Title: Not Exactly Once Upon a Time
Disclaimer: Joss yadda yadda.
Timeline: Sometime in the future. Buffy, Spike, together. You know.
Pairings/Characters: Spike/Buffy. Cuz that’s kinda the point. And also, Willow and Xander. Cuz there would be little togetherness if not for good friends. Trust me.
Summary: Sometimes a vampire is just a guy, a slayer is just a girl, and they’re both just a little dense.
A/N: Many thanks to justmalea and redeem147 for beta duties. They both saved me from grammar errors and evil typos. Also, to appomattoxco and gables for encouragement and feedback.
It was a warm afternoon, and a light breeze danced through the trees around the plaza. Two young women sat talking at a table outside a quiet bistro.
“I just don’t know what’s wrong.”
Willow regarded Buffy as she sat clutching the mug in her hands as if it were some sort of lifeline. A puff of air ruffled her hair, revealing a brow wrinkled with worry. Willow pursed her lips for a moment, then crossed her arms and leaned forward. “Why are you so sure something’s wrong, Buffy?”
Buffy gave her the classic ‘d-uh’ look she usually reserved for the moments Xander said something particularly obtuse. “Will! I’ve just downed a Venti Caramel Macchiato and two – count them, *two* – chocolate covered shortbread cookies while pouring my heart out! Haven’t I made it obvious?”
Willow glanced down into her cup. Buffy had been hedging and hinting for the last half hour, but she hadn’t come right out and *said* what she had been trying to say. Taking a deep breath, Willow looked Buffy in the eye and plunged in. “So, what you’re telling me is that you and Spike haven’t been having sex lately.”
Buffy looked away and began to twist the mug in her hands.
“Buffy, you’re going to-”
There was a sharp *snap* as the defenseless stoneware gave way, no match for an overwrought slayer. The girls looked around to see if anyone had noticed, but none of the wait staff seemed any the wiser. Buffy artfully draped a napkin over the mug, then clasped her hands together on the table before her. “Sorry,” she muttered. “I’m a little tense.”
Willow raised both eyebrows. “You don’t say.” There was a moment of silence, and then Willow continued. “You know, Buffy, all couples go through dry spells. Sometimes people are tired, or sick, or stressed, or just not in the mood.”
Buffy gave her a Look
“And, okay,” she backpedaled, “granted, none of those things have ever applied to Spike before, but you never know!”
Buffy heaved a huge sigh, leaned her elbows on the table and rested her forehead in her hands. “It’s not just a dry spell, Will. It’s been almost two months.”
Willow tried not to gape and failed. Between her own traveling where ever Council business took her and Buffy’s busy mentoring -and -training schedule, the two of them rarely got to girl-talk as they once had. Be that as it may, they’d still found time to hash out all the details that best girl friends must discuss, and it had been clear that stamina and desire were two things that Spike had in spades. And hearts and diamonds and every other suit for that matter.
When Buffy had suggested they go for coffee earlier, Willow had sensed Spike was eager, almost desperate for them to leave. Buffy’s stammered round-about hints had her thinking that they hadn’t been intimate for a few days, but weeks! Two months! It boggled the mind.
Willow laid her hand on her friend’s arm. “You need to tell me what’s really going on, not beat around the bush.” Her heart melted as tearful hazel eyes looked up into hers. “Oh, Buffy!” Willow leaned in and hugged her friend.
And then there was crying and hugs and more crying. When the sniffling settled down to a bare minimum and her eyes were a little less puffy, Buffy, taking a deep breath, began to speak.
“At first, it didn’t seem like a big deal.” she recounted slowly, as she flicked crumbs off the table in front of her. “Spike said there was a fresh influx of j’Kade demons. They’re such slippery suckers, and since this new batch of slayers haven’t really got their slaying feet under them yet, he suggested we keep them out of it. Spike got home really late the next couple of nights, and he was super tired. I was getting up so early with the girls, I didn’t exactly feel like doing anything frisky either. It just went on that way for a while. A long while.”
She tapered off, staring down at her fingers, picking at a nail. Willow gently touched her hand, bringing her focus up once more.
Buffy shrugged, shaking her head. “I was starting to feel lonely. But every time I tried to get close or snuggle up with Spike, something came up. He had to run out. He had to patrol. He had to call Giles. Can you believe that? Giles! And he was having the nightmares again. I used to comfort him, you know? When he came back from LA, he told me that I helped to ground him and keep him focused.”
Her voice became more strident as her hurt and confusion mounted. “Only now, he’s been pushing me away.’Just gotta clear my head’, he says, but he leaves and goes and sleeps on the couch. And then… then he just stopped coming to bed at all. And he was brushing it off whenever I tried to talk to him, and of course I don’t want to talk in front of the girls, but the tension is there. And so he goes upstairs or to the training room or just takes off entirely. And-”
“Buffy, stop!” Willow put up her hand to stem the flow of words. Buffy looked at her, horrified and hurt, and Willow covered her mouth with her hand as she realized how it must have sounded. “Oh! I don’t mean you can’t talk anymore! I mean, stop for a minute. I want to ask some questions, okay?”
The slayer nodded. Willow pulled her notebook out of her bag. “What? Will! I don’t want you to write this down!”
Willow shook her head. “Only some Q and A, that’s all. Brainstorming.” Buffy looked at her askance, but gave in. “Alright. First thing. He was up really late, you were up really early – ships passing in the night, right?”
“Uh. More like killing machines passing in the night, because no water, but yeah. Pretty much.”
Willow wrote NO COUPLE TIME on her paper. “Okay. You said he was having the nightmares again.”
Buffy nodded, and Willow added NIGHTMARES to her list.
“And you said that he was sleeping on the couch?”
“Well, sometimes. But other times, he just stays up. For days on end, Will. He patrols, he trains with the girls a bit, he goes to have a nap- but, nightmares.”
Willow wrote SLEEP DEPRIVATION; NIGHTMARES on her list. “What were the dreams about?”
“He used to have nightmares about the past. About the apocalypse in LA. About his mom and turning her. About the amulet and burning. Angelus.”
Willow frowned. “He’s still having nightmares about that stuff with his mom? I thought the stone in the basement and his little altercation with Robin before Sunnydale became a crater cured that.”
Buffy frowned. “He told me he used to dream about that stuff.”
“I remember you telling me about the big battle, and the fire dreams he had, but that was at least a year ago.” Willow considered for a moment, the gears spinning as she tried to weigh it out. “Buffy,” she asked slowly, “did Spike ever actually *say* what it was he’s been dreaming about *lately*?”
She thought about it for a moment, and shook her head. “Every time I tried to talk to him about it, he pushed me away.”
“You asked him specifically? About his recent nightmares?”
Buffy looked at the floor. “Maybe I didn’t *exactly* ask him about them.”
“What *did* you ask him about?”
Buffy looked a bit chagrined. “I asked him why he was pushing me away.”
“Uhm..” Willow digested that for a moment. “Hey Buffy?”
“It’s probably the nightmares, huh?”
Willow sighed and nodded. “I’m guessing it’s the nightmares.”
Buffy shook her head. “I feel really dumb.”
“You’re not dumb.”
Buffy’s cheeks took on a rosy hue as she flushed with embarrassment. “Really, Will. I’d prefer to be dumb. Because if I’m not dumb, I’m really just a skanky ho who is so self-involved that all I can think about is how I’m not getting any when my boyfriend is having nightmares that are so bad he’s not in the mood. And you know they have to be bad if Spike is not in the mood.”
Willow’s mouth twitched up in the corner. “I’d never call you a skanky-ho.”
“I’d just call you a quitter.”
Buffy’s jaw dropped. “What?”
“Runaway doesn’t really fit.”
The blonde gave her an incredulous look until the memory snapped into place and her lips formed an “Oh!” before curving into a smile. “Whiner.”
“Hey! That’s *my* line!”
“Would you prefer skank instead?”
Buffy cleared her throat and muttered something under her breath, and then they both burst out laughing. It felt good, and the tension that had been hovering over Buffy for so long dissipated.
“Willow, I think this Skanky ho needs to go talk to her boyfriend,”
Xander watched Spike pummel the punching bag into submission. Before that, he’d sparred with four – no, five of the new Slayerettes, sent Andrew scurrying for cover, and almost peeled the paint off the walls with his language after one of Xander’s asinine remarks. He’d been going at the punching bag for a good fourty-five minutes now, and showed no sign of stopping anytime soon. As entertaining as it was watching the bleached menace be menacing, Xander knew something deeper was going on then just a bad hair gel day. He debated the wisdom of opening his mouth and actually saying something about it.
Xander had been back from his globetrotting for three days now, on a sabbatical of sorts before he headed off to oversee the construction of yet another slayer training facility in some other exotic locale. Three days had been more than enough for him to realize that all was not well in the universe of Buffy and Spike.
He was long past the days of pretending there was no Buffy and Spike. And he counted the vampire among his friends now, even though their friendship was, at times, a prickly and mutually annoying one.
“What did the bag do? You usually reserve that kind of beating for demons who look at Buffy like she’s lunch.”
The steady rain of blows on the leather bag never faltered. Xander tried a different track. Maybe shock tactics would work.
“You’re acting like a man who really needs to get laid, Spike. Trouble in paradise?”
The next punch went wild, and Spike stumbled. When he recovered himself, he turned to stare at Xander.
“What did you just say, whelp?”
Okay. Maybe shock tactics were not such a good idea after all.
“Just sayin’ that you’re wound kinda tight. What with all the beating of the poor defenseless punching bag and all. And things around here have been so tense since I got back… you could cut the tension with a scythe.”
Spike turned his attention back to the bag and started in on it again. “Keep your nose,” *punch* “out of things,” *punch* “that aren’t your business.” The last bit of the sentence was punctuated by a vicious jab that sent the bag careening up to collide with the roof.
Xander weighed his options. He thought about ducking out and leaving Spike to brood. That would be the simple solution. Possibly, the least painful one as well. Between his mouth, Spike’s fists and their mutual penchant for irritating the shit out of each other, he could easily come out of this with a black eye. And with only one eye to work with, this was not of the good. He decided that a friend would stick it out. But he wasn’t above playing the ‘don’t hit me, I’m a gimp’ card if things got ugly.
“Sorry to say it – sorrier than you know actually – but it sort of is my business.”
Spike actually stopped what he was doing to turn and to glare. “And how exactly,” he inquired quietly, a deadly tone in his voice, “do you figure that?”
“I figure that for a couple of reasons. First, because Buffy’s my friend. And she’s the Slayer. Yeah, okay, she’s *a* slayer, but she’s still *the* Slayer. And she’s all in love with you, god knows why.” Xander was getting the Look of Death with a side order of snarl, but he pressed onward. “So, I figure that if she’s miserable-”
“She’s not miserable!” Spike growled out, taking a step toward Xander, hands balling up into fists. Xander looked a possible beating in the face and did not relent.
“She is miserable.” He stared down the icy blues eyes locked on his for a moment longer before adding the kicker. “And so are you.”
Spike jerked back slightly, blinked, and deflated slightly. Xander watched as Spike quickly regrouped and tossed a snort of disdain his way. “I’m not. I’m the happiest vamp in the whole damn town. I’ve got my girl, my Bit, and a good spot of violence whenever I want it. You don’t know what you’re blatherin’ on about, you daft ponce.”
“When Buffy is miserable,” Xander continued, as if Spike hadn’t spoken, “she is apt to make errors in judgment. Push herself too hard when she should take it easy, or possibly let her guard down because she’s distracted. Say, during a fight, when she’s thinking about her boyfriend.”
Spike bristled. “I’ve got her back!” he declared. “I keep an eye on ‘er. Ain’t nothin’ out there getting the better of my Slayer while I’m around.”
“And when you’re not?”
Spike got right up in Xander’s face. “I’m *always* around, whelp.”
“Yeah, I noticed. You’ve been around a lot in the mornings when I get up to make coffee. Is that sofa more comfortable than sleeping with Bu– Urk!”
Some small portion of Xander’s brain made note of the fact that souled Spike was every bit as volatile as unsouled Spike when Xander was trying to get under his skin. He ought to get some sort of points for that. Oxygen, however, was becoming an issue. He struggled to get free.
“Let me explain something to you, you berk,” Spike ground out as he pinned Xander against the wall, forearm shoved up under his chin across his windpipe. “Where I sleep, what I do and my relationship with Buffy are none of your bloody business.”
Xander may not have been a skilled fighter, but he was not weak, and he had something important he needed to finish saying. He drove his fist as hard as he could into Spike’s side and knocked the unsuspecting vampire on his ass. He gulped great lungfuls of air as he leaned forward, hands on knees, trying to regain his bearings.
Spike slowly picked himself up off the floor to face him. “So, is this it, then? You n’ me, we’re gonna have a go of it?”
Xander shook his head. “No, you idiot,” he wheezed as he plunked down on a chair against the wall. “You’d kick my ass. I saw what you were doing to that bag, and it never did anything to annoy you. I, on the other, take great joy in irritating you at every opportunity. I know how that would go down.”
“Then what the bloody fuck do you want from me, Harris?”
“I want you to shut up and listen to me, Spike. I want you to hear me out.”
“And why the hell should I do that?”
“Because you’re my friend.”
Xander couldn’t help but grin. Spike speechless. He definitely deserved points for that.
Twenty minutes and two cold beers later, they sat quietly, side by side, watching the punching bag sway.
“I can’t believe I’m talking to you, of all people, about me and Buffy.”
Xander chuckled and took a swig. “I can’t believe I’m sitting next to you asking you to talk to me about you and Buffy. It’s wrong on so many levels, I can’t even begin to name them. But here we are.” He glanced at the sharp profile of the man beside him, a contrast of light and shadow in the dimness of the practice room. “So what the hell is going on, man? You two were head over heels, happier than any two people have any right to be the last few times I blew through here. What happened?”
Spike ran his hand up the back of his neck and through his hair as he shook his head. “I don’t know. Wasn’t any one thing.”
Xander hesitated a moment, then asked, “Do you still love her?”
Spike’s head snapped around. “God, yes!” he declared, gesturing wildly with his bottle, slopping beer all over Xander.
“Sorry,” Spike said in a tone which clearly indicated he wasn’t in the slightest.
“Okay,” Xander spoke while attempting to mop up his impromptu beer bath with a gym towel. “So you still love her – eww!”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“God, Spike! This towel is rank! I thought vamps didn’t sweat.”
Spike sniffed. “Oh. That’s Debbi’s. With an ‘i’. That girl’s a slob.”
Xander tossed the towel, feeling slightly ill. He’d take smelling like a brewery over whatever died on that towel.
“Getting back to the important things. You still love her, but you sleep on the couch. It’s completely obvious that she’s mooning after you, but-”
“It is? She is? Mooning?” Spike asked, not quite eagerly, but with interest.
Xander blinked. “You chased her, threw yourself at her, chained her up, made a complete nuisance of yourself, got a soul for her, and now when the two of your are together, you can’t see it when she’s making with the pie eyes?”
Spike looked away. He took another pull of his beer, then spoke so quietly, Xander had to strain to hear him. “I love her. I want her. God knows, I want her so bad I can hardly think. She’s my everything. She’s my life. But, I don’t deserve her. I-”
“Well, yeah,” Xander cut in. Spike glared at him, but he ignored it. “Since when did that ever matter to you?”
“Maybe it always mattered, but I was just too selfish to care before. And now I do.”
“And?” Xander mocked and dared with his tone, pouring as much belligerence into that one single syllable as he could. Spike played right in.
“And I finally see that my golden girl shouldn’t always have to shine in my darkness.” He jumped up and began to pace the length of the room. “She should be able walk in the sunshine. And she’s so good with all these young girls…” his voice turned less angry and more wistful. “She’s so much like her mother, and with me, she’ll never have that chance. She’ll always be in the dark.” He sank back into his chair, and took another pull of beer before going on in a darker tone. “And I keep having these dreams.”
Xander cocked his head to one side. “What kind of dreams?”
“Some of ’em are from stuff before. The mind game the First put me though. Burning in the fire, a few leftover nightmares courtesy of Wolfram and Hart. But I started dreaming about Buffy getting hurt. Cuz she’s trying to save me. The worst ones are the dreams where Buffy finally decides that I’m not good enough for her and dumps my sorry ass.”
Xander nodded in understanding. He’d had so many nightmares of his own when he and Anya were together – that she would leave – that she would stay – and when that demon showed up at their wedding, he’d let his fears win and destroy the best thing in his life. He was no stranger to what fear could do to a relationship.
And somewhere along the line, he’d stopped hating Spike, and accepted that Buffy loved him and that was all that mattered.
“I get it, man. It blows.” He lifted his bottle. “Here’s to love.”
The clicked their bottles together and drank.
“So,” Xander continued when they were almost done their beers. Spike looked at him, eyebrow raised in inquiry. Xander motioned at him the beer bottle. “You, my man, need to bite the bullet and get the fuck over it.”
The mouthful Spike had been about to swallow spewed all over the floor.
“Nice spray pattern.”
“Harris, are you off your nut? Get over it, oh yeah. I’ll get right on that. I’m sure the nightmares where I see Buffy’s broken, bloodstained body will just toddle off on your say so. And I’ll magically became flame resistant so’s we can go have a picnic in the park-”
“Oh, geeze! You’re worse than Angel.”
“You take that BACK!”
“What are you, twelve?”
“I’m nothing like that poofy-”
Xander covered his heart with one hand, and called out in a high pitched, falsetto voice. “Oh, I am nothing, and my darling Buffy deserves so much better. I am the dirt she is too good to walk on, so alas, I must leave to sulk in the shadows, forever to feel sorry for myself and lurk and- Ow!” Xander glared at Spike and rubbed his arm where the vampire had nailed him in the arm.
But Spike was having a hard time keeping a straight face himself. He finally cracked a grin and shook his head before tossing back the last of his beer. “You’re lucky I like you. Sort of.”
Xander kept rubbing his arm. He was going to have a mother of a bruise. “I pester because I care. And, you know. Because it’s really fun to piss you off. But, in this case at least, I really did have a point to make. And also, could you please not hit me so hard next time? Because *ow*!”
“You deserved it, you pillock.”
“So.” Xander looked over at the vampire seated beside him. “You feel like another beer, or did you just want to pummel me a little more?”
Spike cocked an eyebrow. “That’s a hard choice.” His smirk gave Xander cause to feel just a smidge of worry. And quite suddenly, Spike’s expression changed, went completely flat, and Xander realized they weren’t alone. He glanced over to the door to see Buffy leaning against the door jam.
Buffy’s gaze was fixed on Spike, and Xander watched Spike fidget beneath the weight of her stare.
“Well, I should be off,” Xander piped up.
“No wait,” Spike called out just as Buffy said, “Really, you don’t have to…”
Xander smiled as he walked across the room toward Buffy and the open door. “I think I really do.” He surprised Buffy with a gentle hug, then propelled her into the room towards Spike. “I’ll let everyone know that you are not to be disturbed.”
Once again, they tripped over each other in protest, but Xander used his best Willow resolve face. “I said; no one will disturb you. Got it?”
The two blondes looked at each other then back at him and nodded.
“I expect to be taking my coffee *alone* tomorrow morning.”
Not waiting for an answer, Xander pulled the door firmly shut behind him and set off down the hall. He thought about putting up a sign, but he figured that it wouldn’t be long till there were sounds emanating from that room that would make a fully armed swat team afraid to enter.
He didn’t stop grinning for the rest of the day.
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/97996.html