|The Writing on the Wall
Author: Holly4 PM
Spike embarks on a journey through the Gates of Hell to rescue the one he loves, but in order to save her, he must risk losing himself.Rated: Fiction M - English - Drama/Angst - Spike & Buffy S. - Chapters: 36 - Words: 143,342 - Reviews: 423 - Favs: 250 - Follows: 97 - Updated: 06-06-10 - Published: 10-05-08 - Status: Complete - id: 4578665
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Author's Note: Well, here it is. The final chapter.
Thank you so much to everyone who has kept with me the past two years during the long breaks, the writer's block stint, my personal upheavals, and my affinity for cliffhangers. I've had a fantastic time with this and as hard as it is to say goodbye, I have my Seasonal Spuffy story to keep me company.
Thank you to my betas: megan_peta, just_sue, dampersnspoons, dusty273, okdeanna, spikeslovebite, therealmccoy1, and elizabuffy. You all have been fantastic. Thank you for sticking with me.
So here it is. Enjoy!
He felt her anxiety as though it were his own—felt the desperate, restless rush of her pulse as her heart began thundering at a speed that seemed damn near unhealthy for a girl of her size. It was one of those uncomfortable scenarios in which he didn't know whether or not breaking the silence with conversation would relieve or worsen the tension, and he didn't particularly feel like running the risk.
It didn't matter the next second, for Buffy snatched the decision from him and made it her own. "I remember a blanket."
"You. And a blanket. And fire. Sometimes—well, most of the time—with yelling."
Spike smothered a grin. "Yeah," he said. "All about making an entrance, see."
"A charbroiled entrance?"
"Took you by surprise, didn't it?"
Buffy nodded and reached for his hand, which he granted with giddy eagerness that made him feel nervous and love-struck. Every step they took toward the Magic Box felt like a ticking clock, signaling the tightening of a familiar noose. A little distraction right now might go a long way.
"I'm sure it took me by surprise the first time, and maybe the second if you were lucky."
"Watch the pride, love. Like I said, all about making an entrance."
"So that's the reason you chose the blanket and fire route. Because if you also have the whole town's sewer line mapped out, it seems like an unnecessary risk."
Spike shrugged a shoulder. "Look who you're asking, pet. Life's too short to play it safe."
"Not for you."
He tossed her a quick glance. "No, suppose not."
"And not for me, either."
His throat tightened. "Well, to be fair, we didn't know that till recently."
"Maybe not you. I've had it pegged for a while." Buffy blew out a deep breath and squeezed his hand hard enough to hurt, but he didn't flinch. He squeezed back and waited. A few seconds slid by before she spoke again. "It's kind of something you notice after forty years. I can remember now standing in front of a mirror…maybe the one at that one building…with the shower?"
Spike nodded and released a shaky sigh.
"Though it was probably another. I went into every building there about a thousand times, I think. Just looking…and hoping. But I'd stand in front of a mirror and look at myself, and while I knew I looked different, I also knew I wasn't getting any older on the outside." Buffy grinned, but there was noticeably no feeling behind it. "It was probably around my hundredth birthday when I realized I wasn't going to die."
"Good news for me, though," he offered, his voice choked. "Get you all to myself for a long bloody time, don't I?"
Buffy leaned her head against his shoulder and stroked his arm with her free hand. The move was so tender and familiar it nearly surprised him, but then there was so much of that between them now. And he truly doubted she would ever stop surprising him.
"Here it is, pet," Spike said, pulling her to a halt under the familiar sewer cover that led to the Magic Box basement. "Stop number one."
"Here?" she asked, her voice going up an octave. "You're sure? There are loads of other—"
Her shoulders fell. "Well, on the plus side, they might not be here."
"Way to think positively." Spike smiled and stole a soft kiss off her lips. Focusing on calming her down was a nice little distraction from his own apprehension. "I'm right with you. You know that."
"I do. And…" She bit her lower lip. "I'm with you, too."
"I hope so."
He kissed her brow, then her lips again. "I love you."
"I know you know." Spike raised his eyes to the sewer cap and smiled. "Right then. Ladies first."
He knew it was the right place even before he heard their voices, and Christ, that was a bloody strange sensation. Beyond walking through the streets of a place he'd all but forgotten, beyond showering in Buffy's home, even beyond waking up in her bed, hearing people he hadn't heard in three centuries took the cake. He hadn't spoken with anyone who wasn't a demented guardian, the girl at his side, or a figment of his imagination since first seizing the rope that would lead him into Hell. Now he stood just a few feet from people—real people—and for the life of him, he couldn't figure out how to proceed.
And then a scent he hadn't anticipated tickled his nostrils and he nearly stumbled in shock.
"Bloody fucking hell."
"What?" Buffy mouthed.
Spike's jaw tightened but he ignored her. Instead, he peeked around the corner and spied the lot of them sitting around the tables grouped in the back. They popped out like creatures in a picture book, crisp and clear and more real than even he had anticipated. Willow was standing beside a chalkboard, a pointer stick in her hand. Giles, Xander, Anya, and Tara around one table, and Angel and a dark-haired woman at another. On the board in inelegant writing were the words, "Rule of Three."
"All right," Willow was saying. "So…well, we've effectively proven that you really can't write the rules down. Not in this dimension, anyway."
"Something I've only been saying for the past week," Anya mused, her tone bored. "No one here ever listens to me. Why is that?"
"But we've also managed to do a bit more research on one of the rules." The redhead turned to Angel. "That one about promises. I've looked in every book I could get my hands on since we sent Spike into Hell, and the only thing I've been able to find is that promises made to a creature of the underworld are—"
"Binding contracts," Angel said. "Yeah. Two years dealing with Wolfram and Hart have pretty much drilled that one in."
Giles cleared his throat. "We were concerned for the first day or so that Spike might…make promises to Buffy should he find her."
Angel's expression darkened and his mouth formed a tight line. "I doubt that's something anyone could resist, given the circumstances." His eyes darted between Willow and Giles. "So promises are all right, so long as they're not made to something evil."
The redhead shrugged. "Well, I'm not saying go promise-crazy or anything, but I'd focus less on that and more on the not accepting of things that are offered and not forgetting your name."
Buffy squeezed his hand, drawing Spike's attention from the meeting and back to her. She looked less anxious now and more confused, though there were sparks of ire within those green eyes, as well. He hadn't realized until that second just how annoyed he was until she coaxed a grin out of him.
"Now or never?" she mouthed.
"Want to run for it?" he mouthed back.
She pretended to think before nodding. Then, firing him a brave grin, cleared her throat and rounded the corner.
"What's this?" she said conversationally. "Giving up on the first search team already?"
It was likely the strangest thing he'd ever witnessed, and in his time, that was definitely saying something. Several seconds elapsed between the words livening up the air and making their target, as though Buffy were invisible or trying to communicate through a sheet of plate glass. Willow nearly jumped out of her skin, frowned, blinked, and took a step forward as though sure her eyes would reveal themselves to be frauds. Angel turned toward them with calm precision that betrayed just how surprised he was, and the rest of the Scoobies were on their feet in half a second, tearing up the floor between them with the energy of a small army.
"Oh, my God, Buffy!"
"How did you…how are you here?"
"You look so—"
Buffy's hands came up and Spike felt her heart jump from racing to downright thunderous. "Hey, guys, can you please—"
They paraded right over her. It would have been funny were it not so predictable.
"Buffy, your hair…"
"You're so skinny."
"I don't get it. How are you—"
"Spike?" Buffy called, her voice nervous again. She wanted him, and he was there in a heartbeat.
He truly had no concept of how often he'd played this scenario over in his head until he stepped into the open. And there they were—the people whose faces had once blurred into a collage of mismatched colors and shapes. The Scoobies stared at him and he stared back. There were visible signs of surprise, but not the sort he would expect. They blinked dumbly as though trying to place him, then once remembering, seemed surprised he'd been gone at all. It took a few long seconds before true and solid comprehension set in—before the appearance of Buffy connected with his own return. Eyes traveled to his hair before making their way to his selection of clothing featuring Hank Summers's greatest hits. Spike let them stare; only a few days had passed for them, and he understood they wouldn't be on his page immediately. They wouldn't get it—they couldn't, and he granted that.
Spike met Buffy's eyes, though, and shrugged off her friends' scrutiny with careless ease. "Give the girl some breathing room, why don't you?"
"Spike?" Willow asked at last.
"Yeah, that's the name, Red. You know the rest." His gaze wandered reluctantly to Angel. "Why's he here? Need a consultant on the welcoming party?"
At that, the Scoobies exchanged semi-guilty but mostly flustered looks, which both satisfied his need to rub their faces in their doubts and infuriate the part of him that had always known the doubts existed in the first place. Determining the reason behind Angel's presence wasn't difficult, even without having overheard the meeting they'd interrupted. Still, Spike needed to hear it. He needed to hear, standing where he stood and after going to the end of the world and back, that they hadn't thought he had the stones to live up to his word. That they thought his feelings for Buffy—while real for him—didn't have the staying power of his soul-stuffed grandsire. He needed to hear it, knowing it'd do little more than piss him off.
"We, um, had a meeting last night," Tara said, her eyes glued to the floor. "A-and we decided…"
"Well, you see, Angel had already done the whole Hell thing once," Willow reasoned.
"We were concerned with the amount of time it was taking," Giles said calmly, though his cheeks were a bit pink. "We hadn't heard from you—"
Spike snorted. "Funny thing about Hell. They don't have a payphone."
"Oh," Buffy mused, her eyes drifting back to Angel. "Okay. So you're here…because of me." She turned to Spike, shaking her head. "I thought I was losing it again. I could've sworn he'd moved away."
He smiled in spite of himself. "He did, love. Seems they called in dear ole daddy because yours truly wasn't getting the job done."
"What?" At that, her gaze grew wide and damn near accusatory. She whipped her head back to her friends. "How long has it been?"
They exchanged another series of uncomfortable glances. "Since you jumped?" Xander asked.
"No, since Spike—"
"Three days," the unfamiliar brunette offered, nodding at the witches. There was something familiar about her voice, but Spike couldn't quite peg it. "That's what they told us when they showed up."
"This is day four, to be fair," Willow muttered, thoroughly flushed.
Buffy blinked and stumbled back against Spike's chest. "Three days?"
"They were three very long days," Xander said. "It was just us waiting on word, and—"
Spike honestly didn't know how he lasted as long as he did. One second he was holding on to some semblance of control, and the next he'd completely cracked. A burst of laughter bubbled off his lips, manic and shrill, and before he knew it he was bracing his knees and cackling so hard his chest ached and his ears rang. He laughed until his throat hurt, until tears stung his eyes and his sides whined for relief. He wasn't the only one laughing; Buffy had collapsed against him, giggling with the same sort of insane despair he used to hear from Dru, only there was no humor in her. It was laughter for the sake of laughter, for if they didn't find the situation hilarious, they'd likely scream and throw things.
Perhaps he couldn't stop laughing because he knew it wasn't funny, or because he knew the Scoobies didn't get it. Every time he tried to seize control of himself, he'd glance up to their dumbfounded faces and cave in again. It was a battle he couldn't win.
"I think Buffy might need help," the brunette muttered to Angel.
"Three whole days?" Buffy demanded at last, standing up straight and wiping tears from her eyes. "Yeah, that…umm…that's rough. That's just…wow, waiting. For three days."
Willow looked wounded, as did Xander and Giles. "We were worried!" the redhead exclaimed.
"You don't know what it was like here!" Xander argued.
"I told them you had it under control," Anya said irritably.
Buffy ignored her, focusing instead on Harris. She had on one of her 'if looks could vaporize' expressions—one of which Spike had so often been on the receiving end. "We don't know what it was like?"
Angel took a diplomatic step forward. "Buffy—"
"It took three hundred years for Spike to make it to my world," she said. "Three hundred years! And then we were there for…how long?"
Several seconds passed before Spike realized the question was aimed at him. "A few days, maybe," he said. His thoughts tugged him back to the alley where he'd first cornered her, at the image of a terrified Buffy clawing at the wall and trembling at the sight of someone else in her abandoned city. His chest tightened and he swallowed. "Seemed longer."
Buffy nodded solemnly and reached for his hand. "A lot longer," she said.
"Three hundred years?" Giles asked, his voice shaken. "You were…alone…for three hundred years?"
Spike watched as his lady's expression softened and her defenses began to fall. The hand holding his, however, refused to let go. "It was…ahhh…" Buffy licked her lips, at once seemingly very aware of herself. "I…"
"Longer," Angel supplied softly. "It was longer for you, wasn't it?"
She nodded and pressed herself more firmly against Spike's chest. "Yeah," she said. "It was."
"I'm sorry, Buff," Xander said. "We didn't mean to…"
"We just wanted to get you back," Willow agreed. "It must've been…I can't imagine."
"You don't want to," Spike volunteered, eyeing the brunette again. "Saw your special meeting, by the way. Buffy's guardian decided to give me a peek on the last day. Knew the cavalry'd be coming soon. Or figured it. So you phoned up Angel and—"
"We drove," Tara said. "Willow and I. Last night."
"It wasn't the sort of thing you ask over the phone," Willow explained. "They were settling in this new girl they pulled from another dimension and then Cordy got a vision—"
Comprehension dawned and several puzzle pieces made their lazy way to the surface.
Apparently, Buffy experienced her own eureka minute. Her widened eyes landed on the girl next to Angel, and she'd exclaimed, "Cordelia!" before she could stop herself.
The brunette blinked. "Yeah?"
"Sorry," Buffy offered self-consciously. "I was having trouble…my memories are a bit on the shaky side."
Spike shrugged. "I knew she looked familiar."
"Gee, thanks," Cordelia noted with a frown.
Willow smiled awkwardly. "She gets visions now," she said. "And she had a vision about a big nasty demon guy and…well, Buffy. And this cave-like—"
"Larry," Spike murmured. "Guess she saw the boy chuffing it."
The redhead looked confused but nodded all the same. "We thought since she had a vision of, well…that demon thing, she might have better insight into what Buffy was going through."
"Sounds like she caught the end of the show and missed the good bits."
Xander cleared his throat. "Who's Larry?"
"Guardian type. The one who set up the hoops I had to jump through to make it to her dimension."
There was nothing for a long, uncomfortable minute. It seemed no one knew what to say.
Then Giles stepped forward, his eyes heavy with a sort of paternal emotion Spike had never once experienced. Still, the look was unmistakable—for all that was said and remained yet to be said, nothing could eradicate the soundness of the moment. He supposed it was shattering for them, too. For the whole bloody gang—the reality of what came with the thing they'd wanted so much. Buffy stood at arm's distance, but she wasn't the same girl they'd known. There really had never been a chance of getting that girl back. No one could experience Hell and emerge unchanged.
It would take understanding, patience, and time.
"Buffy," Giles said softly. "Are you…is it really…"
Perhaps he didn't want to know the answer, or perhaps he couldn't bear the need to ask; either way, his voice broke off just in time for Buffy to inhale sharply and launch herself into her surrogate father's arms. And just like that, everything came crashing down. Defenses fell and tears began to pour. The watcher held his slayer for a long time before turning her to Willow, then Xander, Tara, even Anya briefly, Cordelia, and finally Angel. They hugged it out, crying and sputtering words that felt cliché but right somehow—like the sopping end of some family sitcom where the big misunderstanding resulted in a life lesson learned well.
Buffy hugged her friends and wept, and he watched. He watched her smile and cry, watched as the people who loved her almost as much as he did surrounded her, took her into their arms and sobbed into her hair.
His girl was home. He'd brought her home. He'd brought her back where she belonged.
When Buffy looked at him, he read a thousand things in her eyes—things she wanted to tell him. Things she wanted to express. Yet there weren't words enough for this, and he knew that. So he stood and watched, and warmed with the knowledge he'd given her back to herself.
They didn't want to leave her, not even to collect Dawn. It seemed they thought she would vanish if they took their eyes off her. However, the concerned parent in Giles eventually prevailed over selfish worry, and he broke himself away from the group long enough to give Janice's house a ring to let them know he was on his way to pick up the overnight guest. And though he didn't tell the girl why it was necessary to call her sleepover to an end, the giddiness in his voice likely did the trick.
Spike had taken a seat on the stairs that led to the restricted, personal-use books Giles kept on hand. Buffy sat just a few feet away at a table with Willow, Tara, Xander, and Anya. Angel hadn't said much since the group hug, though the look in the elder vampire's eyes forewarned he wanted to give Spike a talking-to before he and the cheerleader took off for Los Angeles.
Once the watcher was gone, Willow broke away from the group and made her way toward him, her eyes filled with a mixture of happiness and contrition. "Hey," she said.
"I just wanted to…ummm…"
His brows perked. "Thank me?"
"I guess those are the words I'm looking for, yes." She reddened, then held up a finger. "Just a sec, I need to go get something."
Spike had honestly forgotten how quick people moved here. He'd gotten used to walking lonely streets with Buffy, running after her, hunting boars, and chasing down whispers that had no voice or form. Real people, however…people without a predisposition to superpowers and the like, he'd completely forgotten how fast they were. How fast the world moved when he lived in it. He'd grown accustomed to time dragging out every second. Speed was something foreign—something he'd have to get to know all over again.
Just as quickly as she disappeared, Willow turned up again, a worn leather coat in her arms. "We had this in the training room," she said. "Just in case, you know. We weren't going to give it to Dawn unless we knew for sure you weren't coming back."
He blinked stupidly. "What…"
"Your duster. You took it off before you left? You said Dawn could…" Willow frowned. "You don't remember your duster?"
Spike inhaled sharply and shook his head. "'Course I remember my duster. Just been a while since I had it on, is all." He reached for it and she dropped it lovingly into his arms. Soft leather smelling of booze and smoke kissed his skin. He'd truly thought he'd never see it again.
"I don't know what happened," Willow said, jarring his attention back to her. "But I know it was bad."
Spike's mouth tugged into a grin, his mind flashing him back. "Heard that before."
"And I don't know if Buffy's gonna want to tell us anytime soon, but thank you. For the record, I always knew you could do it."
His eyes narrowed at her. Willow wiggled appropriately.
"I did," she insisted. "Getting Angel was so not my idea. Xander was just with the extra wiggins and worried about Buffy."
Spike nodded. "I get that," he said. And he meant it.
Even if he resented the shit out of it.
Whatever the redhead wanted to say next was stolen off her lips by the timely chirp of the shop's bell. All chatter fell silent. Dawn stood in the doorway.
Her eyes found Buffy. Buffy rose from her seat.
"Oh, God," she murmured.
It was impossible to tell who moved first. In seconds, they were in each other's arms, crying and hugging and babbling a million things between sobs that no human being could possibly decipher, but they seemed to understand each other. And though he'd granted this honor to a million things of lesser significance since climbing to freedom, watching Buffy break down in her sister's embrace was worth any trial he had to suffer. These were girls who shouldn't be apart, girls who bickered and fought hard, but cried and loved harder.
"Don't do that again," Dawn blubbered. "Never do that again."
Spike slipped on his duster. It felt bigger than he remembered.
When Dawn spied him over Buffy's shoulder, she blinked in surprise but quickly motioned for him to join them. The part of his heart that belonged to the Summers' women twisted.
"You brought her back," Dawn said, sobbing, and launched him into a bear hug the second he was within range. "Thank you, thank you for bringing her back."
Buffy smiled a watery smile and met his eyes.
She looked more like herself right now than she ever had.
The second the sun dipped below the horizon, Spike stepped onto the curb in front of the shop, shoved his hands into his duster pockets and sighed.
Long bloody day. Fucking surreal day. He kept expecting to blink and find himself somewhere else, but the reality remained the world wasn't going to change. He'd been back on solid ground for nearly twenty-four hours now, though it seemed years had passed since waking up in Buffy's bed that morning. He hadn't had a chance to take her aside or ask how she felt—ask any of the burning questions lodged in his throat. It wasn't fair, he knew, but he needed to know where he was sleeping tonight. He needed to know she was all right—that the fear she'd expressed before had truly abated, for he didn't want to step too far away in case she needed him.
However, judging by the hugs and tears, she was handling it just fine. Finer than fine.
Spike's hands curled around a familiar carton in his pocket. "Well, hello," he said, drawing out the half pack of fags he must have had on him before shedding the coat at the Hellmouth. His other pocket revealed a pack of motel room matches. Seemed about right. He remembered having a lighter on him at one point over his journey, but figured it was rusted and useless. Three hundred years did a lot on a cheap piece of plastic.
He wedged a cigarette between his lips and lit up. It tasted funny. Familiar, yes, but not in the way he remembered. Perhaps he'd left his affinity for smokes in the underworld with his lighter.
Then again, an eternity was a long time to rediscover an old habit.
Spike finished off his cigarette and chucked the butt to the ground. Yeah, this felt familiar too. The next twenty years would likely be spent dissecting a series of moments lost in déjà vu. Every little thing would remind him of something he'd experienced in the underworld. And this—the silence, the solitude—would remain, as well.
The door behind him flew open and shut again.
"Couldn't wait, could you?" Spike asked.
"I guess not," Angel replied, stopping at Spike's side. They didn't look at each other.
"This where you threaten to send me back to Hell if I sully her virtue?"
"'Cause, mate, gotta tell you—"
"I saw the bite mark, Spike."
"Mmm hmm." He kicked idly at the curb. "So that's it, then? You're just gonna—"
"I forgot how quick you were to jump to conclusions."
"And I forgot how much of a wanker you are. Or no…I guess I just wish I had."
Angel huffed a laugh and slid his hands into his pockets. "She told us," he said. "Well, as much as I think she could. She told us about you. About what happened."
Spike tossed him a glance, but it was brief. "Just now?"
"Yeah. I think she was waiting for you to make yourself scarce. Something about not wanting you to feel self-conscious." He paused. "And here the Spike I remember seemed to love the attention."
"Things change. You oughta know."
"I do know. I just never thought I'd hear you say those words and mean them."
"Neither did I, I guess. Not until her."
Angel nodded. "Xander told me it was last year. You started following her…chained her up and offered to kill Dru to prove you loved her."
"Doesn't sound nearly as romantic when you say it like that." Spike smiled a thin smile. "It wasn't until after, I don't think. Christ knows it's all jumbled. I remember most everything, except a few blurry details here and there. I know it started as infatuation or what all…but it became…"
"I know what it became."
He snorted. "Do you, now?"
"You don't let yourself starve for three centuries out of infatuation." Angel sighed and turned to face him at last. "Look, I didn't come out here to pick a fight, whatever you might think. And for what it's worth, I told Willow that if you'd gone after her, you wouldn't stop unless you were dead."
Spike felt a pang of shock but didn't let it show. "Yeah?"
"You're annoying like that. Persistent."
"Thanks ever so."
"I also know how obnoxious you are when you're in love."
"Stop it, Pops, I'm blushing."
"And I know she loves you."
Spike froze and swallowed hard. "Well," he said slowly. "Try not to look too glum. She hasn't confirmed it one way or another. Little promise we had. There's a good chance it could be gratitude."
"No, there's not. I know gratitude, Spike. I also know the way Buffy gets when she's in love. All day today she kept shooting little glances your way—the same ones she used to give me…only they were different." Angel glanced away as though the words in his throat were choking him. "They weren't a teenager's. It was…it was real."
At that moment, it seemed just as likely that instead of making it back to the world in which they belonged, Spike had instead led Buffy into a parallel universe filled with people who looked and sounded like the friends she'd had and the people she'd cared about. Not once in his three hundred years of waiting, in the many apparitions that visited his prison had Spike played out a scenario in which he succeeded in stealing Buffy's heart and wasn't staked for the crime.
"Not saying I approve," Angel said quickly. "Just for clarity's sake."
Spike nodded. "Of course."
Things fell silent between them, but oddly, it wasn't awkward or uncomfortable. It was just quiet.
Then the shop door opened again. Giles and Xander piled onto the sidewalk, each looking a bit flustered.
Spike tossed them a bemused glance. "Moving the party out here, then?"
"We thought you'd left," Xander said quickly.
"Not so lucky, gents," he replied. "Not leaving without my lady."
Giles nodded. "Yes, Buffy indicated as much. She said you'd stepped outside." He paused and cleared his throat. "Spike…as much as it pains me to say this…"
"Your hair looks really weird."
Spike shot Xander a narrowed look, one mirrored by Angel.
"Sorry," the boy said. "Off topic."
Giles made a small noise in the back of his throat. "Yes, well," he continued. "I just…I was wrong. About a lot of things, and…well…thank you."
Spike blinked. "What?"
"You brought her back, and you went to astounding lengths to do so. Thank you."
Xander nodded and punched his arm. "Thanks. Oh, and it's gonna take a while to get used to, so…if I call you Dead Boy and stuff, just…call it habit. You had three centuries to…well. Yeah."
"Very articulate, Xander," Giles noted.
"What can I say? I'm a wordsmith." Harris nodded and grinned like a loon, eyeing Spike one last time. "It's gonna take some getting used to."
"What is?" he asked.
Angel frowned. "I thought Dead Boy was my nickname."
"He lost the bleach. Can't call him Captain Peroxide anymore."
Spike took a step forward. "What's going to take some getting used to?"
The door opened again, and this time Buffy stepped out. She looked better than she had in days, though Spike knew he was the only one who could see it. Her cheeks were still thin, but they had color in them now. And her eyes, while they'd shone brightly for him, sparkled with new life neither one of them had anticipated. She looked so beautiful then—so perfect.
And her eyes were on him.
"Guys," she said. "Can you…give us a minute?"
He expected a fight, but there was none to be had. The others shuffled back into the Magic Box without a word. Then it was just them—Spike and his slayer. Her long black tee hung off her wiry build, her dark brown hair brushed over one shoulder. The steps she took toward him were meaningful and deliberate.
"I told them," she said. "Not everything, but mostly everything. About you, what you went through. What happened once you got to me."
Spike nodded, swallowing hard. "Yeah?"
"I just couldn't stop, you know? I started talking and I couldn't stop. It all just came out." She sighed and crossed her arms. "I didn't think I'd be able to talk about it for a while."
"It helps in getting over it, I think."
Buffy pursed her lips and took another step forward. "Maybe. Yeah, that sounds right." Things fell silent for a few seconds. Her eyes wandered down his leather clad body, a smile tickling her lips. "Your duster."
"Will had it. I'd given it to her…to give to Dawn. Just in case."
"You look like you again. Or more like you."
"So do you." He nodded at the store. "Being with them is who you are, love. No reason to fear it after all, I guess."
"I guess." Buffy sighed and took another step forward. "Spike, I told them about us. About…I told them about hope and Larry, and about you moving in. I told them that's the way it was going to be, and there's not going to be an argument."
He snorted. "Sure that went over well."
"It did, actually. I pulled the 'I'm a thousand years old so don't argue with me,' card." Her eyes actually twinkled when she shrugged. "Dawn's ecstatic, of course…though I don't know if she gets the whole immortality thing. And the others…they don't understand completely, but I think they get it enough not to complain about it. I guess it would be strange to turn around and see us in a relationship…they didn't have the time we had."
She stepped forward again. Any closer and she'd be in his arms.
"I told them something else," she said.
"Yeah." Buffy's eyes fluttered to his lips before meeting his again. "I told them I love you."
How often had he fantasized about hearing the words? How often had he played it out? A thousand different ways, a thousand different scenarios, but nothing matched the moment's perfection. Standing under the stars with Buffy staring into his eyes, her heart open to him. He'd never thought he'd reach anything comparable to unadulterated bliss beyond the sins of the flesh, but at once he knew exactly what she'd felt when he bit her. He knew exactly what she'd experienced before the world came crashing down, and it was a wave so potent, so powerful, he would have washed up in the tide were he not careful.
Spike blinked hard. She'd told him not too long ago she wanted to tell him, she'd given him a crumb of hope back in the warehouse, yet he'd never really believed it. He'd promised himself he'd fight to keep what he'd been given, but a part of him had doubted. Even that morning, he'd waited for the other shoe to drop. He'd made love to her, tasted her blood, and admitted the possibility that her home would be his, but he'd held out. He'd waited.
And now there was this.
"I love you, Spike. So much it's kinda scary. But, you know, in a good way."
"You love me."
"You knew it."
"I know." Buffy smiled and leaned into his kiss. She tasted warm and delicious. She tasted like home. "I told you," she said after breaking apart. "I told you I wanted to tell you."
"But we couldn't let it be gratitude."
"It wasn't. I knew it then, but I needed this. I love you."
"God, I love you, too."
"Then come back inside with me." Her hand found his and tugged gently, and he followed without hesitation. He'd follow her anywhere. "Come talk with them. They have so much they want to ask you."
She nodded. "And then we'll go home."
Her smile grew and she kissed him again. "That's the one."
Their fingers intertwined and their palms touched. And together, they walked back inside.