Learning to breathe – 3

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Learning to Breathe
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Title: Learning to Breathe
Author: bearfacedcheek
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 3 – As you are and as you are not

If she’d had to spend another minute with Sam she thinks she’d probably have throttled her. “So, you seeing anyone new? Someone special?” she’d asked in that smug way that coupley people do, like everyone should be paired off so they can all be as happy as we are.

She’d made some excuse about an informant and fled straight to his crypt. All right, she didn’t have it perfect. She flipped burgers and tried to control a klepto teenager and had sex in cemeteries. Actually, she thinks as she pushes open the door to his crypt, that would be about the high point.

“Tell me you love me,” she demands. She just wants to feel something other than the pitiful failure Mr and Mrs McPerfect have made her feel.

“I love you. You know I do.” Of course he does, and his oath is breathy and filled with hope and longing.

“Tell me you want me.” As if it could ever be in doubt. As if his hunger for her could ever be sated.

“I always want you. In point of fact—”

“Shut up.”

She hadn’t known that he was just waiting, biding his time until she’d allow him to show her all this stockpiled tenderness. She’d thought for him it was all about biting and clawing and the cold metal of cuffs around her wrists. But here, in the first opportunity she gives him, he’s all whispers and gossamer caresses. “So beautiful,” he murmurs against her skin and for the first time, since long before she died, she actually feels it.

And in the afterglow as she tells him about Sam and Riley and how it makes her feel like a failure, he shushes her gently and strokes her hair. “Nonsense, luv.” He holds her eyes and the depth of his admiration surprises her. Lust, yeah. That’s par for the course. She’s even getting used to seeing love in those dangerously blue eyes, but this respect is something else and she’d ask him what if Riley weren’t suddenly there.

The intrusion is unwelcome of a thousand different levels and she just knows that Spike’ll make it worse. “Well,” he drawls, and if she weren’t paralysed with embarrassment she’d punch him just to shut him up. “Looky here. I don’t usually use the word delicious…”

She shudders and looks down. Oh God, this can’t be happening. She can’t have been caught naked next to a gloating vampire. Then he seems to change his mind. He turns to her, flicking the sheet so it covers her bare leg. “You ok, pet?”

Her eyes tell him what her trembling lips can’t, and he turns back to face Riley. “Hoy, White-bread.” He makes a twirling motion with his finger and the soldier turns away as if suddenly possessed of his manners.

They dress quickly and he watches her all the time through worried eyes. And God but he’s right to be worried. She can feel herself pulling away from him; she may still be standing in his crypt, but on the inside she’s run a hundred terrified miles already.

***

She defends him, in a roundabout way, although “incompetent” isn’t how he’d hoped she viewed him, but it’s still more than he’d hoped for. And inside he’s praying—all the while knowing it’s useless, but praying all the same—that they won’t find the demon eggs.

They find them of course, and the betrayed look in her eyes cuts him to the quick. “You knew what I was,” he cries, hearing his own voice rising and cracking with his desperation. “And still you kept coming back to me.” He can’t look at her siding with that Initiative tosser, can’t bear the feeling of losing her, so he runs.

And when she comes back later with her killing blow, her heart-breaking goodbye amongst the charred remains of his home, he’s ready for it. Steels himself so as not to cry. Gathers up all his fragile fortitude and keeps from falling to his knees and begging her, “Don’t leave me.”

But he has to cry to someone, and Tara’s shabby rooms seem like as good a place as any to let the tears come. “Bollocked it up,” he tells her without preamble when she comes to the door in her dressing gown, bleary eyed and rumpled from sleep. “Had good sodding reason, but she won’t see that and now she’s really bloody left me.”

It’s unbelievable she even lets him in, drunk and shameful on her doorstep with tears in his eyes and a half-empty bottle in his hand. But she does, because her compassion is inexhaustible and she has a soft spot for broken hearts, and makes him tea while he slurs out the whole sorry tale.

“I didn’t…it’s not like she thinks,” he tries to tell the witch through the frustrated blurring of his vision. “But she’s not gonna bloody listen now, is she?”

“Spike.” She truly is a miracle of understanding, this girl with her camomile voice and temperate eyes. “You have to back off, at least for a while. Give her a week, let her calm down on this, then maybe she’ll let you explain.”

“Can’t live a bloody day without her.” He looks into her tender face and her eyes tell him she knows what it is to love and lose and wouldn’t even wish it on scum like him.

“You have to, Spike.” Her little hand lies warm and intimate on his arm, and he thinks that maybe that’s how friendship feels. “Just give her a little while before you try and talk to her, ok?”

***

Patrol’s a miserable drudge of violence and dust without him, and she hates that his absence feels so much like heartache. She’d been surprised at first, then relieved that he hadn’t dogged her every step with explanations and apologies, but tonight, for the first time, his absence gives her a twinge of resentment.

“…come in if you want.” She catches the end of Dawn’s offer as she enters the kitchen and leans forward slightly to glimpse who her sister’s sitting with on the back porch. And of course it’s him; who else would be lingering outside her house keeping her baby sister up past eleven on a school night.

His voice stops her from charging out there. “Nah, best not.” He sounds uncommonly despondent, and the thought that she’s the cause of his funk gives her an uncomfortable feeling in her stomach. “I just…thing is, my little venture went belly up.”

“Oh.” For a second disappointment radiates from Dawn, then she straightens her shoulders and lightens her voice. “Spike, it’s ok. It’s just a stupid dance.”

“Well, yeah.” His voice is rough with something she can’t name, and his hand hovers inches away from stroking her sister’s glossy hair before falling away as he drops his eyes. “But you wanted to go, yeah? And I promised. Sorry, Bit. Maybe I could nick you one.”

“Ah, no.” Dawn gives a dramatic shudder, obvious even in the low light outside. “So not doing any more shoplifting. Plus it’s really the sort of thing you need to try on.”

“Could try hussling pool again.”

“It’s ok really,” Dawn insists. “It’s not like I have a date anyway.”

“No one bloody asked you?” He sounds genuinely outraged. “Bloody wankers. Take you myself if we could just get you a sodding frock.”

“Really?” The offhand suggestion triggers a sudden rush of adolescent babbling. “That’d be so awesome. I mean, Janis won’t stop going on about how hot you are after she saw you on Halloween, and I just know that Head Cheer-Slut Carrie’d be so jealous if I turned up with you. She totally bitched me out in home-room last week, told everyone I’d never get a date because I’m such a freak. If you took me that would so show her. It’d be awesome.”

“Whoa, hang on, bit.” He looks alarmed and it’s sort of funny that this gangly slip of a girl has him worried. “You might fancy having an undead escort, but I’m not sure big sis’ll like it.”

“Sounds like a plan.” They both jump visibly at the sound of Buffy’s voice as she steps out onto the porch. “Stick it to the new Queen C and take someone I can trust to get you home safely. What’s not to like?”

“Buffy?” Spike exchanges a confused look with her sister, whose only reply is a perplexed shake of her head.

“Plus Spike would have to wear a suit, so, comedy value: high.” They’re wearing matching expressions of surprise at her good-natured flippancy as if neither can quite believe she isn’t ripping them a new one.

Dawn recovers first with a delighted squeal. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” she gasps excitedly as she hugs Buffy. “I have to call Janis.”

And with that she’s gone in a whirl of teenage excitement and it’s just the two of them standing miles apart. There’s so much to say, too much for either of them to know where to start, so she sidesteps the issue. “I think you made Dawn’s year,” she tells him with a glimmer of a smile that makes his lips twitch slightly in response.

“Yeah, get the feeling I don’t know what I blundered into there.”

She gives a little laugh, more because she’s nervous than because it’s funny. “Yeah.”

“So I’ll…” He makes a jerking gesture over his shoulder with his thumb but doesn’t move to leave.

“Right,” she agrees glancing down at her hands where they’re twining nervously together over her belly. Stupid hands. She puts them behind her back and gives him a tight smile. “So you’ll do the whole thing? Wear the suit? Bring a corsage? It’s dumb, I know, but girls like that kinda stuff.”

“Bloody hell.” He lights a cigarette and looks heavenward.

“Did you know they were dangerous?” she blurts out suddenly. She’s not even certain why she’s asking. Maybe she wants him to admit his guilt, maybe she wants him to protest his innocence. Either way, his answer, like him himself, falls between.

“The eggs? Didn’t know. Didn’t ask.” He shrugs and looks away. “Didn’t much care.”

With a sigh he finds her eyes again and tries to explain. “Got offered a good deal to look after the damn things for a day or two. Enough to get Platelet her posh togs and keep me in blood and smokes for a while. Didn’t look much deeper.”

And there it is, the whole truth and nothing but. He’s not giving her any excuses. He’s not spinning her a line. Like Riley said, he’s amoral and opportunistic. But he can be generous, too, and thoughtful of those he loves. “Goodnight.” She turns away and his barely-concealed sigh rattles her heart.

***

“Hey.” She can’t help but smile as she steps into her sister’s room. It’s been such a very long time since she’s seen Dawn glow like this. “Looks like you got yourself a date.”

“Oh my God.” Dawn bounces across the room. “This is so awesome. Thank you for letting me, thank you, thank you.”

“Welcome. Although you might wanna postpone your gratitude.” She gives a mock stern look. “You haven’t heard your curfew yet.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Dawn shrugs. “So long as I get to stick it to Carrie, it’s all good.”

“Why didn’t you tell me you needed a dress?”

“Because I know we can’t afford it.” Dawn gives an awkward, tight-lipped smile. “And I know you, you’d have been taking on extra shifts to try and get me one. I don’t wanna make it hard for you, Buffy.”

“I know.” It feels good to have her sister, her thoughtful, selfless sister, in her arms again, and the embrace lingers for long cosy moments until she pulls away. “Willow has a dress,” she says with sudden enthusiasm. “She wore it to some college ball thing last year. Dark blue with a very racy slit up one side.” She gives a mischievous smile and enjoys being sister rather than guardian for once.

“Willow’s stuff totally fits me. Do you think she’d let me?”

“Of course, and it is a great dress. I know some of Willow’s clothes can be a bit…” They giggle then and she can’t help feeling that she owes Spike for this.

***

She wishes she could have followed them. Wishes she could come up with a reasonable excuse for spying on her own sister and her…whatever Spike is now. But she can’t; she trusts him, despite herself, to keep Dawn safe and ensure she has a good time. Still, her curiosity was certainly piqued and Spike had looked delicious in the black on black suit he’d been wearing. Tieless, of course, and with his hair artfully sculpted into spikes.

If Dawn’s mission for the night was to make the girls and bitches of Sunnydale High jealous, then she suspects it’ll be mission most definitely accomplished. And she can’t grudge her sister even such a petty victory; she remembers the joy of high school clearly enough to understand.

“B-Buffy.” Tara’s head appears tentatively around the kitchen door and she smiles broadly in greeting.

“Hey, Tara.” She makes a beckoning gesture with her hand. “Come in.”

“Sorry I missed Dawn.” She holds up a disposable camera. “I wanted to get a picture but Professor Walker cornered me in the library and I couldn’t get away.”

“Don’t worry. Want something to drink?” She hands the witch a tall glass of juice and grins evilly. “I got plenty. Including lots of Spike in a suit. I’m talking serious blackmail potential.”

“Dawn said he was taking her,” the witch starts carefully. “You di-didn’t mind?”

“No. Spike’s far from the perfect date, but he’ll look after her.” She sits opposite the witch and sighs. “You know the whole demon eggs fiasco was to buy her a dress?”

“Yeah, he told me.”

“He told you? When?”

“The night you broke up with him, he came over. He was kinda…”

“Hurting?”

“Drunk.” At Buffy’s affronted look she rushes on with a slight blush. “But hurting, too. He didn’t think you’d understand.”

“He’s right. Argh. He just gets me so confused. I thought it was so black and white: Spike plus demon eggs in crypt equals evil. Then I find out he’s doing it for Dawn and it’s the sweetest thing anyone’s done for us in a long time. So should I stay angry at him, or do I let him off for having good intentions?”

“Only you can know that, Buffy” Tara’s truth leaves her with a feeling of isolation, afloat in a lonely sea of conflicted emotion.

 

Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/66045.html

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