Part V: Holding On
She wasn’t quite sure what had changed. Well, Spike had definitely changed. He was quieter, for one, less pushy, not nearly so quick to challenge her. Buffy wasn’t sure if it was because of the soul or if it had to do with what had happened between them in her bathroom.
Buffy knew she should probably be a little more wary of Spike. It probably wasn’t normal for a girl to want to hang out with the guy who had attacked her. On the other hand, it definitely wasn’t normal for a girl to sleep with a guy who had tried to kill her, then had fallen in love with her, chained her up to prove his love, and then got tortured to protect her little sister.
Really, when you added up the sum total of their relationship, there was nothing normal about it, and Buffy was a little tired of trying to figure out what she should do. While sleeping with Spike had probably been one of the worst decisions she’d ever made, it hadn’t been bad because it was Spike.
It had been bad because of what it had turned into.
The previous evening, just going out to the bar and talking, had reminded her that there had been very good reasons behind her hanging out with him so much after she’d been resurrected. That Spike wasn’t the same one who had whispered in her ear about joining him in the darkness.
Buffy wondered if that was more because he didn’t believe he deserved her these days, rather than realizing that she didn’t belong in the darkness with him.
He belonged with her, where the Slayer had always lived, on the borderland between darkness and light.
She had given Xander a stern warning before agreeing to come to the Bronze. “If Spike shows up, you will be civil,” Buffy had said. “You can ignore him if you want to, but I’m serious Xander. What happened between us is none of your business.”
So far, the warning was working. Spike kept mainly to himself, and Xander studiously ignored his existence. The tension around the small table was high, though, and the Slayer was relieved when Xander went off to try to talk to Anya. He was still trying to get back into her good graces, and he wasn’t having a lot of success.
It did get Xander out of Buffy’s hair, however.
Once Xander was gone, Willow started asking Spike about going to Africa after his soul, inquiring into what sort of demons had made a deal with him. Buffy could tell that the witch was on a hunt for information, which meant that she was starting to relax as well.
Buffy wished it could be like this all the time. She wished she could manage to find some middle ground between what her friends and family wanted for her and what she wanted. Buffy wished she knew if Spike was really the right guy for her.
She wished she knew that if she took a risk on him, it would all turn out for the best.
Buffy wished she could see into the future, just for a moment, just to know what was coming.
The consequences for screwing this thing up seemed to be too dire to take the chance.
For Spike, the next two weeks and five days were a lot like a dying man’s final meal. It was exactly what he wanted, and yet he found it almost impossible to fully enjoy it. If Buffy had given him this kind of treatment before—before they’d started sleeping together, anyway—Spike thought that he might have been content.
She treated him like a person, like a friend even, and that didn’t change even when the rest of the Scoobies were around.
Okay, there had been that one time when she’d made a nasty comment because she was angry at him for something. Spike had found himself back at his house in the blink of an eye, and he realized that it was Buffy’s poor treatment that was causing him to fade out.
Apparently, Buffy figured it out too, because it didn’t happen again after that.
Knowing that it wasn’t going to make a difference cast a shadow over his enjoyment, however. Spike couldn’t fully appreciate Buffy’s change in attitude since it wasn’t going to be enough to save him.
Perhaps he should have been grateful that Buffy had apparently forgiven him, but he couldn’t, not really. If he was occasionally a little surly with the Slayer, he could be excused. After all, he was the one with a death sentence hanging over his head.
Willow was still helping Buffy research, and Spike appreciated their efforts, but he knew it was pointless. He was resigned to the fact.
“Willow’s still looking,” Buffy told him the night before the final deadline. She was still friendly, but it was no more than that.
Of course it isn’t, Spike thought. He was lucky she hadn’t tried to kill him.
“I appreciate it, Buffy,” he replied.
She stared at him. “How can you be so calm about it?”
“Had a while to think about it.” Spike tried for a smile, and managed half of one. “I’ve lived longer than most. Maybe too long.”
“Don’t say that,” Buffy snapped irritably. “You’re not going anywhere. If they come anywhere near you, I’ll kill them.”
“There’s no point, Buffy,” Spike said. “I don’t think that’s going to do much good this time around.”
There was a note in his voice that had Buffy staring at him suspiciously. “You know something. Something you haven’t told me.”
“It’s not going to do either of us any good,” Spike replied, his voice sharp. “Just leave it alone, Slayer.”
“Not if I can help you,” Buffy snapped back.
Spike stopped. “I told you to let it go!”
“What the hell aren’t you telling me?”
“Do you love me?”
The question clearly caught Buffy off guard. “Wh—what?”
“You heard me.” Spike’s face was grim. “Do you love me?”
Buffy faltered. “Spike, I—you know we’re friends. More than that I just can’t—”
“That’s what I thought.” Buffy thought she caught a note of morbid satisfaction in his voice. “So that’s what I’ve been keeping from you, Slayer. Yeah, they can be stopped, but only by someone who loves me enough to die for me. That was part of the deal. Find someone who loves me that much by tomorrow night, and the world is safe and so am I. ‘Course, I don’t know anybody who feels that way about me, so I guess I’m buggered.”
Buffy stared at him, open-mouthed. “Spike…”
“Goodbye, Buffy,” Spike said. “Please—don’t bother trying to find me tomorrow. There isn’t any point. Say goodbye to Dawn for me, yeah?”
And then he was gone.
Willow looked up from her books as Buffy came wandering into the dining room. She felt a bit guilty for working on her paper rather than researching Spike’s imminent demise, but Willow had run into one dead end after another. The paper was due tomorrow morning; Spike had until midnight.
She frowned as she saw the Slayer’s face. Buffy appeared completely dazed. “Buffy? Are you okay?” Willow’s eyes widened. “Is Spike—did something happen?”
“He told me,” Buffy said in a hollow tone.
Willow blinked. “He told you what?”
“He told me the rest of the deal he made.” Buffy shook her head. “There was a catch.”
Willow leaned back in her chair. “There always is. What was it this time?”
“Spike said that only someone who loved him enough to die for him could save him.” Buffy looked at Willow. “What was I supposed to say to that?”
“I don’t know,” Willow replied carefully. “What did you say?”
Buffy rubbed a hand over her face. “I told him we were friends, and then he kind of got mad and told me not to look for him again.”
The Slayer’s head shot up. “What?”
“Buffy, that’s like the kiss of death,” Willow said gently. “Telling someone who loves you that you’re friends? Even if Spike wasn’t facing a quick trip to hell, that still wouldn’t be any fun.”
Buffy dropped her head into her hands. “Oh, crap. You’re right, Wills. I didn’t even think about that.”
“Do you love him?” Willow asked.
Buffy shook her head. “No. I like him. Spike can be really nice sometimes, and he’s great out on patrol. I’ve never had anyone I can trust to take care of himself and watch my back like Spike, you know? And the sex was great—when we were having sex. I mean, seriously. You should see him without a shirt. He’s—” She stopped, her ramble curbed by Willow’s raised eyebrows and amused expression. “What?”
“Listen to yourself, Buffy,” Willow said. “You don’t sound like a girl talking about her friend who happens to be a guy. You sound like you’re talking about your boyfriend.”
Buffy frowned. “No, I don’t. It’s Spike. I—oh, hell.”
Willow watched as the realization dawned. “So what are you going to do about it?”
“I don’t know,” Buffy said, her voice almost a wail. “What am I supposed to do?”
Willow hesitated, and then sighed. “If I was in your shoes, I’d do everything I could to hang onto him,” she said. “I know what it’s like to lose the person you love. I don’t recommend it.”
“But it’s Spike,” Buffy responded. “What comes after I save him? What kind of future would we even have?”
Willow gave her friend a compassionate smile. “Maybe you ought to worry about that when you know you have a future.”
“Were you even going to say goodbye?” Dawn asked.
Spike didn’t turn around. “Told your sister to give you my goodbyes.”
“Like that’s good enough.” Dawn had spent enough time with Spike in the last couple of weeks to know that she still wanted him around. Given more time, they would probably be able to get back the same kind of camaraderie they’d had the summer Buffy was gone. For now, however, they’d managed to achieve a détente.
It was something, anyway.
Dawn didn’t bother asking Spike if he really had to go. She didn’t push him to stay. There was a part of her that knew he would have remained if it was a possibility. Instead, she came to stand next to him, looking out the window at the still night air.
“You should get some sleep,” Spike said, glancing over at the girl. Her eyes were nearly on a level with his own these days. “Isn’t tomorrow a school day?”
“I can sleep later,” Dawn replied. “I want to be here tonight.”
Spike didn’t say it, but he was grateful for the company.
Buffy hadn’t slept at all, and she went through her classes the next day in a daze. What was she supposed to do? Willow’s questions notwithstanding, Buffy had no idea if she really loved Spike that much. She liked him—a lot. In a few months maybe they would have moved their relationship onto a different level. She wasn’t certain that she loved him, though.
She had loved Angel. She’d loved Riley. What she felt for Spike was completely different than anything she’d felt for them, however. Was it love? Or was it simply affection?
Should she take the risk?
“Are you going to be with him tonight?” Dawn asked.
Buffy looked up to see her sister standing in the doorway of her bedroom. “What?”
“I stayed with Spike last night,” Dawn said. “I don’t think he’d let me stay tonight, but he shouldn’t be alone, and maybe you could actually save him.”
“There’s nothing I can do, Dawn,” Buffy replied. “Spike told me—”
“I know what he told you.” Dawn stared at her sister. “I heard you and Willow talking last night. That’s when I left. So if you love him, there is something you can do.”
“I don’t know how I feel, Dawnie.” Buffy meant it to sound grown up, as though she knew better than Dawn did about things like love.
Dawn shook her head. “Don’t be stupid, Buffy. You’ve been happier the last couple weeks with Spike around than you were all summer. If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.” She disappeared from the doorway, and Buffy heard her door shut with a bang that wasn’t quite a slam.
Buffy stood, walking slowly over to her closet. She pushed her clothes to one side so she could look at it. Reaching out to stroke the soft leather of his duster, Buffy considered her choices. She could stay home tonight, and she would never see Spike again.
Or she could bring him home with her—figuratively speaking anyway.
Buffy closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and started pulling on her shoes. Willow was right. She’d worry about the future when she was certain they had one.
“Are you alone, vampire?”
“Looks that way, doesn’t it?” Spike asked, attempting to keep his smirk firmly in place.
The pair looked human, but his nose told him that they were anything but. It wasn’t a scent he’d ever run across, however, and with their appearance giving Spike no clues about their identity, it was no wonder he hadn’t been able to help Willow come up with a name.
The man sighed. “You could find no one who loved you?” he asked. “That seems a rather sad ending for a poet.”
“Yeah, well, I was a git,” Spike snarled in response. “You gonna get on with it any time tonight?”
The woman circled him slowly, her gaze measuring. “There really was no one?” she asked. “Are you certain? What about—what was her name? Buffy?”
“Leave her out of this,” Spike said. “She’s got nothing to do with it.”
“She’s the one you got your soul for,” the man pointed out. “She’s the reason you’re in this mess.”
“I got myself into it.” Spike glared at them. “Can we bloody well get on with it? Don’t want to yammer all night, unless you lot have changed your minds.”
The woman shook her head. “No, I’m afraid a deal is a deal. I suppose we should proceed.” She reached out for him, and Spike braced himself for what was to come.
“Get your hands off of him.”
Spike’s eyes flew open. He knew that voice.
“What have we here?” the woman asked. “Have you come to speak for him?”
“Spike is mine,” Buffy said clearly. “If you mess with him, you’re messing with me.”
“I’m afraid that isn’t good enough,” the man said, waving his hand and stopping Buffy in her tracks before she could reach Spike’s side.
The vampire knew he should have gone somewhere other than the house he’d been holed up in. It was too easy for the Slayer to find.
“We had a deal,” the woman said regretfully. “His soul for the safety of the world. It really is a noble sacrifice.”
Buffy struggled in vain against the invisible force holding her in place. “Spike said there was a way out!”
“He did?” the man asked. “Well, I suppose there is, but—”
“I love him!” Buffy exclaimed. “Is that what you wanted to hear?”
Spike turned to stare at her. “Buffy, don’t—”
“Does that mean you’re willing to take his place?” the woman asked her, interrupting whatever warning Spike was about to give. “Would you die for him?”
Buffy was silent, and then she closed her eyes. “I can’t.” She looked over at Spike with tears in her eyes. “Spike, I can’t.”
“It’s okay, Buffy.”
“You love him, don’t you?” the man asked. “And yet you don’t love him enough to die for him? He loves you that much, you know. He was thinking of you when he agreed to our deal.”
“If it was just about me, I would,” Buffy said. “If Dawn—and the others—”
“Shh, luv,” Spike said. “This is right. If this is what it takes to keep you safe, I’ll do it.”
“Is she really worthy of your love, vampire?” the woman asked. “She won’t even place her life on the line for you.”
Spike shrugged. “I never asked her to die for me. All I wanted was for her to live.”
“Noble to the end.” The man shook his head. “It seems as though the Powers were right. He does have the makings of a Champion.”
“A what?” Spike asked, his eyes widening.
The woman looked at Buffy. “I hope you realize what you have here. It isn’t often that a woman finds a partner willing to die for her—and willing to allow her to make her own choices, whatever they might be.”
Buffy was looking from one to the other. “Wait, you’re not going to—”
“Take his soul?” the man asked. “Why would we want to do that when he fought so hard to keep it? Good luck you two. Apparently the Powers really do know what they’re doing when they select their heroes.”
Spike and Buffy were left to gape at the spot where they’d been standing.
“What just happened?” Buffy asked.
Spike cursed, furious. “They were playin’ a soddin’ trick, those bastards.”
Buffy shook her head. “But they were—”
“They weren’t going to do anything of the sort,” Spike snarled. “We just witnessed some mystical matchmaking. There’s probably some prophecy involved. They want us to save the world, and they want us to do it together. Well, they can just—”
Buffy cut him off with a kiss. She’d wanted some sort of sign that she and Spike had a future. If a couple of “mystical matchmakers” wasn’t a sign, she didn’t know what was.
Spike gave into the kiss after a moment, finally breaking it off to allow Buffy to catch her breath. “Not that I’m complaining, but what was that, luv?”
“I meant it, you know.”
“I love you.” It was easier to say this time, although a shadow fell across her face. Buffy didn’t have the luxury of dying for the man she loved. No matter how much she cared about Spike, she had duties, responsibilities. Dawn still needed her, and—
Spike cut off her guilty train of thought with a kiss of his own. “It’s okay, Buffy.”
“I don’t know where we’re going from here,” Buffy said candidly. “My friends are probably going to flip. Well, Xander’s going to flip.”
“He wouldn’t be himself if he didn’t,” Spike said wryly.
Buffy shook her head. “No, he wouldn’t. And you can’t stay here. If I’m ever going to spend the night, you’ve got to have a real place.”
“I’ll get right on that.”
“And you have to promise to stick around,” Buffy continued. “No more making stupid deals with sneaky messengers from the Powers or anyone else.”
“You got it,” Spike replied. He frowned, tilting his head. “Buffy, about what happened last year—we still haven’t talked about that.”
Buffy rested her head against his chest. “Can we chalk it up to a really bad year and say it’s water under the bridge?”
“If you want,” Spike replied.
Buffy sighed, hearing the hesitation in his tone. “I forgive you, Spike. Do you forgive me?”
“Then that’s all we need,” Buffy said. “We’ve got a clean slate from here on out.”
“So where to now?” Spike asked.
Buffy pulled his head down for another kiss. She’d missed this. “My house. I don’t think I want to let you out of my sight tonight.”
“Fair enough.” Spike cupped her cheek. “Say it again, Buffy.”
“I love you.” Buffy squeezed his hand. “I guess we’ll make the rest up as we go along.”
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/13373.html