Whispers in a Dead Man’s Ear (3/8)

This entry is part 4 of 10 in the series Whispers in a Dead Man's Ear
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OK… now it comes to the hurting part.  Canon headed into dark territory, and there follow I; however, I promise that by the end of the series I’ll have brought it back towards the light.

Part 3:

Set post-Forever, BtVS.  Joyce has passed away and been buried; Dawn’s attempted resurrection was thwarted at the last minute.  Buffy, having no other choice, has gone back to business as usual, but then her patrol intersects with a vigil.

Whispers in a Dead Man’s Ear (3/8)

“Never is somethin’ gets any easier.  Why should that be, do you think, love?  Suppose after all the years behind me, you bein’ here shouldn’t bother me so much, but it does.”

Buffy heard the familiar voice as she approached her mother’s grave, her steps slowing unconsciously as she drew nearer.  The moon was nearly full, the night therefore uncommonly bright, and Buffy paused for a moment to take in the almost ethereal vision of Spike, luminous skin and hair glistening even as his clothing absorbed any errant beams that attempted to reflect from it; the result was a strange sort of relief in which Spike seemed to merge with the dark, even as he somehow stood out against the black of the ground and the varied gleaming of the tombstones.

He looked like statuary, really—like an icon of grief someone had left there to memorialize her mother.  His eyes half-closed, hand outstretched and pressed almost tenderly against the marble, his body held straight and still; it was only the fluttering of his lashes, the movement of his lips and the low echo of his voice that ruined the illusion.

“Feels wrong somehow, you goin’ that way… like whatever comes after hadn’t earned you yet.  Like it cheated.  Way you had things this last bit… ‘s not right, you suffering like that, you dyin’…”  There was the sound of a throat being cleared, and then Spike’s voice came again.  “Not right, you dyin’ alone.”

Buffy felt the tears rushing forth, accompanied by the crushing, if irrational, guilt she believed she would always feel when she remembered finding her mother’s body.  Remembered the way she had been sprawled across the couch, cold, undignified, startled… alone.  Eyes wide as though she was beseeching someone, anyone, to come and find her, to hold her…

She held in her sob and edged backwards, struggling to regain control of herself before she decided what she should do about Spike’s visit.  Her hand rested against the cool stone of an old mausoleum, an oddity there in the more modern portion of the cemetery; she was grateful for its incongruity, however, when she found support by slumping against it, pressing her forehead against one outer wall and absorbing its chill, using the sensation to anchor her, to pull her back from the abyss of the tears she didn’t have time to cry.

Through the haze of grief, she could still hear Spike’s voice, starting and halting in fits and jerks; his tone was reverent but conversational, almost as though he were giving Joyce time to hear and respond before he continued.

“You’d be so proud of her, love.  Of both of them.  Stood up for you like the strong women I know you taught them how to be.  Did right by you with the service, too; I watched from that crypt over there.  Flowers an’ tears an’ lovely words from all of them.  Was daytime, else I’d’ve been out here, too.  Least, I would’ve been if they’d have let me.”

There was a bitter edge to his tone that confused Buffy, made her raise her head and take in the tension of his jaw, the fisting of the hand not resting against the headstone.   Things between them were—well, strained was an understatement, really—but she wouldn’t have questioned his presence at the funeral; she wouldn’t have disrespected her mother that way.  So why would he be so angry?  The slight wasn’t even real.

Her brow furrowed as pieces of memory clicked together—a view from the living room window of Xander and Willow exchanging tense words on the sidewalk, a full five minutes after they’d gone out the front door; Xander storming off in a huff, Willow following him only after placing something Buffy couldn’t quite make out at the foot of the tree; the straw-tied bouquet of daisies with no card that she found when she went to investigate.  She hadn’t been able to figure where Willow had gotten the flowers, or why she’d left them there and not brought them in, but now she knew.  Maybe Willow had tried to tell her, leaving the flowers in that spot.  They had been Spike’s memorial gift.

She raised wide eyes back towards the vampire, ghost of a slight smile making its way across her face unbidden as she listened to his continuing one-sided discussion.  It felt voyeuristic to stand here this way, to hear him pour his heart out, but it was so honest, so stark and unexpectedly tender.  No clichés of grief, no camouflaging of pain, no false assurances that ‘brighter’ was just around the corner; he was acknowledging the loss as the permanent, devastating reality that it was, and she was oddly grateful for the brutal emotional honesty.

“All things taken, though, I’m glad they gave you daylight—deserved the sun on you again.  Was shadow enough that took you… didn’t need a reminder of that after, now did you?”

Spike moved for the first time, dropping to a crouch and surveying the ground.  He looked every inch the hunter, all keen eyes and silent concentration; for a moment, Buffy found herself mimicking the motions of his head, scanning the area around her even though she sensed no other vampire but him.  She looked back towards him, curious as to what he was doing, but had her answer within moments.

“Don’t know that you know where you are, love, or how much of this place you can see, but they found a pretty place for you here—lots of trees, lots of green.  Nice open spot with lots of sky, so you’ll have sun an’ stars in equal measure, too.  An’ it’s safe.  I’m sure Buffy will stop by much as she can, but I’ll be by, too—make sure nobody gets up to any nastiness by you.”

“Why… why would you do that?”  Buffy had spoken before she’d even realized that she wanted to, and the hand that raised momentarily to cover her mouth was far too late to keep Spike from hearing.  She dropped it back to her side, rubbing it unconsciously against her thigh as she stepped out from the cover of shadow the mausoleum had provided.

Spike’s back stiffened, and she felt a pang of self-reproach at having interrupted—whatever it was she had interrupted.  His gaze traveled towards her, wide, startled eyes flashing with anger and shame and something else that looked more like fear than she believed she’d ever seen from him.  She caught her breath as she took in the glistening tracks of what were undeniably tears, the light reflecting from them highlighting the planes and hollows of his face.

“Why would I do what, Slayer?” he asked, voice tight and strained even as he stood with effortless grace, scrubbing his cheeks with one sleeve.

“Why would you come here and look after her…”  She couldn’t say the word ‘grave,’ couldn’t quite bring the sounds required forth out of a mind or a throat that rebelled every time she tried, so she let a small wave of her hand signal the rest of her sentence.

“Told you I’d look after her.”  When she kept her eyes trained on his, he continued, “I know you meant just that day, an’ that anything from me is probably the last thing you want, Buffy.  You won’t ever have to see me—I’ll stay out of your way, let you have your time with her, but…  It just doesn’t seem right to let somethin’ evil happen here.  Not when I could keep it from happening.”  The look he gave her was almost pleading, even as he tried to mask it with an air of nonchalant bravado. The desire, the need behind his words bled through, however, and it was a surprising relief.

“I’d like that… if you would, I mean.”  She watched him relax, heard the long exhale that accompanied the slight rounding of his shoulders, and found herself returning the small smile he gave her.  “It would be nice to know that somebody else…”  Her voice trailed off, and she took a deep breath before rephrasing.  “It might be hard to come here and keep focused, so knowing that somebody’s watching my back…”

“Got it covered,” Spike interrupted, waving away the statement she was having trouble finishing and then tilting his head, looking at her carefully.  “How are you doing with all this?”

She wanted to say something sharp, turn his question on him and point out how ridiculous it was.  That desire, however, warred with the increasingly difficult to deny longing to take advantage of his presence and his willingness to listen, to pour out to him the truth:  that there was no way she could be doing well, that she thought she’d never know ‘happy’ or even ‘content’ again; that she was scared and hurting and felt more alone than she ever had; that she had been tired of being a mom stand-in even before Joyce had died, and now that Joyce was gone and Dawn needed her, she didn’t know if she had anything left to give; that Glory was still there and still a threat and she still didn’t know how to win, and that part of her didn’t even want to try.

She opened her mouth and closed it a handful of times, trying to make something, anything, come out, but all she managed to say was, “I’m dealing.”

“That’s… that’s good, then,” Spike said, nodding briefly and giving her a look that told her plainly that he didn’t believe her, that he saw right through her words but knew she wouldn’t allow him to question further, much less attempt to help.  Brute strength she would accept, however grudgingly, because she was enough of a warrior to know that denying it in times like these was folly; emotional succor, however, was something else entirely.  “Well, I’ll leave you to…” he finished, offering an almost shy half-smile as he started to turn.  “Let you have your time.”

“You don’t have to go,” Buffy said, the words a surprise as they spilled forth; the look on Spike’s face when he swiveled his head towards her left her with the comfortable certainty that at least there was one person more stunned by her words than she.  “You were here first, and…”

“She’s your mum, Buffy,” Spike answered, brows furrowing as he looked at her closely.  “Firsties don’ really come into the equation in a situation like this, you know.”

“I know,” Buffy said, shaking her head.  “I just… I wouldn’t mind if you stayed,” she murmured quietly, praying to herself that he wouldn’t make her spell it out any further, that for once he’d be as insightful as he always seemed and stay without challenging her willingness to accept his presence.

He didn’t disappoint her.

“Alright, then,” he agreed, eyes still wary as he watched her.

She bent her knees, preparing to curl up on the ground at the foot of the grave; putting her hand down to support herself, she was momentarily confused by the distinctly non-grass texture of the surface that met her touch.  Pausing in a crouch and looking up, she saw that Spike was bare-armed; she opened her mouth to protest his oddly gentlemanly gesture, but then changed her mind.  Her lips turned up into a grateful curl of acknowledgement, and she settled herself on his duster.

He waited until she was situated before seating himself, taking a place on the grass, giving her space for which she was grateful.  Long moments ticked by, uncomfortable silence slowly descending; Spike’s eyes shifted anxiously back and forth between Buffy, the headstone, and the grounds beyond, while Buffy kept her own gaze locked on the juncture between marble and grass at the head of her mother’s grave.

The quiet finally grew too loud, and Buffy gave a little cough before speaking.  “You know, this is the second time in a week I’ve been here with a vampire.  I doubt she would’ve ever seen that one coming.”  There was something wry in her tone that even she could hear, and she found herself laughing a bit at the thought, a laugh that turned all too soon to a bitter chuckle.  “Guess it would’ve just been one more thing on the list of what she didn’t see coming.”

Spike turned towards her.  “So Angel came calling, did he?”  The question was spoken mildly, was clearly designed to steer her mind away from the treacherous path towards which her thoughts were wandering, and Buffy nodded in answer, grateful for the intervention.  “She may not’ve seen it coming, but I think she would’ve appreciated it,” he said.  “Him visitin’, bein’ respectful… not much for her to be unhappy about there.”

Buffy gave him a curious sidelong glance, and he must have felt the weight of her eyes heavily enough to prompt the subsequent raising of a questioning eyebrow. In response, she shrugged and shook her head, leaning forward and brushing her fingers through the grass that fringed the hem of the duster.  “You didn’t go all… like you usually do when someone mentions Angel’s existence.  It’s a little weird.”

Spike chuckled a bit, leaning back on his arms.  “S’pose it would be.  Then again, every now an’ then he gets somethin’ right.  It’s rare, of course, so havin’ a century or so to recover in between bouts of havin’ to admit it eases the way.  But yeah—him coming here was the right thing, Buffy.  Was the honorable thing.”

“And then he left again.”  A resigned sigh that she couldn’t contain rounded out the sentence, and she left unspoken the regret that Angel was gone not only for the remainder of her grief, but for what she was all too certain would be the rest of her life.

“Got a mission to get back to, doesn’t he?  Crew of prancing do-gooders to shepherd about on the mean streets, kittens to pull from trees an’ babies to yank from the jaws of demons and the like; that’s his game, pet.  ‘s what he’s signed on for.”

“And there’s the snarkage,” she said, grateful for the bit of humor.  “Only a few minutes past due, too.  I was starting to worry that you’d burst something if you held it in any longer.”

“You, worried about me?  ’m touched, Slayer.”  He looked so exaggeratedly sincere, hand widespread over his heart, eyes wide, smile mischievous; she smiled even as she rolled her eyes and ducked her head to hide her response.

“Don’t get all sentimental.  I just didn’t want to have to pick ooky bits of splodey-Spike off of my shirt,” she replied, and watched out of the corner of her eye as he chuckled, twisting the grass beneath his fingers and never taking his eyes off of her.

Silence descended again, though Buffy noticed that the lapses were growing less and less awkward.  It was strange that she would trust him like this after he’d shackled her to a wall, but she had long since learned how quickly strange became normal in the life of a Slayer.  She leaned back on her elbows and turned closed eyes to the sky, letting the moon pour over her and the silence lull her into something very like peace.

“If it means anything…”  The voice was hesitant, the words far different from his usual brash and unapologetic offerings of the truth as he saw it, and that alone was enough to make her raise her head and look at him closely.  “Doubt it does, but… I can understand why he left.  Why he had to, aside from the obvious.”

The combination of curiosity and amazement that she felt must have shown on her face, because he came as close to blushing as she’d ever seen a vampire get before he continued.

“’m not sayin’ I’d do it, too.  I’m sayin’ that I can see where the great awkward prat is coming from.  Anything emotional with a human is just… ‘s against the way of things.  Can see why he’d bolt.”  And then—uttered under his breath, just loud enough for her to hear and be reassured that he hadn’t been replaced by some sort of cheery impostor—“The ponce.”

“But why?”  The question was barely a whisper, and she wasn’t sure whether she meant for him to either hear or answer; no matter her intentions, however, he did both.

“We’re vampires; you lot aren’t supposed to be anything but food.  Some smarter than others, some better-looking, some faster or stronger or what-not, but at the end of it all, that’s only supposed to mean about as much as the little nutrition labels on your biscuit boxes.  Anything other than the basic… adds flavor, but you’re still just dinner.”  He paused for a second, shaking his head ruefully.  “At least, that’s all you’re supposed to be.”

“But we’re not.”  Her tone was flat, skeptical, and she turned to look at him, gaze expectant.

“Not anymore.”  Spike sighed, sitting up straight and rolling his neck to alleviate the tension in his muscles.  “Thing is, Slayer, bein’ human is something vampires’ve left behind, an’ most of us are right happy about it.  Becoming immortal—it’s all about the gain.  Gain strength.  Speed.  Stamina.  Life without end, assumin’ you’re careful.  But humanity’s all about losin’ those things, at varying rates; humans get sick, they get old, or weak, or slow, or just tired.”

“So we’re, what, less than you because of all those things?” she asked angrily, feeling the blood rush to her face as she grew processed his implications.

“Weaker than, yeah.  You are.”  He brought his hands up defensively as she turned an icy glare on him.  “Just statin’ facts, an’ you can like or dislike as you see fit. Take it up with Darwin, an’ all the others who sussed out theories about food chains and prey and the like.  But the point is, Buffy, all those weaknesses—those are supposed to be things we left behind.  Things we don’t want to remember anymore, feel we shouldn’t have to ‘cause we’re beyond that now.  We’re not meant to watch you suffer, not meant to feel bad when you do.”

“So why do you, then?  Why do you care?”  Furious tears were burning her eyes, but she blinked them back resolutely, steadfastly refusing to look away.

“Best I can do is a theory.”  Spike took a deep breath, blowing it out slowly; for an instant, one hand raised and reached out as though to touch her, but it was quickly yanked back and pressed to the ground as a support.  “Things like chips and souls tie us to you, Buffy; make us safe, make us needy, make us convenient, make us whatever we need to be to bridge the gap just enough.  But that’s not supposed to be—Angel an’ I are aberrations, pet.  We’re not supposed to be with humans like we are, an’ we’re not supposed to care.”  He looked away from her, eyes narrowed as he examined the tree line that edged the cemetery.  “More than anything, watchin’ you lot suffer isn’t supposed to rip old wounds open again, remind us of what we might’ve lost in our bargain.”

“So what you’re saying is that we what, make you fragile by association?”  The hostility was waning as she thought through his explanation, but the sharpness seemed to color her words of its own accord.

Spike’s jaw tensed, but his voice stayed relatively calm as he answered.  “Not quite.  I’m saying you remind us that we always were fragile, pet, an’ that we never left it behind.  Still vulnerable, however different the weaknesses are.  ‘s not somethin’ we like to think on, as a rule.”

“I don’t blame you.”  Buffy laughed bitterly, joylessly, running one hand through her hair and then gesturing at the grave before her.  Fragility and mortality were all too real for her now, more than ever; more than even those instants of water-logged certainty that she couldn’t defy prophecy, that she’d die at the Master’s hands.

“Don’t reckon you do.”

She shifted in her seat, drawing her legs up under her and focusing careful attention on the tearing of blades of grass.  “Dawn tried to bring her back.”

“Did she now?”  His tone and expression were guarded, shielded enough that she could tell he was hiding something.

Buffy started to question him, to ask why he suddenly wouldn’t meet her eyes, but decided that she might be better off not knowing; instead, she nodded in answer to his question and twisted more grass between her fingers.  “She found a spell… some book that Willow had.  She got all the stuff together, and…”

“And?”

“I don’t know.”  Her voice was hollow, lost, even to her own ears, and she curled in further on herself, arms wrapping tightly around her torso as the story poured forth in a rush.  “There was a knock, and I went to the door, but Dawn tore the picture first.  I don’t know who it was, or if it was her, or what happened when the spell was broken…  I don’t know if it was really her that came back and then we sent her someplace horrible, or if it was something horrible that looked like her and it’s good that we didn’t have to see it.  I don’t understand what happened, and I don’t know where she is.”  She sniffled, bringing one hand up and using its coatsleeve to dry her tears.

“Christ, Buffy,” Spike murmured, eyes wide, fingers digging into the earth.  “I’m… I’m sure she’s fine, pet.  Sure she’s happy an’ safe, there in whatever place good mums end up.  Universe wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“How could she do it?”  Bitterness laced the edges of her tone, and the movements of the hand with which she was still ripping at the grass became jerkier with sublimated anger.

“How could she… which she?  Your mother?  She didn’t have a choice, kitten.”

“No.  Dawn.  How could Dawn?  How could she do that?”  Buffy turned blazing, aching eyes to him, searching him for answers she knew he didn’t have.  “It was stupid and reckless and selfish and…”  She put her head in her hands; the tears were pouring freely despite her attempts to dam them back, and she needed to hide the fullness of the pain.  “I wanted it to be her so much.  I didn’t want the picture ripped up, not really—not until I could see her one more time.  And that makes it feel like my fault, too—like I wanted her so much I managed to get her back, and I don’t know what it cost.”

“It wasn’t you, Buffy.  You didn’t do it.  An’ Dawn… she’s hurting, too, an’ scared, and she tried to fix it.  ‘s no different than Red’s little ‘heal my heart’ spell, not really.” He edged closer to her, almost cautiously, and brought his arms to rest on his upraised knees.  “Dawn’s a smart one, Slayer, an’ with something like this—she wouldn’t do it without knowing the risks.  Chancing it anyway… well, havin’ your mum back meant more to her than the dangers.  Can’t say as it’s right or it’s wrong, but…”  He coughed a little, then cleared his throat.  “People have done worse for the sake of a mother’s love, pet.”

“What’s worse than that, Spike?  Ripping her out of her grave and turning her into who-knows-what just because…”  The look on Spike’s face stopped her, and she went still, asking quietly, “There is worse, isn’t there?”

“Story for another time,” he answered abruptly, shrugging tensed shoulders.

She stared at him for a long moment, waiting for him to continue despite his implicit refusal.  When he remained silent, eyes focused on the distance, she whispered softly, “I just don’t want her to be in hell.”

Wide blue eyes tinged with horror met hers, and she had to look away from the storm of emotion therein; there was pain enough of her own to be borne.

“I think… I don’t think it works like that, pet,” Spike whispered, voice tight.  “I don’t know much about it, but I can’t imagine…  I think when whatever weighin’ of the cosmic scales takes place, what happened is based on them that’s gone—who they were, not what was done to them by someone else.  Anything else would be more vengeance than salvation.”

“So you think she’s ok?”  She hated the little girl quality of her voice, hated the vulnerability and the fear, hated that she couldn’t find satisfactory answers in herself, but she couldn’t bring herself to hate Spike for witnessing her weakness.  That was new.

“Think she’s fine, Slayer.  Sure of it.”

“Good.”  She nodded resolutely and then stood slowly, careful to keep her boots off of the duster.  “I should…” she said quietly, tilting her head in the direction of the cemetery gates.  “Dawn’s a million different kinds of grounded, and Willow and Tara have an exam tomorrow and should get some sleep.”

“Which they can’t if they’re playin’ warden,” Spike finished for her.  He moved as if to stand as well, then seemed to change his mind.  “Think I’ll stay here for a bit longer.  It’ll be a few more hours ‘til sunrise is close enough to send the riffraff home for the day.”

“OK.” She stood stiffly, awkwardly for a moment before rocking back on her heels.  “Goodnight, then.”

“Night.”

Buffy turned and took a few steps away, then paused and turned, taking in his profile and the determined set of his shoulders as he resumed his solitary vigil.  What all of this meant, where all of the kindness came from, was a question for another day; she didn’t have the time to try to figure it out now.  What was one more thing she didn’t understand in a world full of them?

“Spike,” she whispered, offering him a soft, grateful smile when he turned his head in her direction.  “The flowers were beautiful.”

A moment of wonder in stunned blue eyes, and then, turning on her heel, there was nothing but the night before her as she began her walk home.

 

Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/49695.html

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