Title: Learning to Breathe
Summary: Set in season 6 post Dead Things where things turn out a little better for Spike.
Author’s note: Honestly day one caught me a little on the hop and it was a race to get this finished. Luckily April is a goddess and she turned the proofing around in a day. Big thanks got to her of course and also to the wonderful itmustbetuesday who makes all this possible.
Chapter 2: Older and a little closer
“Guess you’re on to our cunning deception then?” Dawn asks wryly as she watches her sister apply her makeup. “Either that or you’ve got a hot date on patrol and wanna look tip-top.”
Guilt hits her chest like a Frayal’s punch and her heart lurches with having been discovered, but Dawn’s face is a picture of teasing amusement and she forces a weak grin. “No hot dates in the cemetery, I’m afraid. Only very cold corpses and very ugly demons.” Dawn laughs and it strikes her that is a long time since she’s heard the sound. “I’m sorry,” she blurts out before she can stop herself.
Dawn raises an eyebrow and gives her patented my-sister’s-a-psycho look; then she seems to soften and smiles. “It’s ok.” She crosses the room to wrap her gangly arms around her. “You’ve been having a tough time, but things are better now, right?”
“Right.” Then looking at her sister, still coltish and childlike but no longer a child, she decides maybe she deserves a little more honesty than that. “I’m not fixed, Dawnie. Things are still really tough for me and we are still very, very poor. But I’m trying, I really am, and I want to be here now.”
Worry twists her sister’s pretty face and she wrings her hands together. “Do you?” She rushes on as if frightened Buffy’ll bolt before she’s finished. “I’m not sure I’d want to be here after being…” She pauses as if struggling for the best phrase. “Where you were. And I know things aren’t great with slaying and double meat and everything. But I need you here, Buffy. I can’t have you gone again. I’ll help.” She’s babbling frantically now and her baby blues are shining with the beginnings of tears. “I’ll try and be better at school so social services doesn’t come again, and I’ll help in the house and stuff. I could get a job, too. Kirstie in my class works Saturdays at the Burger Barn and—”
“Dawn,” she cuts in sharply, then smiles at her sister’s startled expression. “Thanks.” She holds her sister’s hand in both of hers and squeezes it. “Now I have a hot date with the walking dead.” Not really a lie, but it’ll be taken as a joke so that’s ok. “And you have balloons to blow up.”
“Yuck, no way,” Dawn complains as they walk hand in hand down the stairs. “The rubber tastes weird and my ears always pop.”
He wasn’t in his crypt or patrolling the cemeteries, nor was he drinking in Willie’s. It annoys her; she’s used to him being at her beck and call, always on hand with a snide comment and a hard screw when she needs one, and now she just wants a little patrol company to help her build up to the dubious pleasure of having to be bright and cheerful for a whole evening, and he’s nowhere to be seen.
The party isn’t as bad as she’d expected, and Richard isn’t that bad either, although Anya’s complete lack of subtly is a little embarrassing. Richard’s sweet and actually seems to like her, which is flattering to say the least. And here she’d thought she could only attract dead guys.
“Spike!” Think of the devil, they say, and your sister will perforate you ear drums. She watches as Dawn bounds over to Spike, teen crush burning in her eyes. “Hi, Spike. Hey, Clem.” And does she even want to know how her sister knows the kitten poker demon?
“Evenin’ sweetbit.” He looks for a moment like he wants to touch her sister; his hand rises just a fraction from his side, then he seems to change his mind and surveys the room with that arrogant expression she’s come to recognise as a mask for his insecurities. “Evenin’ ladies.” He looks pointedly at Xander as he offers the greeting, but for once her friend seems in high enough spirits to let the jibe go, and for that at least, she’s grateful.
“Hi, Spike.” Tara steps up and takes the beer he’s brought with him, and the party is officially underway.
“Spike.” He ignores the witch in favour of pulling hard on his cigarette and staring angrily out of the kitchen window at the slowly waking world outside. He should leave, nick a blanket and make a break for the sewers. Might get a bit charred, but it’s gotta be better than hanging around here watching Buffy get all precious over her blind date’s feelings. It was just a bloody joke: not like he could actually eat the wanker; not like he’d sodding well want to.
“There’s a little blood in the fridge if you’d like some,” she offers, and he casts her an annoyed look. Bloody interfering wicca; why doesn’t she just piss off and leave him to his self-pity. “Might help that black eye heal up. It doesn’t look good.”
Something in her voice has him on full alert, and you’d really think after a century of practice he’d be a better liar. “It’s nothing. Got into a bit of a tussle with a couple of Selcrog demons the other night. Buggers pack a punch.”
She’s giving him that soft, knowing look of hers when he finally trails off and he fidgets a little under her gentle scrutiny. “Spike, I know that Buffy did it,” she tells him gently as she pulls a blood bag from the back of the freezer and pops it in the microwave. “She told me about it.”
“Yeah?” He looks edgy and Tara can’t help but smile at how transparent he can be.
“Yeah, she told me everything.”
Confusion creases his brow and he leans back a little to eye her suspiciously. So the witch knows the whole sordid thing now, does she? Well, bully for Buffy; found herself a little confidante.
“So what?” He affects indifference, ignoring the mug she’s just placed on the counter beside him. “This is you telling me to back off then? Stay the hell away from the slayer or you’ll turn me into something slimy.”
“No.” She gives him a sweet teasing smile and he remembers how much he liked the witch in the summer on those few nights when caring for Dawn had overlapped and they’d found themselves together in the Summers’ kitchen. “This is me telling you that you’re blowing it in there.”
She laughs like music-yeah it’s a cliché, but true for all that-a sweet, tinkling sound that could never in all his imaginings be mocking despite that she’s obviously laughing at his dumbstruck expression. “If you’re going to have even a sliver of a chance with Buffy,” she tells him with more confidence than he’s used to seeing from her, “you need to at least be able to be in the same room as her friends. Try playing nice. Surprise her.”
“No. Can’t.” He uncurls his fist and rubs his forehead in defeat. The witch’s spell works no better than that fine idea they had an hour or so ago of all rushing the door at once and the sense of panic rising among the humans has his skin prickling. Can’t they just tone it down a bit? It’s making his bloody mouth water.
Things seem to happen slower for vampires and slayers; gives them time to think when fighting, he supposes. It’s not something he normally gives much thought to, but now watching the demon swing its sword in the cramped confines of the Summers’ hall, he’s grateful for the time he has to weigh up his options.
First instinct—best vampire plan—is to slip to the side, press himself against the wall and let the blade find another target. Self preservation, that’s the vampire way. Certainly the Spike way. But Tara’s face, gentle and sincere, rises in his mind’s eye. “You don’t have to break her to make her like you,” she’d told him when he’d settled down opposite her and plaintively confessed that he had no idea what he was doing when it came to Buffy. “She already likes you; you just have to make her feel it’s ok to. To like you, that is.”
He’d been doubtful, still thinking his best shot was getting her away from her friends, not ingratiating himself with them, but then Tara’s not stupid and it’s been such a long time since anyone’s been on his side he wants to try for her if for nothing else. So the decision’s made just as the thing brings its sword arm back for the killing blow. Save the boy, surprise Buffy, impress her friends.
“Argh!” Bitch of a witch, he thinks as the blade impales his stomach. He’ll find a way to bite her for this if it’s the last thing he does.
He hears the slayer’s inarticulate battle cry as she tackles the demon to the ground and looks up just in time to see it melt away into the floor. “God, Spike.” She’s at his side, her hand pressed against the wound, eyes flashing with fear. Real, honest to goodness fear for him. Well, he’ll be buggered. Tara might be on to something after all.
“Man.” He can hear Richard breathing hard behind him, still gasping with the fear of his brush with death. “Shit, man.” The boy takes his other side and he has to fight the urge to throw him off as he and Buffy help him to the couch.
“I have to find that Demon,” Buffy tells him softly as she brings her blood-stained hand away from his body. “Will you be ok? I’ll tell Tara to—”
“Be fine, luv.” He forces what he hopes is a stoic smile but suspects from the escalating concern in her eyes comes over more as a grimace. “Not gonna kill me, is it? You stop that thing ‘fore it sticks the sharp stuff in someone less robust, yeah.”
With a curt nod she’s gone: slayer on a mission, serve and protect. Good girl, his Buffy. He’s beginning to think the witch might be right.
“Here.” The boy’s holding out a glass of water and looking a little awed. “I, er…thanks, man.”
He waves him off. “Didn’t do it for you,” he wants to tell him, but the pain in his gut is making him weak and light headed and it’s all he can do to keep from doubling over and howling.
“Ok, so maybe ‘soon’ was a bit of an overstatement.” She pushes her hair out of her eyes and looks worriedly at Spike before turning and walking out of the room. It’s so hard. She can hear Anya freaking out upstairs, and Spike? She can’t even get her head round Spike. What he did. Without thinking, he just threw himself in front of Richard. It’s so heroic and it just doesn’t fit somehow with Spike. Not that he doesn’t have his moments; she hasn’t forgotten his poor battered face when Glory’d got her hands on him, or the fall he took from that tower. But that was different. That was her and Dawn, and she’s never doubted he’d die for them, but to take a sword n the belly for her blind date? That was just… she can’t think about it now. Not now. They have to get out of here.
“Your boyfriend’s pretty tough.” The admiration in Richard’s voice would be funny in any other situation. “You know, if I’d known you were with someone, I wouldn’t…” He trails off and gives her a cute smile. She thinks that the old Buffy—the pre-Spike Buffy—would probably have liked Richard, but all she can see now behind the boyish charm and handsome face is liability, someone weak who she needs to protect.
“He’s not—” The automatic denial dies on her lips and she gets a sudden rush at the thought of not correcting him. “As bad as he looks. Under all that punk and leather, he’s a real softy.” She smiles to herself, a small, private smile like that of a woman in love, and Richard grins back.
“If you say so.” He gives a small, self-effacing laugh and rubs the back of his neck. “But I know I wouldn’t mess with a guy who’s still standing after taking a sword in the stomach.”
She’s smiling again as she shrugs and turns back to the living room, and she can’t believe how good that felt.
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/65556.html