Unconditional

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Title: Unconditional
Author: violettapirateq
Era/season/setting: Late season 6, in place of Entropy
Rating: G

I can’t write concisley, is what I’ve discovered, and this ended up being longer than I intended. As such, I present it here in all its cumbersome, unpolished, typo-ridden glory, but it is FINISHED, which I am very happy about! It will be much prettier when I post it elsewhere, I promise. Thank you for reading!

Spike was angry, that part was pretty obvious. Not that there was usually any question of how he felt. He wore every one of his emotions with pride, never doing anything to mask them. Buffy knew he was more emotionally observant than she was, but even Xander would have to know that the muscles ticking in Spike’s jaw, the way he closed his eyes and tilted his head like it hurt him to do so, and just… the way every inch of him throbbed with ire meant that he was pissed.

But Buffy for the life of her couldn’t exactly figure out the reason. 

“You want me to what?” he asked, in somehow a quieter voice than his manner might have suggested. But Buffy was pretty familiar with that voice, too, and if she took a step back at the sound of it, well, that was purely a self-preservation instinct. From being the Slayer. Because she was in the presence of a vampire who sounded about ready to pounce.

But she cleared her throat, and crossed her arms, holding her ground. “I said I want you to—”

“Do you have any idea what you’re asking of me?” he snarled, and Buffy took a second to roll her eyes. If he’d heard the question, why had he asked her to repeat it?

Still, she was surprised. She hadn’t thought his grouchiness had had anything to do with the fact that she asked him. She’d thought the fact that Dawn had been captured again might have ranked higher in his list of things to be mad about. 

And now she was starting to feel her own anger bubble up inside her. “Hey,” she said. “I seem to recall a certain promise that you would take her out of the country and I’d never see her again.”

“Well, that was before she left me, now wasn’t it?”

Buffy stomped her foot—just a little, and only to get her point across. She was not going to throw a tantrum like he seemed about to be. “Well excuse me for thinking that if someone had to take her out, you’d rather be the one to do it. You were all ready to stake her when you were professing your feelings for me, remember? Consider me ready for you to make that sacrifice.”

He snorted, and pulled himself up so that he was sitting on the sarcophagus in the middle of the room. Buffy swallowed and tried not to look at him, thinking of the last time she’d barged in to find him sitting there. 

“Wouldn’t change a thing,” Spike said. “You weren’t impressed then, and you wouldn’t be impressed now.”

“I’ll be impressed if she stops terrorizing my town,” Buffy shot back, and then cringed, waiting for Spike to jump on that slip-up and demand to have her again if he did what she asked.

But he just stared at her, and said, still in a low, dangerous voice, “You have no idea what you’re asking me to do.”

And… Buffy didn’t, not really. She got that it would be hard, yeah, but supposedly Spike didn’t love Drusilla anymore, so what was the big? Not that Buffy would have been able to kill any of her exes just because she stopped caring about them, but that, of course, was because she was human. Spike killed other vampires all the time.

She shrugged. “I’m not even really asking you to kill her. I just need you to make sure she stays away. However you think you can manage that.”

“I can’t,” he said, almost in a whisper. “She won’t listen to me. You know she won’t. I’ve got no sway on what she does anymore, and… even if I could maybe wheedle a promise out of her, she still might find a way to torment you and yours.” His eyes squeezed shut. “No guarantees she’d hold up her end of whatever deal we struck, anyway.

“So…”

His eyes flew open and he glared at her. “So you’re asking me to stake my sire.”

Buffy pursed her lips, and swallowed down another bout of anger. “I told you, I just thought it’d rather be you than… than me. You want me to go down there? If I do, she’s gonna get no offer at being able to just walk away. I find her, I stake her, I go home, no skin off my nose.” She raised her hands placatingly. “I’m giving you a chance here, okay? You convince her to leave, and everyone goes home happy and no one turns into dust. And, if she won’t…” She let the rest of that sentence hang.

Spike clenched his jaw so hard that Buffy mentally braced herself for the sound of his teeth shattering. But he went perfectly still otherwise, gripping the sides of the stone slab, and staring somewhere behind her.

“Spike,” Buffy said gently. “She took Dawn. She might have… who knows what she might have done to her, if I hadn’t found her in…” she pursed her lips, and shook her head. “I can’t keep worrying about her,” she said quietly. “I kill dangerous vampires, Spike, it’s what I do. The only reason I kept giving her a pass was because… because of…” 

She let the rest of that sentence hang, too, only because she physically couldn’t force herself to say the word “you.” 

Spike turned his head slightly to face her, and after a moment, his eyes followed. He studied her for a long time, and then said, “Fine.”

Buffy raised her eyebrows. “You’ll do it?”

“I’ll get rid of her,” Spike said evenly. “One way or the other, Dru’s as good as gone. Don’t have to worry about her anymore, Slayer.” He slid off his sarcophagus, and turned around, heading for his trapdoor in the floor. “Now, if that’s all, I think you’d better go.”

***

That had been four days ago, and while Buffy… didn’t really think she should expect Spike to check in and let her know the outcome, she was still brimming with impatient curiosity. She was restless at home, and when it was finally time to go to work, she turned her head towards the door every time a new customer walked in, only to be disappointed when it was never him.

Not that she really expected him to check in with her there. Only one reason he’d ever visited her at the Doublemeat, and that reason didn’t exist anymore. 

She didn’t see him on patrols, either, and by the fourth night she was ready to start seriously tracking him down. Not that she really had any idea how. It seemed like a lot of work to pound the pavement and dig up info at Willy’s or anywhere else when Spike would likely come barging through her front door with a smoking blanket any day now.

She pulled on her pink pajama pants and a white tank top, and scowled at herself in the mirror. Any day now, she repeated in her head, like she could command him with her thoughts. She didn’t really have any witches around to do locator spells anymore if he really failed to show up.

She’d only just finished having that thought when she heard a tapping on her window, and nearly jumped out of her skin as she flew to open it. “Spike?”

He was there, and he stepped into the room as soon as he was able to. “Buffy,” he said, coldly.

Buffy felt her feeling of relief dissolve into annoyance, and she sat on the edge of her bed and stared at him. “Well?” she asked. He wasn’t the only one who could be pissy.

“Yeah,” Spike said. He ran his hand over his hair and looked away. “Yeah, it’s… it’s done.”

The soft light of her lamp was casting shadows over his face, but he looked as if he had plenty there already even without the light’s help. And even though he was frowning and was schooling his face into a marble statue, she couldn’t help… seeing how sad his eyes looked.

She forced her voice to stay annoyed. “And? Is she gone, or is she… the other thing?”

Spike’s hand trembled, and he gripped his hair as he ran his hand over it again. “The other thing,” he said flatly.

“O…oh.”

There was a long silence, and then Spike cleared his throat. “So, yeah,” he said airily, sniffing as he lifted his chin proudly. “Just came round to let you know that.”

“Well… good,” Buffy said. “Thanks. I guess.” 

There was another long silence, and then Buffy asked, “Did it… actually take you four days, or…”

“Buffy,” Spike said suddenly, in a completely different tone than the one he’d been using.

“Uh… yeah?”

Spike reached into his pocket, and then seemed to think better of it, and pulled his hand out again. But then he seemed not to know where to put his arms, and wandered aimlessly around her room for a few seconds, idly passing his fingers over her things. Buffy wanted to yell at him, except that he didn’t seem to be trying to annoy her. He was trying to steel himself for whatever it was he wanted to say.

He whirled around and asked, all in a rush, “Bugger it, Buffy, can I stay here tonight?”

Buffy’s face grew alarmed. “W-what? You think… you think you performed your noble act and now you want to share my bed again?”

“No, I…” Spike sighed, and rubbed his hand over his face. “Doesn’t have to be your bed. Hell, doesn’t even have to be your room. I just… I wanna stay here tonight, all right? You can put me in the basement, or chain me up in the bloody bathtub if it’ll make you more comfortable.”

Buffy frowned, but something inside her refused to just say “no” off-hand. She looked at him, at the shadows on his face, the trembling of his hand, the earnest and almost… nervous way he was looking at her, waiting for her answer. As the silence continued she could see him swaying slightly, almost imperceptibly, as if fighting to stay upright. 

And his eyes looked so sad…

“You can stay here,” she said finally. Exactly where he would stay was still the question, but that was pretty much answered for her when she saw the overwhelming relief in his eyes, and the way he clutched her chair, seemingly about to collapse right there on her floor. 

It was a bad idea. The very baddest of bad Buffy ideas that she’d had in a long time… but she couldn’t stand the thought of him being anywhere but right where she could see him. It kind of made sense, anyway. Willow and Dawn had the other bedrooms, and Buffy didn’t exactly want the scare of one of them going downstairs and seeing a vampire on the couch. And there might be a cot in the basement, but honestly she couldn’t remember whether it was still there or not, and she really didn’t feel like checking. That kind of only left her bed. 

Spike was still gripping her chair, but he slowly steadied himself and gave her a nod. “Right then. Where should I be off to?”

“Here,” Buffy whispered, tilting her head towards the bed. She gulped as she saw the confusion flash across his face and cleared her throat, trying to sound more matter-of-fact about it. “But your clothes stay on, buster. Don’t get any ideas. I just don’t want… anyone else to know you’re here.”

His face fell again, looking tired, but he nodded slowly and began painfully shedding his coat. “Right,” he said. “Course not.” He dragged himself the two or three steps towards her bed, and sank down into it with a sigh. He seemed barely manage to even kick his boots off before crawling under her covers.

Buffy stood for a moment longer, watching, shifting from foot to foot as she realized that she was now expected to get into this bed, with him. Obviously she knew that would be the outcome of this, but she sort of hadn’t planned how exactly she was going to do so. But it wasn’t like she could go share Dawn’s bed, because leaving him now would just be rude. 

She sighed, and finally stepped towards her bed. He wasn’t watching her, which was a good thing. He was just lying on his side, his eyes vacantly staring, arms crossed as his head sank into the pillow. 

Buffy sat down on the edge and looked at him. “You gonna tell me what happened?” she asked.

Spike just lay there, looking suddenly so small and vulnerable, and the pillow moved as he gave a tiny shake of his head. “Not at present.”

Buffy bit her lip, and slid under the covers. “Are you gonna be okay?”

She hadn’t expected her voice to sound quite as caring as it had, but Spike still didn’t look at her, and he didn’t answer. She waited for a moment, before sighing again, and finally lying down, flat on her back as she stared at the ceiling.

And with no warning, Spike suddenly squirmed and shifted up next to her, resting his head on her chest. Buffy jumped in surprise, but he didn’t react, and simply lifted one hand to rest on her stomach, before closing his eyes.

Buffy opened and closed her mouth several times, trying to demand an explanation, but once again she found herself unwilling to do so. He was hurting… he was grieving, and she had never forgotten what it had been like to send Angel to hell. She would have wanted this, too. Whatever it was he’d come here for. Except that Spike was braver than she was. Because Buffy never would have asked for it.

A sudden lump formed in her throat, and she touched Spike’s head, just briefly, before tucking her hand away again. “I’m sorry,” she said fervently. “I’m so sorry, Spike.”

He didn’t answer, but she felt him squeeze her the tiniest bit closer to him before he fell asleep.

***

He was still holding her when the alarm clock jolted both of them to consciousness, and Buffy had to smother the urge to apologize when Spike gave a startled gasp into her neck. She attempted a frown instead, reaching over to stop the noise on her nightstand, and just said, “Jumpy much?” 

“Bloody hell,” Spike said, gasping again. “Surely there’s a better way to be woken up, pet.”

Buffy’s frown turned into a real one, and she pushed him off of her. “This one is perfectly effective.”

“Not arguin’ that.” Spike fell onto his back, closing his eyes again and running his hands through his tousled hair. Buffy caught herself watching the way his errant curls moved when he did so, and sternly forced herself to look away. “Was just… disorientin’.”

“Yeah.” Buffy didn’t tell him that she’d been as startled as he had. She hadn’t slept that heavily in a long time, maybe not since before jumping off Glory’s tower.

She tried not to think about what that meant.

Footsteps thundered in the hall, and Buffy’s eyes widened. “Dawn,” she gasped. “Oh God—you’ll have to go… no wait, sunlight. Ugh! Well, you’ll just have to—”

“Buffy!” Dawn shouted, and pounded the door briefly before flinging it open. “Do you still have my—” she stopped, and took in the scene before her.

Buffy grabbed the covers hastily, pulling them up to cover her front purely on instinct, before remembering that she was actually wearing pajamas for a change. Spike didn’t move, except to move one hand behind his head and smirk lazily. 

“Dawn!” Buffy gasped. “Can’t you knock?”

“I did…” Dawn said, but kept gawking. “Buffy… what is Spike doing here?”

“Mornin’, Bit,” Spike said. 

“In your bed?” Dawn continued, as if she hadn’t heard him.

“He’s… he…” Buffy floundered. “It’s not what it looks like.”

“I know,” Dawn said. “Because you’re not naked. If you were naked, I would know what was going on.” She squinted up at her sister. “What the heck is going on?”

“Um…” Buffy said. “Well he… he wanted to stay over.”

“In your bed,” Dawn repeated.

“I mean… I didn’t really know where else to put him?”

“We have a cot in the basement.”

“I wasn’t sure!” Buffy said. “And you know Mom wouldn’t have made him sleep on a cot in the basement.”

“Maybe not,” Dawn said, but Buffy was relieved to see a slight grin tugging her lips. “But she probably wouldn’t have let Spike share her bed, either.”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “Is there a reason you came barging in after I just woke up?”

“I couldn’t find my hairbrush,” Dawn said. Her eyes fell on Buffy’s dresser and she copied Buffy’s eye roll. “Hairbrush thief.” She took her brush and flounced towards the door, pausing in the entryway as if she’d just thought of something. “Good morning, Spike,” she said primly, before slamming the door shut behind her again.

Buffy breathed out a sigh, and looked over at Spike to see him smiling gently at the door. “Knew there was a reason I liked her,” he said.

“Knew there was a reason I didn’t,” Buffy grumbled. She slid out of bed, and began pulling clothes out of her closet without really looking at them. “So, uh… how are you?”

He was silent for a long moment, and she finally turned to look back at him. His eyes were downcast, and he was tracing a pattern on her bedspread. 

“Be all right,” he said stiffly.

Buffy pursed her lips, wanting to ask more, wanting details, wanting to accuse him of trying to get sympathy points from her… because she knew he could play sympathetic very, very well.

And she also knew when he wasn’t.

“I’ll… be right back,” she said finally, and hurried to the bathroom with her clothes. She turned on the sink, and then just stood there, clutching the counter, staring at her reflection in the mirror, listening to the water run and being reminded of the water bill that she had to wrestle with today. 

But she could never manage to actually care about the bills. She tried to stay on top of them, but there were too many for her to be constantly stressing over. She wondered instead what she was supposed to do with the vampire in her bedroom. The sunlight wasn’t actually keeping him here; both of them knew he could and did leave regardless of the time of day. But it still seemed wrong, somehow, to ask him to do it.

She squeezed the countertop tighter, and wondered how she was going to get through an entire day of him hanging around the house. Be nice, Buffy, a voice suddenly warned her. Be nice, be nice… 

It almost sounded like her mother. Buffy didn’t know why her mother’s voice was suddenly the one talking to her, except that she’d just brought her up a few minutes ago, so, she was apparently still thinking about her. But why had she even brought her up in the first place?

All she could think was that she understood the pain of Spike losing someone. She knew how lonely it was, and how bleak and different the world looked afterwards. She didn’t know what he needed, didn’t know what he wanted her for, and didn’t know how much she could give him, but she did know… that she needed to try. To be nice. Nothing more. 

When she went back into her bedroom, Spike was lying as she’d left him. But now the arm under his head just made him look exhausted, and the shadows under his eyes were definitely more pronounced than they’d been the night before.

He didn’t even look at her until she was standing right beside him. “Hey,” she said. “I’m… um… I’m gonna head downstairs. You wanna come, or…” she swallowed. “Do you just want to stay here?”

His eyes seemed to have difficulty focusing, but they finally locked on hers, and his brow wrinkled slightly as if she’d asked him a very difficult question and he was puzzling out the answer.

“I’ll stay here,” he finally said, in a quiet tone.

“Okay,” Buffy said, just as quietly. “Well… I don’t have work today, so I’m not going anywhere. Come find me if you need anything.” Her heart quickened, but he didn’t make any comment. “Okay?”

“Okay.” His eyes closed, and he shifted, burrowing into her pillow. “Thanks.”

He wasn’t calling her out. Wasn’t making a quip about whether she was feeling all right, and wasn’t making any suggestions about how she could make him feel better. He wasn’t even questioning how nice she was being, which Buffy found was the most worrying thing of all.

Maybe she shouldn’t have asked him to do what he did.

***

Willow met her in the kitchen with a knowing smirk, while Dawn sat innocently at the island, sipping a glass of orange juice. Buffy sighed, and opened the refrigerator without deciding what she was looking for. “Go ahead.”

“You had Spike in your bed? All night?” Willow asked, but it wasn’t quite as accusatory as Buffy might have expected. She definitely didn’t sound as excited as she usually did at the prospect of Buffy with a boy, but that was to be expected. If anything, she just sounded curious.

Buffy sighed again, and reached for the milk without really thinking about it. “Yeah. He just…last night he needed… a friend, I guess.”

“Is that what you are?” Dawn asked skeptically. “Friends?”

“No,” Buffy said instantly, and winced as she did. “Maybe… it’s weird, okay? I never know what we are. But last night he was just lonely, and we were just friends. Nothing else.”

“So, where is he know?” Willow asked, still with a knowing smirk.

Buffy grabbed a box of cereal and glared at her. “Still grieving. He staked Drusilla last night.”

Willow suddenly took on a sympathetic look. “He did?” she asked.

“Because she captured me?” Dawn asked, and her voice was noticeably smaller.

“I told him if he wouldn’t do it, I would,” Buffy said. “And he did it, and he was hurting, and, well, it was a favor for me, so, there was ensuing bed-sharage. Of the platonic, friendly kind.”

Both were silent, and then Willow gave a nod. “I think that was nice,” she said.

“Yeah,” Dawn said. “You think… could I go see him? Before I leave?”

“Make it fast,” Buffy warned. “And if he’s asleep, don’t bother him.”

Dawn thundered up the stairs, which would probably wake Spike up anyway, and Buffy turned back to Willow with a guilty expression. “I’m… sorry. If it’s weird that he spent the night in the bedroom across from you.”

Willow shrugged. “He spent the night here a couple times when you were… um…”

They’d never gotten used to saying it, even though Buffy never had a problem with it. “Dead?”

“Yeah. Not often,” Willow hastened to reassure her. “But sometimes Dawn just… needed him nearby, I guess. So I think it’s good he’s getting a return on that favor.”

“Oh,” Buffy said, unsure why Willow being okay with this made her so uncomfortable. “Well… that’s good. I wouldn’t let him take the couch because I thought it might wig you guys out, having him here.”

“Well, I’m not saying it’s not weird,” Willow said. “But when have we ever been scared of weird?” She smiled, and grabbed her bag. “Dawn!” she called. “We’re gonna be late!”

Dawn thundered back down the stairs, and kissed Buffy’s cheek as she grabbed her backpack. “Bye,” she said.

“Wait!” Buffy called. “Did you… talk to him?”

“Uh huh,” Dawn said. “I just said thank you, and he said it was no trouble. He looked super tired, though.” She faltered for a minute, but then shook her head. “But I think that’s just how he gets when he’s sad.”

“Yeah.” Buffy hesitated for a minute, and then watched Willow and Dawn head out the door. “Have a good day, you guys.”

The sound of the door closing seemed to echo through the house, announcing its emptiness, even though Buffy was very aware of that fact there she wasn’t alone. She stood there for several moments, unsure of what to do, before she remembered her bills, and gathered them all up. She sat on the couch, and flicked the TV on. Some home renovation show was playing, and Buffy let it play in the background while she stared at the angry little pieces of paper in front of her, that somehow seemed to have the words “responsibility” and “adult” and “Mom” stamped all across them. This wasn’t her domain. It never was. She wasn’t even supposed to be alive right now, let alone a responsible Mom-ish adult.

She stared and stared until her eyes lost focus, and she had almost completely drowned out the couple on TV who were bickering about whether a certain wall should go or not. But she snapped to attention when she suddenly heard a light step on the staircase. 

Spike padded quietly over to her, looking smaller and more unsure than she’d ever seen him. He was barefoot and sans coat, and he was holding his arms tightly across his chest. He stopped in front of her, and when she looked up at him, he quickly sat down next to her and buried his face in his shoulder. 

“Hey, hey,” Buffy whispered, as soothingly as she could. “It’s okay, Spike.” She lifted a hand, aching to run her fingers through his curls, but all she could manage was a quick pat of his head. She’d been tempted to run back to him ever since she’d broken up with him, and had only managed not to by basically going cold turkey from seeing him at all. 

If she started petting his hair, she had no idea how much she could keep herself in control.

He was shivering, and rubbing his upper arms, and Buffy reached for the wool afghan on one corner of the couch. “Are you cold?” she asked, and then shook her head suddenly. “No, of course you aren’t… well, never mind.” She wrapped the blanket around his shoulders, and he froze, lifting his head to look at her. She gave him an encouraging smile, fighting to keep her hormones in check, and said gently, “How are you feeling?”

He blinked, and his fingers closed around the blanket, holding it in place. “Tired.”

Something in Buffy’s heart broke, and she nodded. “I know. It’s okay.” 

He closed his eyes, as if he felt her words were permission to do so, and shifted until he was lying in her lap. Again Buffy felt the urge to shove him away, to demand where he got off being so bold, but she couldn’t… she couldn’t. He was acting like she was his saving grace, and even though she wasn’t sure what that said about her, she didn’t think she could shove him away without hating herself for it. 

She let her arm drop in a loose embrace over his back, and he suddenly grabbed her hand with both of his and held it close. 

Buffy sighed, and let her head fall back, staring at the TV. At least she couldn’t possibly be expected to deal with those angry pieces of paper still staring at her. Not like this.

***

She eventually moved off the couch, deciding to clean the kitchen where she could still sort of keep an eye on him, and he stayed asleep the whole morning and afternoon. She knew vampires slept in the day, but even so… it was a little eerie how still and quiet he remained. She debated for a while about leaving him to go get a late lunch, but he needed blood anyway, so she decided to risk it.

He was still asleep when she came back, and she heated up a mug of blood, and sat back down next to him. “Spike,” she said, nudging his shoulder. “Hey, wake up.”

It took several minutes, but he finally opened his eyes, and looked at the mug like he had no idea what it was for. But before Buffy could say anything he seemed to figure it out, and lifted himself up enough to take it.

Buffy watched him for several moments, and noticed that he seemed to be having trouble keeping his head from drooping. “Spike,” she said. “What’s wrong with you?”

He shook his head, and passed her the mug back, before collapsing onto the couch again. “Drusilla,” he murmured.

“What about her?”

Spike lifted a lazy hand, gesturing to himself, and Buffy guessed that he was attempting to indicate his predicament. “ ‘s cause I k… cause I killed… her…”

“What?” Buffy asked, and started panicking as Spike seemed to be fading again. “Hey, wait!” She slid down off the couch, and grabbed his head, lifting it slightly. “Spike, look at me!”

He made a valiant effort to, blinking heavily at her through slitted eyes. “Spike,” Buffy said. “Are you… is something happening to you? Because you staked her? Did she do something, or…” Buffy felt her panic rising, having no idea what to ask, or if Spike even knew. “Spike, tell me how to help you.”

He lifted a heavy hand, and stroked her nose with one drunken finger. “Don’t leave me alone,” he murmured. “Please.”

***

After that, Buffy didn’t dare to. She was still sitting with him on the couch when Dawn and Willow came home, and she found herself only barely paying attention when Willow, all smiles, launched into a discussion about Tara.

“And she said that other girl was just a friend, and she wants to meet me for coffee tomorrow!” Willow said, beaming. 

“The friend does?” Buffy asked absently.

“No, Tara!”

Buffy dragged her eyes away from Spike and looked up into Willow’s smiling ones. And she found herself smiling in response. All of them—she and Xander and Willow—had been pretty screwy in the love department lately—running off those who tried to love them, and Buffy was glad that one of them, at least, was making some headway in fixing those mistakes. “That’s great, Will,” she said. “Hey, you think she’d want to come here afterwards? I… I think it’s time for a research party.” She looked at Spike again. “Something’s up with him. I think Drusilla might have put a spell on him or something.”

“Sure,” Willow said, and Buffy could hear her trying to be sympathetic, but she was still smiling brightly as she headed up the stairs. 

Spike woke up later in the evening, and was able to sit up and drink the entire mug of blood that Buffy brought him. She sat and watched him closely, but he didn’t look at her, and his eyes still looked glassy and vacant. His hair was more mussed than she’d ever seen it, and he stayed huddled in on himself, keeping the blanket she’d given him clutched tightly around his shoulders. There was a kind of quiet fear around him, and Buffy thought she’d go crazy if she couldn’t figure out what was off with him.

But he didn’t say a word. She wondered whether he even could, anymore.

He sat there on the couch, sinking so deeply into it that he seemed almost one with the cushions, staring vacantly off into the distance somewhere until Buffy was ready to go to bed. She briefly toyed with the idea of patrolling, but decided she wouldn’t be comfortable letting him out of her sight, not yet, anyway.

“I’m going upstairs,” she said gently. “You wanna come?”

He nodded, and rose unsteadily to his feet, holding the blanket close around him. He kept it about him until he’d flopped down onto her bed, and then he gave a sigh and let it fall, choosing instead to hug her pillow as he buried his face into it.

When Buffy slipped in beside him, he pressed himself close to her, but didn’t seem to have the energy to do anything more. For a long while Buffy just lay there, staring at his features in the darkness, watching him as he slept.

He felt like a corpse in her bed.

***

The alarm clock startled her awake again that Saturday morning, and Buffy mentally kicked herself for not remembering to turn it off. But Spike didn’t stir, and Buffy felt a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach, an ache that suddenly grew, so it must have been there before. She wondered when it had appeared, and why she hadn’t noticed.

She wondered at its existence at all. She wondered when she’d been so concerned for Spike’s welfare. She wondered, if he’d died when she’d beaten him and left him alone in that alley, if she would have mourned his loss. If she would have felt anything remote to the anxiety she was feeling for him now.

She didn’t try to wake him, but once she’d gotten dressed and had her hand on her bedroom knob, she turned to give him one last glance.

Brilliant blue eyes were watching her intently, and she almost jumped. She swallowed, assuring herself that she’d had her eyes on him the whole time she was changing, and that he hadn’t seen anything… not that it would have been anything new, she realized. But still, it wouldn’t have been a good idea.

But he was awake now, and without really thinking about it, Buffy held out her hand to him in silent invitation.

And without a word, without even a peep or a grunt or a flicker of a smile, Spike scooted out of the bed, and made his way timidly over to her, taking her hand with his head hanging down, like a bashful child.

He passed out again the minute he hit the couch, and the ball of anxiety tightened in Buffy’s stomach. She forced herself to make breakfast for her and Dawn, and to finally wrestle with the pile of bills, until Tara and Willow came over in the early afternoon.

But although they gave it their best efforts, they couldn’t find anything to indicate what was wrong with Spike, nor anything Drusilla could have potentially done to him. Tara cast a spell to see if she could make out anything wrong, but she reported that nothing had been done to him.

Buffy was getting restless, and she eyed the unrelenting clock, letting her know that she had to be at work soon. She couldn’t leave him here though, not without getting him some help…

She sighed, and picked up the phone. She debated for a long time, but finally dialled the number he’d left with her the last time he’d been here. There was no answer other than Cordelia’s perky answering machine voice, and Buffy swallowed.

“Something’s wrong with Spike,” she said, in a shaky voice. “He killed Drusilla and now he… he’s having trouble… waking up, or talking, or doing anything. If you know what’s wrong, I need you to come, Angel. Please.” 

She hung up, feeling only slighter lighter inside, and reluctantly went upstairs to get ready for work.

***

Angel’s car was parked in the driveway when she got home, and she found herself racing towards the door. Angel was standing in the living room, frowning down at a still-sleeping Spike, and Buffy gasped, ready to throw her arms around him. “Angel!”

He turned, a smile ready on his face, but both of them stopped when his look turned incredulous. His eyes swept over the bright orange-striped uniform, and Buffy halted in her tracks. “Oh,” she said quietly, holding her arms up self-consciously, as if trying to cover herself. “Um… hold on, I’ll be right back.”

“Wait, Buffy!” He called after her, but she didn’t stop. She rushed up the stairs, cheeks flaming red. She’d felt less than adequate when Riley had seen her in this, but it was nothing compared to then complete mortification of the way Angel had looked at her.

And her brain apparently hated her, because it reminded her of the way Spike had always looked at her in that uniform. He’d never, not once, ever made a disparaging comment about it, and he still gazed at her with want in his eyes every time he’d seen it. A girl could feel like royalty under that gaze, and Spike never seemed to want her to feel anything less.

She passed by Willow’s open door, and peeked in to see both her and Tara sitting on the bed. “Oh, hey Buffy!” Willow called. “Um, Angel’s here.”

“Yeah, I saw,” Buffy said.

“Dawn’s doing her homework,” Tara supplied. “And… um… Angel said he was fine just waiting, so we…” She looked confused for a second. “M-maybe we shouldn’t have left them down there alone. I mean, don’t they hate each other?” 

“It’s fine,” Buffy said, and darted the rest of the way to her room. She tore off her hateful uniform and threw it into a corner where she wouldn’t have to look at it. She pulled out her nicest, softest beige sweater and a pair of black leather pants, which, was probably dressier than it needed to be, but she needed to bleach that memory of her out of Angel’s mind.

She was still fussing with her short hair as she returned to the living room, and she gave Angel a bright smile. “Sorry,” she said. “Long day at the office. Back to little ol’ twentieth century me, now.” She swallowed, and felt her smile get even tighter. “Not much I can do about the smell, though.”

“It’s really good to see you, Buffy,” Angel said, and stepped forward to hug her. But he quickly pulled away, before Buffy had really gotten to put all her strength into the hug, and looked back at Spike with a sigh. “He killed Drusilla,” he said dully.

“Yeah,” Buffy said.

Angel sighed again, and plopped down onto the coffee table, rubbing his eyes. “I can’t believe it,” he murmured. “I can’t… I can’t believe he actually…” he raised haunted eyes to hers, and said suddenly, “So why’d he come to you?”

“Huh?” Buffy asked. “Oh… um… he does that, sometimes. When he thinks I’m his last hope. Remember Acathla?”

Angel’s face was a mask of stone. “He loves you,” he said bluntly. “Doesn’t he.”

Buffy was surprised that he arrived at that conclusion so quickly, but she just turned her head away. “He says he does. But don’t me mad, okay, he’s really… he’s harmless right now, mostly, and…”

Angel gave a bitter laugh. “You think I care who loves you these days, Buffy?”

Okay. Ow. Buffy frowned at him, waiting for clarification.

Angel waved a vague hand. “Sorry. That was… I didn’t mean it like that. I just meant…” he sighed again, and Buffy wondered if he was aware how much he was doing it. “I’m sorry that he’s bothering you,” Angel said. “And I hope he isn’t, too much, but I know if he was really a problem you’d have staked him by now. So, fine, you have your reasons for letting him live, that’s fine. I don’t care if he thinks he loves you. It doesn’t matter, anyway.” He bowed forward, head falling into his hands. “Nothing matters,” he said sadly. “Love lost, or family lost… it doesn’t compare, Buffy. None of it compares to the pain of losing a child.”

Buffy frowned again. “You mean… Drusilla?”

“What?” Angel looked up again. “No… no I don’t mean…” he sighed. “Never mind. So, Spike. He came to you for help, and you called me to help him. You sure that’s really what you want?”

“I’m sure,” Buffy said quietly. “Do you know what’s wrong?”

Angel looked at Spike for a long time, but his eyes seemed so distracted that Buffy wasn’t sure if he was really paying attention to him. “Vampires aren’t meant to kill their sires,” he finally said, speaking slowly, almost unwillingly. “They just aren’t. It goes against their biology. We essentially consider it an act of Judas, and it doesn’t matter how much of a rebel you are, it’s still gonna affect you the same.” He gave a wry smile. “Unless you have a soul, of course.”

“You killed Darla,” Buffy recalled.

“I did,” Angel said. “And I felt almost nothing. But usually… usually if a vamp kills their sire, he…” Angel paused to rub his face again. “They become disconnected, almost. They killed their maker, their lifeblood, their link. The demon is blinded, almost, and becomes trapped in itself, not having anything to rely on, and it grieves so strongly and feels so lost that it just starts shutting down.” Angel pursed his lips. “That’s why he’s sleeping all the time. It’s a defense mechanism… trying to avoid the pain, and the fear. His demon, essentially, doesn’t have a reason to go on, and it’ll shrivel up and lay down and eventually wither into dust.”

Buffy stared at Angel in horror. “That’s… that’s it? He’s dying?”

“Yes,” Angel said simply.

“But… something can be done, right? There’s always something… always a way to fix this kind of thing…”

“There is,” Angel said. “Most vamps know they can’t get it, though, which is why they don’t even risk it.”

“Tell me,” Buffy demanded.

Angel looked at her suspiciously. “You really want me to help him?”

“I do,” Buffy whispered. “He’s… he’s better sometimes, Angel, he’s usually more alert at night…”
“That won’t go on forever,” Angel said. “That’s only because we’re more active at night, and more lethargic in the day. We can fight that, of course, but right now…” Angel gestured to the couch. “He’s not really able to fight right now.”

“He’s always fighting,” Buffy said in a low voice.

Angel heaved yet another sigh and stood up. Spike’s head was lying on a throw pillow, and he was clutching the blanket Buffy had given him the previous day. He was perfectly still… until Angel reached out a hand and cradled the back of his head.

Buffy stared in fascination as Spike moved his head, just a fraction, and almost nuzzled the hand stroking him. Angel kept his hand where it was, and Spike’s own moved up to clutch it, desperately.

But then Angel broke away, and turned to face Buffy again. “That’s it,” he said shortly. “That’s all he needs.”

Buffy blinked. “What… I don’t even know what that was!”

“Physical affection,” Angel said, and though he sounded like it pained him to say, his eyes just looked so distracted, and he ran a hand through his own hair. He shrugged. “Unconditional love and care. Doesn’t matter who it’s from, or how he feels about the person giving it. Sexual or romantic stuff generally doesn’t cut it, which is why most vamps are doomed never to recover. Because other vampires can only give that. Usually.” He shrugged again. “I think Spike always hoped Dru would kill me, though, because he knew he could be what she needed if she did.”

“Wait,” Buffy said slowly. She looked at Spike, lying so motionlessly, so helplessly.  “So you mean… he knew. When he staked her… he knew all that.”

Angel hesitated, but gave a reluctant nod. “He knew.”

Buffy felt such a sudden welling of tears in her eyes, and her hand flew to her mouth. Angel reached out, and gave her a light touch on the shoulder. “It’s not your fault,” he said. “You don’t owe him anything, Buffy.”

He turned and started to leave, and Buffy barely remembered to turn around and watch him. “Wait,” she said. “Angel… are you okay?”

“No,” he said. “But you can’t help with this one, Buffy. Gotta work through this on my own.” He gave her a sad smile. “I’m sorry… about all of it. I’m sorry that Spike fell in love with you.” He touched her shoulder again, and then said, “Goodbye, Buffy.”

And then he was gone, and Buffy could let her tears fall as she stared back at Spike. Spike… who had known this would kill him, who had known his only hope was that Buffy could just love him. He had reached out to her, tried over and over just in the past two days to indicate what he needed, and now…

And now Buffy didn’t feel worthy of him. She marched up the stairs, and knocked on Dawn’s bedroom door.

It opened at once, and Dawn looked at her anxiously. “Does Angel know what’s wrong?”

“Come here,” Buffy said quietly, and led her sister back down the stairs. She took Dawn’s shoulders, and pushed her towards the couch. “You need to… just… hold him.”

“What?” 

“I don’t know.” Buffy’s eyes filled with tears again. “Or… or stroke his hand, or hug him, or… I don’t know, Dawnie, but he needs to be loved.” She burst out with a sob, and fell to her knees. “That’s it,” she whispered. “That’s all it comes down to. He needs to be loved… oh God, Dawnie, please just love him!”

Dawn stared at her, and then at the vampire. She took a step closer to the couch, and lifted Spike’s head. She settled next to him, and let his head fall in her lap. “Like this?” she asked. “Is this okay?”

Buffy watched as her sister tenderly brushed Spike’s curls back, and how she wrapped her free arm around him and held him tightly. “That’s good,” Buffy murmured. “Perfect.”

And then she turned and fled back up to her bedroom.

***

She filled everyone in on what Angel had said the following morning. But even though Dawn seemed happy to sit and take care of him, and even Tara seemed willing to take over whenever Dawn had to leave, Buffy herself couldn’t manage to go near him. And even though Dawn looked at her with disappointment, she didn’t push it, and neither did the other two. But Buffy stayed in the same room with him, never letting him out of her sight, and only when she had to go to work again did she manage to drag her eyes away.

When she returned, she could hear Tara’s quiet voice coming from the living room. Buffy hurried over, not even thinking of her uniform, and was greeted with the sight of Spike leaning against Tara’s shoulder, while she was quietly coaxing him to take a mug of blood.

Both of them turned to look at Buffy when she entered, and Buffy looked at Spike’s face and felt something inside her light up with relief. Because even though he wasn’t smiling, his eyes looked so damned happy to see her, and Buffy felt like falling at his feet and crying some more.

“Hello, Buffy,” Tara said, in the quiet voice Buffy had heard her using a moment before. She was speaking as if talking to a little frightened child, which, Buffy supposed, she kind of was. 

Tara turned back to Spike, and said, “See? Buffy’s here now, sweetie, and she wants you to take the blood. She wants you to get better. You think you can do that, sweetheart? For Buffy?”

Buffy was startled at the names, and she stepped closer into the living room while Spike reached weakly for the mug Tara was offering him. He pressed himself closer to Tara as he started sipping it, but his eyes never left Buffy’s.

Buffy moved slowly, holding his gaze, until she was kneeling down in front of him. “So,” she said. “What’s with the nicknames?”

“They seem to really reach him,” Tara whispered. “The affectionate names.” She paused, and then said pointedly, “You should try it.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Buffy said. “Plus… I’m not really… a pet name kind of person.”

“I think they would mean more to him coming from you,” Tara said.

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Buffy whispered.

Tara was silent, idly stroking the top of Spike’s head, while Spike’s eyes stayed trained on Buffy’s. 

“Buffy,” Tara said finally. “When did you break up?”

Buffy was startled, and jerked her head up to look at Tara. “When… what? How… what makes you think we stopped…”

“Because you’re looking at him differently now,” Tara murmured. 

There had to be more to it than that, but Tara had always been perceptive. Buffy sighed, and reached a hand out to Spike without thinking about it. He took it, and laced his fingers with hers, while still holding his mug with his other hand.

“A couple weeks ago,” Buffy admitted. “I told him it was killing me, and I…” she stopped.

Tara nodded. “And now?”

“I miss him,” Buffy found herself saying. “But I don’t miss… what we were doing.” She let out a huff of annoyance. “No… that’s a lie. Of course I miss what we were doing. I just don’t miss… how we were doing it.” She felt a tear slip down her face, and she bit her lip, looking right into Spike’s eyes. “We weren’t ever gonna be able to mean anything to each other as long as we were doing it like we were.”

Spike pulled his hand away from hers, and lifted it to her cheek, brushing her tears away with his thumb. Then he handed his mug back to Tara and buried his face in her shoulder.

Tara hugged him and started rubbing his arm. She looked at Buffy and nodded. “That makes sense,” she said. “That’s similar to the reason I left Willow.”

Buffy swallowed. “But now you’re back.”

“But now I’m back.” Tara smiled. “And I’ve been sitting here for awhile, and my leg’s falling asleep. You think you can take over for me?”

She said it sweetly and casually, but the look she was giving kind of reminded Buffy of her mom. It was an expectant look, an I’m-asking-but-really-I’m-telling look.

Buffy stood up slowly, and changed places with Tara on the couch. Spike came much more willingly into her arms than Buffy was at taking him in them, and she held him close, and pressed her face into his hair. 

She looked up at Tara, and said, “I don’t… think I can manage the pet names.”

“That’s okay,” Tara said softly. “I think he’s got more than enough for both of you, anyway.” She winked at Buffy, and then patted Spike’s head. “Goodnight, Spike.”

She froze when a sound began emanating from Spike’s chest, and Buffy felt her heartbeat increase as she looked down at him. “Tara,” she whispered. “What is he…”

“Goddess,” Tara breathed, kneeling down. “Buffy I think… I think he’s purring.”

Both girls were silent for a moment, listening to the dull hum that sounded to Buffy like the happiest noise in the world. Spike shifted until he was mostly lying on top of Buffy’s chest, his head pressed between her breasts, and his arms tightly encircling her middle. 

Buffy hugged him as tightly as she could, and pressed a kiss to his hair. “I’m so sorry,” she whimpered, slowly rocking him back and forth. “I’m so sorry, Spike. But I’m here now, love. I’m here now.”

***

It wasn’t a rapid cure, after that. Spike remained mute for several more days, and couldn’t always follow Buffy up to bed, or subsequently follow her out of it. And it became difficult when he got enough awareness back to be embarrassed to have Tara or even Dawn holding him and petting him and babying him, and he stubbornly refused to be taken care of by anyone except for Buffy.

He seemed to need less attention at night though, which was good for Buffy, because he was content to cuddle up close to her in bed and let her sleep in peace. But there was one night when she was awoken to the sound of her name being whispered, over and over in rapid succession.

“Spike,” she whispered, turning to face him. “Hush, love, I’m right here.” She held out her arms, and he leapt into them, weeping into her chest. “Shh,” Buffy murmured again. “I’m right here.” She kissed his forehead, and held him close. “Right here. You’re safe, I’m not gonna let anything happen to you.”

“Buffy,” he sobbed, and that was when she knew he was going to be all right.

He started hugging Dawn a lot more, even as he slowly became himself more, and he shocked Tara by kissing her on the head once or twice as he passed her. But other than that, his blustering swagger returned, and he didn’t let Buffy touch him in the daytime anymore. 

At night he still clung to her, holding her a lot more than she held him, and it started to terrify her.

Because even though everything seemed in a holding pattern now, she knew that as long as she allowed this to continue, he’d want to start crossing the line again.

And she didn’t trust herself to stop it.

Buffy came home from patrolling one night to see Spike sitting on the back steps, and she couldn’t help smiling as she remembered how often Spike had come to see her in the same position. She made her way over to him, and sat down next to him, and he quietly laid his head on her shoulder and breathed a sigh of contentment,  like he’d been waiting for her to find him here.

“So,” Buffy said. “You ready to tell me what happened, yet?”

He didn’t say anything for a while, and she felt his shoulders start to tense up. Even though he seemed to be beyond the need for her to calm him down any longer, she was too used to doing so by now, and she put her arms around him and let him melt into her. 

He fell against her, holding her tightly, and said briefly, “Isn’t much to tell. It didn’t take me four days… it took me one evening. I found her, and… and she… tried to get me to come with her again. An’ I said no, and she said that she’d just keep coming after you and kid sis until I said yes, so…” he gave a shrug. “Was easy, after that. To make the decision.”

Buffy found that her hands had started rubbing his back aimlessly, still trying to soothe him. “Why?” she murmured. “How could it have been easy… when you knew what it would do? When you knew how it would hurt?”

“Hurt doesn’t matter,” he mumbled. “Would walk through fire for you, Summers. Sometimes it feels like that’s all I bloody do.”

Buffy’s chest started to hurt. “And when… when did you decide to come find me?”

“Bout four hours after that.”

“But you knew you were dying.”

“Yeah.” Spike gave a weary sigh, and seemed to fall even heavier on her. “Planned to just do it quiet like in my crypt, and you’d never be the wiser. But then I…” he gave a rueful chuckle. “Got bloody scared, you know. Of dying alone. Such a bloody human thing, and I was right disgusted with myself. Knew I couldn’t ask you for… what I needed, but it didn’t matter then. If I was gonna go out, where else would I want to go but in the sanctuary or your home?”

Buffy felt her eyes start to sting. “You must hate me,” she whispered.

“I don’t.”

“I know. Why? Why don’t you?”

“Dunno, really. I’m supposed to, I know that, and maybe I ought to, but… but how can I, Buffy? Because you did let me stay, and you did try to help me. Called up your wanker of an ex to get advice on how to fix me, and then you acted upon it. If I didn’t love you before, you think there’s anything on this bloody planet that could stop me from doing so now?”

Buffy needed to say something, so very badly, but her throat was all blocked up, and no amount of swallowing and sniffing seemed to clear it.

And Spike wasn’t finished, anyway. “Think I must’ve loved you for a long time,” he mused. “Even before I realized it. Because, I had the same thought after I got the chip. Knew I was done for anyway, but you… you were a flicker of something. Hope, or divine bloody intervention maybe, but I just knew… if I could just get to you, just convince you to take me in, then nothing after that mattered. Then I’d have done what I could to survive, and after that I’d be at your mercy. And there’s nowhere else I’d want to be. Then or now.”

“Spike,” Buffy managed to get out. “Spike when you… when you didn’t tell Glory about the Key, I… I wanted to love you then. When you told me you’d protect Dawn until the end of the world, I wanted to love you then. I’ve wanted to love you so many times since then, and instead all I’ve managed is the opposite… because I’ve hated myself so much, and I… I didn’t know how to be… what you needed.” 

He was very still, but when she paused, he nudged her chin with his head, urging her to keep going.

“Because I think… I think you’re not… soulless. Not really. I think you’ve been borrowing mine, and the pressure of that is so… I don’t even know. It’s painful, and it’s powerful, and it’s the most flattering and humbling thing I’ve ever…” Buffy swallowed. “I know this must seem like it’s coming out of nowhere, but I… I’m glad you came to me. I’m glad… I’m glad you needed me. I’m glad I could help you, because…” she gave a nervous laugh. “There’s no way I can say it… and I have no right to and have you actually believe me, but I still want to love you, Spike. And I think… I think I…”

He’d lifted his head now, pure, shining eyes staring up at her. Eyes so full of soul, and life, and goodness, things a dead and evil demon shouldn’t have. 

“I love you,” Buffy whispered. “And I want to show you. I want to help you believe it.”

He stared at her for a long time, before his face broke out into the purest smile Buffy had ever seen on another human. He tilted his head up, just barely pressing his lips to hers. “I believe it,” he murmured. 

Buffy leaned her head on his, and closed her eyes. “No you don’t,” she murmured. “But thanks for saying it, love.”

He hummed. “Love it when you call me that.”

“Yeah?”

“And I do believe it, you silly chit. What do you think you’ve spent the past several weeks doing? Trying to win a charity fundraiser?”

Buffy hugged him as tight as she could, and he straightened up and did the same. “Kiss me again?” she asked.

He did, taking his time with it. “Love you, Buffy,” he mumbled. “Love you so much.”

“I love you, Spike,” she whispered, and it felt like fire on her tongue. She swallowed. “So, you gonna take me to bed now, or what?” 

He cocked a eyebrow at her, giving her a smirk she hadn’t seen in months, and then stood up and swept her into his arms. “I could do that,” he said, and kissed her again as they swept into the house. 

Originally posted at: https://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/736418.html

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