nights which follow, his presence is steady and solid, and for reasons she has no desire to explore,  comforting. She doesn't comprehend physics or theology, the laws of the natural or supernatural order of things. She does not want to learn. It is sickening enough to understand that she is not really Alive, but not Undead like Spike, either. His demon animates him, but what animates her? What makes her cells divide, what forces her out of bed each day? Raised from clay by the obscene will of her friends, and kept walking by the endless tears of a sister who is as much an abomination as she is.

No, certainly not alive.

Not like Anya who bubbles, chirps and talks conspiratorially of making new life. Not even like Willow who has learned to take new life, in silent and secret trade for reanimated Slayers.

Reanimated. No longer dead.

Not-Dead-Anymore. That is what she is. And it is not enough. It is not enough to coax her out of bed most days. Not nearly enough to care. Spike seems to understand at least that.



III

Sometimes the lights go out.

The good power cables- the ones he nicked from the Home Depot last spring- go to the TV and refrigerator. The cords run out the window, trail through the back of the cemetery, and directly into the power supply of some unsuspecting Sunnydale inhabitant- Spike's nothing if not ingenious. They haven't failed him once- come rain, snow, or apocalypse, he's got blood, beer, and Junkyard Wars.

The other cords are shabby and threadbare, hauled out of the local dump. They're for the non-essentials- the lights that he doesn't particularly need, the stereo that doesn't do him a bit of good since Harm trashed his albums, the coffee maker he doesn't use. Those cords are notoriously unreliable and they've shocked him more than once.  No matter; he lights candles. Mouse-quiet, he never hears her enter, but from below he smells the sizzling flesh. Finds her upstairs, palm stretched flat over the guttering flame, skin reddening first, then blistering.

"Buffy, pet," he said gently, the first two or three or four times it happened. "Don't do that." Now he just lets her, and bandages the burns afterwards. She doesn't listen to him anyway, and it's best to just leave her alone to feel whatever she still can.

She comes after sunset and sits in the chill silence of the crypt, speaking her confusions and fears in murmurs and half-formed phrases.  Finishing sentences is just so fucking tiring these days, and here with Spike is the only place where she doesn't have to.  She speaks of her vague, cloudy memories of Heaven, of the terrible persistence of wakingupinabox nightmares, of the exhaustion and frustration that greets her every fucking morning- climbing out of bed, making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, sending her little sister off to school, getting through one minute and the next and the one after that.  She asks about life and death and immortality, and he tries to tell her the truth, but it usually comes out sounding like bullshit; he's not sure if she minds.  She asks about her funeral, and he doesn't say "I was drunk, and your ex-boyfriend called me a worthless loser and knocked me unconscious, and I couldn't look your little sister in the face for a week afterwards.  And for a moment there- just a moment- I hated you more painfully and viciously than I've ever hated anyone.  Hated you and your goddamn sacrificial-lamb hangups for making me hurt this way."  So  he says something lame about the flowers instead, or how Dawn tucked Mr. Pointy, a picture of Joyce, and Angel's silver crucifix into the coffin's silk lining, or how he brought red roses to her grave every day for a month until her little sister discovered he was stealing them from the local florist's and made him stop.  This seems to appease her.

"Would you have?" she says one night, abruptly, and for once he doesn't quite follow.

"What, love?"

She lets him call her that. It sounds sweet, like cotton candy and thick clouds. It doesn't feel real; if it did she'd make him stop. "What they did." Tore her out. Brought her back. Damned her. He shakes his head. "Why?"

Shrug. "Dead is dead." And that's the difference between them, after all: no one is asking him to pretend. She puts a hand, impulsively, on his still chest.

"Quiet doesn't mean peace," he reminds her, and tonight his eyes are hooded and dark. He's still mourning her. And that's okay; she's still mourning her, too.

*****

She still starts when she opens the back door in the morning, and hears the Angels singing. Dawn told her it was the birds, but Buffy knows.

She still sees her Mother, sometimes. Sometimes she is sitting on Buffy's bed, head buried in her hands. Sometimes she is laying on the couch downstairs. She always looks alive. She is always crying.

And Buffy may be only half-here, may be already half-crazy, but she realizes. How fucked up it is. That in her house, the dead mourn for the living.

She still can't bear to look at her own hands, missing chunks of skin and nails, left somewhere in the dirt, buried in a coffin that wears her name. Soon, the slithering things will eat all it all. Another small part of herself lost. Another chapter in her endless rape.

In darkness, she still dreams of Willow, her face covered in someone else's blood, doubled over in pain. She watches in silent horror as a serpent winds it way through her flesh, out of her open mouth. It slithers onto the earth covered in Willow's blood and bile.

In daylight, she still sees Xander, lying cold on the ground, one eye plucked from its socket and resting like a plastic marble against his gray cheek.

And she still wakes up screaming.

*****

In the morning she brushes her teeth, and the dreams cling. Cobwebs and toffee. In the before-time, dreams would fade by breakfast. She can remember the summer after she'd killed him, how he would visit her at night. Come dawn, sometimes he was still there. She could smell him until her first cup of coffee. Then he was always gone.

Now the dreams hover for hours.

Days. Months. Years.

(("how long was it for you, where you were?" "longer."))

She stares at herself in the mirror, the mint paste gathering around her lips, spilling down her chin. A mad dog, foaming. It doesn't really occur to her to wonder how long she has been standing here brushing her teeth.

Minutes. Days. Years.

(("how long was it for you, where you were?" "longer."))

Because she's not even sure how long she has been... here. Been Not Dead Anymore.

*****

One afternoon she follows the jagged sounds of mewling into the back garden. Finds the neighborhood cat stalking a small squirrel. The squirrel is torn and bleeding because the cat doesn't understand it is not a willing participant in this game of hide and seek. Or maybe the cat just doesn't care. Maybe the cat is just doing what comes naturally to it. And maybe the squirrel should have picked another goddamn yard to gather its winter stock.

It's over in moments, the cat tossing the small, furry body into the air and batting it along the grass with a single-minded glee. It is only when the squirrel is completely still that the cat pauses to wonder why its toy no longer works. Licks his chops and walks away, tail in the air.

Buffy stays.

Dawn finds her there, crouched in the grass, still watching.

The cat had torn the thing limb from tail until its innards dangled between blood spattered teeth. The squirrel hadn't made a sound. Maybe squirrels never do. What remains of it lies on the ground, already covered with a swarm of black ants. The ants are terribly efficient, really. Buffy bends down to get a closer look.

When Dawn comes, Buffy is rubbing her fingernails over what is left of the thing's tail, still soft and fuzzy despite the blood caked on the white fur. The ants just scurry on around her hand.

"Buffy," that high, tight little girl voice. "What are you doing?"

((I'm doing what you can't, I'm doing what you won't, I'm dealing with the death and the decay and the ugliness you never want to see, I'm becoming what you made me, Goddamn you, isn't this what you brought me back for?))

It takes a moment to dress her face in stone. She looks up, brushes stained hands across her lap.

"Nothing," she says. "I'm not doing anything. Let's go make some lunch."

It takes time, Spike had told her. He was right. Every day, she learns to fake it better.

*****

When the call comes, she says, "Who can that be? Everyone I know lives here." Even though she knows that will never be true.

They meet in a cemetery, and that's ironic on more levels than she cares to dwell upon. Not her town, not his, but a familiar scene nonetheless. Death looks the same pretty much anywhere.

Angel is standing by a crumbling tomb when she jumps the gate. Hands in his pockets, waiting for her.

Waiting.

He is solid and dark and his lashes are wet. He whispers her name. She leans into the sound.

Angel has an old, striped picnic blanket in his trunk, and her head still fits perfectly into the hollow between his shoulder and his neck. She thinks maybe they could stay right here, in this haven of the dead, forever. She was dead, and he still is, and it's peaceful after all.

The dull lights filter through the trees like sputtering votive candles. They sit together on someone's grave beneath a cracked statue of the Virgin, and they speak their offerings. Shanshus and Epiphanies, deaths followed by rebirths, and deaths followed only by hollow, gray mourning. But neither are Priest, and both have been banished from the Kingdom, and forgiveness is an elusive thing in any case.

They were supposed to be in love until it killed them both. Then it sort of did.

Angel lets her cry for a very long time.

"You know the worst part?" she whispers later, against the soft gray silk of his shirt. He is silent. The question was rhetorical and the topic could be anything. Her mother's death, her own. The fact that in less than two hours the sun will rise and she will have to let go of his hand.

"No one ever says good-bye. Everyone leaves, but no one says good-bye." She can feel him wince at the obvious accusation, and doesn't pause to allow him a reply

((excuse)).

"My dad snuck out of the house in the middle of the night. Did I ever tell you that? I got up at 2 a.m. to get a drink of water, and there he was, creeping down the stairs with an overnight bag slung over his shoulder. I was 14. One of the clearest memories I have of my own father. And it's his back."

She lets him pull her close, and he tries not to think about fire engines and exploding high schools. About how small she looked standing in the middle of it all before he turned away. About what he must have looked like from the back.

"Angel, did you scream in Hell?" Suddenly, softly. He stares at her, wondering if this is somehow meant to be reparation for the earlier exchange, but he has never known her to be randomly cruel.

His muscles tense as he draws a breath. "No," he says. "No, I- they... wouldn't let me."

"I'm sorry," she whispers into his neck.

It is enough.

*****

He isn't spying.  Spying is what he did last year; this is just... observation. See How in Control of the Situation I  Am, he thinks, as he lights his eighth cigarette and waits patiently for Buffy to return. He watched her leave half an hour ago, hiding in the shadows as she slipped into Joyce's SUV and drove away.  She's never worn perfume for him and hasn't worn lipstick since she Came Back.  He knows where she's gone.

He leans against a tree, knuckles biting painfully into the rough bark, blood running in cool trickles down his hand.  The cigarette quivers hard in his shaking fingers.  He concentrates on the pain, fighting to supress the rage  burning in his throat. He wants to scream, cry, chase her down so he can tear her into little pieces.  With him, she's with him, and it's never gonna end.  He's been gone for two years and wasn't even there when she died, but where does she go running the moment she gets back?  They're still acting out their goddamned Romeo and Juliet fantasy and Spike knows he will never be anything more than second or third or fourth best.  He drives his fist into the tree trunk so hard he can hear finger-bones snap.  The pain is a bright red flare that travels up his arm and almost reaches his brain to silence the voices there.  But not quite.

The eighth cigarette falls from his grasp. He lights another, cradles his broken and bloody hand. Waits.

*****

They leave the cemetery just as purple sky melts into pink. By the time they reach his car, small wisps of smoke are already curling around his coat. They never have been any good at judging when it's just too damned late.

He crawls inside the safety of the Belvedere, and she leans in to kiss him one more time. A breath- hers, his- and he draws away, cradles her face in his palms and tilts her head downward. She feels his lips brush her forehead, feathers and firelight. Essence of Angel.

"Good-bye, Buffy," he says.

She watches him close his door against the light.

*****

Rising music. Rising... yeah.

His hand hovers in the air a moment (and he can almost hear himself thinking what do I do, what do I do now that it's finally real, how do I touch someone that actually wants to be touched) before coming down to clench  possessively on her shoulder. His fingers tangle tightly in her hair and he can feel her insistent tongue invading his throat, raping his mouth. She's devouring him, bending him to her sick little will, taking him to pieces and it feels good. so good.

She stops for breath, pulls back slightly. "Buffy-" he starts. Unsure what exactly he plans to say, but the words "what the fuck?" come to mind.

She glares, clenches his shoulders hard enough to bruise. "Shut up, Spike," she grates between clenched teeth before pulling his lips to hers again.

He obeys.

*****

Her eyes are hollow tonight. She sits in the corner and stares sightlessly as he brews her some coffee, strong. She never drinks it, just warms her hands. "Leaving," she says softly. "All of them, you know? Dad, Angel, Riley, now Giles... They all just..." Her voice trails off.  Still so hard, after all this time, to quarry speech, but he can still hear what goes unsaid.

He doesn't say anything. He knows he'll never leave, but he also knows that she couldn't care less. She lets him kiss her again before she goes.

*****

The night of Willow and Dawn's car accident, Buffy lets Spike drive Dawn to the hospital. As soon as Buffy arrives, he is up to leave, glancing once at Dawn and nodding. Green walls and shiny floors, stench of anti-septic, fear and //death// and Buffy wants nothing more than to follow him into fresh air.

But Dawn is grasping her wounded arm to her side, rocking back and forth with eyes tightly closed. They've given her medicine for the pain, but it hasn't kicked in yet, and she is biting her bottom lip and moaning.

Buffy sits down beside her, wraps her arm around Dawn's good shoulder, and kisses her forehead.

"It's ok, Dawnie," she whispers. "It's ok. You go ahead and scream."

*****

She comes to him nearly every day now, never failing to bait him with a barb or complaint- usually about the temperature of the crypt. He wonders, sometimes, if reminding him that he's dead somehow makes her feel better. Wonders if it's a game to see who will feel shittiest at the day's end. "It's cold in here," she says, and he gives her a "duh" look that doesn't offer to fix the problem. He doesn't have a fireplace or a space heater; she's not sure he owns blankets. He doesn't need them, and he's not about to make exceptions for her lingering humanity. "How do you stand it?"

He made love to Dru in the snow once, her cold nails tearing gashes in his flesh, the blood freezing in patterns of brittle crystal on the surface of his skin. He remembers that the cold never reached his bones, and that, he thinks, is the difference between them.

She made love to Angel under blankets. Chaste. A single lamp throwing warm light on what she could see: planes and curves of back and shoulders and careful fingertips.

Spike isn't chaste.

He lets her undress him first, blue eyes wide and lips slightly parted, like a whore's. He doesn't light candles and the window, shaded with threadbare cloth, barely filters the moonlight. His skin seems silver against the black garments that she peels off and tosses away, littering the dusty floor. He has Drusilla's name tattooed in delicate script in the hollow of his left hipbone. "When's the last time you wore color?" she asks, teasing gently. His curves aren't smooth like Angel's; he's all pale, flat planes and sharp angles, strong muscle and jutting bone. In the moonlight he looks like the corpse that he is and she wonders

((hopes))

his body will hurt against hers, stab and bruise and draw blood.

"Prague." He tosses the word away, somewhere over his left shoulder, and briefly hoods his eyes with long black lashes. They're blue like ice, and they make her feel so cold. She imagines dark handprints of Drusilla's blood on lighter clothing and realizes: he's still doing penance. Even now.

Riley used to make a lot of noise in bed. He was vocal with his pleasure, and his love, open with her in a way she could never reciprocate. But they were ..*human* noises, mortal sounds of lust and completion.

Angel was always silent, kissing, petting, making love. As if they were in a church, and being close to her was something sacred, or forbidden. Like if he made the smallest sound, he would be caught, and forever banished. She clearly remembers that first surge of feminine pride when he finally opened his mouth and groaned her name. She's never quite been able to shake the feeling that if he hadn't, if she had just left him with his idiotic, stoic composure, then his soul would not have left. And then neither would he.

Spike grunts. The sound is pure, maledemonanimal. She cannot confuse it with either of her former lovers. These days, she is grateful for small mercies.

Dru fucked Spike with her eyes closed. Riding him, thighs clamped tightly around his hips, fingernails scraping deep gouges in his chest. Dark hair tumbling between shoulderblades, eyelashes cutting black shadows on her cheekbones, and she threw her head back and shrieked like a banshee. The name she said was never his, and he bit down hard on his lip and tried to shut out the sound of her voice.

Buffy fucks him with eyes open. Unfocused. Hair and skin and lashes pale, fading into the bedsheets, face impassive as he bends over her, his fingertips trailing down her cheek. When he moves inside her she stares past him, somewhere over his left shoulder, silent.  Stares past him at dusty biers and crumbling crypt walls. Because Spike might be ice-cold, but he doesn't look all that dead when he's fucking, and Death is all Buffy can see these days. He's usually on top; he doesn't much feel beneath her anymore.

He knows, of course he knows. That he fucks her to feel alive, and she fucks him to feel dead. But he figures, poetic justice. Even trade.



IV

The love of his life is a cruel, heartless bitch. It has always been thus. He's so very busy performing that he can't remember what he was originally meant to be; dead shell, indeed. There are limits, you know. On his better days, he realizes this. That there's only so much kiss me-kick me that anyone can take, even him. But he hasn't reached that limit yet, and he can be strong, right? It's not real unless it hurts. He has to believe that, because if it isn't true... well, then, it's never been real at all.

But sometimes his body, his own better judgment, betrays him.

Because this is not about sex. He'd still be with Harmony if it was about sex. No, this is that ache in the middle of his chest, the voice in the back of his head that hasn't stopped whispering or muttering or screaming her name once in the past four goddamned years, and that is why this will never end.  But he gets these odd flashes of  autonomy sometimes, moments where a clear, rational voice he barely recognizes speaks up and distinctly says *this is killing her, and it is killing you, and it. must. stop* and he feels his hands itching to push her away. Moments when he thinks he might actually be independent of this psychological three-ring circus. There are limits, yes, there are limits and there are bright, blessed moments where he very nearly believes that he has finally reached them.

She leans in to kiss him, and this time he bolts. Sick with self-loathing and nearly screaming it ((you don't want me you don't please stop making want to believe you ever could, *please* stop)), and he knows she can hear him. And oh he wishes that it was enough to deter him, even for the slightest fucking second. "Does it matter?" she asks hotly.

//i know you'll never love me//

He's beset by a nagging suspicion that he deserves better than this, but he's never had much of a basis for comparison, and he's not quite so fucking poetic as he used to be.  He'll settle, he knows he'll settle; he always has.  "Of course it matters, but-" Snappish, defensive, deeply ashamed. Ashamed because- "That's what I am, after all."

"A vampire?"

"A whore."  Her whore. When she kisses him, he closes his eyes.

Over a year with the damned chip in his head, ten times worse than the twenty years he spent as William. But at least the chip taught him something. That ideas kill almost effectively as fangs, that words bruise as readily as fists, and that everyone. everyone has a weakness.

Afterglow is not his.

"So, you talk to him lately?" One brow and half a lip raised with the question.

"Who?" she asks, without looking at him. She's still a horrible liar.

"You know perfectly well *who,* pet. He know about this yet?" Wider grin, predatory now, as he motions to the tangled heap of denim and satin, his jeans, her panties, laying on the bare floor.

She arches one shoulder and sits up to face him. "Fuck you, Spike. You don't get to hurt me that way."

He laughs, rubs a light hand over the blue bruise on her cheek. "S'all right. I'll take whichever way you wanna give me."

Lately he's become a horrible liar too.

But he can throw insults and her own garlic at her, hurl her crosses and her half-assed accusations in her face. And sometimes it feels better than throwing punches. And every time it gets him laid.

And no matter the level of depravity

//last night was the most humiliating, degrading experience of my life yeah, me too//

when he wakes she's always still in his bed, tiny form curled close to the very edge of the mattress, as if thinking too hard about the situation at hand would be enough to send her tumbling, all pale hair and frail bones and childlike fingertips, somewhere even more beneath than she already is. And he's not allowed to touch her right now, when it isn't *convenient,* not without inviting an angry stare and a bruised jaw; and he's certainly not allowed to love her, not without inviting injury much worse. It was inappropriate to fight over her when she lay dead and it's inappropriate to fight for the right to love her now, and he isn't allowed to feel anything at all. So he curls up beside her, but not too near: chill inches in between, fingers tracing the contours of hips and shoulders and mouth, a hair's breadth away but never touching.

He could've sworn this was what he wanted.

She wakes an hour later to hear the noisy buckling of a belt, angry stomping into mud-encrusted boots. There is nothing quiet about Spike, he has no grave-silence to give her anymore; even his glare is screaming at her. She pulls the sheet around herself modestly, a useless, stupid habit.

He sits opposite her, lacing his shoes without ever taking his eyes from her face. "I hate you," he says, almost conversationally, and for the first time she really believes it. Fear and venom and predatorial anger before, but never, never hate.

"Doesn't stop you from fucking me," she says harshly, but it sounds wrong. She wants to talk like he does, full of passion and heedless bile and effortless, unchecked expletives, the voice of Misbehavior. And she tries, tries to drink his whiskey and smoke his cigarettes and fuck his cold, shameless, unapologetic body in hope that some of his anarchy will rub off onto her skin and allow her to scream, yell, curse, let *go* for once but it never seems to work. It's forced, like everything else these days, and she pulls the sheet tighter around her body to keep her insides from spilling out. She's suddenly beset by the panicked certainly that she has no fucking clue what she's doing, that she thought she had a talent for fucking vampires but maybe she was wrong, maybe Spike isn't Angel after all. Maybe she doesn't even know him, any better than she knows herself.

He pulls his bootlaces circulation-cutting tight. "You're underestimating my astonishing lack of self-respect, pet." He grabs his duster and stands; the sun is just setting. His eyes are liquid, nearly begging behind the anger.  His voice trembles just slightly.  "Please be gone when I get back."

And he's gone. Not just his presence there in the crypt, but something she had sensed in him that had been willing to let her take his body without giving her heart, whatever part of him hadn't yet tired of the game. He was built for convenience, and maybe she had assumed he would just stay that way. He'll be back, she knows, but now she'll have to see the same hate in his eyes that she knows glares out of her own, and she won't be able to pretend that this is simple or justifiable or temporary.

She dresses quickly, with cold, shaking fingers that drop her boots and send them clattering to the floor. She kneels on the cold stone and that's when she sees it, corners poking out from under the tattered quilt that covers his bed. And she pulls the shoebox out, and opens it, because she doesn't respect him enough to give him his privacy and she *needs* something. Some scrap of understanding to take away with her of this man, this beast she's been fucking.

Papers and letters and photos, most of them tattered with age. Reverse-chronological: the top layer reveals a blood-spattered movie ticket from the Sun Cinema here in Sunnydale, some tasteless horror flick from her junior year in high school. A handful of fliers underneath that; rock concerts, she thinks, but the language is strange. Czechoslovakian? She lifts the papers to reveal the first photos: a blue-haired Spike, cigarette hanging jauntily from his lower lip. "1993," declares the date scrawled in the lower margin.

The next pictures are black-and-white, four in a strip, the kind you take in booths at carnivals and amusement parks. Spike looks even more like Billy Idol than he does now, and Drusilla is decked out in bangle bracelets and spangled eyeshadow. There's a whole batch of them: grinning, kissing, groping, and a few at the bottom of the stack that Buffy stares at in stupified fascination. He'd told her about candle foreplay; he'd never told her about *that.* She flips the last photo over. Same unintelligible, left-handed scrawl: Orlando, 1983.

The document underneath bears no date- a ten-year anniversary card with an extra zero added to the end of the  number, a blood rose pressed inside, so withered and dead that it has turned black and is crumbling to dust. A single word in delicate, old-fashioned script: "Always."

There's something unfair about that word that makes Buffy's breath catch in her throat.

She digs deeper, shaking fingers scrambling though delicate sheets of paper. A torn Woodstock poster. A photo of Dru on a dark street, blood-spattered hands and wickedly stained smile strangely uncongruous next to her simple white dress and the daisy-chain braided in her hair: New York, 1969. The two of them in a seedy bar, dancing close, giving the camera dark smiles. Her beaded dress falls in ruffles just below her knees; he's wearing a pin-striped suit and those funny-looking gangster shoes. In the background she can see other couples and a few musicians: a trumpet-player, a pianist. New Orleans, the back of the image declares; 1932.

Spike, his hair dark and slicked against his skull, perched upon the hood of a primitive-looking car. A huge smile stretches across his face and the familiar cigarette burns between his fingers. Berlin, 1904: "Automobile," the caption concludes simply. Next, a sepia-tinted daggeurrotype of two women. Drusilla sits in a tapestry-upholstered chair, ankles daintily crossed beneath the lace hem of a muslin gown. Behind her stands a woman with fair hair and a cool gaze. Darla, she remembers. Angel's sire. Her hand rests on the younger vampire's shoulder and their slim fingers are entwined. The date printed in the lower right-hand corner reads June 1899.

And the next thing Buffy knows, she's reached the bottom of the pile. Last slip of paper resting in her hand.

Her breath catches in her throat and her fingertips tighten around the edges of the photo. Them. Both of them. Her first, and her most recent. No date on the picture but it's old, *old* and Spike wears a cocky grin and a sheaf of wheat-colored (she thinks; the image is brown-gray, creased and faded) hair over his eyes. Behind his left shoulder, smirking sardonically, stands Angel.

Angelus. Whatever. That's not the point. He *should* be a stranger, this proud, long-haired killer in the photograph, but he's not, and she wants more. Whatever she's not allowed to have. "For a hundred years I offered ugly death to everyone I met," he said, and she displayed self-righteous indignation at those innocent deaths as befitted her trade, and sorrow at the pitiful irony of being a Slayer who loved the deadliest vampire of them all.  But she knew then and she knows now that the real grief lies in those hundred, two hundred, two hundred fifty years that would never belong to her. In those centuries that she's not able to touch, that knowledge which will never be hers. She can feel it welling up inside her again for the first time in years, the anger, the resentment at the goddamned *unfairness* of it all, the fucking lack and loss and inconstancy of "always." When Spike returns to the crypt he finds her on the floor beside his bed, bent over the tattered, ancient photograph, sobbing.

"Buffy?"

She starts, like a wild animal. Stares at him, darts her eyes back to the picture in her hands, stares at him again. "How long were you with him?" she snarls, her fingers tightening around the picture, and he wants to tell her to fucking go easy on the memorabilia but he can't bear to yell into that tear-streaked, grief-stricken face. "*How long?*"

"Twenty years," he whispers.

"Twenty years," she echoes softly, bringing the image close to her face. "I've been alive for twenty years."

"Twenty, more or less," he amends. "He'd fuck off once in awhile. Sometimes with Darla, sometimes alone. Always came back, though."

"Always, huh?" She doesn't even seem to notice the steady stream of tears coursing down her cheeks. Her hands are shaking.

"Yeah. How long was it for you?"

"Three years." She scoffs. "No. Two and a half."

He tilts his head to the side, studying her, and suddenly he gets it. "You- you're jealous."

Her eyes flash fire as she scrubs the tears away with the back of one hand. "Go to hell, Spike."

"No, it's okay," he says gently. "I mean... I get it."  He wishes he didn't get it. He wishes he could imprint her fragile brain with the memories of harsh fists and razor-sharp fangs and leave it at that. Wishes that the cruel, careless, all-consuming force of nature he called Grandsire was something tangible, containable, something he  could take and hold out to her in trembling, bloodied hands and say "see. See where the path of blood and  betrayal and Family leads. See that Destruction that bites away at the edges of my thoughts as I sleep and that fucked-up, incestuous tragedy that won't let me go. Look into the face of what you are oh-so-much better off  having never known, and be grateful for the two and a half years that left you relatively unscarred. Because you, child, cannot begin to fathom the demons that your ex-boyfriend has left in his wake, dwelling and screaming under the surface of my skin." He wishes that it were that simple, that those painful memories were all he had left.

But: Angelus.

He remembers him in bits and pieces. The proud curve of shoulders and uplifted head, the careful smirk, the eyes that burned fiercely with amusement or disapproval or rage. Trying to remember more than one detail at a time, he finds, makes his chest tighten up and his head ache. Spike remembers those hands the most, hands that could caress or crush but either way left him feeling as if he'd been shattered into a thousand pieces. Strong, steady hands that never trembled, never once hesitated.

((and you wanted that, wanted to be him, wanted everything and everyone he ever had, didn't you?))

No. No, he didn't want to be his Grandsire, Spike reasons desperately, only... admired him. Angelus was never afraid, Angelus never fucked up, and he couldn't be bothered with the burden of concern for others. Mothers in Romania still whisper his name darkly into the ears of children that refuse to go to sleep, Spike muses, and *she*- she has no idea. No idea that she once had Death Himself within her grasp, curled in her fingers and trapped  between her thighs. Buffy's lover, the souled version of the Scourge of Europe, was a pale, sad shadow in comparison, a pitiful copy that made Spike's eyes ache. Angelus was never just another vampire; he was a plague of blood and broken bone, an uncontrollable force of disaster, a sight to behold. Spike can't make her see that: the undaunted creature his grandsire was, the way he burned, the way he bent and broke everything around him, shaping it to his will. He can't give her those memories, and isn't sure he's cruel enough to try.

"What was William like?" she asks, finally, guileless and golden in the wobbling torch-light.

He shrugs, lights a cigarette. "You'd have to ask Angelus or Dru that one. I never met him personally." He impresses himself by meeting her eyes when he says it.

And God knows Spike doesn't want to be William again, doesn't want redemption, doesn't want to be a Good Little Boy. But he thinks he could find a sort of salvation in her motionless little body. Atonement for his sins, which are darker and so much more convoluted than the simple wrongs of mortals. If she takes him, perhaps that means he's finally forgiven.

He has fantasies about turning her. Shagging her into a defenseless heap for the last time, and tearing her throat open afterward, while she lays silent and unresisting. Counting coup on a third Slayer, and having the added bonus of keeping this one around Forever.

Though he doesn't much picture Forever, doesn't usually get past the first part of the fantasy where he kills her and turns her and they run off to LA. Find the ponce with the soul and put him out of everyone's misery once and for all.

((Just convenient, my ass.))

Spike has always been a big fan of irony.

And maybe, that way Spike could finally shake the fucking notion that he was created solely for the purpose of keeping Angelus' property safe until he decides to return for it.

*****

One night when she comes to him, she is wearing a scarf around her throat. Lacy, filmy thing, with a small knot to one side. He strips her body bare in moments, but she guards her neck and the scarf, keeps it tied there, with a look he well recognizes.

((Dare you))

And it's what she wants, it's what he wants, it's on fucking *offer*, and so of course, he can't. Oh, he reaches for it, fingers working at the knot while he works his hips against hers as she perches on his lap. His fangs drop and his mouth bloody well *waters*. But instead of undoing the silk, he finds himself tugging on it, until he is pulling both ends of it tighter and tighter against the milk white skin of her throat. Blood wells beneath the material, he can smell it. Can smell the jolt of her fear. Can smell the musk of her arousal as her legs clamp tighter round his. He tugs harder and waits for her to push him away, punch him in the skull, something. She doesn't.

She rests her hands on his shoulders and she closes her eyes. Lets him strangle the breath out of her slowly, with a piece of flowered lace and cotton. And oh it would be so easy. On offer.

Her eyes open, cloudy blue irises rimmed with red from lack of oxygen, and

((Dare you))

He releases the scarf just as she comes, or maybe its the other way round. She makes whimpering scratchy noises like a dying kitten, and he comes then too, with a violent shudder at the sound.

Slayer. Fucking *whimpering* for him, and his skin is buzzing and his hipbones ache and he should feel- something.

Something that isn't so akin to nauseated and resentful.

But he expected so many things out of fucking this Slayer, and discovering she is sicker than he was never on his goddamned list. She is slumped against him, panting in hoarse, shallow breaths, and he brings his knuckles to his eyes.

//Free if the bitch dies//

But fuck it, its been a hundred and twenty-two years since he's been anything remotely resembling free, and he wouldn't know where to begin now, and

It was her eyes. Her eyes as he strangled her. They were dead. Glass eyes, doll's eyes, robot eyes. Lifeless and *wrong* and just like after she'd leaped off the tower, before Giles had leaned in to close them for the last time. Just like Dru's eyes after the attack in Prague. And he. Can't. Because even with pain, he was always so much better at receiving than giving, and he just. can't. do this.

He rubs her shoulders, whispers in her ear. "I'm sorry." Unsure what he's apologizing for; loving her too much to kill her, or not enough? He didn't really want to apologize in the first place, but he thinks it's probably the first time in a hundred and twenty six years that he has ever said those words and actually meant them.

He doesn't know what he expected in return. But it certainly isn't the sharp, swift knee to the groin. Isn't the kick to the ribs or the angry shriek of protest which follows as he lays curled in fetal position on the hard stone floor.

"You don't get to decide this for me! Least of all you!"

And he gets it. Slow maybe, but not stupid. Pavlov's dog, and all.

It takes him a good five minutes before the pain in his balls fades enough to get to his feet. Only takes him seconds to grab her by the back of the head, and slam her into the wall. She barely fights him off, and he pounds her into the concrete with just enough force to fracture a normal girl's skull. Slayer strength and stamina mean that she merely grunts once or twice, then finally shoves him away. Crimson matted sticky and wet to gold strands and she reaches up with steady fingers to test the mess.

He bats her hands away, and licks them free of the stains.

When she makes no move to stop him, he buries his face in her bloody hair, nuzzling and chewing until she is nearly clean.

Soon thereafter, he has a wicked scarf collection.

Because it's been two hundred and ten days and he's really fucking sick of paying for something that's no longer technically wrong, a once fuck-up revealed to be the kindest mercy. It was good to let her die. It's good that he keeps her dead now; he's only doing what Buffy would have wanted. So he lets her spend her nights here, and he never apologizes again.

After all, maybe this time he'll get it right.

*****

She comes to him each night dressed in silk scarves, and she limps home without them well before dawn. She never says good-bye and her knuckles are always bruised when she leaves, in the perfect opposing pattern of her small fist imprinted on his cheek. She is not the masochist, after all, and it is not the pain which she craves.

It's the control. And that is always hers; when she beats him, when she fucks him, when she leaves him alone on his bed of stone and ash. Spike is the only thing she can hope to control now, and the knowledge is precious and shining.

She could shatter him. She may yet.

And it's certainly not that she doesn't know how wrong this is. It's just that it's oh so hard to care. Every morning she wakes, and the first thing she hears is the screaming. It took her a week to relearn how to use a goddamn spoon, and she still can't seem to see the difference between sugar and stardust. It's too much, it's just all too damn much, and if she needs a sturdy home for her rage and her grief then surely using Spike as her chalice is righteous, surely it is sanctified, for what is he when all is said and done, but a soul-less thing?

Her head is full all the time now, with the language of the living and the memories of the dead. She's not *supposed* to know these things, but she does; they came back from the grave with her, embedded beneath the dirt in her nails and the slippery sheen she cannot wash from her hair.

On Feb. 5, 1986, her Mother spent the day drunk, laying on the couch watching soaps, and her father spent the night in the Bahamas with his secretary. No one came home from the hospital carrying a girl-child, and asking Buffy if she would help care for it.

Dawn did not cry when their Father left, did not lock herself in her pink daisy covered room for days, because there was never a pink room, and Dawn has never even met Hank Summers.

Four years ago, Buffy's Mother found out that she was the Slayer because of Angelus, not because Dawn found Buffy's diary. Dawn met Angel once. At Buffy's funeral.

Pictures of both carefully altered realities sit side by side somewhere in her skull, and when she is quiet, she can hear the neurons firing, tiny cells rearranging inside of her to make room for recollections she is not supposed to have.

Angel with a heartbeat. //I'llneverforgetI'llneverforget//

Angel in chains, covered in scars and burns. //What'stheplanTrynottofallonthis//

Willow and Xander, Turned. //YougoaheadandbelieveinthatworldIhavetoliveinthisone//

Her own face, covered in demonic ridges, and the blood hunger welling in her belly. //ThisismynightmareWeneedyouBuffycanyouholdittogether//

There are too many doors behind her eyes, too many lights and too many memories. And each so vivid, so bright and violent, she is sure that her head simply isn't meant to fit all this inside. She's just a girl, how can she be expected to carry the Knowledge of Heaven and walk around every day inside of Hell? If she could just purge it, if she could bleed it out of open wounds and pointless tears -

well, then she would be empty.

But she still would not be dead.

At night when she is alone she covers her ears with pillows for fear that everything will come rushing out of her, leaving her once more with nothing.

//A dead shell//

And she can't have that. So she tries never to be alone at night. She has to hold something, has to feel something, has to *know* something *here* anything, my god, even Spike, because otherwise there is only the certainty that this is all wrong, that there's been some horrible mistake and she is *it*, and it. will. never. end.

But when she fucks him, when she wraps her legs around his waist and he wraps his thumbs around her neck, when she doesn't breathe, then she doesn't think, then, oh- then -

Buffy only remembers the dancing.

(((Fingers entwined in Faith's, palm to sweaty palm, music throbbing through them like a heartbeat. How she knew, even then. That Faith was already dead, and just didn't have the sense to lie down. That a Slayer really is just a killer, spilling cold blood night after night, staining warm flesh. That Faith kept herself alive with the heat of others.)))

And she danced.

She remembers Angel, silhouetted darkly against the back wall of the Bronze, and the horror in his eyes when he saw them together, caught in that endless dance and realized that his lover was no less of a monster than he. That all those you-should-have-a-normal-life excuses already spinning around in his brain were merely that.

Excuses.

That she could make a monster of him. Again. And would.

Spike is already a monster.

She walks home every night through the cemetery and the eyes of the gargoyles follow. She can feel them. That is all right. Even monsters get lonely.

(It used to be the cherubs, but they don't seem to talk to her anymore.)

She read somewhere once that Angels always have one wing dipped in blood. That they carry savage weapons even in the Kingdom of Heaven.

She used to figure they needed them. Not everyone goes gently.

Now she knows better. Angels lie. All those pretty faces hide teeth of ivory and bone, velvet and lace voices used only to hasten someone's painful death. Angels never tell you that tidings of comfort and joy are rare and fleeting. That God doesn't guarantee you eternal peace when one of your friends is a High Witch. That even the finest love will eventually turn from you, cloaked in darkness and good intentions.

They don't tell you that there are just as many Angels in Hell.

She has no patience now for dualities, for the cabal or tired metaphor. She wants to know what something *is* when she looks at it, wants to name it and therefore own it.

Being with Spike is simple in that sense; no soul, and so he has bared all that he possesses. All that he is. Lonely and wretched, handsome and evil, rarely trying to be much else, and when he does, failing so miserably at it that she finds it hard to hold his pretense against him.

He just is... what he is, and in that way he is easy to objectify. Easy to name, and oh, so damned easy to own.

Angel and Heaven; gold and glittery things never meant to be hers. She belongs to this place now, and if she was dragged back clothed in tatters and screams in the beginning, well, she is not screaming anymore. If she is destined to live forever in Hell, then she will open wide and embrace it, wrap determined fingers and strong thighs around it.

Dance with it. Fuck it.

She will fuck Hell.

Fuck Death.

Because God knows they fucked her first.  

-Finis