Whispers in a Dead Man’s Ear (5/8) (Part 2)

This entry is part 7 of 10 in the series Whispers in a Dead Man's Ear
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Continuation of Part 5:

Set during Older and Far Away, BtVS.  It takes a lot of work to move from awkward silences to comfortable companionship–just how did Buffy and Spike end up playing cards the morning after her party?

Whispers in a Dead Man’s Ear (5/8) (Part 2)

“Maybe I should give you back your free time,” Buffy said finally, voice brittle with cold and something else, crackling just beneath the surface.

“Never do it. Then you’ll have to spend your time fixin’ yourself instead of coming round askin’ me to tell you nothin’ needs fixing. It’s work you don’t want to do.”

“Fuck you, Spike.”

“With your friends right in there? Guess I was right about that kinky streak after all.”

Spike watched dispassionately as Buffy pulled a fist back; he refused to react, instead cocking a brow and standing steady, unflinching. “Prove me right, Slayer. Show me you’d rather fuck or fight it out than talk.”

Her arm dropped to her side, the fury leaching from her eyes, slowly replaced by horror and disgust. “I can’t… I can’t do this. Not anymore.”

“Finally squeamish then, are we?”

“Yes, Spike. Yes, I’m finally squeamish. I’m sick of having to be what everybody wants, and I’m sick of not being what anybody needs. I’m sick of having to push myself to the edge of everything to feel anything, and I’m sick of being here. In this world. I’m not supposed to be here.”

“Oh, for—” Spike growled, stalking away from her and retrieving out another cigarette. “Not a bloody word about this, Slayer,” he demanded, twirling the cylinder between his fingertips. “Not even a look. We’re goin’ over the same old tune, I get to pick my accompaniment.”

Buffy raised both hands, clearly unwilling to debate the point.  She watched him as he smoked, her expression expectant, until she finally realized that he had no intention of speaking.  Her face shifted slightly, expression becoming pinched, clearly annoyed; she had taken the four long steps to the hallway door before he broke his silence.

“And where are you going?”

“Out there. You know, where all the sound is coming from?” She backed up a step and stared hard at him. “As much as I’d love to stand here all night trading meaningful glances and reading the tobacco leaves for clues to what you’re thinking, I’m starting to hear the siren call of cake and actual conversation.”

“We both know it’s not the talk that you come to me for, pet. Not for long months now.”

“And you expect me to believe what, that you care about that? That you’re bothered by all the sex? You were quick enough with the groping and the comments tonight, Spike.”

“What else will you let me say to you, Buffy? What else gets heard?” Her mouth snapped shut, and he slumped against the counter in faux relaxation, taut musculature and tense posture giving him away. “So you’re breakin’ with precedent, coming to me for conversation. What is it you’d like me to say to you? Want me to tell you I’m sorry that they brought you back? That as much as I’m sure you hate me for it, I can’t really regret that you’re here? That the world is cold and cruel and you got a raw deal, all told?”

Spike shook his head, watching the cigarette burn down, the ash accumulate. “How many times have you heard it all from me, Buffy? Everything I could say that you’d call comfort has been said, an’ it’s not helped, so I’m reachin’ a point of diminishing returns on the repetition. Only thing you haven’t heard, you aren’t going to want to hear, an’ I want to keep it in about as bad as I want to let it out. So for the first time in a very long life, I’m calling discretion the better part of valor.”

“What if I want to hear it?” Her tone was both petulant and defiant, but it fell on deaf ears.

“You can trust me when I say that you don’t. It’s just some of that honesty that you hate.”

“I don’t hate honesty.” Buffy flushed as she looked away from him. “I hate your honesty.”

Spike nodded, rueful smile twisting one corner of his mouth. “Course you do. ’Cause mine doesn’t coddle you. Want a secret, pet? Honesty that doesn’t burn is just half-truths wrapped up in swaddlin’ clothes to make them look like somethin’ you’d want to hold to your bosom. Real honesty does the same; only difference is that it shucks off the blanket an’ sticks a knife in your chest while it’s there.”

“Eww to the visuals.  Only you could turn cuddling imagery into a slasher flick.”

“Call it an esoteric sort of skill.”

Her lips pressed into a thin line.  “Tell me.”

Spike looked away, then turned from her and stubbed out his cigarette against one of the sink’s metal walls.  He looked out the window above it, studiously avoiding her seeking gaze as reflected by the glass and the darkness, and asked instead, “What do you think this last week has been like for me?”

“What?” she asked, shifting uncomfortably.

“Do you think it didn’t drive me halfway to barmy, stayin’ away from you?  Not knowin’ where anything stood, but staying back to give you time and space to try to think it out?  To give me time and space to try to figure just what the hell’s happening here?  Do you think I know any better than you what all this is, what it means? So there I was, waiting for bones to knit and cuts to heal and some sort of bolt from the blue to come and straighten out the rest of this. And all the time, sittin’ in a room that smelled like you and wearing bandages you’d put on me, there was nothing on my mind but you.”  He turned back to face her.  “Spent so damned much time needin’ to see you, knowing and telling myself that staying the hell away is the better plan; god, Buffy, you’re not the only one who’s a slave to this.”

“I’m not a slave to anything.”

“Except lust and your own self-pity.”  At Buffy’s shocked, angry glare, he shrugged.  “’s not like I’m not sayin’ what you tell yourself every time you’re with me, is it?”

“Stop.  Just… stop acting like you know what’s in my head.”

“Don’t I?”

“No.”  The word proclaimed a certainty that was belied by the tremor in her voice.

“Then explain us.  If they all came toddling in here asking what was going on, what would you say?”  Her mouth snapped closed, and Spike shook his head.  “Look, Buffy.  I’ve spent the last week—longer, even—thinkin’ about nothing but this.  I’m not sayin’ I know your mind better than you, though I think sometimes I might.  Think I spend more time in your head than you do, though; that much is certain.”

Color flared in Buffy’s cheeks as her shoulders squared angrily.  “You arrogant—  How can you say that?  I spend all my time thinking.  I can’t stop thinking.  You know that.”

“Don’t doubt that you’re thinking, love, but your head’s not where your time’s being spent.  Not really.”

“Then enlighten me,” came the tightly-spoken demand.

Spike shrugged mock-casually and leaned back against the counter.  “Truth of it is, your head never left your grave.”  He watched as his words registered, as her eyes widened, and then continued.  “It needs to, Buffy.  You’ve been in there long enough.”

Buffy’s mouth worked silently, mouth opening and closing as her hands tensed and released on the counter’s edge.  She looked almost surprised when she began to speak, like she hadn’t thought it possible to push words past whatever barrier they’d met.  “You don’t know what it’s like.  You can’t,” she accused, gaining anger and momentum with each word.  “You wanted to come back when you died.  You just left the grave behind and never looked back, but I can’t do that.  I didn’t get to come back to some sort of shiny new world, where everything was new and I had some better place in it.  It’s the same damned thing for me, Spike, and it’s already killed me twice.  What else is here for me?”

Spike watched her, saw the all-too-rare fire flaring behind her eyes.  “So what about what you told Dawn?  ‘The hardest thing in this world is to live in it’? You tellin’ me you’re not up to that task?”

“I’m telling you that I shouldn’t have to.  I should be done.  I was done.”  Her voice broke, shoulders slumping as she dropped to one of the stools.

Spike had to force himself to hold back, to resist the impulse to reach for her and take her into his arms.  She would have taken the comfort—eagerly so, most likely—but he wasn’t quite done.  Whether he was determined to finish for her sake or for his own, he wasn’t sure.

“What if it wasn’t you that was meant to be done, Buffy?” he asked softly.  “We know it was you as went off the tower, but we both know it didn’t have to be.  Maybe it was Nibblet who was supposed to die all along.”  He shook his head in response to her shocked stare.  “I’m not sayin’ I like the thought, but it’s the truth.  Maybe you going off that tower interfered in her destiny.  She’s a ball of energy got shoved in a child, Slayer.  Maybe half her problem these days is that she feels wrong walking this earth same as you, but more so because she was never meant to.”

“Did you have all these revelations in the hour between Jerry Springer and Passions?” she asked snidely, eyes wounded but expression hard.  “I can’t believe you’re saying… what are you saying?  That Dawn should have died?  I trusted her to you, and now you’re saying this…”

“Had my ‘revelations’ in the three bloody days I couldn’t get near the sodding television because it was up a set of stairs I did well to fall down gettin’ to the bed, and in the four after it when I couldn’t focus on anything else.”  His tone matched hers in latent fury.  “And I’m not sayin’ the Bit should’ve died. Hell, Buffy, if you don’t know anything else about me by now, you know I’d have my heart ripped out before I’d let that happen.  Didn’t have to be Dawn, could’ve been someone else, just as simple.  I tried to save you both an’ only managed one.  Maybe you were both supposed to die, or all three of us, or just me, takin’ a header at the right time but takin’ Doc out with me.  Maybe all this wrong really is my fault—suppose that would make you feel better?  Or maybe we all did wrong, maybe we weren’t supposed to save the world—maybe it was the end’s time to come, and we were too damned egotistical to believe we were meant to sit this one out.”

“So what are you telling me, Spike?  That I died for nothing?”  She blinked back furious tears as she glared at him.  “That’s really shitty comfort.”

Spike growled with frustration, followed his impulses and walked to her, grabbing her by the shoulders.  “I’m not saying anything of the sort, damn it, if you’d just hear me.  You saved the bloody world, Slayer.  You did it, regardless of what was supposed to be or meant to be or the thousands of things we’ll never sodding well know.  And what I’m saying,” he continued, lowering his voice and sliding his hands down her arms, “is that you need to get your head out of the thrice-damned ‘maybe’s and ‘could’ve been’s and ‘should be’s and into the world you gave your blood to save, Buffy.  Regardless of how you wish it, you’re livin’ with all you’ve got, and it’s high time you got back to it.”

“I don’t know what to…”  She wrenched from his grasp and dropped her head into her hands, shoulders trembling under the burden of emotion.  “I don’t know how to…”

Spike said nothing, only placed a tentative hand on her back; when she didn’t shrink or jerk away, he moved his hand in small, comforting circles, unsure as to what else to do.  It was strange that the comfort was no easier to give now than it had been a year before; the thousand kisses and clinches should have taken them to some new level where these touches were automatic, but neither he nor she really knew even now how to console.  All they could do was muddle through, give and take as best they could and hope they somehow stumbled across a median along the way.

He’d said too much; he’d known it as the words tumbled out and had seen it reflected in her eyes, but it was all there between them now.  Try as he might to soften the sting, what happened next was out of his hands; the thought was accompanied by the ruthless ignoring of the voice inside that told him none of this had ever been in his control.

Buffy’s shoulders went rigid, the fingers she’d pushed through her hair growing stiff as her body tensed beneath his hand.  Silently, Spike dropped his arm, stepping back and putting space between them, fisting his hand uselessly and then shoving it into his pocket for lack of a better occupation.  Without a word, Buffy stood and walked to the sink, turning on the faucet and splashing water on her face.  She stared into the window, distant and unfocused eyes slowly gaining clarity.  Spike studied her reflection, watching the change and bracing himself for what was to come.

She looked towards where his reflection should be, the gaze she was directing unerringly towards a form she couldn’t see holding him frozen.  When her voice came, the words were nothing like he’d expected.

“Do you want to play cards?”

“Do I want to what?”  He didn’t know whether to be angry, hurt, or confused; unconsciously, he seemed to have settled for some healthy mix of all three.

“Play cards.  I don’t remember… I can’t remember what you taught me the night of the mummy hand and much liquor.  Maybe you could teach me again?” She turned towards him, twisting her hands in the dishtowel she was holding, clearly anxious.

Spike’s eyes narrowed as he watched her fidget, listened to the hammering heart rate, noted the color suffusing her cheeks.  “Did you not hear a word I said?  What are you playing at, Slayer?  What is this?”

Buffy sighed, setting the dishtowel aside.  “It’s me getting back to it, Spike.  Life as I formerly knew it, which includes time spent in crowded rooms making small talk and being social butterfly Buffy.”

“You mean it’s your chance to go out there and stall until you can come up with some sort of argument as to why things don’t really need to change, why everything is exactly as you think it is an’ Spike’s wrong again.”  Wry humor took some of the harshness from the words they both knew were all too accurate.

Something very close to self-deprecation tipped up the corner of Buffy’s mouth, but the expression was quickly smothered.  “It’s your chance to spend time with me, doing something normal.”

“Like friends?” he asked, hating the hope he could hear in his voice, even as he resigned himself to it.  After everything—fighting and tentative friendship and fucking and each step in between—he still found himself grateful for and clinging to the slightest crumb.  Seemed it wasn’t only Buffy that traveled back a dozen or more feet for every inch of forward progress.

“I don’t play cards with my enemies.”  She frowned for a moment, then amended her statement with a hint of a smile.  “Unless I’m drunk and can simultaneously free kittens.  Then it’s called philanthropy.”

He cocked his head and studied her carefully, sighed inwardly, then chuckled and swept his arm outwards in a gesture of invitation.  “Then hand me a deck, an’ we’ll go.  I’m shufflin’, though.  Sun’s too close to rising to chance fifty-two card pickup, an’ you’ve got the most perpetual case of butterfingers I’ve ever seen.”

“I do not,” she retorted as she walked through the doors into the living room.  “I am nothing but grace and purpose.”

“You’re getting there.”

A soft smile was shared for an instant, and then they rejoined the party, finding a bit of bare floor on which to play at both cards and normalcy.


Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/50478.html

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