My posting day was actually yesterday, and I’m taking advantage of a 24 hour grace period – my apologies to snickfic for posting on your day!
Setting: Post-series, no comics
Word Count: 2200
Summary: Sometimes coming home is the hardest thing to do.
The hospital smells of sickness, a melancholy odor that hits him as soon as the doors of the elevator roll open. The astringent cleaners burn his nose but do little to cover up the underlying flavor of mortal illness and death.
As a predator, once upon a time he would have gloried in such a scent – the scent of weakness, of frailty. Now, it takes all his effort not to step back into the elevator and let the doors close in front of him.
He shouldn’t be here. She shouldn’t be here.
A small body slams into his lower legs and wraps itself around him, almost sending him to the floor before he can collect himself.
He looks down at the dark head that comes only as high as his knees and reaches down to ruffle curly hair with a fond smile.
“Well, look at you,” he says, pretending to study the small girl carefully. “You’re nearly as big as your mum, I think. Who did you eat to get so tall?”
She laughs at that, all baby teeth and wide grin, and squeezes his leg tighter. “I missed you, Spike!”
“Uncle Spike,” a voice corrects, and he looks up to see Dawn approaching him wearily. “Come on, you,” she says, hauling the little girl off and leaning down to tighten a barrette. “Don’t step all over him.”
“Dawn,” he says quietly, unsure of how he should act around her, where he stands. She stares at him blankly, lips pressed into a thin line, and he braces himself for the blow he half expects and more than half deserves. Instead, she shakes her head with a tired sigh.
“You two are the most drama-filled people in the whole universe, you know that?”
He tries to look contrite and mostly manages, but he suspects the smile he offers is mostly pained.
“Well, I come by it honestly,” he says. “Have you met my sire?”
Dawn accepts the meager joke for what it is and snorts out a laugh, holding onto her daughter’s overalls with an experienced grip as the little girl tries to twist free with a whine.
“The breathing tube came out this morning,” she says, stepping forward and lowering her voice. “She’s in room 322. Do you want me to tell her you’re here?”
He shakes his head, eyes already down the hall. “No,” he says absently. “She knows I’m coming.”
Dawn raises her eyebrows at that. “She didn’t tell me,” she says, fixing him with a look that has quelled weaker men and vampires. “You’d better behave. If you end up getting kicked out of here, you can clean up your own mess.”
“I always do,” he says, and the smile comes easier now. Dawn tries to hold the frown for a few seconds longer, but it eventually fades into a grudging grin. She grabs him up in a quick hug, her pointy chin digging into his shoulder.
“Missed you, dumbass,” she breathes, and Spike grins at the shocked gasp he hears coming from several feet down.
“Mommy!” the little girl says, properly scandalized. “You said a bad word!”
“Oh, quiet,” Dawn shushes good-naturedly. “We’re going now. Tell Uncle Spike goodbye.”
He waves them into the elevator with a promise to stop by later and see all the brand new toys. Then they are gone, and he is alone in the hallway.
His shoes squeak on the linoleum floor as he makes his way to room 322. The hallway seems to expand in length the longer he walks, and he finds himself slowing without meaning to. The smell of death is stronger here, but underneath he can catch the faintest scent of the presence he knows so well. Closing his eyes, he breathes deep and tracks it to its source.
A young girl stands outside the room, her arms folded across her chest. The fierce brightnesses of her eyes is heartbreakingly familiar, even if he doesn’t recognize her. Slayer, her blood sings to him, a timeless pull that should have sent him running in the other direction if he was any kind of decent monster at all.
He’s never been a particularly decent anything.
She gives him a nod of recognition and pushes the door open, pulling it closed behind him to continue her silent vigil in the hallway. Spike forgets about her as soon as the door shuts, all his attention focused on the figure in the bed.
It’s been almost three months to the day since he’s seen her, and from the way his silent heart aches in his chest it might as well have been three decades. She lies propped against the pillows, limp hair tucked behind her ears and more pale than he can remember seeing her in a long time.
She is indescribably beautiful.
“Hey,” he says softly, at a loss, shoving his hands into his pockets. He wants to run to her, but given the way their last conversation went he’s not sure that’s such a good idea.
“I knew you’d come,” she says, voice rough from the breathing tube. Despite his best intentions – because he really does have good intentions, even if she’s the only one who believes it – he feels himself harden. Because it’s been so long – so long since he’s touched her – and her voice sounds just like it does after she’s been sucking his….
The water bottle thunks off his head and lands on the floor, rolling beneath the bed.
“Hey!” he says in disbelief, rubbing his forehead, but she just folds her arms and scowls at him.
“Were you getting turned on?” she asks in disbelief. “Really? Here?”
He opens his mouth to argue and lets it snap shut instead. Sometimes honesty is the best policy – although not nearly often as everyone seems to think.
“Well, yeah,” he says with a shrug, giving her his best shit-eating grin, and after a moment her face cracks and they’re both smiling at each other, giddy with something that feels almost like joy.
“Come here,” she says softly, and he settles himself gingerly into the chair next to her.
She looks even more tired from close up, wrinkles threading from the corners of her eyes like little cracks. Bandages are wrapped around her left leg and IV tubes snake across her arm into the machine next to her. He has so rarely seen her in a hospital that he doesn’t know what to do with himself, doesn’t know where to let his hands settle. He’s used to wrapping her wounds himself and pushing pillows behind her back, but the beeping monitors unnerve him.
“You look great,” is the first thing that comes out of his mouth. She rolls her eyes at him.
“You should see the other guys,” she says dryly.
She shrugs. “I lost track at twelve or so.”
She looks offended at that, as well she should. “Oh, please. Demons. Big ones. And they had axes, which if you ask me is cheating.”
“Well, you know, there’s no standards these days,” he says. “What happened to relying on brute strength? Demons should leave their weapons at home and line up nicely and count themselves lucky to be killed by the likes of you.”
She throws up her hands. “See? That’s what I’ve been saying, and no one listens to me.”
They smile at each other, and he missed this so much his heart aches for it.
“I’m okay,” she says softly. “Still me. Still chock-full of Slayer healing. If I’m lucky, they’ll let me out of here tomorrow.”
And if you weren’t lucky, you’d be dead, he thinks but doesn’t say. It’s an old thought, and he knows better than to allow it to take root, but sometimes he can’t quite help it. He knows what she is – she knows what she is – and it’s no good him dwelling on the fragility of the human body.
“Yeah?” he says instead. “Sounds good.”
His fingers pick at the edges of the thin blanket, and he can’t help but worry that she isn’t warm enough. She gets cold so easily, and here she is in this pathetic little hospital gown and threadbare cover that can’t possibly be warm, and who in the bloody hell is in charge of this place that they’re not taking care of her like she deserves, and….
She lays her hands over his and squeezes, stilling his fingers.
“Will you be there when I come home tomorrow?”
She asks it easily, as if she doesn’t really care one way or the other, but she doesn’t meet his eyes and her fingers shake a bit where they grip his.
“Do you want me there?” He can hear the same nonchalance in his own voice, and knows that she sees through him as easily as he saw through her. She nods, and her face crumples.
“I’m sorry,” she chokes, and his mouth drops open, because what in the seven hells can she possibly have to be sorry for? “I shouldn’t have said that,” she continues. “I’ve been going through some stuff, and I just took it out on you, and…”
He breaks into a short laugh – to get her to shut up more than anything else – and regards her incredulously.
“What are you talking about?” he asks. “I’m the one who was acting like a right idiot. I can’t believe the things I said to you. You know I didn’t mean it, love, right?”
She gapes at him, then lets out a short laugh. “I…I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
He frowns at that. “Did you hit your head or something?” He tilts his head, trying to see if there are any bruises he missed, but she just rolls her eyes and smacks him weakly on the chest.
“Idiot,” she says fondly.
“Yeah,” he says. “As always. Now push over, will you?”
She rolls her eyes again and obediently squirms over to one side of the bed, careful of her tubing. He settles down next to her as soon as there is room and pulls her to curl up against him. Her head fits perfectly on his chest, their bodies curled together as flawlessly as ever.
If he believed in such things, he would take it as a happy sign.
“I meant it,” she murmurs into his chest. “I really am sorry.”
He sighs and presses a kiss to the top of her hair. It’s been days since it has been washed, but he doesn’t mind, the way the natural smell of her body finally overwhelms the medicinal scent of the room. If he’s lucky, she’ll let him wash it for her later.
“And I meant it too,” he replies. “I’m the one who should be saying it to you.”
She peeks up at him and draws her fingers across the curve of his cheek and over his chin, making him shiver. She seems colder than him, and he tucks the thin blanket more firmly around her shoulders. She’s frowning, mouth a heavy pout, and he wants badly to kiss it away.
He may be an idiot, but once in a great while he does know the right thing to say.
“I forgive you,” he says softly, and her eyes well up with gratitude. He honestly has no idea what he’s forgiving her for – his own harsh words are the only things that stick in his memory – but the way her face lights up lets him know that he got it right.
“Ditto,” she says, quirking a smile, and if he just made her feel as happy as she just made him…well, there’s nothing better than that. He tucks her in more closely and curls an arm around her, settling her in under his chin. Her breath washes over him, and he sighs in contentment.
“Can we not do that again? The fighting?” she asks.
He wants so badly to say yes, but he knows it would be a lie. They will fight as they have fought for years, as only two lovers who used to be mortal enemies can fight. They will fight because it is in their blood to do so, even with their long history between them. They will fight because they love each other, and not despite it.
And they will make up, as they always do. Until the day they don’t, because sometimes he forgets how humanly fragile she is, how heavily the years of responsibility weigh on her. And the thought that she could some day be broken terrifies him, but what terrifies them more is the thought that their own stubbornness would keep them apart on the day it happens.
But he knows her so well, and he knows what she’s really asking.
“I promise I will never leave you,” he says into her hair. “And I promise I won’t let you push me away.”
She lets out a shaky sigh and the last bit of tension leaves her body. She is warming in his arms, though he has no heat to give her, and he holds her tight and watches through the window as the stars come out.
Originally posted at https://seasonal-spuffy.dreamwidth.org/322539.html