Title: Setting Up House (Epilogue the First-21/22)
Setting: Season 6, AU after “Gone”
Word Count (this part): 4671
Summary: What if the second social worker actually paid a visit to Buffy and Dawn after the incident in “Gone,” and Dawn and Spike convinced Buffy to set up house with Spike? (Eventually, it’s a bit of a crossover fic with AtS.)
Thank you: Extra special thank you to enigmaticblues for beta-ing the final chapters of Setting Up House.
Dedication: This story is written especially for aimeedee, who believes in me! I also dedicate this to _sin_attract, inxsomniax, zarrah04, indiana_jane_, jenniepennie, roxyw, ghostgirl13, lilith77, eyesthatslay, musing_mia, sweet_ali, and Aydin.
Chapters 1-15 can be found on here on AO3.
Sixteenth, Be Honest with Your Ex… and Yourself
Seventeenth, Be Civil to Uninvited Guests… Within Reason
Eighteenth, When Company Becomes Too Much, Strategize to Get Rid of Them
Nineteenth, Appreciate Coming Home After a Trip Away
Twentieth, Take Care of Each Other
Epilogue the First
Three Months Later
The breeze is light and cool against my face as I walk home from a night out on patrol. Clouds cover the moon, and the street lights are a dull yellow, the trees and fences casting deep shadows along the familiar streets of my sleepy neighborhood.
Bringing flashlights, Willow and Xander joined me for patrol, per new usual routine, and for some reason, we ran into a cluster of eight nasty vampires. When I say nasty, I mean haven’t-bathed-since-last-decade nasty.
So despite the darkness, I’m particularly grateful for the fresh air, and the wind to sweep away the stench that emanates from my new jeans and blouse. Luckily, I didn’t wear a jacket. Jeans and top I can wash, but Dawn and I still can’t afford the dry cleaning bill even though we’re both working. Ironically, my job is at one of the boutiques where Dawn had sticky fingers. Dawn is babysitting for the neighbors. We pool our money to pay the bills, including Dawn’s debts from stealing.
My friends were a big help tonight despite Willow still being on no-spell mode and Xander being weepy from his break up with Anya before their wedding. They crashed together at Xander’s place to clean up and rest for work tomorrow, Xander at the construction site of the new high school and Willow with Giles and Hanna to work on magic stuff. Willow has been couch-surfing for a while to avoid her parents who weren’t so good with the needed TLC. She and Tara have tentatively been talking again, and Willow is heading to England next week with Giles, Hanna, and maybe Tara to continue her training with more support and less temptation than at the hellmouth.
I still can’t believe Xander and his construction crew are rebuilding the school over the hellmouth, but Dawn is excited to be starting high school in a brand spanking new set of buildings next year. I’m trying not to be a complete control freak about it already because Dawn is still not done with this school year, but I’m not sure it’s working because I made Dawn a Slayer survival kit for her locker and am saving up for us to get cell phones.
My flashbacks and nightmares are much improved, and it helps that on the bad nights that I can slip on one of Spike’s soft t-shirts and surround myself in his scent. My emotions are realigning themselves, too, and each day, I feel one step closer to being content with being back in the land of the living.
I started seeing a therapist at the university psychology clinic where they offer sliding scale fees based on income. My therapist’s in the know about what goes on in Sunnydale because somehow, I saved her little brother from being killed by some demons that attacked the local movie theater. Slaying in a small town has its perks sometimes.
She’s also an advanced enough grad student that she doesn’t have to record all her sessions, so I’m free to talk about whatever with confidentiality. I signed a release of information, so she talked with Giles, too, who verified my story. She knows about me being pulled out of heaven by my friends, and she’s helped me sort out my thoughts and feelings enough to have the tough conversations with everyone involved. Honestly, the heavy conversations have made us all closer.
I think about Spike every day and wonder where he is. I wonder less whether he’s accomplished his goal of attaining a soul and more about when I’ll see him again. He and I are so tactile with one another that when I get in touch with my feelings for him, I feel the emotions in my body. . . in my heart, stomach, and gut. We didn’t really talk more about feelings before he left, and part of me wishes we had. More than anything I want him home, so I can make sure he’s okay. . . that the soul hasn’t destroyed who he is. I don’t often ruminate about this, but in quiet moments, sometimes the apprehension sneaks in before I can catch it. His Zippo is a constant in my pocket, the tiny weight a reminder that he is here with me whether I’m patrolling or working or hanging out at the Magic Box. Part of me thinks that he will come back as long as I have his lighter.
I shake my head as if I can pour the thoughts out of my mind and round the corner onto Revello Drive. A bright light beckons me home from the sea of darkness. Dawn always turns on the porch light for me. My stomach growls, and I start imagining the meal I’ll create out of the many leftovers crowding the refrigerator, including grabbing a cold chicken wing or two to tide me over while I shower. Before I go to sleep, I’ll follow my nightly routine and check the yard for signs of Spike.
Thinking about food and a shower gives me energy.
Hopping up the steps to the front porch, I unlock the door and push into the house, remembering to be quiet at the last minute. Dawn’s probably sleeping. Humming a little to myself, I amble into the kitchen and pull open the refrigerator door.
As I survey the options, the back door flies open, and I jump back, grabbing the stake off the counter behind me where I left it and falling into a ready stance.
Dawn is flustered and hardly notices that I almost tackled her for crashing into the house.
I lower the stake as annoyance takes the place of fight mode. “What are you doing? It’s 3 AM! Why aren’t you in bed?”
“Buffy. It’s Spike. He’s back.”
My best parent hat slips off. “What? Where is he?” Unfiltered emotion tumbles through me.
“Back here. He’s not quite. . . well, just come.” She tugs my hand and pulls me through the back door to the yard where the white light casts a ghostly glow over the foliage and lawn furniture. I barely make out a dark form curled up in one of the loungers.
Rushing off the porch, I slow as I approach the unmoving figure. My legs fold under me as I kneel next to him. The light reflects off of what’s left the bleach in his looser curls, and he’s always been trim, but now he appears even thinner. He must be starving.
He’s filthy, but I don’t care. I am, too. I reach out to stroke his cool cheek, and at my touch, he startles and opens his eyes. I draw my hand back. His blue eyes are dull and dark in the shadows, but I can tell he recognizes me.
“Spike? It’s me, Buffy.”
He blinks at me, his eyelids moving too slowly.
Dawn joins me, the calf of her right leg touching mine.
“How did you find him?” I ask her.
“He was here when I came home from babysitting Thomas. . . around 10:30.” She pauses, knowing I’m asking for more than the time. “I always check the front and back when I get home. . . just in case.”
I glance at her and smile. “Me, too.”
Spike makes a small noise as if he’s trying to clear his throat. His voice hitches, “Buf-fy?”
“Yes. It’s me. I’m here. Dawn’s here, too. You made it. . . you made it back.”
“Hi,” my sister chimes in and gives a little wave. “We missed you.”
Spike’s eyes track the movement. “M-missed you.” I’m not sure if he’s echoing what Dawn’s saying or if he’s really truly here with us.
“Are you hungry? You must be hungry. Dawn and I have been stocking blood off and on for weeks to make sure we always have fresh blood. . . just in case.”
At the mention of blood, his face starts to shift, but he can’t manage it.
“Dawn, bring me two of those packets.” She’s up and running before I even finish the sentence, so I call after her, “Make that three! And a knife!”
His pale hand rests by his face, and I reach for it, but he pulls away and gives a jerky shake of his head. Confused, I sit back as Dawn returns with four or five pouches of cold blood. She passes one to me, and I squeeze the blood to the bottom and slice open the top corner with the knife she slaps on my palm. The blood is black in the dim light, and I upturn the packet, pouring a little of the refrigerator-thickened liquid onto his lips.
With effort, he licks his lips and then eagerly opens his mouth for more. I press the pouch to his lips and upturn it so he gets more and faster. Soon enough, he’s sucking hard and fast on the pig’s blood. Not too long ago, I was disgusted by this, but I’m not now. I’m relieved that he’s so responsive. By the time he finishes the first portion, Dawn has the next one ready and waiting.
Spike finishes four before he turns his head to signal that he’s done. He struggles to sit up then, and I’m so glad when he allows me to hold one of his arms to help him. He teeters a little, so I slide onto the chair next to him, and Dawn follows suit on his other side, our arms crossing one another to circle around Spike’s waist.
“Spike, Dawn and I are going to help you inside. Think you can stand up?”
His voice is stronger. . . more sure. “Yeah.”
On a count of three, we stand with more ease than I expected, and Spike is able to put one foot in front of the other as we maneuver our way back into the house. My eyes slowly adjust to the brightness of the kitchen, and Dawn kicks the back door shut with the toe of her sneaker.
“Should we go in the living room?” Dawn asks, moving her legs under her like she’s standing on the subway and it’s started moving.
Spike is silent as we shuffle and side step to the living room, and he doesn’t even make a sound of protest or pain as he sinks back into the cushions of the sofa. Dawn and I survey him. His face is gaunt. The blood that is smeared across his lower lip is a harsh red against the grey of his skin. He’s not wearing the clothes he left in, and he didn’t exactly pack a suitcase, so I have no idea where he got the ripped grey jeans and the white T-shirt with a faded blue penguin design. His skin is streaked with grime and dirt, and he’s covered with cuts and bruises that haven’t quite healed because he hasn’t been eating. The clothes drape on him like he’s a hanger that’s too small, but he still has his Doc Martens. . . the one trace of his old self that doesn’t seem to be gone. He left his leather duster here, folded up in my closet.
Unbidden, tears prick alive in my eyes. I didn’t expect him to be this. . . .
“He looks terrible. Like he’s starving. . . literally. Buffy, what’s wrong with him?” Dawn sounds scared now that she’s viewed him in the lamplight.
“I don’t know.” My voice is soft as I squat beside him. I do my best to push aside my feelings. . . to sound more sure. “Spike?”
“Mmmm.” My heart lifts a little because this sound reminds me of how he used to sound when he was sleeping and I poked him awake.
“You made it back.”
He coughs, his chest rising up, and then, he blinks, his eyes slits. “Rest n. . .now.”
My eyes fill again, but I lean down to kiss his forehead and smooth back his curls. “Resting is good. You’ll heal faster that way. Dawn and I. . . we’ll be here when you wake up.”
“Buffy, go shower and eat. I’ll stay with Spike,” Dawn commands, pulling up a chair closer to the couch. I wonder where her new confidence comes from. Could it be from the babysitting? I know it’s more than that.
Playing with my fingers, I hesitate and then decide to listen. I really do stink. “Right.”
Taking the stairs two at a time, I plunge into the bathroom, throw my dirty clothes into the plastic laundry bin, and shower faster than I ever have, scrubbing fast and hard at the dirt and grime. After drying off, I run the wide-toothed comb through my wet blonde hair and scamper downstairs again to grab a plate of chicken wings and pour myself a Tab. I only slow once I reach the doorway to the living room. Dawn has turned off all the lights but one.
“How’s he doing?” I whisper.
Dawn lifts her head, her expression grim. “Dunno. But I think he’s asleep.”
Spike’s head is turned toward the back of the sofa, features softened and relaxed. I want so badly to lay down next to him and hold him in my arms, but I don’t because I’m afraid I’ll hurt him. . . or that he’ll push me away due to whatever state he’s in.
“And he’s kind of odiferous like you were earlier.” She holds her nose and waves her hand.
I shrug. “I’ve smelled worse.”
Dawn gives me a knowing look. “True.”
I set my plate and glass on the end table and move the coffee table so that I can squeeze the other comfy chair next to Dawn’s. I offer my sister a chicken wing. “Camp out?”
She accepts the wing, pulling a little piece of meat off. “Camp out.”
After we eat, Dawn finds some blankets in the hall closet, drapes one over Spike, hands me one, and unfurls one for herself. We curl up under the soft fabric, and we watch Spike sleep. Dawn falls into dreamland before I do, and I keep watch over my sister and vampire until the sun starts to spread small rays across the living room floor from behind the closed curtains.
Somehow, knowing we’re together brings me peace.
Before I know it, my heavy eyes close, and I’m lost in sleep.
* * *
Spike isn’t there when I wake up. Instead, I hear the faint sound of something being sprayed. . . multiple times in quick succession. The brightness of the light in the room tells me that the day is well into afternoon. My limbs ache from being balled up in the chair that is distinctly less comfortable after sleeping in it for who knows how many hours.
Dawn’s back is to me, and the spraying continues. I catch the faint scent of something familiar that I can’t quite name.
“Dawn, what are you doing?”
Dawn practically shoots out of her skin. Then, she grins and holds up a bottle. “Febrezing the sofa. I already tried wiping it down. Got most of the stains out but the smell. . . not so much.”
“Ah.” That makes sense. “Where’s Spike?”
She points at the ceiling. “Showering.”
The blanket falls away as I sit up. “Did you talk to him?”
“What? Yeah.” She wavers.
“What did he say?”
“Not much. He told me he was going to clean up, and he made it up there by himself. I got him some clean clothes from your closet and threw his dirty stuff in the wash. That’s the extent of it.”
“He didn’t say what happened to him? If he got. . . got. . .” I’m scared to say it because honestly, in the three months he’s been gone, I’ve realized it doesn’t really matter all that much if his soul is returned. What matters to me is that he pursued it himself. . . that he tried.
Dawn’s gaze refocuses behind me, and I hastily turn the direction she’s looking to see Spike slowly descending the stair. He seems so much better after a night of sleep. The bruises and cuts are more faded, and his regular clothes, albeit too big, look much better on him. I can tell that he even found his hair products because his half-bleached curls are damp but more tamed. His eyes are still tired but something is alive in them again. . . something intense and real.
As he reaches the bottom step, I can’t wait anymore, and I move to hug him, throwing my arms around his chest and hugging him tightly, not minding that his ribs are poking through his skin against my face. He emits a quiet oof and doesn’t immediately return the embrace, but then, his thin arms are around me, one hand stroking my back. His chin lands on top of my head, and then, I feel Dawn at my side, hugging both of us. Spike’s hand leaves my back, probably to hug my sister because she ends up closer to me.
“You look better.” My voice is muffled due to the tight squeeze.
“I feel better.” He still sounds exhausted.
“You’re probably hungry again. You’re too skinny,” Dawn says. “Want me to heat you some blood?”
“Yeah. That’s a good idea.”
Dawn disentangles her long limbs and dashes to the kitchen.
I’m about to take advantage of our moment alone to ask him a question, but he stops me with, “Gotta sit down, pet.”
He leans on me heavily on the way to the kitchen but moves himself onto one of the stools without difficulty. He doesn’t complain when I perch on the stool next to him, my thigh brushing his.
The microwave dings, and Dawn pulls out a mug of blood. She sets the drink in front of him and turns to make a pot of coffee. Spike steadily sips the blood although I can tell he would prefer to drink faster. After a few minutes, he finishes the mug and accepts another one as Dawn pours me a cup of black coffee. Dawn pours milk and sugar into hers and leans on the breakfast island across from us.
Spike speaks first. “So you have a lot of questions.”
“How did you get back from wherever?” Dawn asks.
“Boat. Couldn’t take a plane from where I was coming from, and there wasn’t a handy stock of pig’s blood on hand. It’s why. . .”
“You’re starving. . . like literally?” my sister supplies for him.
“Well, yeah. . . that and I really wasn’t all that hungry anyway. . . what with the. . . the state I was in. Still not all that. . . well, my body tells me otherwise.” He deliberately takes a gulp of blood.
“The state you were in. . . what does that mean?” I wonder. Does that mean you got your soul? Dawn and I are both too nervous to ask him out right.
“The demon. . . the one in South Africa. Let’s just say the trial was beyond what I expected. And there was more than one of the bloody things. Left me a bit of a mess after. . . but that didn’t matter. None of what I went through mattered because I got what I was there for.” He inclined his head to peer at me. “It didn’t matter because my soul was worse than any of the trials set forth before me.”
Instead of feeling happy for him, I feel sick. I’m scared to ask, but I do because I have to know. “What do you mean?” There’s an internal war within me between longing to reach out and hold him and fearing that if I do so, he won’t open up.
His blue eyes fix on mine with intensity. “It’s inside me now. . . reminds me of everything I’ve done. All the horrible. . . things.” He closes his eyes to me, his jaw tight. “And I couldn’t. . . can’t escape it.” Holding his mug in both hands, he leans over the table, isolating himself from Dawn and me even though we’re right there with him.
After several seconds, he seems to gather himself although he doesn’t change position. “The hunger turned out to be a blessing in disguise. When it got strong enough, I didn’t feel anything anymore.”
Not sure whether he’ll push me away, I gingerly run a hand over his slumped back. “You have us now.”
He trembles beneath my touch, and I see a single tear slip over his cheek.
Dawn has forgotten her coffee. “And we’re not going anywhere, Spike. We’ll take care of you like you took care of us.”
* * *
I call in sick to work, and Dawn is luckily off from school for a teacher in-service day, but I don’t call Xander, Willow, Giles, or anyone else to tell them Spike is back yet. I selfishly want the time just for the three of us.
Dawn and I spend the day with Spike, hanging out with him, watching movies, and catching him up about Sunnydale goings on. We even have hot chocolate with the little marshmallows that my mom used to fix for him, and we play silly board games. Dawn and I hug him a lot and try to make sure he keeps drinking blood. He smiles and even chuckles a time or two, but the pain in his eyes remains unremitting.
I would do anything to take the pain away, and I wonder if that’s how he’s felt about me and Dawn in the past.
Night time arrives before we even recognized that the sun was setting, and Dawn yawns and stretches. She is reluctant to leave us, but she finally relents to the fatigue and changes into her pajamas without showering, hugging me and kissing Spike on the cheek before retiring to her room. I notice that exhaustion has overtaken Spike as well, and bracing himself on the chair, he pushes himself up from the floor where he’s been lounging while we played games.
“Tired?” I ask the obvious and follow his motion to stand.
I’m nervous to ask the next question as so much time has passed and the ease between us is gone. Somehow I find the courage and skip the query. “Come on.” I scoop up his hand in mine and tug him gently toward the stairs.
I don’t know how to read his words. Is he asking because he doesn’t know what’s between us anymore or because he doesn’t believe he deserves this kindness and care?
I stroke the back of his hand with my free one and try to show him how earnest I am. “Of course, I’m sure. How I said I felt. . . how I feel. It hasn’t changed.”
Something akin to a cross between disbelief and release shifts in his eyes. “Okay.”
He follows me upstairs and into my bedroom where he sits on the edge of my bed, holding his ribs as if his heart might fall out if he lets go. I tug off his shoes, but he won’t let me touch the rest of his clothing. He seems to have just enough energy to slip under the covers. He is so forlorn that I find myself hurrying as if that will make him feel better.
Feeling shy, I move behind him and quickly change into my pajamas before slipping under the covers. I push my backside up against him and pull his arm around me, running my fingers over his forearm to find and lace my fingers through his. He sighs then and his whole body relaxes against me.
My mind has a hard time computing the change in Spike from the snarky vampire who was always trying to bed me and this new soulful Spike who seems so lost.
I can relate to that lost feeling, and I remember the tenderness Spike showed me the night I dug my way out of my grave.
I duck my head and kiss his hand.
He shivers, and I turn under the blanket to face him and hold him close. Our limbs tangle together in a comfortable pile like coming home, and my head on his chest, I fall asleep.
* * *
I wake up flying through the air.
It’s like a dream when I’m falling, but the weightless feeling is happening in reality and my face is stinging.
Out of instinct, I hit the rug in a roll and thump into my bedroom wall before scrambling up, heart pounding in my chest.
Wide awake, I barely make out Spike where he crouches in the shadows. In full vampire mode, he growls at me, eyes glowing yellow.
Ignoring the pain in my jaw, I approach him with caution, keeping my voice low and calm. “Spike?”
He growls again when I’m a few feet away, and I stop.
Slowly, I hunker to get on his level. Head cocked, he watches me like I’m some sort of prey, which in whatever state he’s in, I probably am.
We stay motionless for several seconds.
Then, Spike lashes out at me again, fist striking flesh, and I careen into the bed, shoving the headboard hard into the drywall.
Stars fly into my vision.
I blink them away and start to move in an instant.
And in that same instant, I hear a soft sobbing coming from Spike’s direction. He’s gone from fight mode to curl-in-a-ball mode in seconds, his forehead smooth again. I crawl over to him as he rocks back and forth, his cries muffled by his knees. My left leg goes around behind him, and I pull myself up close to him, holding him and moving with him. As he allows the touch, I rub his arms until his body goes still and his crying ceases.
“I-I’m sorry,” he whispers, back to himself. “Had a b-bloody nightmare.”
“It’s okay,” I return, my face pressed into his back. “Been there, done that.”
“Been having a lot of them. . . ‘bout things I’ve done. Vivid things.” He reaches for my hand, and I willingly receive the touch. “Wake up and it’s like I’m in the middle of whatever it was all over again.”
“Well, they’re not happening now. And you did those things a long time ago before. . . you changed.”
“Yeah.” He doesn’t sound convinced.
Not breaking physical contact, I move in front of him so he can see the seriousness in my eyes. “You know that you changed before the soul, right, Spike? You made changes. . . you chose to do differently. The chip may have helped you, but you chose it in the end.”
He sighs again.
I continue, “And we’re going to get through this. You got me through my hallucinations and trauma stuff. I’m going to get you through yours.”
“It’s a bit different, pet. Might take longer being that I have almost a century of bad stuff that I’ve done.”
“But you’re also a little bit like me. We’re not exactly the broody type.”
He manages a small sound of mirth, but I’ll take it.
We stay there with one another for several minutes until Dawn appears in the doorway. “Everything okay?”
“Everything’s fine,” I reassure her.
She rubs an eye. “I thought I heard fighting. Or crashing or something. At first, I thought it was a dream, but then, I woke up.”
“We’re okay, Bit,” Spike confirms, sounding much more like himself than he has all day. “Big sis is helping me with some side effects of the soul.”
“Oh.” Her tone tells me that she understands because she’s been through something, too, losing Mom and me. A few seconds later, she asks, “Now that we’re up, anyone want to bake cookies?”
The corner of Spike’s mouth almost imperceptibly goes up. “Cookies it is.”
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/528738.html