Whispers in a Dead Man’s Ear (7/8)

This entry is part 9 of 10 in the series Whispers in a Dead Man's Ear
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And the home stretch looms closer…

Part 7:

Set post-Lies My Parents Told Me, BtVS season 7.  Spike’s dechipped and detriggered, but the secret the First used against him still weighs heavily. Is confession really good for the soul?

 

Whispers in a Dead Man’s Ear (7/8)

Buffy let her hand rest for a long moment against the painted wood she’d just closed upon her Watcher.  A barrier more metaphorical than substantial, really, although the exhaustion that took her as she stared at bruised knuckles and torn skin made her feel as though she’d spent a lifetime building the wall upon which she’d just lain the final brick.

Sighing, she turned and cast her eyes out the window, to the sky that seemed so dark and fathomless lately.  As though even the stars feared what was to come.  It was yet another thing of little comfort on a night that had already seen too many ballasts stripped from her world.  Shaking herself from a moment of reverie she had no real wish to prolong, she crossed to the window, footsteps muffled on thick carpet, thoughts already racing ahead of her motions.

“So what did it?” she asked as she opened the window, addressing her question to the vampire doing his best to further destroy his undead lungs as he sat on the short expanse of roof that conveniently abutted her room.

“What did what?” he asked, voice flat, eyes focused steadfastly in front of him—and away from her.

Buffy could see from the set of his jaw, the tension in his shoulders that he was being purposely obtuse.  On any number of other nights, she would have called him on it, would have relished the verbal sparring that slowly pried his secrets from their closely-guarded hiding place, but tonight was different.  Tonight, resigned after a long evening of fighting enemies both strange and familiar, she simply sighed as she raised one booted foot and eased it out the window.  Her ankle wobbled a bit as she shifted to draw her other leg to join her, and a steel-strong arm shot out to hold her steady, not relinquishing its hold until she had stabilized and moved to sit by him.

“Thanks,” she muttered, flushing with slight embarrassment.  “You know, that used to be so much easier.  I think that’s just the universe’s way of showing me I’m too used to using the front door.”

Spike snorted, a hint of a smile teasing the corner of his mouth, creating a deeper shadow in the developing bruises there.  “Does show a shameful lack of the maintaining of your skills in delinquency.  Shame to see a wild little truant go all domestic,” he agreed, shooting a mildly annoyed frown sideways as Buffy pinched his arm by way of rebuttal.

The silence grew, made affable by the moment of lightheartedness, and for once Buffy made no cracks about secondhand smoke, Spike no rejoinders about the shield of piety that would surely guard her precious self against such dangers.  Instead, they watched the still, blackened sky; watched each other through sidelong glances; took in the eerie stillness of the night and the streets below.

“So are you going to tell me?” Buffy asked finally, encouraged by the almost leisurely pace to which his chainsmoking had slowed and the pensive look on his face.

“Reasons I should?” he asked, turning his head slightly and fixing her with an assessing gaze, eyes carefully guarded.

“Other than the fact that I ran across Sunnydale like hell itself was on my heels—well, more on my heels—to get to you?  Or the fact that I pretty much just sent my Watcher packing from my life, and told him that he had nothing else to teach me?  Or how about how I brought you back here after we figured out The First had gone all super-spy technique on you?  Or…”

“I get it, Buffy.  Please, end the litany,” Spike answered, that slight upwards curve again shaping his lips.  He propped his wrist on his knee, stared quietly at the burning ember until she was certain he’d forgotten that she was even there; just when she was about to speak again, to pry just a little more, he turned his head back to face her.  “What do you want to know?  How thorough a debriefing are you askin’ for, General Buffy?”

She bit her lip before she could blurt “everything,” not because she didn’t want to know, but because it wouldn’t be fair to ask.  How much of what had happened with Giles would she tell him if he asked?  How much of it was she herself still trying to process, would she hold inside until she’d gotten her mind around it?  She’d share it with him—somehow, it seemed impossible for her not to confide in him, especially lately—but for now it was too ravaged a field to be made a shared playground.  Why should she treat what he’d been through any differently?  She’d just been hurt by Giles’ betrayal; Spike had nearly died.

“How about we take it as it comes?” she suggested, scooting her hips forward a bit before easing herself back, lying flat against the shingles and staring up at the sky.  “You tell me what you feel like telling me, and if I really want to know something, I’ll ask.  Otherwise, it’s your story, so however you want to tell it.”

“Lot of latitude you’re giving,” he remarked casually, but there was an air of gratitude in the tone that she heard clearly.

“I trust you.”

Three words, and time stopped.

Spike stared at her, mouth open in a tiny, shocked ‘O,’ eyes lit from within by a wonder she’d only seen one other time; the force of it arrested her breath in her chest, wouldn’t let her look away.  Funny how hard it hit her now, how much better she could appreciate it when she was more than an hour out of her grave, when her hands didn’t ache from the exertion of splitting wood and burrowing through soil.  How different it seemed, looking up at him rather than down; how much more intimate for the fact that it was only the two of them in the space of the moment; how clearly she could see the love there, mingled with shock and still-living hope.  It was a relief to know, after everything that had gone between them, that he could still give her that look, that she could still deserve it.  At a time when her days were filled with desperate, hungry stares, frightened eyes in a sea of faces that wanted nothing from her but answers and direction and decisive action, such naked appreciation was a balm.

Spike flinched and muttered a curse, breaking the moment and thoroughly confusing Buffy in the instant before she noticed him shaking his hand and attempting to surreptitiously blow on his fingers.  It was his muttered “Bloody smokes an’ their lousy sodding timing,” however, that sent her into giggles; waves of them, in fact, that drew her in and wouldn’t release her, leaving her in tears from the sheer extent of the release.  Made cautious by her laughter, Spike cast a wary glance back towards her; seeing no malice there, he allowed the strangely appropriate glee to overtake him as well, his husky chuckle joining the higher pitches of her tinkling laughter.

“Told you those things were no good,” Buffy gasped, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand.  “Almost every night for the last several years, and do you listen? No.”

“Believe your argument was much more about what they were going to do to you than any lastin’ effect they’d have on me.  Don’t recall you ever mentioning partial immolation as a Surgeon General-worthy warning; too busy worried about ‘smelly hair.’”

“Yeah, well… torching yourself was covered under the general disclaimer.  Obviously.”  The smile she gave him was softer this time, less the wide grin of desperately needed and clung-to humor and more an expression that spoke of friendship, camaraderie, and a tenderness born of trials faced together.

“Needed that, did you?” he asked, expression mirroring hers for a few moments, a smile shared until pensiveness began to seep back into him, manifesting in the little lines of strain at the corner of his eyes, the slight tension in the way he held his head.

“Yeah,” Buffy answered quietly, watching as the change overtook him, feeling a twinge she understood all too well—its meaning clear, although she lacked the time to explore it fully with their world the way it was—at the hint of his pain.  Impulsively, she reached over and took his hand, brushing her finger lightly across the already-fading redness of the burns before tentatively branching out her investigation.  She ran gentle, questing fingers and curious eyes over the bruised and split skin of his knuckles, could see traces of much deeper burns than those caused by the cigarette’s brief flaring and knew that they came from the crosses that had lined the walls of Robin’s deathtrap.  Looking up, meeting his eyes, she shook her head softly, neither restraining nor releasing his hand, merely cradling it in hers. “What happened in there, Spike?  What did he do to you?”

“Told you I killed his mum, Buffy… not in front of him, mind, but close enough to count.  Close enough to where I figure as my face has featured in all his bogeyman imaginings through the years.  Once I found out who he was, I figured I owed him at least a few good shots—‘s what a good son would do, yeah?  Avenge his mum?”

“Spike, I saw that room.  He was in it for more than just a few good shots.”

“Think I didn’t figure that out?  Right about the time he decided to play the big nasty’s game and flip my switch.”

“The song,” Buffy interrupted, though her voice was pitched so low that it was clear she hadn’t meant to disturb his story.

Spike gave a terse nod of affirmation, then turned and narrowed his eyes, peered out into the night.  “The part of me that could think… no, that’s not quite right.”  He bit his lip thoughtfully for a moment, rubbed the back of his neck with one battered hand, then took a deep breath and continued.  “The part of me that was still inside, not controlled by anything but me and thinkin’ like I do now, figured that to be the end of me takin’ it easy on him.  Once you come over willing to toss out the rules and throw in with the enemy… there’s a part of you that stays there, doesn’t switch allegiances again when you decide it’s time.  Found that out getting rid of Angelus.”

Buffy said nothing for a moment, waiting for him to continue.  When he instead occupied himself by tapping another cigarette free from the pack, she ventured quietly, “So you’re saying Robin’s not on our side anymore?  That’s he’s with the First now?”

“Not exactly.  Prick’s too self-righteous to saddle all the way up with pure evil; he’s just smug enough to think he can outsmart it, use it an’ then leave it be.  An’ maybe he can—not for me to say.  All ‘m sayin’ is that if he’s on any side from here on out, it’s gonna be his own.”

“Then he’s too unpredictable,” Buffy mused, sitting back up and wrapping her arms around her knees.  “I’m not going to have him around you—us if we can’t be sure he’ll aim his weapons at the right targets.  I have enough to worry about.”

“Which is precisely why you can’t turn away a warrior right now, pet, even if you think he’s suspect.  Watch him like a starvin’ hawk, yeah, but the odds we’re against, we’re gonna need all hands on deck and a few more to spare.”

“OK, so accept the help of the Trojan Ex-Slayer’s Son; just give him a hell of a dental exam first.  Check.”  Buffy sighed, tugging her hair loose from its braid and finger-combing it restlessly.  “And still, I continue to say I have enough to worry about.”

“The minis will all be fine, Slayer.  You’ve got them training every minute they’re awake, and dreamin’ about it when they’re not.  You’ve got your whole crew down there just waitin’ to kick the big ugly again for old time’s sake, and you’ve got—“

“You,” Buffy interrupted.  “I’ve still got you, right?”

“’Til the end of the world.  ‘m not going anywhere, Buffy.”  His voice was low, confident, as steadfast as it had been the night they’d faced Glory.  It was so different than the tone she’d come to know over the last few months, the tentativeness of the soul apparently subsumed into this certainty, shared by both demon and man.

“I’m starting to get that,” Buffy replied quietly, reaching forward and brushing her fingers across the back of his free hand.

Spike turned, looked at her, gave her the slightest, sweetest smile before turning his hand palm-up; the faint smile grew when she entwined her fingers with his and tensed them around his hand.  His eyes widened for an instant before he glanced away from her, looking to their joined hands and staring, mesmerized by the contrast of her lightly-tanned flesh with the nearly luminous pale of his own; biting his lip slightly as his grin grew yet wider, he curved his fingers up to cup her hand as well and turned his eyes back to her.  “’s about time,” he said finally, giving her a mischievous glance.  “Then again, you always were a bit slow when it counted.”

“So what are you saying?  I’m emotionally remedial?” she challenged, but instead of snatching her hand away as she would’ve before, she tightened her grip a bit as she spoke.  It was a difference Spike seemed to note with no small amount of satisfaction, returning the squeeze gently although he responded to her questions with nothing more than an arched eyebrow.  Sighing, she tossed him a wry half-smile.  “OK, OK.  If the seat on the little bus fits…”

Spike’s startled chuckle quickly became a full, rich laugh, and she felt a little thrill run through her as she watched his eyes crease, his cheeks line with happiness and humor rather than the strain that had become so frustratingly customary since his return.  She’d made him smile—a real smile, a real laugh; she’d brought him a moment of escape and peace, and it felt wonderful.  She recalled the way he’d tried to bring a grin to her face after her resurrection, remembered the glee in his eyes when he’d managed, and she felt like she understood him just that little bit more.  Like she was the better for the knowledge.

He held to her hand for long moments after he fell silent, stared down at the juncture of their fingers as though it held some answer he sought, some reserves of strength upon which he needed to draw.  She returned the gentle, beseeching squeeze he gave her and then held her breath as he drew in his to speak.

“His mum wasn’t the only mother I murdered,” he began, voice tight, before ducking his head and shaking it, his neck bowed beneath the weight of something heavier than shame.  “S’pose there were hundreds more besides, really.  Never knew much about those as I killed; they were food, prey, distraction, an’ not much else.  Didn’t try… never even thought about it.  Never cared.”  A humorless chuckle interrupted his words, and Buffy squeezed his hand again, anchoring him.  He gave her a grateful glance, then swallowed hard and continued, “But there was only one other mum besides his…”  Spike’s voice failed him again, but he set his jaw, cleared his throat, and began again.  “There was only one other in all these years that ever really counted.”

“Yours.”  Buffy’s realization came all in a whisper, and she felt his fingers loosen as he prepared himself for what she was certain he deemed her inevitable withdrawal.  She bit back the thousand questions, pushed their energies instead into action, and reached for their now only loosely-entwined fingers with her free hand, bending and shaping his hand back into position around hers.  “Tell me about her, Spike?”

No withdrawal, no derision, no demand, but a request so gently, sincerely phrased that she knew he would answer, could see him measuring his words already.

“She was… my mum, Buffy,” he began simply, and he felt more than saw her nod in understanding.  “Center of my bloody world, she was, an’ likely the only person I knew who even wanted to be around me.”  He blew out a shaky breath, realizing that he was dancing along the edges of revealing himself fully to her, of stripping down the last vestiges of the shields he’d kept around himself for over a century.  His eyes flickered closed against the dark night as he let his protections go, and then he resumed speaking.  “Don’ know what my life would’ve been without her in it—was miserable enough with her there, but if… when she was gone, it would’ve been hell.”

Buffy heard what he left unspoken, the harsh, unyielding knowledge that lay beneath the words.  How many nights, alone in the house and miles from her mother’s hospital room, had the voices in her own head echoed that same quiet resignation, that slight-yet-haunting air of the battle cry of a warrior with no enemy to fight? “What was wrong with her?”

Spike looked at her, surprised, then nodded at the recognition in her eyes.  “Consumption was what we called it; ‘s tuberculosis now, when it turns up.  No cure for it… just had to watch her gasp away her life one cough at a time, watch all her handkerchiefs turn red from white, an’ her face get pale, an’ her hands tremble…”

She nodded slowly, eyes still carefully trained on his face.

“When Dru… when I woke up, I’d just… I’d never felt anything the likes of it.  Every weak spot stronger, hardly weak at all; strengths still there, too, but more.  Every wrong of nature righted.”  There was a hushed, reverent tone to his voice.

“You thought it would help.”  It wasn’t a question; everything he had done was perfectly clear from his tone, though he hadn’t yet found the words to tell her.

Spike chuckled bitterly, biting his lip and giving a short, frustrated nod.  “Thought it’d be better, be more than the stellar amount of nothin’ I’d been able to do up until then.  Had to be, yeah?  Not impotent, ineffectual little William any longer, after all.”

Buffy didn’t know what to say, what to think; when he’d reappeared with his soul intact, she hadn’t had any idea what to expect from him, had been more than slightly shamed by her inability to fathom what sort of mortal Spike had been and by what that said about how little she’d really known him.  She had stayed away for any number of reasons, but chief among them was the fact that she had had no way of knowing how to help, how to speak to him, when she wasn’t even sure who he had become.  As she’d let him back into her life, started spending more time with and getting to know him, she found herself looking backwards at their shared past; through the lens provided by this new person, this man who had initially seemed a stranger behind a hauntingly familiar face, she found so many hints of a far-softer spirit lurking beneath the façade he’d maintained for so long.  What she found, beneath those walls, was a native spirit the antithesis of the one in which he’d led her to believe during his meandering tales of the bad old days; despite his past attempts at revisionism, however, she felt that she had been slowly getting closer to the truth.  Now she had proof of her suspicions, from his own mouth, but was paralyzed to investigate them further; rather, she found herself locked in his pain, sharing the ache that had become an almost-tangible third party to their conversation.

“I—Is she still…?” Buffy asked finally, haltingly, when it became clear that Spike was at a loss as to how to continue, and was seemingly on the verge of lost to his past as well.

“I killed her, Buffy.  Dead, an’ then deader.  Gone twice over, in the space of a blink.”  The brutal truth was clear, unflinching in his gaze as he turned glassy, desperate eyes to her, allowing her inside the deepest of his secrets.

“Oh,” she murmured ineffectually, feeling the sands shifting, transforming, becoming less mutable beneath them as she accepted his silent offer and allowed him to guide her through the deepest recesses of his soul; of his mind; of the heart that shouldn’t have been burdened with the pain and guilt it had borne for so many long years, not if what she’d always believed of his nature was true.  Her mouth worked silently as she tried to measure her next words, but what she said wasn’t at all what she’d expected.  “But… why?”  The question came not from a demon hunter of legendary renown, but from deep in the heart of a girl still acutely mourning the all-too-sudden loss of her own mother.

Spike bit his lip and shook his head sharply.  “Don’t know… well, didn’t.  For the longest time, years an’ years since then.”  He drew a tremulous breath, dropped his eyes back to their hands and then looked back out into the darkened night.  “Wasn’t her.  No—was an’ wasn’t.  Had her memories, but carved them all so sharp that every one was more a killin’ blow than any stake.  Tried to rip me apart from the inside out, tear me—tear William—down even further, make him mindless, break him.  But nowhere in any of those words—not the memories, or the threats, or any of the rest of it—was any sign that she was really still my mum.  Wasn’t in her eyes anymore… no love there.  Nothin’ but scorn and pity and hate, an’ I couldn’t see that look in those eyes forever, Buffy.”  Spike’s voice became strained, imbued with his grief, and his shoulders slumped further under the weight of his revelations.  “She came at me, sayin’ things I can still hear in my head when I close my eyes, an’ I just… She’d become a perversion, and I realized that she wouldn’t’ve wanted that, that she would’ve been horrified at the thought of what she was, an’ I…”  He let the implication hang heavy in the silence.

“That was what you didn’t tell me—that night in the cemetery…”  The haunted cast to his eyes, the tension in his posture were too familiar, too reminiscent, and she knew that she was right well before he’d even acknowledged that she had spoken.

“What now?”  His eyes met hers, gaze sharp and pain-filled, and she had to force herself not to look away, not to cower from the wealth of emotion there.

“The night that I found you at Mom’s…”  They both let the word ‘grave’ hang unspoken for a long moment, Buffy clearing her throat before continuing.  “The night we talked about what Dawn almost did about her—with her.  That’s what you meant by worse things.  You almost told me about your mom.”

“S’pose I did,” he agreed, gaze still assessing, voice carefully noncommittal.

“What stopped you?” she asked, voice soft.

He gave another short burst of joyless laughter, ducking his head and bringing his free hand to the tensed musculature of his neck and rubbing absently, the gesture seemingly more one of comfort than of anything therapeutic.  “Didn’t know how to tell you, Buffy.  Didn’t know as you’d believe me, or that you’d understand even if you did.”  His thumb stroked absently over the back of her hand, random patterns that served to confirm her presence there with him.  “I didn’t… didn’t want to seem any more of a monster in your eyes than I already was,” he confessed quietly.

“And now?”

“Now, don’t figure there’s much monstrous you haven’t seen out of me.  Nothin’ left to hide, really.  Not after…” He gestured towards the house vaguely with his free hand before dropping it and rubbing absently at his thigh.  “Not anymore.”

The only sound was Buffy’s carefully measured breathing, the slight breeze blowing through the tree limbs so near them.  Finally, her voice broke the stillness.  “This doesn’t make you a monster to me, Spike,” she began carefully, edging closer to him, closing the small distance and stopping only when they were hip to hip.

Spike gave a choked, disbelieving sound, something between laughter and a sob.  “How could it not?”

“It just doesn’t.”  Buffy’s tone brooked no argument, and his mouth closed as quickly as it had opened.  “I don’t… I can’t say that I understand completely, Spike, but I don’t think that you do, either.  But I do remember how it felt to sit there and see Mom… see her so weak, and so sick.  It hurt, Spike, and the doctors were giving us hope.  There was supposed to be a happy ending.  If there wasn’t… if I’d known what would happen, and could’ve done anything about it…”  She drew in a shuddery breath, blew it out slowly, giving him a small smile as she did so.  “You were a man who did the best he could to help his mother, even if you didn’t really understand what forces you were playing with, what it was you were doing… you just tried, Spike, and that doesn’t make you a monster.”

“What does it make me, then?” he asked, facing determinedly away, eyes fixed forward but glistening with unshed tears.

Buffy tilted her head, rested it against his shoulder as she stroked her free hand along his cheek.  “That you tried, and made a mistake?  Spike… I think that just makes you human.”

She felt the vibrations caused by the strangled sob before she heard it and leaned back onto the roof, drawing Spike back with her.  They lay there quietly, a tableau of solace sought and given until the sun teased the horizon, Buffy murmuring nonsense sounds of comfort and holding him as he clung to her, as he mourned, releasing more than a century of guilt, grief, and pain.

 

ETA: Part 8 will now be posted on the evening of Sunday, 12/4 (EST) in my journal, amybnnyc; I hope to see you there. My sincerest apologies for the delay.

ETA Round 2: Part 8 is now posted on my personal journal (amybnnyc) in two sections (due to length constraints). Part 1 can be found here; part 2 is linked at the bottom of part 1. Thank you.

Thank you so much for all of the lovely feedback–I’m so glad that you’re enjoying, and I’ll respond to comments as soon as eight’s ready to go.

 

Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/50970.html

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