Title: The Space Between
Summary: Buffy spends her days at Sunnydale High working up the nerve to venture down below.
Timeline: Post-Same Time Same Place
Warning: Discussion of the afterlife.
Word Count: ~1900
Author’s Note: Thanks to ladyofthelog and snickfic for keeping our community going. ♥ Dedicated to nvrbnkisst whose video “Everything Will Break” inspired me to work past my writer’s block. You should go watch it.
A bead of water falls from a leaking pipe and plops against the cement floor, shattering into a thousand drops that dance between whispers of dust sifting through the air. Buffy shivers and readjusts her hold on the cardboard box nestled at her hip.
It’s been three weeks since school started, three weeks since she ran into him thinking he was a ghost haunting the school basement, two weeks since he came calling to give her a hand and then bared his soul, one week since Willow’s sight unseen homecoming when he helped track down their resident witch.
Three weeks of sitting at her desk, thinking up a thousand reasons (excuses) to go to him. Just to check on him, of course. Make sure he’s eating. Maybe ask him how he got back his… or, you know, she’ll ask how he’s doing. She just wants to talk to him, see him, touch him and make sure he’s real. And see, when she starts thinking about wanting to touch him, her brain stutters and a litany of wrongs ring in her ears.
She still flinches at the thought of him touching her. She can’t help it, it’s a reflex, a newly learned instinct she wishes were gone: Slayers don’t flinch, they fight. Slayers don’t show fear. Buffy hates how her body betrays her, how it takes her two whole seconds to beat back that flash of terror. But what’s really terrifying? How she’s not afraid to touch him. The thought of him touching her—she just can’t, but…
She can imagine her hands reaching for him, gliding down his arms and stroking his chest, and maybe her fingers will brush against his jaw, then she’ll rub her thumb into his lower lip—she can imagine his cool texture, the resilience of his muscles, the sleekness of his skin. Her fingertips tingle with the memory of him. She remembers and she likes it. She wants to feel him.
And that’s bad. Because wanting to touch him leads to using him and she can’t do that again. She won’t. Plus, it’s not fair that she gets to touch him when she’s terrified of letting him touch her. And what if he reads too much into her touching him? If she gives even the slightest hint, he might think she wants to get back together. So no mixed signals this time. No contact. Just no.
So she spends three weeks thinking of a thousand reasons to go to him immediately followed by a thousand reasons she can’t. She shouldn’t. She mustn’t. No matter how much she wants to because wanting is at the top of the list of reasons why she can’t. She won’t be selfish this time. She’ll stay away. Except…
He’s not doing so great with the mental clarity and she can’t help worrying he’s not taking care of himself. But she’s not responsible for him. She’s not. She can’t be because being responsible means getting close and she can’t let herself get close to Spike.
So avoidance. Right. She’s gonna avoid him unless she has a really good reason to see him. Which is why she’s here now. Strictly professional. Well, not exactly. But she’s doing the right thing, something she’s been meaning to do for a while now.
He slips out of the shadows and darts in front of her, startling her enough that she hops back a step. Coming to a halt, he crosses his arms high on his chest. He squints at her, then holds out a hand and flutters his fingers. “Ticket?”
She stares at his hand, tightens her grip on the cardboard box, then glances up with a tinge of uncertainty. “I don’t have a ticket.”
He jerks his shoulder and turns away, muttering, “What’s the world coming to, eh? System won’t work if nobody carries their tickets.” He whips around and stabs his finger in her direction. “There’s law and order here, Slayer. Gotta abide.” He hangs his head to the side and gives the floor a thousand yard stare. “There’s rules. You can hear them if you whisper along. Hm hm hm.”
“Shh!” He rushes past her and crouches in the corner, cocking his head. “There, you see.”
Buffy drops the box on the floor and jabs her fists against her hips. “See what?”
He points at a pipe hanging from the ceiling. “Drip, drop, splat.” Standing, he brushes his hands against his thighs and looks at her expectantly. “All’s in order, then. You’ll sign off on the inspection?”
“What? No—I, uh, sure. Consider it signed.”
“Right. Good. Ta.” Then he slips away, retreating into the dark.
“Hey!” Buffy grabs the cardboard box and hurries after him, only to find herself lost, too many dark passages opening before her. “You know, the thousand and one ways I thought this would play out, I never thought you’d run away from me.” Her shoulders slump; she sighs and lets her eyes fall shut. “I guess I deserve that.” She shakes her head. “Actually, I don’t know what I deserve anymore.”
“You deserve better than I can give,” he calls from the shadows. “Got nothing here for you, pet.”
His voice sounds almost normal, almost sane, then she hears a high-pitched whimper. She follows the sound to find him kneeling behind a stack of crates, his back to the wall, knees squeezed up against his chest. His hands rest against his temples, fingers raking through his messy curls.
She takes a deep breath and forces a steady nod. “Well, you might not have anything for me, but I didn’t come empty-handed.”
She lowers the cardboard box to rest at his feet, pulls open the flaps and reaches inside. With unnatural stillness, he watches her hands, waiting. When she pulls out his black leather duster, he flinches imperceptibly.
“Here.” Buffy holds his duster forward, inclining her head. “Take it.”
Tucking his chin, he hunches his shoulders and lifts a shaking hand. He swipes the jacket and pulls it in between his knees, where he starts rocking back and forth, banging his head against the wall.
Buffy frowns. “Spike?”
“You shouldn’t be here. No. But I belong here. Mouth of hell. It’s where bad men belong. I’ve done so much evil. Steeped in it, yeah. Takes time to digest. Hell won’t have me, not yet. No rush. Little bites, day by day, nibbling away.” He gives a shaky grin. “I’m quite the meal. Takes time to swallow all that evil.” He lowers a hand to rest against the concrete floor. “This is where I belong.” Avoiding her gaze, he tilts his head in her direction and whispers, “Beneath you.”
“Spike, no…” Her heart feels like it’s trapped inside her throat, the words won’t come. She finds herself reaching to stroke his hair, but he turns to look at her and she jerks her hand back.
His eyes shine with an otherworldly adoration. “Buffy. God, you’re beautiful. Golden beauty like the sun. Full of fire. Never saw you coming, did I? And now I can’t look away. You’re everywhere. Everywhere I am, there’s you.” His smile fades and his eyes alight with fear. “You shouldn’t be here. Not here. Not with me. You should go. Just go. Leave me.” He leans in close and whispers, “When they come for me, you mustn’t be here.”
Her mouth feels impossibly dry. All the moisture’s in her eyes. She licks her lips and clenches her shaking hands. She wants to tell him, You aren’t going to hell, I won’t let that happen, I can save you, but she doesn’t want to lie. She’s been to heaven (she thinks), and even now she’s not sure if she’ll get to go back (not after all she’s done).
There’s no guarantees. The grand scheme of heaven and hell? She just doesn’t know.
“I’ll be alone when my time comes. That’s as it should be.” He bobs his head. “Demons belong down below and the angels on high. Never the twain shall meet. ‘Cause it’s wrong. Unclean things mustn’t touch the angels.” He chuckles, pain bleeding into his weak laughter. “A hundred years and I never did learn. Got my wires crossed.” His expression turns tortured and he seeks her gaze. “All I ever wanted was to love you. Couldn’t even do that right. Can’t love properly. Not with a dead heart.” He splays his fingers across his chest, then beats his fist against his breastbone. His head continues to bob on a neck too weak to hold him steady. “Twisted, mangled thing. Evil warped flesh. Dead flesh. Undead. Out of order. Death brings life, but undeath brings only death. Can’t love properly with an undead heart. Can’t love, but I can’t stop. It’s all I know. To love. To kill.” He frowns. “Hard to keep it straight.”
Shaking, she falls to her knees. “It’s different now. It has to be.”
Her words echo in the dark and she watches him go still. The softness of his features, the lines that form his anguish—all the pain fades away. His gaze hones in on her, his body teeming with a barely restrained violence. “There are rules.”
She tenses and leans back on her heels only to gasp when his hand shoots out—but he doesn’t touch her. Instead, he snaps his fingers in front of her face.
“Rules, see.” He keeps snapping his fingers. “No touching. See?” He gives another violent snap. “No touching. We’re all in order here.”
When he moves to snap again, she captures his hand by the wrist. Forcing his hand open, she runs the tips of her fingers down his palm till the tendons in his hand go lax. Gently, she rests his hand in her lap. “I never was any good at following rules.”
He smiles, his face soft and loving and full of awe. The moment is slight and all too brief; the light in his eyes dims and sadness overtakes him. “You’re not really here, are you? ‘Cause you’re an angel and I…” His fingers twitch in her grasp. “I’ll never know you.”
She looks down at his hand cradled in her lap; the curve of his wrist seems almost delicate. Worrying her bottom lip between her teeth, she peers up at him through her lashes. “What do you think?”
He leans forward, his eyes searching hers, taking her in. She watches his disbelief war with a burgeoning hope. After a long breathless moment, he settles on an answer with a nod and squeezes her hand. The corners of his lips turn up. “Guess hell’s not coming for me today.”
“No,” she says, a sob catching in the back of her throat. Blinking back tears, she tries to match his impossible grin. “Not today.”
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/436562.html