Title: The Temporary Nature of Any Precious Thing
Disclaimer: I don’t own these characters; too bad, so sad.
Spoilers: Through mid-S6, although it’s more than a bit AU. Takes place after my fic Certain Dark Things
Word Count: ~12,500
Summary: The things you most want to hold onto, the things that are most precious, are always temporary.
Part II: One More River to Cross
Buffy managed to put everybody off for two days. She suspected her mom knew, because when Giles called wanting to talk about patrol schedules, Buffy said she wasn’t feeling well and asked her mom to tell him she was sick.
Joyce put her hand on Buffy’s forehead. “You don’t feel warm.”
“Maybe I’m just really tired,” Buffy suggested, mustering the most pitiful expression in her arsenal. “Spike hasn’t been sleeping, which means I haven’t been sleeping… You know how it is.”
Her mom’s expression softened. “I do know. If Spike stops by, what should I tell him?”
Buffy swallowed and just barely managed a smile. “You can send him up.”
Joyce pressed a kiss to Buffy’s forehead. “I’ll let Mr. Giles know.”
As expected, Spike didn’t show up when the sun went down, and she felt a stab of dread. Buffy came down for dinner when her mom called her, and she was touched to see that her mom had made one of her favorites: grilled cheese and tomato soup.
“Comfort food, huh?” Buffy asked.
Joyce gave her a hug. “I thought you might need it.”
Buffy hugged her mom extra tight. “Yeah.”
“I don’t know,” Buffy admitted. “I’m going to check on him.”
To her credit, her mom didn’t ask anything else, not even when Buffy returned shortly after 11, having found Spike’s crypt empty, and all of his personal items gone.
Everything but the book, which he’d left on the sarcophagus, where she’d be sure to spot it. On the inside cover, below her message, he’d written, “See you around, Summers.”
It might be kind of a shitty, inexact promise, but it was a promise nonetheless, as was the book itself, a volume of Tennyson’s work.
Her mom was in the living room when Buffy let herself in, the book clutched in her hand, and her expression went soft and sympathetic as she held out an arm. Buffy cuddled up next to her and breathed deeply, willing herself not to cry.
“What’s that?” Joyce asked after a few moments, stroking Buffy’s hair.
“A book.” After a moment’s hesitation, Buffy held it out, and her mom took it with her free hand, her other continuing its smooth strokes.
There was the rustle of pages, and Joyce said, “He dog-eared one of the pages. Did you see?”
Buffy swallowed hard. “No, I—what does it say?”
It had been years since her mom had read to her, and the rhythm of Joyce’s words soothed her aching heart.
Now sleeps the crimson petal, now the white;
Nor waves the cypress in the palace walk;
Nor winks the gold fin in the porphyry font.
The firefly wakens; waken thou with me.
Now droops the milk-white peacock like a ghost,
And like a ghost she glimmers on to me.
Now lies the Earth all Danaë to the stars,
And all thy heart lies open unto me.
Now slides the silent meteor on, and leaves
A shining furrow, as thy thoughts in me.
Now folds the lily all her sweetness up,
And slips into the bosom of the lake.
So fold thyself, my dearest, thou, and slip
Into my bosom and be lost in me.*
“Oh,” Buffy said softly, her breath catching. She wasn’t sure she understood it completely, but she heard the feeling behind the words, and it stirred something in her. “It’s beautiful.”
“I never would have guessed that Spike was a fan of poetry,” her mom said lightly, but Buffy could hear the slight catch in her voice that suggested her mom was more affected than she let on.
Buffy wracked her brain, trying to remember if Spike had ever given her a clue, but she couldn’t. She had no idea where he would have gotten the book, because they hadn’t had time to go after his personal effects in the Initiative. That meant he would have had to go out and find this book, that it was important enough to him to find and keep a copy.
That she was important enough to him to leave it behind.
Unbidden, her mom turned the page and read the next poem aloud and then the next, the steady cadence of her voice lulling Buffy into a sleep so deep that she didn’t wake until the sun rose the following morning. She found herself on the couch, covered with a blanket, and her heart was easier now.
Still, she wasn’t exactly looking forward to explaining what had happened to Giles or her friends.
Buffy knew she couldn’t put them off forever, though, and when Giles called that day asking her to come by, she didn’t have much of a choice.
“Your mother said you weren’t feeling well,” Giles said as he opened the door for her. He peered at her closely. “You look a little pale.” He looked over her shoulder. “Is Spike with you?”
Buffy shook her head. “No, Spike needs some time.”
Giles frowned. “Would you like some tea?”
She managed a smile. “Yeah, that sounds good.”
It felt almost normal to sit on Giles’ couch with her hands wrapped around a mug as Giles sat next to her with his own cup. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Buffy sighed. “He was having nightmares every night, and it was getting worse. I didn’t think he was going to get better if he stayed here. I think he felt trapped.”
“So, you told him to leave,” Giles supplied.
Buffy shook her head. “I told him that he could and that maybe it would help.”
“That was very selfless,” he said gently.
Buffy swallowed hard. “Yeah, well, I feel pretty selfish right now. I just want him here.”
“I can understand that,” Giles replied. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“Not really,” Buffy admitted. “I think I’d rather talk Slayer stuff.”
“We can do that,” Giles said. “I’d like to talk about patrolling once the semester starts. Are you still planning to live on campus?”
They talk about patrols and training schedules until a knock on the door heralded the arrival of Xander, Willow, and Tara.
“Are you feeling better?” Willow asked immediately. “We were thinking about going to the Bronze. Are you feeling okay to go?”
Buffy smiled. “Yeah, sure.”
“Will Spike be joining us?” Xander asked, managing to sound only slightly put out by the idea. She appreciated his attempt to accept Spike’s presence, even if it didn’t appear necessary at the moment.
Buffy shook her head. “No, not tonight.”
“Did something happen?” Willow asked with immediate concern.
“We’re okay,” Buffy replied, and it wasn’t a lie, not exactly. She and Spike were fine; it was just that he wasn’t in Sunnydale now, and she didn’t know when he’d be back.
But she didn’t really want to talk about that right now.
Spike regretted leaving Sunnydale as soon as he stole the car, but he didn’t regret it enough to turn back. As soon as the sun went down, Spike broke into an old Honda, going for nondescript and easily hidden. He switched the license plates with those of a Chevy Impala and headed out of town.
When he reached Los Angeles, he abandoned the car in a deserted lot and found an empty warehouse to hole up in for the day.
He felt like he could breathe again, even if he didn’t need to, although he missed Buffy with an ache that couldn’t be assuaged. It was the same ache that had driven him back to Sunnydale and into the arms of the Initiative.
It was the ache that had driven him away, in the end, because he wasn’t sure he could trust his feelings.
Love had never served him well in the past.
And yet, this was Buffy, who returned his feelings, who had left him that note, who had cared enough to let him go.
He thought about going back to Sunnydale, but it had been more than a year since he’d been outside the town limits, and here he was in L.A. Tomorrow, he could hop on a cargo ship and go anywhere in the world, anywhere other than here, and that trapped feeling might eventually dissipate enough to let him choose to go back.
He had sort of promised, after all.
Spike slept while the sun was up, but he was out of the building and heading for the docks as soon as it was dark. No one here knew him, no one knew what he was, or that he was a vampire who couldn’t hunt. No one would care, of that he was reasonably sure.
Years ago, when he’d first run into the Slayer here, he remembered that most people—Buffy included—barely looked up from their own miserable lives.
It was no different now, and Spike began to see how he might find his way in the world, even with the chip in his brain.
He did pause ever so briefly at a convenience store that sold postcards, among other things, and he paid for a book of stamps even though he’d only use one.
From Sunny Los Angeles, read the text on the front, embossed on some palm trees that appeared to have seen better days, and Spike felt a certain kinship with them.
He had no idea what to say to her, so he wrote the first thing that popped into his head:
How like a winter hath my absence been
From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!
What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen!
What old December’s bareness every where!
He couldn’t make her any promises, but he could at least let her know how much he regretted leaving. At least Buffy would know that he hadn’t forgotten her and that he wanted to see her again.
That was all he could offer at the moment.
Willow was with Buffy when she picked up the mail, talking about the upcoming semester excitedly. Buffy flipped through the various envelopes and landed on a postcard from L.A.
“What’s that?” Willow asked. “Did your dad send a postcard?”
Buffy sighed, realizing that she couldn’t exactly keep Spike’s absence a secret any longer. “No, it’s from Spike.”
“He’s not here?” Willow asked. “I thought maybe he was just being…shy. Or something.”
Buffy led Willow into the house. “No, he left a few days ago. He couldn’t stay here, Wills. It was—ugly.”
“He left?” Willow demanded. She put a hand on Buffy’s arm. “Are you okay?”
“I—yes. Mostly.” Buffy grimaced. “Let’s go up to my room and talk.”
Willow sat next to her on the bed when they were in Buffy’s room, and she reached out again to put a hand on Buffy’s arm. “Okay, here I am, listening girl.”
Buffy smiled wanly. “He was having nightmares, and he couldn’t let me in. I could see that he felt trapped, and I told him that maybe he should go, figure things out. I think he might come back.”
Willow held her hand out, and Buffy reluctantly passed over the postcard, which Willow read silently. “So, are we mad at him?” Willow asked. “Because I can hate him if you need me to, but if not…”
Buffy closed her eyes, willing away the tears. “No, I don’t hate him. I don’t want you to hate him. He needed to leave, and—”
“And you love him,” Willow replied with understanding. “I get it Buffy. No hating.”
If anybody would understand, it would be Willow, Buffy thought. She’d let Oz go, too, because that was what he’d needed. Granted, Willow had found Tara in the meantime, but she hadn’t been looking. Buffy might find someone else, too.
But then again, she might not.
“Are you okay?” Willow asked.
Buffy shook her head. “No, I’m not. But I will be.”
In some ways, her life didn’t change with Spike’s absence, as he’d never been a huge part of it. They’d only had a few months together, and only a few weeks together before that. He had never spent a night at her house, or come by her new dorm room. He didn’t spend days with her, and Willow, Xander, Anya, and Tara had taken to accompanying her on patrols.
That was the only place Buffy really felt his lack—except for how she felt his absence acutely most of the time—and her friends tried their best to make up for it. Xander even managed to keep his comments about Spike to a minimum.
She had no idea if Willow had said something to him, or if Xander was showing unusual empathy. Either way, she didn’t care.
Buffy didn’t want to think about it, so she threw herself into slaying and her classes, and hoped for the best.
She wished she could tell him about Dawn, about her mom being sick, about her classes, but she had no way to do so. Although Spike knew where to find her, and where to send postcards or letters, or whatever else he wanted to send, she didn’t have the same luxury.
On the other hand, at least she knew that he was still alive—or undead.
Three months into the semester, when Buffy was in the middle of dealing with Glory, finding out that her sister wasn’t really her sister, and facing her mom’s illness—when she wanted nothing so much as Spike’s support—she got the next postcard.
This one had the picture of a green rainforest with a large red flower that Buffy didn’t recognize and lettering that read, “Manta, Ecuador.”
On the back, Spike had written a few lines of poetry:
Lost in the forest, I broke off a dark twig
and lifted its whisper to my thirsty lips:
maybe it was the voice of the rain crying,
a cracked bell, or a torn heart.**
The words made her heart ache, and she knew he wasn’t coming back, not yet. But at least he was still alive, and still thinking of her.
Spike didn’t know where he was going at first—just away, mostly—away from anywhere near the US Army. He just wanted to be someplace else, somewhere he could get his head on straight, so that he could eventually get back to Buffy.
The next few weeks set up a pattern for him: he would wait until the ship, hop off, and then find something to eat. He stole wallets and other things to make a buck and looked for trouble in the form of other vampires, just to get in a spot of violence.
After a few days, Spike hopped another cargo ship and rode it to the next port, where he did the same thing.
He was never sure later what might have happened if he hadn’t stopped in Lima. In the past, he hadn’t needed to go too far afield to eat. He just had to find someone who looked tasty and take what he wanted.
That wasn’t an option anymore, so he needed to find a butcher who would sell him blood in each port. Since he could at least speak rudimentary Spanish, he had better luck than he might have otherwise. Most of the time, the butchers didn’t even ask questions, happy to exchange blood—something most people didn’t want—for hard cash.
Until Lima, Spike had pretty good luck both finding food and finding a place to stay for a few days. His luck turned there, however. He was planning to find a quiet, dark, out of the way spot to drink his meal and plan his next steps, when he heard footsteps coming from behind. Spike turned, prepared to defend himself, but the pipe hit him across the forearm. Spike struck back out of reflex, and then immediately felt the shocking pain of the chip firing, and he cried out, collapsing to the ground.
He dropped the bag with the container of blood, and it burst as the blows rained down, which was another piece of bad luck.
They kept beating him, and Spike could do nothing to stop them. He curled up instinctively, trying to protect himself, but the blows continued relentlessly. By the time they stopped, Spike was in a haze of pain, and he knew he’d be dead if he weren’t a vampire.
Spike heard them curse as they went through his pockets, finding very little, and then running off. He lost a little time, and then felt the change in the air as the sun began to rise.
Slowly, with agonizing movements, Spike dragged himself to a nearby building, grateful that it was abandoned, and found a dark corner.
He was in a bit of a catch-22. He couldn’t heal unless he had blood, and he couldn’t get blood without killing someone. Or robbing someone to get their money and buy blood. And he couldn’t do that as beat up as he was.
Spike was fucked, and so he curled into a ball as the words echoed in his head, “If only I didn’t have the chip. If only I didn’t have the chip.”
In Sunnydale, it hadn’t seemed to be as pressing an issue. He had Buffy, who could watch his back, and there were butchers in town who didn’t blink at providing blood, as long as you had the cash, which the Slayer was also willing to provide. Spike had demons to face, and he had Buffy, and while it hadn’t been enough exactly, it was enough to keep him from thinking about getting the chip out.
Plus, it was Buffy, and getting the chip out meant he would lose the one good thing remaining in his life.
Now, however, he was on his own, and he didn’t have Buffy to watch his back.
Spike wasn’t sure when he’d go back to Sunnydale, if ever, but he also didn’t think he could continue on without getting it out. Even a human would have at least been able to defend themselves against the attack without crippling pain. They might not have survived, but they would have stood a fighting chance.
He had been going a little crazy in Sunnydale, unable to plan for the future, or think about what he wanted to do, but now it was a drumbeat of need.
And if he gave into that need, he might never get Buffy back.
He didn’t love her, though, not really, and he could—would—do this for himself. He’d let the chips fall where they may.
Spike had heard of a demon who would grant a wish if you passed his trials; that seemed to be a better choice than entrusting some doctor with the task of rooting around in his brain. He could threaten bodily harm, but would find the tables neatly turned if his bluff were called.
Before he hopped his next cargo ship, heading for Cape Horn, Spike sent off another postcard with a few scrawled lines that said what he could not.
To-day your lips are afar,
Yet draw my lips to them, love.
Around, beneath, and above,
Is frost to bind and to bar;
But where I am and you are,
Desire and the fire thereof.***
In the wake of her mom’s death, Buffy almost hated Spike for leaving and for staying gone. She missed him with a ferocity that startled her, feeling as though she should be over him leaving by now, but the grief over her mom’s absence renewed her longing for him.
She thought that under other circumstances, she might have collapsed under the strain, but she had Dawn to think about, and a Hellgod to fight. Buffy wasn’t seventeen anymore; she couldn’t run away to Los Angeles and lose herself. She had to keep going.
But going on didn’t mean moving on.
On a rare evening at the Bronze with Dawn present but hanging out with a group of her own friends, Buffy could relax a bit. She wanted to forget about Glory for a little while, to forget about missing her mom, and the bills, and Spike being gone.
Granted, she felt like a fifth wheel since Xander had his arm around Anya, and Willow and Tara were holding hands under the table, but she was used to that by now.
“So, Buffy, I’ve got this friend,” Xander said during a lull in the conversation. “And I was thinking you might want to come out to dinner with us some night.”
Buffy blinked. “Are you trying to set me up on a blind date?”
“Don’t you think it’s time you got back on the horse?” Xander asked. “You haven’t dated since Spike left.”
Buffy sighed. She’d been doing so well at the whole forgetting thing, too. “I don’t have the time or energy to date right now, Xander.”
“Maybe you should give it a try,” Willow said encouragingly. “You wouldn’t have to date, just go have some fun for an evening. We can stay with Dawnie.”
Buffy shook her head. “I don’t want to go out on a date, guys. I’ve got enough on my plate right now without adding a date with someone I don’t know.”
“If you’re still hung up on Spike,” Xander began.
Buffy closed her eyes. “I just can’t add one more thing right now. Between dealing with Dawn, and Glory, I don’t have it in me.”
She wasn’t sure when dating had become a chore, but that was what it felt like right now. Even without the slaying, her life was complicated, and she didn’t really want to try to explain it to a stranger.
“I think it’s smart,” Tara said, and Buffy was a little surprised by the show of support, but maybe she shouldn’t be. Of all her friends, Tara was the one who understood what it meant to lose your mother. “You should focus on what’s important now. There will be plenty of time to date later.”
With Tara behind her, Willow backed off. “Well, it’s not like you need more stress right now.”
Xander opened his mouth, possibly to argue, and Buffy saw Anya elbow him hard. “I get it,” he said, sounding just a little bit breathless.
Of course, the truth was that Buffy wasn’t completely over Spike, something that she was reminded of when she checked the mail the next day and found another postcard, this one from Johannesburg. As she’d come to expect, there was a poem, this time an entire sonnet.
From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud pied April, dressed in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing,
That heavy Saturn laughed and leapt with him.
Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odour and in hue,
Could make me any summer’s story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew:
Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
Yet seemed it winter still, and you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play.****
Buffy smiled and tucked the postcard with the others. She’d rather have Spike here with her, but she was learning to parse his borrowed words. In this case, she thought it meant he missed her.
Spike stumbled out of the cave, his chest heaving. In the end, he’d asked to get the chip out, to be the sort of man that Buffy needed, so that he could keep his promises in the future. He hadn’t been certain that he’d ever be ready to go back to Sunnydale, but he wanted to get back to Buffy right then.
He was beat all to hell, and he’d need time to recover before he could head back, but at least his path was now clear.
Spike had to drag himself to shelter, and was grateful that he’d thought to look for another, nearby cave and stock a cooler full of blood. For the next few days, he slept and ate and slept again. He actually judged the timing fairly well, since he was recovered enough by the time he’d reached the end of his supplies to get to the Jeep he’d stolen.
He didn’t know if he would tell Buffy that he got the chip out. He knew he should, but he thought he might be better served if he proved that he could control himself before he told her that the chip was gone.
The trip back to Sunnydale took far less time than getting to Africa had, as Spike was intent on getting there, knowing that he’d been gone too long.
He hadn’t asked Buffy to wait; there was every possibility that she’d moved on, that his brief notes and borrowed words hadn’t been enough to keep her interest. Perhaps he would roll through town only to leave again, drifting in and out of her life until maybe, possibly, the timing for them would be right.
What Spike did know for certain was that he could face being in Sunnydale again, although whether that could be chalked up to getting the chip out, or the other half of the wish he’d made, he wasn’t sure.
Still, the trip across the ocean, and then across the US took longer than he’d have liked. He had to find a ship where it would be easy to hide, and where he could keep a stash of blood. He had to find a ship with the most direct route, so he wasn’t spending endless days at sea, moving from port to port, as he had when he’d first set out.
When he arrived in New York City, Spike considered calling Buffy, but he didn’t know what to say, and he thought it might be better to just show up.
Like a bad penny, he thought.
In New York, he had to find transportation, and there was still the matter of who and what to eat. Buffy wouldn’t approve of him being back on a human diet, and he was torn. On the one hand, what she didn’t know, wouldn’t hurt her.
On the other, he knew he couldn’t lie worth a damn, and if she asked, it might be better to be truthful.
Begin as you mean to go on, Spike figured. Besides, everybody was always going on about Angel’s soul, and how it made him so much better than other vampires.
What if Spike could show Buffy that he’d changed without a soul? What if, like those few weeks in Los Angeles, they could be together just as they were: the soulless, chipless vampire and the Slayer?
What if now could be the right time and place for them?
Those were the questions that burned in Spike’s chest as he headed back to Sunnydale.
As he, possibly, headed home.
*”Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal,” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
**”Sonnet VI,” by Pablo Neruda
***”Parted Presence,” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
****”Sonnet 98,” by William Shakespeare
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/518601.html