Acceptance

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Title: Acceptance
Author:
Timeline: Ten years past NFA
Rating: R
Genre: Future; flashbacks


“When did the vampire, Spike, alter his appearance?”

The red light of the camera blinked at Dawn. Slowly, Dawn blinked back. So these were the questions the Watchers Council wanted answered. These were the details that the new, ‘enlightened’ generation of the Council wanted to judge their lives and accomplishments and mental states with.

“When Buffy died. He shaved it all off shortly after Buffy died.”

“And this was about the same time that he stopped checking in with the local slayer cell, correct?”

Dawn looked at the man. He was young. Mid-twenties. She wasn’t too much older herself. But looking at him was like looking at a child, and she felt so old sometimes.

She looked at this man, and she understand her sister. During that long, too bright winter when Buffy came out of heaven. How many times had she found her sister looking off at nothing, with that thousand yard stare? Yeah, Dawn understood that now.

“Miss Summers?”

Dawn refocused. The Council’s man looked at her dubiously. “Why do you think he did that?”
The corner of her mouth tightened. What she wouldn’t give for just enough magic to make that camera burn.

—–

“You know, you never did say anything, love.”

Buffy hung her coat on the coat rack and turned to see him tossing his leather jacket carelessly over the sofa arm. “And we’re talking about what now?”

He gestured vaguely at his head, not looking at her as he picked up her scythe to examine the blade. It needed cleaning. Buffy glanced at his dark curls. It was true. She hadn’t said anything when he chose to stop bleaching his hair and let it grow out a little bit. She knew he’d ask sooner or later.

“Well… it kind of makes you look like James Dean,” a triumphant smirk broke across Spike’s face, “if, you know, James Dean had a small perm.” The smirk evaporated, a hurt glare taking its place.

“Tell us how you really feel, then,” he shot at her before hefting the scythe and heading into the bedroom.

She couldn’t help but laugh as she followed him down the hall. “You’re right. Hair is a very serious matter,” she said, not trying to repress the tease in her tone.

He jerked to a stop and rounded on her. Leaning one arm on the doorjamb, he sneered. “If only it was more like Angel’s, eh?”

Her smile cracked wider and she sputtered, “What? We’re talking about Angel, now?”
“Don’t worry, I’ll get it cut and bleached straight away. Go back to safe territory.” He pushed away and shut the door on her.

Buffy stared uncomprehendingly at the door, momentarily frozen, before her voice dropped to a low growl. “Did you seriously just do that? Did you just shut our bedroom door in my face over hair?” She tried the handle; it was locked. Her blood pressure spiked. “Brand new door or not. I swear I will break this down, Spike! You better – ”

Spike splashed the icy water over his face and braced his weight on the countertop. Water dripped off his nose as he stared at the sink basin. Exhausted, he scrubbed one hand over his fuzzy shaved head and down his face. With a sharp breath, he forced himself to look up at the mirror and face the empty room.

The motel bedroom was visible behind him. The bed vacant; the sheets askew, but cold. The sheets were always cold now.

His eyes fluttered shut.

Golden arms wrapped around his waist, holding him snug. A warm cheek pressed against his back. The fatigue began to bleed from his body. Her small thumb rubbed over his stomach. He settled one calloused hand over hers, and sighed. “Love.”

The trill of the cellphone shattered the silence and his eyes snapped open. The mirror was as empty as it always was. His chest constricted, his dead lungs seizing up.

Spinning on his heel, quick angry slides took him to the nightstand. He snatched up the phone. “What?” he snapped.

“Jesus! Hello to you too, asshole.”

Spike pinched the bridge of his nose and tried to calm his voice. “What do you want, Faith?”

“I was going to suggest we meet up so I can give you the skinny on the demon you drove across three states to help me kill, but right now I’m rethinking it.”

Asking for help. It was something that they’d both gotten better at over the years. At least, when it came to the mission. And a fight… yeah, that may be exactly what he needed. “Please tell me that you’ve discovered a warehouse of things that need killing.”

“You’re in luck, sweet cheeks.”

“Hey, sweet cheeks. ’bout time you showed up.”

Spike pulled his sword from the body with a wet squelch, and looked up. Faith jogged to a slow halt and pushed a sweaty lank of dark hair out of her face.

A demon corpse fell to the street, barely missing the slayer. “Don’t call my boyfriend ‘sweet cheeks’, Faith.”

He looked up to see his slayer standing two stories up, on the edge of a pawnshop rooftop, hands on her hips. He smirked. She was beautiful. Buffy stepped off the roof and landed neatly. It was a trick you learned after years of slaying. How to make jumping off a building look easy.

Faith nodded her head towards the building. “How many were up there?”

Buffy ran a bloodied hand through her hair, pushing it back. “Four. These guys are just coming out of the woodwork, aren’t they?”

Spike sniffed. “These minion types are easy enough, though,” he said, looking around at the bodies in the street.

Faith nudged a body with the toe of her boot, and the arm fell to the side revealing a red tattoo. It had been a familiar sight for the past two weeks. “Guess we’ll see what else they have to throw at us.”

—-

“Its real name is some unpronounceable bullshit, like they always are, but like I told you, a lot of the books just call it the Skull Collector,” Faith said. Spike shot her a skeptical look. “Apparently they usually just go for the skulls of already dead people, but not this one. This one had to be a pain in the ass.”

“Skull Collector…” he muttered. The phrase bounced around his thoughts, before it made a connection. “Oh, a dralik, you mean.”

Faith shrugged noncommittally. “Whatever you want to call it. All I know is it’s tore up eight people already, like their head was a sundae.”

His mouth twisted in a grimace. Draliks were a pain in the ass. Surprisingly sneaky for their size, too. No wonder Faith was having trouble tracking it. Spike automatically braced himself against the tug of the metro as it pulled into their stop. They pushed their way through the people and out onto the platform. Absentmindedly, he considered her words. “Yeah. Sundae’s about right.”

They reached ground level and stepped out onto the sidewalk. Buffy inhaled the fresh air in relief, happy to be away from the weird subway smells and constant gusts of warm air.

“I keep waiting for the day I’m going to have to chase something down those tunnels.”

Spike snorted and wound an arm around her waist, the thin blue fabric of her dress soft against his skin. “Bound to happen sooner or later, pet. Evil things love their dark hidey holes. Remind me never to take you to the catacombs in Paris.”

Her eyes lit up. “Ooh, can we go there sometime?” At the look on his face, she hastened to add, “I mean just the city. It’s on the incredibly long list of places Buffy has never been, and the movies make it seem so, so…”

“Lovely?” He lifted her hand from his arm and kissed it. “It’ll be more so with such as you gracing its avenues.”

Buffy just looked at him. “Really? That’s the line you’re gonna go with?”

He laughed. “Yeah, alright. Best I stick to the ones that make you blush, eh, love? One Parisian garden in particular comes to mind, where I can sit you down and make you my own beautiful statue as I lick your pretty – ” his words trailed off and he slowed down sharply.

Buffy blinked. “Wait, why’d you stop?”

“Look,” he said, softly.

Wistfully, Buffy banished the image from her mind and focused. She followed his gaze to see a non-descript man in a hoodie and jeans walking on the opposite side of the street, a small, white package was tucked under his arm. Four lanes of vehicles whizzed past between their sides of the street, and she squinted at him, as they matched their pace to his.

She frowned. “You might be right. He could be one of them.” That was the problem with these Augustus guys. They all looked like Joe off the street. White guys. Medium build, medium height, short haircuts, plain clothes, blah, blah, blah. The only way you could tell for sure was from their red tattoos. Or when they started sacrificing people.

“This has to be the most boring set of wankers ever to call themselves evil,” Spike groused. “And I thought the Nerd Trio was bad.” Buffy stopped and looked up at him, a small smile curling her mouth. He raised an eyebrow. “What?”

She shook her head. “Nothing. I just like you.” Leaning in, she gave him a kiss on the cheek.

His face softened, and he squeezed her hip, keeping her close. “Works out nicely for me, then.”

For a moment, she let him hold her, and then gently pushed away again. “We need to do something about Mr. Average Joe.”

Back to business, Spike regarded him, head cocked as he considered the situation. “We could just pull him in that alley,” he said, gesturing, clunky rings catching the street light. “Hold him down. Check for ink. Course last time I did that, you started caterwaulin’ like I was beating Xander.”

“I did not caterwaul,” Buffy hissed, dodging a fellow pedestrian. “He wasn’t even a bad guy, and you terrified him! And who uses words like ‘caterwaul’ anyway?”

“How was I supposed to know he wasn’t evil unless I checked?” he shot back, voice filled with hushed snark.

“Well, we can’t do that with this guy,” she said, firmly.

“Yeah,” he surrendered with a slight pout. That last time had actually been a bit of fun. Suddenly his eyes brightened. “You know what? Reckon that little white package he’s got looks a lot like the paper they use over at Gary’s?”

She crinkled her nose. “The herb shop?” Now that she thought about it… it was just several blocks back the way they came.

“Bet we could go find out if he was there, and what he bought, and if it was evil.”
Her lips pursed, and she nodded. “We’d lose this guy, but we might get a lead on what they’re up to.”

Spike gave a one-shoulder shrug. “Could split up.”

“No,” she vetoed. “These guys pop up in double-digit groups. There’s a reason Faith called us here.” She grabbed his arm and steered him around. “You had a good idea. Let’s-”

” – blow this joint,” Faith said, glumly. “It’s deader than dead.” She shot a lopsided grin at him. “No offense, Spikey.”

His unfocused gaze didn’t move from the vacant pool tables. “None taken,” he murmured.

The slayer took a heavy swig, trying to hurry up and finish her beer before they left. She leaned back against the bar top, facing the relatively empty bar. Just another in a string of dead ends as they tried to rustle up some info on the whereabouts of their new town beastie. She eyed the skinny vampire. He’d been lousy company ever since he got in town. “You know, I like the new look.”

Slow as molasses, he dragged his attention towards her. “What?”

She tried not to be irritated. Incarceration had given her some patience. But not much. “The shaved head thing. It suits you.”

Buffy was a giggling, soft radiator in his lap, warming his entire body. Half their clothes were twisted and stretched from sex and the other half were on the floor. Their skin was sticky against one another.

His arms were wrapped loosely around her waist as they both came down from their high. Spike closed his eyes as her fingers wound through his hair.

Buffy lifted her head just long enough to press a kiss to his shoulder, before laying it back down again. “Blonde or brown, just don’t cut it too short for me to do this,” she murmured, cheek and jaw moving against his shoulder.

A spark fired in his blissed out head. That’s right. They’d been having a row. He glanced at the bedroom doorway from beneath heavy lids. “You broke the door again, love.”

“I broke the door? You’re the one that made it an innocent bystander in the middle of all this.”

He turned his head to brush his lips across her forehead. “Say what you like. I distinctly remember saying that the next time a certain little girl broke the door down, she was going to get a spanking.”

Her hand slipped to his thigh and squeezed. “You promise?”

An iron grip on his shoulder jarred him back to the present. “Spike!”

He jerked out of her hold, barely managing to suppress his instinct to lead with his fists. He glanced at her before turning his eyes back to the rest of the bar.

Faith stared at him, dark eyes wary. “The hell did you go, just now?”

He shrugged his leather jacket back in place, and was silent.

“You’ve been doing this space cadet shit since you got here. I can’t help but wonder what the fuck’s going on.” Underneath the bluster, concern laced her voice.

Spike just held his glass in a white-knuckle grip and didn’t look at her.

“Look, if you’re not ready to be here – ”

He turned on her, snarling. “Told you it’s not a problem. I’m here to do the job.” Swiftly, he tossed back the rest of his Jameson before slamming the glass on the counter. “I’m done for the night.” Ignoring the mix of anger and worry on her face, Spike spun on his heels towards the exit. Fresh air, that’s what he needed.

Stepping outside, he raised his face to the cool night and breathed in deep. The temptation to go back inside and knock back another drink or six thrummed through his body. With a rigid jaw, he stepped into the parking lot and started the walk back to the motel. He’d already crawled inside the bottle once. Niblet had been the one to fish him back out, and she was just as likely to set him on fire if she found out he was getting soused again.

He buried his fists in his coat pockets as he walked, ignoring those that lurked in the shadows, as they ignored him.

Restlessness flushed his veins as his scuffed boots ate up the sidewalk. The noise and stink of the city assaulted his senses. The lamb and grease of the run down gyro place on the corner; the cocktail of vomit and gin in the gutter; the base rattling a shitty old sedan; the bodily filth of the bum in the alleyway.

Spike gave his head a shake. This city had been fucking with his head ever since Faith had called asking if he wanted to take a road trip. They had started the moment he hung up the phone. The visions, the flash-backs, the figments of his goddamned sadistic imagination – whatever the hell you wanted to call them. Like she was right there. Like he’d gone back in time, they were just so real. And then the crushing emptiness when he realized, all over again, that she was gone. His Slayer. His golden girl.

There would be no resurrection this time around. She’d gone out like the warrior she was, and they’d had six and a half years of the best moments of his long life, and she’d seen Dawn graduate from university and she had been so damn proud.

A dry branch snapped under his boot, like a shot in the night, and he stopped, rigid, when he realized where he was.

The mid-city park lay stretched out before him. Streetlights piercing its darkness.
If his eyes followed the bike path past the pond and around the banked curve, he’d see just the top of the pavilion. He didn’t want to, but he couldn’t help it. His eyes went straight to the pavilion.

And then, small and tinny in the brisk air, he heard a scream. They took off at a sprint.

“You know, maybe instead of killing these guys night after night,” he puffed out, as their legs and arms pumped at full speed, the light bouncing off her scythe, “we should hold a class on how not to be abducted.”

“You might be onto something,” Buffy replied a bit breathlessly as their feet pounded down the bike path.

The cool air rushed past him and the old adrenaline sang through his veins. The scream came again. More of a strangled cry, now. Spike began to round the bank when he saw it in the corner of his eye. One of the tattooed minions standing off of the path, watching them from his place in the shadows of a tree. Watching – and waiting. Waiting for what?

“Buffy,” he barked, mind racing, but it was too late. They came around the curve and the mage let loose.

The pulsing green blast hit her square in the chest. The girl flew back, striking a stone outcrop on the bank. Blood poured down her face, matting her brown curls.

The dralik stood perched on one of the tables under the pavilion. It paused motionless, regarding him with black, reptilian eyes. A cunning intelligence animated its noseless face. Blood shined off its taloned hands. They were long and curved, designed to skim the flesh off of bone. Its powerful tail flicked back and forth, and it stretched on its legs to show off its full, eight foot height. The muscles in its powerful legs coiled, and with a small screech it jumped off the table, landing mere feet away from him.

“Are you okay?” he called. He heard a low moan. “Buffy?” A glimmer of desperation tinged his voice. He risked a glance. Buffy lay against the rock, struggling to sit upright. One hand clutched her chest where the blast had hit, while the other spasmed under her weight as she tried to get up.

He only looked away for a split second, but that’s all the tattooed bastards needed. They rushed him, and he instinctively dived and rolled, seizing the scythe Buffy had dropped. They were as easy to mow down as they were every other night, problem was, tonight they were armed. They had been waiting, blades and axes at the ready. And there were so many of them. The blows seemed to come from every angle at once. A whimper of pain reached his ear through the skirmish, and through the chaos, Spike saw her, clawing at her chest.

Fear flooded him like the Arctic stream. The mage. He had to take out the damn mage. The beast sunk its talons in over his ribs, and Spike bit back a scream of pain. Deliberately spinning under the beast’s arm, ignoring the claws churning through his side, the vampire came up standing free behind it. Save the girl, he thought. He would save her this time.
With all his might, he brought his knife down on the creature’s tail. Screeching wildly, it stumbled back, tail half-severed, flopping uselessly.

Spike clutched his side and spared a look at the girl. She was on her feet. Wobbly as a new lamb, but on her feet. And for a moment, he thought everything would be okay. But then the dralik went for her. Half out of its mind with pain, it wanted the head of the girl it had come for.

Buffy ducked in and under, using the first man’s momentum to throw him over her shoulder. But as she rose to meet the next one with an upper cut, her knee gave out and she stumbled. He backhanded her, snapping her head to the side. Gripping his shoulders, she pulled him down to meet her knee with his gut, before landing a punch to the head that dropped him.

And when her whole arm spasmed as she unclenched her fist, Spike’s stomach dropped out. He tried to push through them, to get to her. He tried. But there were so many of them.
“Spike! Weapon!”

With brute strength, he pulled free just long enough to toss her the scythe. She’d be fine. She’d have the scythe, and she’d be fine.

Another spasm jerked her leg, throwing off her stance, and the scythe slipped just out of her grasp.

Buffy looked up at him, shocked, just as a sword pierced her stomach.

Spike reached the creature before it reached the girl. He tackled it, closing his fangs around its throat, and holding on for all he was worth. They hit the ground, skidding across the asphalt. Dimly, he heard the girl shriek, but he ignored it, his entire being focused on killing the dralik. His jaws closed down on its throat, worrying at it like a pit bull, even as it clawed at him.

It thrashed beneath him, but all he could see was the look on her face as the blade slid in at an angle, going up through her chest, nicking the lungs. The surprise on her face faded, and her hazel eyes glazed over with pain, and with knowledge.

The dralik’s efforts slowed, and then stopped, and Spike could hear the girl running, running away. As he pulled his fangs out of its leathery neck, and spit out the foul-tasting blood, he could feel every single one of his hundred-plus years dragging down on his bones.

He rolled onto his back, one arm still trapped under the body, and looked at the stars. Tear tracks rolled down his cheeks.

She was dead. His fierce, loving girl was dead.

He shut his eyes, and swallowed. He hadn’t really known what to do after she died. He still didn’t, really. But at least he could do what she would have done.

Slowly, mindful of the holes in his chest, Spike got back up on his feet.

End

 

Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/460432.html

pennydrdful

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