Fic: Something (3/4)

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Something
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Title: Something (3/4)
Rating: PG-13
Summary: What if Spike hadn’t died in “Chosen”? How would their relationship have reached its natural conclusion/consummation? 7000 words.
Disclaimer: Characters are not mine, I am making no money, etc.

He’s carrying a basket of freshly laundered clothes to Buffy’s room on Day 48 when he hears Dawn’s aggravated sigh. He backtracks automatically and pauses outside her halfway open bedroom door.

“Everything okay?” he asks guardedly. Nibblet?

Another loud sigh. “Yeah. Just homework.”

He hesitates, wondering if she’s going to continue, and has just decided to resume his laundry-putting-away duties when she calls, “I’m reading the stupidest book in the world.”

That’s not exactly an invitation, but it seems to merit some response. Spike puts the laundry basket down, raps on the door with his knuckles, and pushes it open. Dawn is sitting on her bed scowling at a book. She holds it up for him to see.

Wuthering Heights? That’s a classic!”

Her face darkens, but for once he doesn’t regret his big mouth.

“It’s stupid, and boring, and the plot is atrocious!”

He throws caution to the winds. Hell, he throws it down the bloody toilet. “Bollocks! It’s romantic, and beautiful, and the plot is excellent!”

Dawn’s eyes narrow. “The so-called plot-” She uses air quotes around the word. Spike imagines Emily Bronte rolling over in her grave.

“-Is about two people who are horrible to each other and everyone else around them. There’s nothing redeeming about it whatsoever. And it’s certainly not romantic!”

“It’s a love story,” says Spike through gritted teeth. “A beautiful, tragic love story.”

“A love story?” Dawn snorts. “More like a who-can-hate-the-other-and-ruin-the-other’s-life-more-story. Catherine and Heathcliff aren’t in love.”

“They are,” says Spike. He walks further into the room until he’s next to her bed. Dawn crosses her arms, her expression belligerent, but waits for him to continue.

“They do love each other. It’s just an unfamiliar, terrible kind of love. They’re the opposite of most couples. They’re not two sides of a coin, they’re the same side. Each represents the worst of the other’s personality, and it tears them apart even as it irrevocably binds them. They love each other, but societal circumstances- and their selfishness and pride- ruin their chance at a relationship. But they’re still a part of each other, just like Catherine tells Nelly-”

“Geek,” mutters Dawn.

“They can never be just friends,” says Spike. “They’ll fight and shag- well, maybe not shag- might’ve helped a bit if they had- and they’ll hate each other, but they’ll love each other until it kills them both. Literally, in their cases.”

Dawn is silent for a long moment. Her forehead’s still knit in a scowl, but he thinks she’s stymied. At last she says grumpily, “I don’t know why you like it, then. A year ago you would have agreed with me that the book was stupid. You would have said that they loved each other and were meant to be together, so Heathcliff should have just kidnapped Catherine and forced her to love him.”

It feels like the floor has dropped from beneath him. He can hear Buffy’s weeping echoing off the bathroom walls and his own voice (“I’m going to make you feel it”) and he’s horrified that Buffy would have told Dawn about his attack in such detail when she adds, without missing a beat,

“I mean, that’s what you said you were going to do with Dru after she dumped you and you thought about using a love spell on her, right?”

Relief jolts through him (bad William; he shouldn’t feel relief; he still hurt the girl), and he forces himself to speak. “Yeah. Well. Evil then.” He gives himself a mental shake, tries to look normal. He doesn’t want to freak Dawn out. Let alone alert her to what memories her words recalled.

“Then again, you like dominant women,” continues Dawn thoughtfully, oblivious. “So maybe you’d think Catherine should have done the kidnapping.”

He stares at her, his jaw hanging in a way that’s probably unflattering. Dawn’s eyes twinkle.

“So. Characters. Stupid. Plot. Stupid. Book. Overrated.” She scoots backward toward her headboard, as though making room for him. “How can I turn that into a thesis?”

Spike summons his mental faculties again as he perches himself on the end of her bed. “Look, I agree that the characters are stupid. Catherine is a selfish bitch, and Heathcliff is a psychotic prick. They should have flipped society the bird and been with each other rather than ruin everyone else’s lives. But the book itself isn’t stupid. It’s a love story about love gone wrong. It’s beautiful and tragic.”

Dawn sits up straighter, her eyes flashing again. “But that’s dumb! Love stories shouldn’t be tragic! There’s enough tragedy in real life. Fictional characters should live happily ever after. And it would have been so easy for Catherine and Heathcliff to have a happily ever after. They could have solved all their problems by admitting how they felt.”

“But then it wouldn’t have been tragic,” says Spike. “That’s where the tragedy comes from, the fact that things could have been so simple and their human follies ruined it. Plus, it wouldn’t be a classic.”

“Then classics are stupid.” Dawn’s expression is more earnest now than angry. “Wouldn’t you rather read a happy ending? I don’t get why everyone thinks tragedy is so beautiful. Don’t you think that Heathcliff and Catherine admitting their love and living happily ever after would have been even more beautiful? Maybe it would have been cheesy and boring, but I’ll take cheesy and boring and romantic and beautiful over tragic and beautiful any day.”

Spike’s first instinct is to argue, but he holds his tongue. He can’t help replaying her words. “Wouldn’t you rather read a happy ending? Cheesy and boring and romantic and beautiful…”

“Besides, it seems disingenuous to want happiness in real life and then salivate over tragedy in books,” adds Dawn. “It’s just asking for trouble.”

“Y-yeah.” Spike clears his throat. “You’re right.”

Happy ending.

Dawn’s looking at him strangely. He marshals his thoughts.

“It has an uplifting ending at least,” he manages. “Out of all that hate and bitterness Cathy and Hareton find love. Goes a long way toward redeeming the older generation’s mistakes.”

Dawn stares at him. “You really like it, don’t you.” She looks at the book and rubs a finger over its worn cover.

“Well, you were right before,” he says. “A year ago I would have said the whole thing was idiotic. But when I read it…a long, long time ago…”

“Back when you were nerdier than Xander and Willow combined?” says Dawn with an unrepentant smirk.

He dips his head in a way that could be interpreted as tacit agreement. “I liked it then. Thought it was odd but beautiful. Don’t think I understood why though- the tragic bit- the hating bit- until…well, until after I was turned.”

It feels odd to talk about his past. Dawn knows more about his human life than anyone else- a result of that awful summer- but he feels self-conscious now, after all that’s happened between them. He looks at the pale, mad-eyed image of Catherine on the book cover. He can feel Dawn watching him.

“Well, maybe those nerd skills can help with this essay,” says Dawn. “Finally put that snooty, upper-class British education to use.”

“I could probably do that,” he agrees.

When Buffy walks in an hour later, the laundry is still on the floor and Spike and Dawn are sitting next to each other against the headboard, peering at the iBook on Dawn’s lap.

“No, you don’t need an apostrophe here, it’s a possessive, not a contraction! You might want to take a break from Sumerian sometime and study up on your English grammar…ow!”

“What are you doing?”

They look at Buffy leaning in the doorway. Dawn brandishes the book she just smacked him with for her to see.

“Writing my English essay.”

Buffy raises her eyebrows. “Is Spike supposed to be writing it with you? I know I didn’t finish college, but don’t some people call that cheating?”

“Vampire,” says Spike. “Evil.”

“Oh, right, my bad,” says Buffy, as Dawn nods vigorously. “Guess I can’t stop you then.”

“You’re home already? What time is…oh.” Spike glances at the clock. “Didn’t realize how late it was.”

“Yeah, I think I’m going to order pizza,” says Buffy. She smiles at his chagrined expression. “Chill, Spike. You don’t have to cook every night.”

“Get mushrooms on it!” calls Dawn as Buffy leaves.

When they finish the paragraph they’d been working on, with a few more good-natured jibes and a few more not-so-gentle smacks, Dawn closes her laptop and Spike stretches.

“Can’t remember the last time I felt so young and old at the same time,” he comments. “Young ‘cause you have me writing a bleeding essay. And old ‘cause, well, the last time I read that book was when Victoria was queen.”

“Victoria was queen the last time you did a lot of things,” says Dawn. “So that’s not saying much.”

“Got me there, Dawn.” He swings his feet to the ground and is about to stand when she says very fast, “I don’t want you to call me Dawn.”

He turns back to her. “Then what do you want me to- oh.”

The confidence has disappeared from her face. Her eyes are so wide (wider even than Buffy’s were when she handed him the amulet), her lips are pressed thin, and her expression wavers. For a split second she’s the heartbroken fifteen-year-old who lost her sister, and then she’s the closed-off, cynical woman he’s known for the past year, and then she’s just Dawn, his best friend and favorite teenager in the world.

He takes a chance. He leans forward, breaks her personal bubble space, and kisses her forehead. He thinks he can feel her shoulders tremble.

“Love you, Nibblet,” he whispers.

“Love you, too, Spike,” she whispers back.

Before he can straighten, her hands snake around his shoulders and hold him tight. He wraps his arms around her and blinks frantically.

When she finally lets go her eyes are glassy, but his cheeks are already wet.

She takes one look at him and says, “Softie.”

“Heartless.”

They get off the bed and move toward the door.

“Dork.”

“Philistine.”

“Boring old book lover.”

“Boring old language lover…”

Halfway through dinner, Buffy mutters, “Weirdos.”

* * *

His first excursion out of the Summers house (Day 49), it turns out, is not to a cemetery or to the butcher’s or even to the hole where the high school used to be, which every Scooby, even Xander, has told him more than once he needs to see. It’s to the Bronze, which he finds disconcerting but oddly fitting, since this is, after all, where he first saw her and where it all began.

It wouldn’t have crossed his mind to come, since his memories of the place tend to fall on the less pleasant side of memory lane, but when Xander and Anya showed up at the house to pick them up and Dawn yelled, “Spike! Why aren’t you ready?”, he didn’t think he had a choice.

Now he sits at one of the tables and stares around at the stage, the writhing bodies, the balcony above. He’s done so many terrible things in here, from drinking the girl Dru killed for him, to telling Buffy she belonged in the dark, to punching Anya when she saw his soul. The memories are so visceral and make him feel so guilty that it’s a relief when Xander appears- even better that he’s holding two beers.

“Thanks,” says Spike when Xander hands him one, and the boy gives a short nod. He sits on the stool opposite Spike and stares out at the dance floor. Spike follows his gaze and sees Anya dancing, shaking her head and arms like a madwoman. Buffy, Willow, and Dawn are swiveling to the rhythm a few feet away. He doesn’t know why Xander has suddenly turned into the Prince of Brooders until he realizes that the madly bouncing man near Anya is bouncing with Anya.

It’s just a dance, he thinks about saying. She came with us after all. Not with him. But he only sips his beer.

Xander watches Anya, and Spike watches everyone else. His eyes keep sliding back to Buffy, though. She looks even more beautiful than usual tonight. Her golden hair spills around her shoulders as though it’s been professionally windswept; she wears a glittery pink halter top and very tight jeans that make Spike’s own pants embarrassingly tight; and her smile is huge. She looks so happy and carefree. He knows he’s lost when he starts thinking in clichés like, “She lights up the room” (shut up, William) and mentally composing poetry, but he doesn’t care. Mooning over Buffy is second nature to him now.

Still, it’s a bit hard to compose poetry, even bloody awful poetry, when your companion won’t stop acting like Angel Jr.

Anya’s partner has disappeared by now and she’s back with the other women, so Spike feels it’s safe to say, “Go dance with her.”

Xander blinks as though he’d forgotten Spike was there. “What?”

“Go. Dance. With. Her.” Spike helpfully jerks his head at Anya, jut in case Xander is feeling extra dense tonight.

Xander scowls. “So not your business.”

“Never said it was.”

“We’re completely over. Had the break-up sex and everything.”

“I know. You did it on my bed. Smelt it.”

Xander flushes such a deep red that for the first time in quite a while it crosses Spike’s mind that he might actually be a nummy treat if one were still evil and so inclined.

“I- eurgh-” gurgles Xander.

Spike lets him flounder for a good thirty seconds before taking pity on him- and only then because the boy bought him beer. “Break-up sex or not, you both still want each other, and you both bloody well know it. So go do something about it instead of moping.”

Xander’s color slowly returns to normal. He drums his fingers against his bottle.

After a long, pregnant silence, during which Spike wonders if he’s just ruined their détente (and finds he doesn’t care, because the boy is as thick as bricks and someone needed to set him straight), Xander arches an eyebrow. “Do you want to be the kettle or the pot?”

Spike stares at him. “What are you on about?”

Xander opens his mouth and hesitates. Then he closes it and shakes his head in an exasperated, disgruntled sort of way. “I’m physically incapable of having this conversation with you.”

He gives Spike a look that’s probably supposed to be meaningful but doesn’t elucidate anything as far as Spike is concerned, and then gets up and makes a beeline for Anya. His lips graze her ear, and a moment later they’re cha-cha-ing away from Buffy and the others.

Spike smirks to himself and finishes Xander’s beer.

When he looks around for Buffy again, he freezes. She’s making her way toward him. Her eyes are dark and gleaming in the dim light, but he can see the white of her smile.

“Come on,” she says when she reaches him. “Stop hiding in the corner.”

“I’m not-” he protests, but then she grabs his hand and he shuts up because she’s tugging him onto the dance floor, and her hand is warm in his, and she grabbed him like it was natural, like he belonged to her. Which he totally does, but he isn’t used to Buffy acting like he does.

She lets go of him once they’re fully immersed in the crowd of bodies, but she’s standing so close that they’re practically still touching anyway. She moves her hips and tosses her hair, and Spike feels like a schoolboy far out of his league, in more ways than one.

“Dance!” she calls, and her hand briefly grips his forearm.

His body shudders into motion as he jerks and sways to the beat as best he can. This is very different from the dances he learned in the 1800s or even the slow waltzes Dru liked. This is just bouncing. At least Buffy isn’t grinding against him though. That wouldn’t end so well.

His self-consciousness fades sooner than he expected it to. Buffy’s so giddy that he doesn’t care if he looks like an idiot. It’s easy to lose himself in the music (even easier to lose himself in Buffy), and he can’t help remembering that she was dancing the very first time he ever saw her. It’s funny to think how different his life is now compared to then. If anyone had told him six years ago (has it really been only six? It feels like he’s loved her forever) that he would one day be dancing with the cute blonde Slayer in this very club, he would have laughed his head off and eaten the ponce.

Spike can’t help wishing that a slow song would come on so they could dance properly. He’d like to put his arms around her and pull her close and for her to put her cheek on his shoulder (he knows that last bit’s not likely to happen even if a slow song did play, but as long as he’s dreaming, he may as well dream big). But the punk rock band playing tonight is less than accommodating. Soon enough Willow and Dawn are at their sides, and not long after Xander and Anya have joined them, too. So the music for slow dancing, or lack thereof, is a moot point, really.

They don’t stay very long- two hours later they’re back at Buffy’s house. Dawn goes straight to the kitchen to dig out ice cream for a midnight snack, Buffy to the closet to hang up her jacket, and he and Willow go into the living room. When they turn to each other and realize they’re alone there’s a second of awkwardness. Then she says, “Did you have fun?”

“Yeah,” he says, and because it’s Willow and she has her earnest face on he finds himself adding, “Wish the dancing had been slower.”

Her lips twitch, and he inwardly winces. She can probably guess that daydream of his.

“Just thinking about how different the dancing is now from when I was human,” he adds quickly. “Not that I miss that dancing- completely poncey- just-” If he were human he’d be beet red.

Willow bites her lip to ineffectively hide a smile. She’s looking at him like he’s the cute and adorable one in their duo. “Show me,” she says suddenly.

He stares at her. “What?”

She steps closer and holds her arms out. She hesitates just as she’s about to put them around his neck. When he tilts his head and gives her a small smile, she finishes the motion.

“What kind of dances did you do in the 1800s?” she asks, a teasing lilt in her voice.

“There was the waltz,” he says in the same light tone. “But we stood more like this.”

He repositions one of her arms so her hand curls around his shoulder and takes her other hand in his. It’s the classic pose from the movies, and she can’t even pretend to hide her grin anymore. He’s surprised that she hasn’t backed out, surprised that she’s willing to stand in his embrace.

“And then we step one two three-” They both look down as he directs their footsteps. “And one two three-”

They whirl around the living room, slowly and clumsily at first and then with more confidence. It’s nothing fancy- this is the simplest waltz, the kind anyone could learn from watching a movie. But Willow’s giggling and her hand actually tightens around his instead of just resting in it politely.

“I’m getting dizzy,” she finally gasps. He brings them to a gentle halt. She sways in his grasp for a second before steadying.

“I want a turn!”

They turn as one to Dawn. She and Buffy both stand in the doorway. Dawn looks excited, but Buffy’s face gives nothing away. Her eyes are huge, though, drinking him in, and a tingle runs up his neck that has nothing to do with Willow’s fingertips brushing his curls.

“C’mere, Nibblet,” he says, and Dawn rushes into his arms. She tries to keep a straight face as they whirl around, but soon she’s giggling too and then even humming. He doesn’t know the tune, but it’s something to do with dreams, from the few words she actually sings.

When they slow, he looks automatically at Buffy. She hasn’t moved from the doorway. Dawn steps away from him, and for a moment the room is still. Spike doesn’t look away from Buffy, but he can feel, instinctively, that Dawn and Willow are also watching her. They’re all waiting.

She pushes off the wall and glides toward him. Spike doesn’t breathe. She doesn’t say a word as she puts one hand on his shoulder and her other in his. He puts his free hand on her waist, very conscious of not pulling her into him.

He doesn’t say one two three this time, but they move in tandem anyway. One two three one two three one two– he’s not even thinking about the steps anymore himself. He’s just concentrating on the fragrance of her perfume and sweat, the sensation of her hand on his shoulder and of his cupped around her waist, the quickening of her breath and the way (he thinks) her gaze keeps flicking to his lips.

Spike doesn’t know how long they waltz, but when they finally slow, Dawn and Willow are both gone. His heart leaps into his throat when he sees the room is empty, and he sends a silent thank you their way.

He and Buffy stare at each other for such a long moment that Spike begins to feel anxious- he doesn’t know what’s coming or what Buffy expects of him, and it’s a torture much worse than the First’s to hold her in his arms and not know if he’ll ever be this close to her again.

Her hand slips out of his and slides up his neck to lock her arms around him. “I bet you charmed all the ladies,” she whispers.

That helps dispel the tension. He almost laughs. “When I was human? A world of no.”

She stifles a grin at that. “So where did all this dancing come from?”

He half-shrugs. “Learned it back then but didn’t use it much until Dru. She liked it.”

He regrets the words the second they leave his mouth. Her grin fades, and her hands slacken around his neck. Stupid, stupid, stupid…

He’s trying desperately to think of something to say that will dispel this new, worse tension when she says, “That’s nice. I think the last time I slow danced was with Angel. At prom. He showed up to surprise me.”

He feels himself freeze, feels his spine grow rigid.

Angel. Prom. Why would she bring that up? Is it tit for tat? He accidentally mentioned Dru, so she’s going to throw Angel in his face?

He wants to let go of her, but he’s still frozen. It takes enormous effort to flex his fingers and stop them from digging into her waist. It was probably too hard for comfort; he knows because her fingers are digging into his neck.

Her face has fallen even further, like she regrets her words as much as he does his.

“I-” Her gaze shies away from him. “Spike, I-”

“Yeah?” He doesn’t know why he’s helping her. But he wants the silence to end.

“I- I just-”

The telephone’s ring may as well be a police siren for how badly they both jump.

Buffy’s several feet away from him before he has time to process that the weight of her hands is gone from his neck, but the ring cuts off before she can make it to the phone in the kitchen.

“What?” Dawn’s voice hisses from upstairs. “No, it’s not here! No! I don’t- oh fine, I’ll go check!”

He and Buffy watch the staircase, bemused, as Dawn tiptoes down it. She straightens abruptly when she sees them watching her, and her scowl deepens.

“Have you seen Anya’s sweater?” she asks peevishly. “Xander’s on the phone. She thinks she left it here.”

They give the room an obligatory glance, but there’s nothing out of the ordinary.

“Nope,” says Buffy.

Dawn gives them a very aggrieved look and stomps back upstairs, clutching the receiver to her ear. “It’s not here, and it’s too late to be calling, some of us were busy you know…”

Spike looks at Buffy. She looks back at him with tired eyes.

“I should-” she says. “You know. I should…”

“Yeah,” he says. “I’ll, uh, be up in a few.”

“Kay,” she says, and walks toward the stairs.

He doesn’t have any smokes on him, so he goes to the basement to hit the punching bag.

* * *

“Where’s my coat?” Day 50 and he’s finally patrolling with her, and it’s just occurred to him that he hasn’t seen the old thing since the cavern. Did it even make it out of there with him?

Buffy stops brushing her hair and looks at him in her vanity mirror. At least, she looks at a spot approximating where he’s standing. “It’s- well-” She puts down the brush and pulls her hair into a hasty ponytail as she goes to her dresser. He watches her remove something from the middle drawer, where she keeps her pajamas, and feels a jolt of pleasure that it was mixed in with her things.

The pleasure fades as she brings it over and shakes it out.

The top half is mostly all right, but the bottom has holes burned through all over. The hem is several inches higher than it used to be. The cuff sleeves are, too.

“Huh.” He really, for the life of him, can’t think what else to say.

“It was like that after the amulet,” says Buffy. “We had to cut it off you. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” he says, and takes the worn leather from her.

“You could still wear it,” she says awkwardly. “Cut the bottom off and it could still be a coat.”

“Nah.” The readiness with which he says it surprises even himself. “I don’t need it.”

He really doesn’t, he thinks, as he folds it back up. The coat will always be a part of him. But it doesn’t define him anymore.

Buffy looks taken aback but pleased. To his further surprise, she takes the coat back from him and puts it back in the drawer where it was, instead of in the top drawer, where his clothes are. As she goes back to the vanity to grab her stakes, she flashes a smile at the mirror that he knows is meant for him.

The Scoobies join them on patrol. Even though Spike feels a little insulted that he’s not good enough backup, he knows, rationally, that it’s a precautionary measure. He’s completely healed and beaten the punching bag to a metaphorical pulp several times over, but he hasn’t actually fought anything yet.

In all the cemeteries they scour they find only one vampire. Spike takes a flying leap at him, simply because he can, but barely has time to wrestle the confused sod into submission before Buffy’s dusted him. As far as fighting goes, the night’s a bit of a dud. It’s been like that for a while, he knows.

Small price to pay for closing the Hellmouth, though.

“Well this was boring,” says Anya when Buffy calls it a night. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad it’s boring and not apocalyptic, but there are other things I could have been doing tonight. My new vibrator just arrived from Amazon. I need to try it.”

Xander perks up. “Did you name it yet?”

“No. I have to see how it measures up.”

“Have fun with that,” says Willow hastily, shooting Dawn a nervous look. The bit rolls her eyes.

“Thank you!” says Anya sincerely. “I’m sure I will.” As she and Xander walk away, their voices carry back. “…And don’t get any ideas! I renamed Xander the Second, you know. He’s Clark Kent now. It was Andrew’s idea, because Clark is so mild-mannered and quiet, but when you turn him on…”

“It kind of grows on you,” remarks Buffy into the very loud silence Anya leaves in her wake. “The sex talk. Eventually. After many, many years.”

Willow shrugs. “Never thought I’d say this, but I’m glad she’s here. I thought for sure she was a goner after we paired her with Andrew in the school…”

Spike and Dawn trail behind the women until they reach Revello Drive.

“You go on,” says Buffy.

Willow and Dawn don’t ask questions, which makes Spike more than a little suspicious. Buffy turns to him when they’re out of earshot and says, “Do you want to see the crater where the Hellmouth was?”

His mouth is suddenly dry. “Yes.”

They don’t speak on the way there. Whether it’s because Buffy is just relaxed and doesn’t feel the need to talk or whether it’s because of lingering awkwardness from last night, Spike doesn’t know.

He sees the dark spot on the horizon that used to be Sunnydale High long before they reach it. Construction vehicles surround it- dump trucks, a small crane, a bulldozer- but they’re all spaced far back from the crater, like they’re there for decoration instead of real use.

Spike thinks they’re going to stop at the trucks, but Buffy plows through and goes right to the edge of the crater. He halts at her side and looks down.

He’s never been afraid of heights, but he still feels a momentary burst of dizziness. The ground is simply gone. Even with his heightened sight he can’t tell how deep the hole is. The darkness is screwing with his depth perception. This must be what Xander feels like all the time.

He looks back up to see how far the crater extends. It’s basically a huge circle with a diameter several hundred- maybe a thousand- yards wide. The entire high school was swallowed up. And the entrance to Hell went right a long with it.

“Weird, huh?” says Buffy. Her voice sounds unnaturally loud in the quiet evening. There aren’t even any crickets chirping.

“Yeah,” he says. “I did this?”

He feels her smile before he turns and sees it.

“Yeah, you did.” She’s looking at him with unconcealed affection in her eyes, and he feels dizzy again.

“Not such a crappy necklace after all, I guess,” he murmurs. “Whatever happened to it?”

“It’s down there somewhere, I guess.” Buffy shrugs. “I didn’t pay attention to where it fell after I chopped it off you.”

He looks at her, reminded again that she saved him- that she refused to tolerate his death. This is it, he thinks. This is his moment. If he kissed her now no one could ever blame him because that’s what’s supposed to happen, right? They’re at the sight of his heroism. It’s just the two of them. The stars are literally shining in her eyes.

If they were in a movie there’d be no question of what should happen next. The hero kisses his girl.

But she’s always been a bigger hero than he’ll ever be.

And she isn’t his girl.

He looks into her star-shining eyes and can’t help feeling an unbearable sadness that the perfect moment is passing him by. That he’s letting it pass. He has to, because he’s only a hero sometimes, and she isn’t his to sweep off her feet.

Besides, he can’t make the first move. He’ll never make the first move. Not after he hurt her. It would be presumptuous. It could ruin everything.

And he’s scared that she’d pull away. Or punch him. Or exile him to the basement.

As if these fears weren’t bad enough, the memory of her kissing Angel pops into his mind. She made it clear enough then whom she wanted to kiss.

So no, he’ll never make the first move.

But that doesn’t stop him from hoping that she will.

He looks into her eyes, and hopes, and waits.

Her lips part. She hesitates. He thinks her weight shifts onto the balls of her feet.

And then she sighs.

“So that’s that,” she says. “Want to go home now?”

Home. He swallows. “Yes.”

It’s not a kiss, but it’s a close second best.

* * *

When he turns out the light Buffy rolls onto her side, her back to him. He stares at her, wondering if he missed something or if she’s going to turn over and say ‘just joking’.” As soon as the thought crosses his mind he feels ashamed. It’s irrational to expect anyone, let alone Buffy, to want to be touched every single night. He can’t expect anything from her. He’s been so lucky already, and if she’s tired of holding him, well, she’s already given him more than he deserved.

But he’s so used to touching her that sleeping even a foot apart feels like they might as well be in different beds. Should he get out of the bed? Is that what this means? He feels like he’s taking a million steps backward after taking only one forward. He’s discombobulated, naked.

He finally puts his head on the pillow but can’t force himself to close his eyes.

After a few moments she twists. Their eyes meet. Spike hopes his don’t show disappointment or expectation.

“Can you be the big spoon?” she whispers.

His dead heart swells and bursts for her all over again, and in an instant he’s sliding his hand around her waist and she’s snuggling back against him, pressing against him in ways and places that make him inwardly groan in both appreciation and embarrassment.

She lets out a soft sigh of contentment, and Spike admits to himself that he’ll always be irrational, he’ll never stop expecting this, never stop craving her touch.

And he can’t help but wonder (irrationally) if maybe he’ll never have to.

* * *

He’s in the living room editing Dawn’s essay when he hears Buffy’s scream.

He throws the papers down and sprints up the stairs. He bursts into the room from which the scream came without a second’s hesitation, just in time to hear a loud thud.

“What’s wrong? Are you all right?”

Buffy jerks toward him, trembling. She holds a tissue box in her raised hand. On the bottom of it is something dark and crumpled.

She breathes fast. “Yeah. I’m fine. I just-” Her cheeks turn crimson. “There was a spider.”

“A sp- what?” He can’t hide his confusion. She screamed because of a spider?

“It was on the mirror! I was washing hands, and I looked up and it was right there. I don’t normally scream about spiders,” she adds grouchily. “But you would too if there was one inches from your face.”

“Probably.” He gives her that and tries to stifle a grin. He glances at the smudge of spider guts on the mirror, and for a second his eyes meet hers, though she doesn’t know it.

Then he takes in the wall behind her, the shower, and everything goes to hell.

“I know you felt it…when I was inside you…”

“No! Ow- ow- please, please, Spike, please…”

“You’ll feel it again, Buffy…”

“Please don’t do this!”

“I’m gonna make you feel it.”

No, no, no, no, no no no no no no no

His stomach clenches so hard that it feels as though his organs have literally ripped inside him. Her pleading, his threats, their scrabbling fill his head. He waits for his vision to cloud, but it doesn’t, it doesn’t, he sees her standing in front of him with perfect clarity, sees her pale face and blouse and her fist squashing the flimsy tissue box, the ‘o’ her mouth makes as she stares at him; and on top of that he sees her on the floor, sobbing, her robe torn, bruises forming-

No no no no no no no no no

She freezes suddenly. Her mouth snaps closed, her knuckles turn white, and he knows that she knows- she knows what he’s thinking and now she’s thinking it too-

How must it look? She screamed and he burst into the bathroom with barely a thought? She could have been in the shower or naked, and he must have looked crazed, as crazed as he did then, because he was so, so scared to hear her scream-

“I’m s-sorry,” he chokes, even though that’s not enough, it could never be enough.

“Please, please, Spike, please!”

She shouldn’t have to see him in this room, never again-

He stumbles out of the bathroom and down the stairs and he’d go out the front door if the sun weren’t still out (he should go out anyway, immolate himself, it’s what he deserves). But he’s come too far to burn up now (should have let the amulet take him, maybe he could have destroyed the whole blasted town) and suicide would be too gentle, too good for him.

He goes to the basement and hides in a corner and waits for the voices to come. But they don’t, they don’t, there’s only her voice and his voice. He doesn’t have the luxury of insanity now to cloud the guilt.

She doesn’t come after him.

* * *

He gets up when his guilt over that is joined by guilt for being a coward. He shouldn’t be hiding in the basement. He should face her, accept whatever punishment she metes out rather than hide from it.

So he creeps up the stairs and listens at the door. When he hears only silence he opens the door and pads to the living room. He picks up Dawn’s essay, stares at the squiggles until they become words again, and takes it into the dining room. He promised his nibblet he’d edit it. He’ll keep his promise.

When Buffy comes downstairs Spike keeps his head bent over the essay. He waits for her anger, her coldness- anything.

“I’m going to pick Dawn up from her friend’s house,” she calls from the hall.

He wasn’t waiting for that.

“Kay,” he says, in a raspy voice that doesn’t sound like his.

Her heels tap against the floor and her keys jingle, and then the door closes behind her. He pushes the essay aside, rubs his eyes with the heels of his palms, and gets up.

By the time Buffy and Dawn are home there’s a pot of tomato soup on the stove and a salad on the table. He’s on his way back to the basement when Dawn says, “Aren’t you hungry?”

He tries to say no, but the word sticks in his throat. She looks so innocently curious, and he knows that if he disappears now, she’ll want to know why- and then Buffy will tell her what happened. He can’t bear the idea of losing Dawn again.

During dinner he avoids looking at Buffy and speaks only in reply to Dawn’s direct questions. Luckily, enough things happened in school today to complain about that she doesn’t seem to notice she’s the only person speaking. Spike clears the table as soon as Dawn’s eaten her last bite, and methodically cleans up the kitchen. His shoulders shake with relief when he hears Buffy go upstairs.

Afterward he sits on the couch and turns on the telly, just for something to do. The noise soothes him.

Time is meaningless to him, on a night when he can never go upstairs, and when he hears footsteps coming toward him he’s surprised to see that the clock says 2:00 AM. Then her scent reaches him, and he freezes.

He only looks at Buffy when she leans against the wall and continuing to ignore her would become pointed. She’s dressed in a camisole and drawstring pants and Spike can’t help thinking that nothing in any Victoria’s Secret store on the planet could ever be sexier (bad William; shouldn’t think like that).

“Are you going to stay up all night?” she asks, eyeing first the TV and then him.

He’s acutely aware of the other possible meaning behind her words- what she isn’t saying but could be implying.

“Are you coming to bed anytime soon?”

No, he can’t assume that. He can’t assume she means one thing when she says another. Never again.

“Dunno,” he says, more belligerently than he means to. He keeps his own gaze trained on the television as his inner voice calls him an idiot in a hundred different ways.

Buffy shifts her weight and it’s all he can do not to turn to her and beg forgiveness for daring to sound aggressive, daring to burst into that bathroom today.

“All right,” she says at last. “But if I’m hogging all the covers by the time you get there, it’s your loss.”

She disappears up the stairs while Spike sits there frozen, replaying her words. There isn’t really another interpretation of that. But there’s a lot of subtext.

You’re still welcome in my bed. I still expect you in my bed.

He turns off the television, sits in the darkness for several long moments, trembling.

Take what she metes out. Even if it isn’t punishment. Even if it’s more than he could ever deserve.

He goes upstairs. He pauses in the doorway and sees her eyes gleam in the shadows as she rolls over to look at him.

She isn’t hogging all the covers. And when he walks closer, she raises a corner to invite him in.

Part 4

Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/425486.html

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