Part IV: Redemption
She was drying the dishes, listening to the sounds of conversation and laughter from the other room. It was New Year’s Eve, but she wasn’t in the mood to celebrate. Buffy knew this feeling all too well; it was the same apathy she’d been living with since her resurrection.
Buffy stared out the kitchen window into the darkness. She could hear Dawn giggling in the other room, and she was grateful that her sister could relax and just be a teenager for once. Although the holidays hadn’t been very merry this year, with her mom gone, and Willow’s breakup with Tara, everyone was trying. For the moment, they were succeeding.
“Why don’t you let me finish that?” Spike suggested, pulling the dish towel out of her hands.
Buffy could smell cigarette smoke, and she knew he’d been out on the back porch. “I’m pretty much done.”
“You alright? You’ve been quiet tonight.”
Buffy let him pull her into an embrace. Spike always seemed to be touching her, ever since she’d agreed to give a relationship with him a try. To her surprise, he seemed to be interested in contact more than anything else, although he’d made no secret of his desire for her.
“Wish I could make it easier on you, luv.”
“You are,” she said, the words coming out before she’d thought about it.
His embrace tightened. “Why don’t you go join them?” he suggested.
Buffy looked up at him. “What about you?”
He smiled ruefully. “Don’t think you need the hassle, Buffy. But thanks for the invitation.”
She appreciated his concern and the fact that he was trying to put her needs before his own, but the whole point of being open about their relationship was not sneaking around. “Come on. They’ll deal.”
The room fell silent as they entered. Xander’s expression was immediately hostile, although he managed to keep his mouth shut. Willow just looked uncomfortable, and Anya didn’t seem to care one way or another.
Dawn, on the other hand, grinned broadly. “Where have you guys been?”
“Cleaning up,” Buffy said. She noticed that no one protested, or suggested that they could have helped, and she felt a bolt of resentment pass through her. There was nowhere to sit down with Spike; Willow, Xander, and Anya were on the couch, and Dawn had taken the easy chair.
As if just realizing the problem, Xander moved over on the couch, opening a narrow section of cushion for her. “Sit down, Buffy.”
She glanced at Spike over her shoulder. He was leaning against the wall, arms crossed, and he merely raised an eyebrow, clearly waiting to see what she’d do.
There had been a lot of reasons that Buffy had hesitated to embark on a relationship with another vampire. One had been the fear that he would go bad, and she’d be forced to kill her boyfriend—again—or that she would have to watch him torture and kill people she cared about.
On the other hand, the three perfectly normal guys she’d dated had found other ways to break her heart, so it wasn’t like that was the only way things could go horribly wrong.
The second reason had been her friends. She’d been able to predict their reactions pretty accurately. Xander had been apoplectic, Willow had been sure that it was just a reaction to being back from the dead and she’d come to her senses eventually, and Dawn had been ecstatic. Anya didn’t care, and Tara had been supportive—when she’d seen Tara, which hadn’t been often recently.
She had the feeling that the only reason Xander and Willow had eventually come to a grudging acceptance was because their guilt held them in check.
It was a constant tight-rope walk—how to balance her feelings for Spike with her loyalty to her friends. Buffy sometimes felt as though she was being pulled in two.
Xander’s invitation was clearly an attempt to move her further from Spike and closer to her friends, and that’s not what she wanted.
“I’m good,” she said, leaning up against Spike. Buffy felt him stiffen, then relax, his arms uncrossing and one hand coming to rest unobtrusively on her waist.
An awkward silence fell, and Buffy knew that things wouldn’t be the same again. She would never share the same closeness with her friends, never feel quite as secure, never quite lose that edge of apathy that haunted her, knowing what waited for her after death.
The question had become whether or not she could find something worth living for.
“We should get going,” Xander announced after a while. “I’ve got work in the morning.”
“And we haven’t yet had our celebratory orgasms,” Anya agreed.
After they’d left, Willow announced that she was going up to her room, and Dawn began yawning rather obviously, wanting to clear the way for Buffy and Spike.
And then they were alone.
Buffy sat on the couch wearily. “Well, that was fun.”
“’m sorry I ruined the evening.” Spike sat down next to her, stretching out with an arm behind her head along the back of the couch.
“You didn’t,” Buffy replied, tilting her head back, initiating contact.
His fingers tangled in her hair before his strong hand found the tense muscles in her neck. “How do you want to ring in the new year?”
“I don’t know.” She closed her eyes, letting his touch soothe. “You have magic fingers.”
“Your neck isn’t the only part of you they could work magic on.”
She hesitated, then remembered that Dawn was in bed for the night, and Willow was home. If she left, and went to Spike’s crypt for the night, she wouldn’t be shirking her duties. She could steal a few hours and just be Buffy—not the older sister, not the best friend, and not the Slayer.
“Okay.” She rose so quickly that Spike’s hand caught in her hair, causing her to wince in pain.
“Sorry.” Spike apologized immediately, rising to his feet. “Where are we going?”
Buffy smiled. “Your place. We don’t have to be quiet there.”
His eyes lit up. “Yeah, alright.”
They walked in an easy companionship that Buffy would have thought impossible before her death. Maybe she had come back wrong, had left something of herself behind. It wouldn’t surprise her.
Spike took her hand as he led her into the darkened crypt. “Wait here,” he said. “I’ll get the lights.”
He dropped through the trap door, and Buffy could soon see the dim glow of candlelight. She climbed down slowly, into Spike’s waiting arms. His mouth was on hers immediately, his clever fingers undoing buttons and snaps and zippers. Buffy pushed his duster off his shoulders onto the floor, grabbing the hem of his t-shirt and breaking off the kiss long enough to pull it over his head.
His mouth closed over hers once again, then he began to trail cool kisses down her neck, following the line of her collarbone. “Pants, off,” Buffy managed to gasp out.
Spike grinned against her skin. “Have to take my boots off first,” he murmured.
“Okay.” She pulled back, keeping her eyes on him as she unlaced her shoes and shimmied out of her pants. She’d always known he was hot, but she’d never understood just how beautiful he was until they’d made love for the first time.
Spike got out of his boots and jeans as quickly as she did, his eyes fixed on her. “You’re so beautiful,” he said reverently.
“So are you.”
“I always knew you wanted me for my body,” he teased.
Buffy smirked. “And your magic fingers. Don’t forget those.”
“At your service.”
It was desperate and hungry and nearly out of control; cool skin to warm, alabaster to golden, they engaged in a different kind of dance. She lost herself in his embrace, feeling alive, anchored, real. This was what her friends didn’t understand. With Spike, she felt whole again, and she could forget what she had lost.
His fingers and lips and tongue worked their magic. Buffy gripped his shoulders tightly as she went over the edge, feeling Spike collapse on top of her shortly afterwards, his forehead resting against her shoulder.
“I love you,” he whispered.
Buffy wished she could give him more and tightened her grip. “I know.”
Spike didn’t even sigh, just rolled over, bringing her with him, spooned against his side. “When do you have to go back?”
“I don’t know. Maybe not until morning. Dawn and Willow will probably sleep in.”
“Okay.” Buffy hesitated. “I have to ask you for a favor.”
“Anything. You know that.”
“The social worker’s coming next week to do a home visit.” She moved so she could see his face. “She asked if I was dating anybody, and I said I was. She wants to meet you.”
Spike’s eyebrows went up. “You told her about us?”
“She asked, and I didn’t want to lie. What happens if she finds out, and then she wants to know why I lied, and—” She stopped herself, realizing that she was babbling. “This is important, Spike. If she doesn’t think I can take care of Dawn, they’ll put her in foster care.”
“No, they won’t,” he insisted. “We could take her away, leave town. We’d just have to stay away until she turns 18.”
“I can get money. I can take care of you an’ the Bit,” he promised with the same kind of recklessness that had led him to seek out three Slayers, and love the third.
If she was completely honest with herself, Buffy loved him just a little bit for that.
“I know you can,” she replied, touching his cheek. “But I’d like to try it this way first.”
He nodded. “What do you need from me?”
“Can you look—dress—”
He looked amused. “Normal?”
“Please? It’s important.”
“I told you anythin’, luv,” he replied. “I meant it. If I have to wear a bloody monkey suit, I’d do it for you an’ Dawn.”
God help her, she knew he was telling the truth. “Yeah.”
“Name the day and time, an’ I’ll be there,” he promised, pressing a kiss to her shoulder.
Buffy settled in next to him, putting an arm across his chest. “Thank you.”
“Any time, pet.”
“No, not for this.” She met his eyes. “For everything.”
He climbed through her bedroom window shortly before the sun rose to avoid being singed, then climbed into bed with her. “Hey.”
“Hey,” Buffy murmured sleepily. “Your clothes are hanging up in my closet.”
“Thanks for washin’ them.”
“I had to do laundry anyway,” she responded. “Wanna sleep for a while?”
Spike pulled her close. “Sure. Go back to sleep, luv.”
She dropped off immediately, content to be in his arms.
Buffy would have overslept if Spike hadn’t been there; she’d forgotten to set her alarm clock, but he’d stayed awake to watch her sleep, and woke both her and Dawn in time.
When Xander showed up to take Dawn to school, he wasn’t too pleased to see Spike there. Buffy gave him a warning look and then pushed them both out the door, with Willow close behind. “Have a good day, guys!”
“So, how do I look?” Spike asked from behind her.
She turned to look at him, her eyebrows going up. “Oh.”
Spike glanced down at himself. “Is it not okay?”
Buffy stepped forward and grabbed him by his blue button down shirt, pulling him in for a bruising kiss. “You have to wear those clothes more often.”
He blinked, looking a little stunned. “I wore this before, an’ that wasn’t the reaction I got.”
She frowned, trying to remember which occasion he was referring to, and colored slightly when she did. “The night you tried to come onto me in the Bronze. You had a different jacket, too.”
Spike shrugged self-consciously. “I was trying to impress you. Better late than never, I s’pose.”
“Consider me impressed.” She gave him another quick kiss. “The social worker is going to be here any minute.”
“I’ll start the coffee.”
“Blood’s in the fridge,” she informed him. “I picked some up for you yesterday. If you’re quick, you can finish it before she gets here.”
Buffy made one more sweep of the living room, wanting to be sure that everything was ready for inspection. She had no idea what to expect from this woman, or how this meeting was going to go. When the doorbell rang, Buffy took a deep breath, and went to open the door.
“Doris Kroger, from Social Services,” the woman announced, showing her badge and stepping inside. She peered around curiously, brushing past Buffy to step into the living room.
Buffy had spent the previous day cleaning, having recruited Dawn to help. Her sister had whined about it, but she’d eventually given in. Buffy hoped she’d impressed upon the girl how important this whole thing was, but it was hard to say when Dawn was busy being a self-centered teen.
Not that Buffy had been much different at that age.
“Come in,” she said, forcing a smile. “Would you like coffee?”
Mrs. Kroger seemed to warm slightly. “Yes, thank you.”
“It’s not a problem,” Buffy replied, leading her into the kitchen. “Dawn already left for school.”
She hummed under her breath. “She’s been getting to school on time?”
“Yes, of course,” Buffy said. “I have a friend who gives her a ride every day on his way to work.” She hoped that was okay. Was it okay? It wasn’t like she could drive, and it seemed like the best way to make sure Dawn actually got to school.
Spike was rinsing out his mug when they entered the kitchen, and Buffy was grateful to see no sign of what he’d been drinking. “William, this is Mrs. Kroger. This is William, my boyfriend.”
There was no way she was going to call him “Spike,” in front of the social worker; that would be a sure way to shoot herself in the foot.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Kroger,” Spike said, holding out his hand, and sounding a lot more like Giles. It was a surprise, and Buffy had to shut her mouth with a snap.
Mrs. Kroger, like many other women, couldn’t resist a good-looking man with a British accent. She sat down at the kitchen table for the interview, during which they lied a lot, but Buffy told herself that it was for a good cause. Spike managed to convince Mrs. Kroger that he was a successful freelance writer, and that he made enough money to support himself, Buffy, and Dawn.
For her part, Buffy managed to lie convincingly about having everything under control, which was a miracle in and of itself. The fact that she didn’t have to face the meeting alone, and that she felt prepared for it helped, too.
In the end, Mrs. Kroger pronounced herself satisfied—for the time being—and took herself off, leaving them with an empty house until Dawn returned home from school.
“You were great,” Buffy said honestly, as soon as the door had closed behind her. “Really.”
“I’m glad I could help,” Spike replied. “I wish I could make all your problems disappear, Buffy.”
She smiled. “I wish you could, too, but you could make me forget them for a while.”
“I think I can do that,” he said.
Buffy had every faith that he could.
She wasn’t crying when she found herself the small shop this time. It was strange, how she’d had so little hope regarding the possibility of dating Spike, and yet that had turned out to be the best of all possible worlds. “Is that really what will happen?”
Casamir shook his head. “No, not exactly. The future is malleable and can easily be changed. If you are asking if things could be as you saw, however, then the answer is yes. It is possible.”
Buffy closed her eyes, recalling the physical sensations of being with Spike, and the conviction that he had her back for everything. If it could be that good—
“Then what are you waiting for?” Casamir asked with a smile. “Only you know the answer to that question.”
“Are you a mind reader, too?” Buffy asked.
“I am many things.” He patted her hand in a fatherly way. “Now, it is late, and you must be tired. Why don’t you head on home?”
Buffy rose from the table. “Thank you, for everything. I feel—” She stopped, realizing that for the first time since her return, she felt as though she’d come back for a reason. If not for her death, Dawn would have died; if not for her resurrection, her friends would have been killed.
Knowing that, she could do what had to be done to make that possible future a reality. Things might not have been perfect, but she’d been happier than she’d ever thought possible.
Casamir merely smiled. “Sometimes it takes knowing what might have been to see what might be. Good luck, Miss Summers, and tell your William to come see me sometime. He may have questions he wants answered as well. I will be here when I am needed.”
Buffy let him usher her outside the shop, where she took a deep breath of the night air. She realized that she had no idea how long she’d been inside. It felt like forever and no time at all.
Casamir was right; she needed to go home, then she needed to find Spike. It was time to have that talk he’d been so anxious to have.
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/177449.html