To Apprehend Air
Two days after LMPTM, Spike’s soul is stolen. But that’s OK; they can get it back, right? Simple. How hard is it to hop dimensions, anyway? Or storm a castle…
Rating: PG-13 for a little swearing and some fairly graphic violence.
Length: ~18,800 words (in three chapters of approx. 8000/8000/3000)
Other Pairings: Anya/Xander is around as well.
Warnings: Discussion of canonical attempted rape, otherwise none in particular.
Chapter Three: The Empty Pans of Libra
A balance has no inherent measurement of its own: everything must be weighed against something else.
The three of them, connected, shot back through dimensions, the athleticism Buffy recognised as her own magic pulling them to land in a tangled heap on her basement floor.
“You’re ba – Anya!” came the cry from Xander, as he took one of the bodies from Buffy’s arms. “Oh god, she got hit by her thing, right? It wears off, doesn’t it? Anya! Anya!” He was clicking fingers, like he was trying to attract her attention.
His voice faded, however, as Buffy was distracted, utterly focused on Spike, shuddering and tense in her arms. She still clutched one of his hands in hers, high on his chest. With her right she reflexively began to stroke his shoulder.
“Talk to me, Spike,” she whispered, not certain but not caring who was watching. “Let it out.”
For a moment he seemed to shrink even further into himself, but then he was sobbing against her neck, silent but wracked by hideous tremors. She wondered now, mind still racing after the fight, open and uncontrolled, why she could ever want him to want this. Was this what they had fought for? Before she’d been fighting with Spike, and all of him had been there; this was like a light had gone out, which was funny, since she knew his eyes had probably glowed on the soul’s return.
What now? What now?
All there was here, in this body that resembled someone she once knew – all there was was pain, a gaping sore of agony pouring out of him and over her. She didn’t know what to do.
He was biting her shoulder, blunt teeth digging in reflexively the way his fingernails were almost certainly carving up his palms. With the gentlest of pressures she smoothed a hand along his jaw and his bite loosened, human teeth then clenching against themselves as more tears filled the corners of his squeezed-shut eyes.
“Is that his soul?” someone asked. Was that Anya’s voice? Forgive me.
“I think so,” Xander replied.
Buffy couldn’t say anything, trying to support the body being torn apart in her arms.
She could only think, was lost in thoughts.
Because… Wasn’t this moment supposed to be beautiful?
Weren’t souls supposed to be?
The moment never became beautiful, however, only ending when the soul seemed to retreat back to whatever recess was usually its home. Spike’s body slowly stilled in her arms, the shudders ceasing, and he awkwardly withdrew from her embrace; she kept one hand loosely on his back as his head remained bowed.
“I guess he got it back then, huh?” Anya asked, leaning more heavily on one leg than the other. Only she and a tired, nervous Xander were in the room; everyone else must have left.
“Yeah,” Buffy managed distractedly, not wanting to speak for Spike but not wanting to make him answer. As she watched he seemed to be centring himself and she thought he might still need time. “I took out the – good job, Anya, by the way.” She met Anya’s eyes, forcing a smile though her guilt was calling her a two-faced bitch inside her head.
Of course, Anya raised her chin and beamed, towards her and then towards Xander, who now looked confused. “I totally saved the day, right?” The question was directed back Buffy’s way. “I mean, I know I should have winked or crossed my fingers behind my back or something, but I thought I was about to pee anyhow, so I kinda just hoped you’d work it out. And you did!”
“Huh?” Xander asked, thankfully taking up the response because Buffy could do nothing but smile like she’d stuck to her guns. Instead of shooting them, friendly fire inside her head. “Did you pull some sort of bait and switch?”
“I sure did!” Oh, of course Anya would be so proud… Buffy knew she should be sharing in that.
Even Spike seemed to, after all. His words rumbled through his chest before he spoke and she could feel the shaking beneath her hand. “She saved the bloody day,” he offered, not without effort, turning his head away from her to address Xander. That would have hurt if she hadn’t understood why he couldn’t look at her.
“And I’m not even boinking one of the good guys,” Anya finished. With a dawning expression of awe, Xander was of course distracted by Anya’s statement, and the suddenly very sly look that crossed her face. “Unless…”
Xander gulped, reflexively wiping his palms on his shirt. Buffy couldn’t help but smirk. Sometimes it seemed that life, for people who weren’t her (or Spike), could be so very easy.
“Uh, Buff, you’re OK here, right?” he asked, waving his hands pointlessly as Anya crossed her arms expectantly.
“Go,” she said, after a moment’s thought about playing with them. “Have fun.” They were already moving up the stairs when she added on a reflex, “But not near any impressionable teenagers!”
They didn’t seem to hear her; Anya was saying, “I don’t think she needed the charade, you know…” And then the basement door shut behind them.
Slowly, the air of the basement settled in their wake, the sound of their footsteps faded to silence that was gradually filled by the hum of the washer and the run of water through the system. Sounded like the full copper re-pipe was still strong and pipey, Buffy thought, though she felt like it almost should have rusted into nothing, what with all the time that had passed since she’d got it. Craftsmanship, that’s what it was.
Spike took that moment to sigh, body slumping even further towards his knees, still sat with her on the floor. Feeling the air move out of his lungs, she grew extremely conscious of her hand resting on his back. Was it even doing anything? It felt like she should take it away; she was so bad at comfort these days that the weight felt utterly dead. But she wanted to gesture she was still committed to staying with him. Body language was hard.
“It’s funny,” he said, sounding like it was anything but. “I –” Then he laughed, and she wondered whether it was funny after all, until the dark sound died to hollowness. “How could I forget how much it hurts?”
She had no answer, even as he shifted, looking at her now with intense, bloodshot eyes. Her hand slipped from his shoulder. “I honestly thought I’d been making it up,” he continued, shaking his head, gaze gone. Though his voice was still wracked and weak he carried on, nearly snarling, “That soulless twat I was, I thought nothing could hurt how I was hurting.” With the heels of his palms he scoured the tears from his eyes. “Bloody joke is what it is.” The heels became fists. “Bloody – tosser…”
“Hey,” she said sternly, finding her voice as she closed fingers round his wrists and eased them down to his sides. “Having kind of already done this conversation today, you are not going to sell yourself short.”
She should have remembered she was bad at comfort. The tough love had been too tough; he was glaring at her. “And you would know, wouldn’t you?” he spat, bitter and furious. “Sorry, I forgot you and soulless Spike were best bloody mates.”
As he tore his wrists away from her she could only stare, speechless again as he climbed to his feet. What? How could this all be falling apart?
“Don’t act all shocked,” he told her, snidely, putting distance between them. “You were having a right old time of it, weren’t you, flirting away on Terry boy’s backseat?”
Her feet were beneath her before she could think about it, firm on the ground. This was not the direction she’d anticipated when the conversation had gone into gear. “What the hell are you talking about?”
He wasn’t looking at her. “Don’t try and deny it…” Deny what? she wanted to ask, but he ploughed on, voice ragged, “Been telling me for months, haven’t you, ‘don’t be such a cry-baby, Spike’; ‘give me the Spike who’s dangerous, Spike’; ‘toss the soul in the trash with last season’s shoes, Spike, no need for that old rubbish’? It’s – hardly surprising you got a kick out of the old me, tearing up the strip and taking in the scene.”
OK, now she wanted to punch him. Out of everything that had happened, that was what he remembered? Her fists were clenched and it was very possible she was going to punch him any moment now. “You… Dumbass! How dare you?”
He laughed again, following it with, “How dare I?” For a moment flint-bright eyes struck back on hers, the tension in his jaw like knotted rope. He was in so much pain, she could see that (oh, hell, she could see that), but she had a feeling they were going to have to fight through it. “I’ll tell you how I dare;” he continued, “told you once before – I did everything for you. Ripped up everything that meant something to me and played papier-mâché with the pieces. To build your bloody vision of what I should be.” His arm stabbed in her direction, not with any melodramatic pointed finger, but she could feel the simulated attack. “And the moment,” Forcefully he shut his eyes, before looking at her again. “the moment you get the chance to tell me it meant something to you – anything, I don’t bloody care – you tell me it doesn’t matter. Tell me I’m a good boy after all.” He paused, jaw set against shakes, before continuing, “If that’s the case, Buffy, please, tell me, why did I do it? What is the point of this?”
She was more angry than feeling any complete conviction (because had she said that? She didn’t remember saying that), but she spat back anyway, deadly serious, “The point is that you wanted it. You wanted to be like this – all insecure and moody and afraid – you wanted to understand what a conscience means, to know why you hated yourself.” His silence was stony, telling her that she’d better say something that was good enough. She wished she knew what that was. “The point, the point is that you – told the world to kiss your ass! The point is that – ” Without the soul, I’d probably let you down.
She didn’t want to say that last one, didn’t want to think what it meant that she hadn’t managed to trust Anya – not yet anyway. Quickly she tried to distract herself, putting her hands on her hips and jutting out her chin. “And, if there was flirting, it’s because I want to flirt with you, soul or no soul, and, thank god, you’re not my father so where the hell do you get off wagging your finger at me like I’m Floozy McFlirtville?”
For a moment Spike’s face was struck completely still, and it was one of those rare, agonising moments when she had no idea how he was going to react. Eventually what he did was squeeze his eyes shut again, exhale a shuddering sigh and shake his head. She had no idea if she’d managed to exorcise any of his pain. “I’m so tired, Buffy,” he said. “So tired I can’t think straight.” It sounded like an apology, even though he wasn’t really sorry, not for this, and she knew exactly how he felt. “Rubs me the wrong way that I was in a good mood. That I could appreciate you in a good mood. Dunno why I can’t just do that again.”
Watching him, she could feel her bones aching in sympathy, her head pounding with the need to rest. More than tired, though, she was frightened – so, so frightened – which was why she knew she had to say it anyway. “I didn’t trust Anya,” she blurted out, biting her lip but meeting his eyes as he looked up. “Not right to the end. I couldn’t do it.” What she didn’t know, of course, was who she could feasibly blame for that. Should she have been able to trust Anya? “I can’t trust Giles; I –” She wanted to, so much. “It’s hard to have the energy, no matter what speeches I make. It’s hard to give up control of the situation, you know? It saves time, but the idea of just not thinking about something – it takes so much strength.”
As she spoke he was watching her, his eyes a startling blue as he stood almost beneath the light. Buffy tried to get to her point. “But you, I can trust you,” she said, not letting her voice shake though his lips parted in surprise. “It’s – easy; I barely think about it. You keep on proving why I can, all the time. It’s selfish, I know –” She looked away then, not able to say the last thing she wanted while still looking at him. “– but that’s the reason, that’s the reason why I’m so glad you’ve got your soul back. If you hadn’t?” Oh, if he hadn’t… “I think I would have been scared, in the end. I think I would have let you down.”
There was silence for less than two seconds. “Never,” he insisted, stepping through the space between them, until she looked up, seeing his soul in his eyes. She hadn’t seen it go, and maybe it had always been there, but it was shining for her brightly now.
“I believed her,” she confessed, because she could trust him. “Part of me believed she could do it.” She couldn’t comprehend what it would be like to be soulless, not when she could misjudge things so badly with one. “After everything.”
“But no harm done, was there?” he soothed, one hand touching her arm. Spike was so good at comfort, unlike her. “We’re all in one piece, home again.”
Buffy wished it could be true. “In one piece,” she repeated with a murmur, leaning closer and watching his chest rise with breath. Or broken into the splinters you’d barely glued together. “I can’t believe you still fought for your soul – after… Or – no, I can believe it, but it’s… It’s wow.”
“Well,” he said, his voice low and wavering, “apparently I wasn’t a complete…”
“You were amazing,” she promised, looking up into disbelieving eyes. “Understand that. You, standing here, are a you who’s done something amazing – twice. Even if you’ve done other stuff as well, bad stuff, you still did that.”
He spent a moment taking in her words, then jerked his head to the side with involuntary modesty. It was strange, seeing him do that; she wondered who had acculturated it in him, because he hadn’t been modest for over a hundred-and-twenty years. Maybe it was the guilt, which made him feel like every compliment was undeserved? She hated he could feel like he was nothing.
“You’re more amazing every bleeding day,” he muttered eventually as reply.
She flushed, perhaps proving her soul was working –
– and then, strangely, she yawned. He blinked at her. The pipes gurgled.
“Oh, I’m tired,” she said, slowly and carefully placing her head against his shoulder. The muscle and bone seemed startled to receive her, but held firm.
There was a heart beneath her head, Buffy knew. She couldn’t feel it, couldn’t sense it separate to the rest of Spike’s presence, and he’d probably never really know again where it was until – no, if – someone staked it. But it was there, real as hers, and depending on what belief system you were following it possibly housed his soul. That meant something, that really seemed to mean something, but apart from an ability to speak her language of guilt she wasn’t entirely sure what it was.
“Should get upstairs,” Spike said eventually, despite not moving. His voice was weighted with sorrow. “Not really space for two down here.”
Pausing, she took a breath, then asked, “Do we need much space?”
His face shifted, features growing big and defined in her vision, full of curiosity, and the movement was matched by his hands, rising from his sides to gently touch her back.
She continued in a whisper, “Because I don’t think we do…” It was the perfect moment to kiss him, her amazing Spike, so she went with it, her hand rising from his chest to gently guide his jaw, allowing but not meeting any resistance. Exhaustedly her lips caught his; she sighed as they dropped away. With slightly more energy she tried again, feeling his mouth work against hers and the way his body started humming in her hands. Was that his soul that she was feeling now? Did the answering rush of emotion come from her own? It was nice, whatever it was; nice with a promise of good, of superwow amazing, but for another day, when she’d got some sleep – and maybe some coffee.
After a few moments her eyelids turned to lead, and she felt like they were going to stay closed all night unless she opened them. With a final peck to the corner of his mouth she smoothed their cheeks together, nudging her cheekbone under his, then forced her eyes open so she could stare into the gloom.
“Mmm…” he murmured into her hair, hands on her back now openly an embrace as he held her to him. “Don’t go upstairs.”
“I won’t,” she replied, because there wasn’t any question. “Though you left bloodstains on the wall.” The non-sequitur was necessary, she felt, as the smudges blurred in her vision. “I’m gonna have to clean…”
“I’ll do it tomorrow,” he replied, slightly annoyed even as he nuzzled her cheek, movement sinuous in a measured expression of lust.
It made her eyes drift closed again, arms sliding firmly over his shoulders. Oh, Randy Giles, Buffy thought; he’d got his soul after all. She only hoped it had been worth it.
“Take you out somewhere nice, yeah?” He kept talking, lulling her to sleep though they were still standing up. “Figure we can have fun if we try it; more to the world than demon dimensions.”
There was more to the world, more time and ways to understand what he had inside him. “Yeah,” she agreed, though it sounded more like Nnnn…
He laughed, whole and vibrant against her, and she hoped what she could feel was something special, something more. As sleep washed over her, though, she knew it could just be the first glimpse of a dream.
She tried to ask herself whether it mattered, whether maybe the fighting for the soul mattered more than any difference he might feel. Yet, as she slipped into unconsciousness, she didn’t have an answer, only love.
Whatever that meant.
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/383969.html