The price is right (1)

Fanfiction by dutchbuffy2305

Rating: R

Timeline: Season 7, starts after Showtime, AU, vaguely spoilery up The Killer in Me.

Summary: Spike lies healing in the basement of 1630 Revello Drive. When he gets upstairs for the first time, he makes an upsetting discovery.

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Buffy looked down at her hands. They looked ordinary, miraculously unscathed after last evening's battle. Why was she then still feeling his flesh under her hands, truly cold for once from the temperature in the cave, instead of tepid or lukewarm as she remembered it, shivering in ecstasy under her touch? If she closed her eyes it was as if they were still staggering out of the cave, she exhausted after the fight, supporting his whole weight, it seemed; Spike shaky, silent, barely able to stand, and not looking at her at all after the long look they'd exchanged when she'd cut him loose. Her hands on his hipbone, feeling the too thin covering of skin and muscle tremble under her palm.

She put her arms around herself, not feeling chilled exactly, but lonely and weary. Her own ribs under the knit shirt were all too prominent. She hadn't been this thin in high school. When had the weight loss started? When had she gotten out of the habit of eating? After killing Angel, most likely. She was wearing thin from too much hard use, her edges were getting sharp, and if she went on like this she'd just become transparent and disappear.

She rested her hands on the porch railing and looked up at the half moon in the sky. The wood under her hands felt flaky and splintery. Buffy felt vaguely guilty when she noticed that all the woodwork on the porch looked like that, not just the railing, even by moonlight. Everything wore out so fast! Did her mother have it painted every year? There sure was no money to pay for it right now. She picked a splinter out of her palm and shivered, rubbing her hands. She really should turn in and get some sleep, but she dreaded the long night ahead. If it was anything like last night, which she'd spent tossing and turning and waking up from brief sleeps with long nightmares, she wasn't eager for a repeat.

All the responsibility was once again on her shoulders, and it was getting to her more and more. It wouldn't be the first time she'd had to save the world, but somehow it felt different this time. Caring for all the young potentials maybe? But she'd always felt responsible for her friends, and for Dawn, why would now be different? Would this be the last time, the one time too many? The world needs to be saved, but this slayer's past her expiration date, could they use a new undamaged one?

Buffy shook herself in an effort to come clear of the contemplative mood. There was no point to it. She needed to be alert and fresh for the battles ahead, leading and training the girls. She went in and trudged up the stairs in the silent house. Apart from Xander, who was standing guard tonight, and whose silhouette she saw outlined against the plywood covered window in the dimly lit living room, she was the only one awake. She shrugged herself out of her clothes and crawled under the covers. Sleep surely must come soon, she was so tired.

After what seemed like hours, she was still awake. No amount of turning or fluffing up the pillows was helping. This was no good, she really needed the sleep. Buffy gave in. She knew there was one place in the house she would be able to sleep well, and she was damn well going there. She picked up her comforter and snuck down the stairs, and further down into the basement. Spike lay asleep on the cot, not moving or breathing at all. He was lying on his side, and there was just room for her there if she spooned up to him and didn't move.

Buffy slid in beside Spike, careful not to jostle him or touch his wounds and contusions. His whole body was covered with cuts and horrible bruises. She could have drawn a map of them, so vividly were they etched on her brain. With the most gentle and delicate of movements she turned on her side and drew the comforter over them both. She'd stripped him of his filthy jeans when she brought him down here, and there was a wonderful smooth piece of back to lay her cheek against. She fell asleep immediately.

Spike woke up in the middle of the night, after a sun-lit dream of being terribly ill with the fever, and begin cared for by his mother as never before. There was a fire in his room all day long, he was gently washed with warm water, was given soft-boiled eggs to eat, and mashed apples and pears, porridge with cream and sugar instead of salt. His mother read to him patiently and he'd never felt so cherished in his life.

When he opened his eyes in the dark basement and felt Buffy's warm breath against his back he thought he was still dreaming, still hanging in the cave. He tried to snap out of the deceptive dream. He wasn't up to going through the inevitable emotions of hope and disappointment again. He shifted slightly in the comfortable warmth of the dream bed and the resulting pain shook him awake more sharply. It must be real. It couldn't be. Buffy wouldn't…But there she was, deeply asleep, breathing regularly and shallowly, nestled against his back, one small warm hand cradling his hip. He didn't want to give in to the flood of hope and love that swept over him, but he couldn't prevent tears from forming and pooling on the pillow. He wanted to stay awake and savor the moment, but he slid back into sleep without realizing it.

When Spike woke up again he was alone once more. His back felt cold and exposed without Buffy's body to shelter him. He shifted onto his back, unable to keep back groans of pain. How on earth had he managed to walk back here under his own steam, well, almost? He didn't think he'd be walking for a week at least. Someone was softy opening the basement door and coming down the stairs. His stomach lurched oddly and he felt out of breath for a moment. But it was Dawn. She came over to his cot, tiptoeing considerately, and he tried to greet her normally.

"Morning, Dawn."

"More like afternoon, Spike," she snapped. "Finally awake. Want some blood?"

He felt queasy at the thought, although he knew he needed it. "Yeah," he breathed. It hurt to talk. "Blood would be great."

Dawn nodded and went back up. Spike closed his eyes again. Talking was so tiring. When she nudged him, none too gently he thought, he jolted awake, causing a painful scrape between parts of his broken ribs.

"Sorry," Dawn said, but her face stayed smooth and curious. She handed him a mug and a straw, and left again. The blood was of the right temperature, but the chill of Dawn's behavior kind of took the flavor out of it. Or maybe it was the quality of the blood, which couldn't be called fresh anymore. Spike forced it down, after hoisting himself painfully on one elbow. He felt all kinds of things move around inside that oughtn't to, and a wetness at his back. He didn't look; he'd heal, sooner or later. His limbs seemed straight, he could breathe, which was nice for the talking, and that should be enough.

He tried to put the mug on the floor but couldn't reach down that far. He heard it drop down onto the hard basement floor. It didn't sound broken. Thankful for the small favors of fortune he eased himself on his back and fell asleep again.

When Buffy stole in the next night Spike woke up. He lay silently enjoying the stealth and care she used to slide in with him as gently as possible. Strands of her hair tickled the skin of his back, and he smelled shampoo and coconut conditioner.

"Sleep well, Buffy," he said softly. He felt her twitch slightly. Kind of weird that a vampire slayer couldn't tell if a vampire was awake or asleep.

He felt a hand on his shoulder and she enquired how he was feeling in a small voice. The warmth from her hand radiated to every part of his body and it was as if he could feel the healing speed up.

 "I'm fine, considering," he said. "Working hard at getting better. I'll be up in no time to guard your back." He hoped he could follow up on those brave words.

"Just get well," she murmured and made herself comfortable against his back.

"Buffy?"

"Hmm?"

"Why are you doing this?"

Buffy didn't answer immediately. "I couldn't sleep," she said softly. "I was feeling scared and lonely, and I can't tell anybody about it. I knew I could sleep here with you. You make me feel safe."

Spike tried a chuckle, but it came out as an old man's cough. "I could hardly defend you against a mouse right now, love."

"That's not what I meant. I can be scared with you. You can take it, the others would freak if they knew I was really wigging."

"Putting a lot of credit in me. Don't know if I'll measure up," he said.

"You will. You have, so far."

They fell silent, comfortably breathing in and out together. Spike wanted to see her, look into her eyes. They had seemed to brim over with emotion, back in the cave, but as usual she hadn't given voice to those emotions.

"Buffy? Do you want me to hold you?" he offered.

"Yes, please. You think you can?" she answered gratefully. Her breath warmed one spot of his shoulder blade thoroughly.

"If you'll help me turn around I'll be fine."

"Where…?"

"Not my ribs, or my hip. Shoulder and legs are probably best," Spike answered, trying to shift onto his back by himself.

She managed to turn him over, but it was at the expense of a great deal of pain. He closed his yes and bit his lip, willing the agony to subside. He felt her hand softly resting on his cheek and tried to stem the traitorous tears that were threatening to spill. He was counting on her relative lack of night vision, but her fingers found the drop of moisture unerringly and gently wiped it off.

"Your tears are salt, like mine," she said wonderingly.

She'd tasted them! "Used to be human, once. Still taste like one, I expect," he said between gritted teeth.

When the pain had subsided for the most part, he opened his eyes, and found her looking at him intently.

"Your eye is better."

"Uh-huh."

"You can hold me now, you know."

He put his arms low around her, far away from her breasts, he couldn't lift them that high anyway. He felt himself slipping tiredly away into sleep, until she said," Too many knees, Spike. I'm gonna turn around."

Her warm ass pressed against his cock, and he felt a vague stirring. Well. He was in no condition to do anything about it, even if there had been any chance that Buffy would welcome it. He ignored it and let himself slide away into another dream of warmth and softness.

When he woke this time it was already dark again. He knew a fair amount time had passed, it was most likely late next evening. Buffy was gone of course, with her comforter. He felt slightly chilled, but more alert and less achy. Some of his wounds itched. His mother had always said that was a sign of healing. There were two mugs of blood next to his bed, one cold and one tepid. He drank them both down, after retrieving them with some difficulty. Everything seemed to work a little better. He allowed himself a little fancy: would a Slayer like Buffy have a healing touch? Her blood certainly might…

She didn't come to him that night. Only Xander came down once to bring him more blood. Xander wanted to take him to the bathroom, but was persuaded by Spike's obvious inability to sit up, to leave that for another day. He guessed he was probably pretty ripe, being dipped in stinky pools, and covered in disintegrating gore and all. Xander brought him a bowl of warm water and a cloth, and he swiped a bit at his face and the grubbiest and bloodiest bits of body, but the whole thing was so tiring he gave up. Sleep was more elusive this time. Funny that he'd gotten used to sleeping with her so quickly and easily. She was a very silent and quiet sleeper.

The next night she came again, slipping in easily, even giving him a quick peck on the cheek. He was facing the right way this time, and marveled at the comfortable way she settled in for a chat before getting to sleep. She looked better, scar fading, no more black circles around her yes, cheeks rosy and shining.

"Sorry I didn't come in last night, I should have told you, I had to stand guard and patrol all night. Were you lonely?"

"A bit," he admitted. "But I was mostly sleeping. Look, I can touch my hair again."

"Amazing," she smiled a little and ruffled the curly mass. "But you obviously didn't get as far as combing it."

"Um, no. Obviously."

"This is nice, isn't it? Why did we never do this before?"

He didn't answer that. She knew only too well; it was because she'd never wanted it.

"Sorry," she said contritely, and touched his face again. She kept her hand there, softly stroking the contours of his face, trying out the flexibility of his ear. He knew she was going to kiss him, and the few seconds it took between that realization and the actual act seemed the best in his life.

It was a very gentle, soft kiss, no tongue, but it left him tingling all over and he felt unaccountably out of breath. She took her time, tasting him thoroughly, giving off so much heat he imagined his face must be all pink and flushed.

The kissing went on for hours, or so it seemed, leisurely and going nowhere but to more kissing, and when he drifted out of a contented haze, he realized from the quality of the darkness that he must have fallen sleep at some point. Not the kind of compliment to pay to a lady, but as the lady in question was still sleeping comfortably curled up against him she couldn't have been that insulted.

He was half woken by a kiss and watched her steal up the basement stairs. He turned on his back, a relatively easy move now. He thought he was pretty pathetic, like a badly treated dog that was happy for crumbs and a scratch behind the ears. But as long as it was Buffy doing the scratching he was okay with it. He could never expect more from her. He'd do anything to be in her vicinity, and try to be helpful and lend her his strength.

It was an eerie convalescence, shut off from the outside world. He could sense a lot of people moving in the house, many of them unknown to him. Occasionally he was visited by other Scoobies bringing him blood or hot water or doing laundry, but he wasn't much in the mood for chatting and usually drowsed the days away, dreaming or daydreaming of Buffy and his mother. This pattern repeated through a couple of endless days, Spike coming fully alert only in the few moments after Buffy slipped in bed with him and they talked of little things.

One evening Buffy brought his duster down with her. Spike looked at it dully. He supposed he must have left it somewhere before flitting off to Africa. He didn't want it. It was a bloodstained trophy of a victory best forgotten.

"I thought you'd want it…" she said.

Spike didn't think he'd ever told her whom he'd taken it from, and he wasn't going to do that now. Buffy went through the pockets and held up one of his rings, the silver skull ring. He'd sold all the rest of his jewelry on the way back from Africa, and hadn't realized this had been left in Sunnydale.

"Don't you remember?" she said. "It was our engagement ring, back when Willow did that spell."

"Never thought you'd bring that up voluntarily…." he said.

She smiled. "I thought it was totally embarrassing then. Now it seems like the good old days, when spells were sometimes awkward but all ended well. Funny, huh?"

She put it next to his bed, on the improvised bed stand. She climbed in with him and fussed with the comforter.

"Seventh time now, Buffy, that you've come to sleep with me."

He was lying on his back, a thing he was very happy to be able to do again and Buffy was half laying on his chest, playing with his hair.

"You've been counting?" she said teasingly, and then sobered up. "I remember. You count. 147 days, right?"

"Yeah. This is better. I don't suppose you've told anyone where you spend your nights?"

She looked a little shamefaced. "No. Do you mind?"

"Well, yes. But…I guess- I'll be whatever you need me to be. If you need a little help in sleeping, I'm happy to provide it."

"It's a little more than that. Come on, I could have asked Mr. Gordo. He never says no."

"And I do?"

"Well…What if I wanted us to make love?"

Even battered and bruised as he still was, his body reacted to that.

"Buffy…"

"Shh…no talking. Let's just comfort each other."

Carefully positioning his arm he tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. She kissed him again, not holding back this time, and he could forget all his aches and pains and simply concentrate on Buffy, Buffy everywhere, warm contours against his cool body, her lips warming and tasting him. It was incredibly exciting to do this all very quietly, in the dark, and still being able to sense all her body functions speeding up, the blood zinging through her veins, her fast breath, and the smell of her arousal perfuming the air between them.

"Buffy…I can't…"

"Don't move, I'll do all the work. Lay back and think of England."

"Last thing on my mind right now, love…"

"I know. I've just always wanted to say that line."

Carefully she lowered herself onto him, and although it hurt a lot to feel her weight on his hips and thighs, it was worth it. She put some weight on her hands, on the sides of the cot, and gently started to move up and down, trying not to jostle him. He was in heaven, a kind of dark and achy heaven. He closed his eyes, but opened them again quickly. Oddly enough, sleep was beckoning again, and these were moments he certainly didn't want to miss. He couldn't see so well, everything was dark except Buffy. She seemed outlined in a soft yellow glow, as if there were candles burning behind her. The sweet intensity of her movements was nearly unbearable. Something was burning him, and he couldn't make out if it was the soul, his injuries, the heat of her flesh enveloping him, or his love that burned so brightly and painfully.

When he felt his release nearing, he braced himself for the pain that would follow the involuntary contractions, but Buffy knew just how to grip so he couldn't move too much and grate bits of broken bone against each other. He tried to start bringing her off as well, ignoring the pain this caused in his shoulder, but Buffy gently pushed his hand away.

"Just watch me," she said. He watched her hand move very slightly, and held her in his turn when she shuddered and bucked slightly.

"Goodnight, Spike," she breathed.

"Goodnight, Buffy," he answered, half asleep already.

Spike woke up when Buffy was getting up and got kissed with enthusiasm. He lay looking at her drowsily as she balled up the comforter and made ready to sneak upstairs. She still thinner than ever, and the scar on her cheek was still faintly visible. There was a little worried frown just above her left eyebrow. What was going though her mind? Who were all these people he was sensing upstairs?

"Working today, love?" She shook her head.

"Nope. I'll be in to check on you, okay? Try some exercises with you, a shower…"

She didn't come again that day. Or that night. In fact, nobody came in. Spike was getting pretty ravenous, and as he was really starting to feel like cleaning up, he decided to brave the stairs, find some blood and use the shower. He sat up, and immediately fell back, gasping. Christ. His spine hurt like hell. He tried standing up from a prone position, executing a half falling movement towards the dryer, propping himself up and holding on to it. It worked. Standing was better than sitting. His sacral bone must be shattered or something, he thought. He found a pair of grey sweat pants in the dryer and put them on, which was worse than standing up, because of all the bending over. He'd never realized what a lot of subtle motions were necessary to put trousers on.

Step by careful step Spike climbed up the stairs. Going to the kitchen was easier as it was level, but he had to stop and rest twice on the long way there. The house was very silent. He couldn't detect any presence in it at all. Everybody must be at work or out training, it was after all daylight. After heating up and glugging down several packets of blood, he rested his forehead against the microwave, trying to gather the strength for a shower. He stank. He really stank; he had to get cleaned up. He couldn't imagine Buffy putting her nose in that unwashed convalescent smell night after night, but she apparently hadn't minded.

Hadn't minded was a peculiar euphemism for what they'd done. Spike thought it could be called making love, she had called it that. She hadn't said anything about loving him, but she had never acted so thoughtful and gentle with him. What had happened was like a dream. He became a little worried it had been. No. Her scent was still all over him this morning. He was sorry he was going to wash that off.

He dragged himself upstairs and peeled the pants off again. He wished now he'd just wrapped a towel around himself. Towels. He spotted a stack and put it next to the bath. He didn't think he could stand up long enough to shower, and ran a bath. It was very difficult to lower himself into it, and the moment he went in he started to fall asleep. He woke up in a cold dark bathroom. Sighing, but quite alert and refreshed, he drained the cold water and put in warm. He scrubbed at the last resistant stains and started the long process of drying and dressing. When he was coming down the stairs he heard voices coming up the porch. He felt relieved, ready for a little human presence.

When the door opened he could recognize the voices. Xander, Andrew and…Giles? He was surprised at how happy he was to see him again.

"Rupert? Long time no see!" he said.

Well, they were twitchy! Xander yelped from shock and Andrew was halfway down the front walk before he realized it was just Spike.

"What's with you people? Never seen a black eye before?" he asked belligerently, wishing he could just lie down.

"Jeez, Spike! You scared me half to death. I'd forgotten you were in the house!" Xander muttered sheepishly.

Giles said nothing and just stared at his chest. Spike was sure the symbols must be really fascinating for a Watcher, but he still resented the staring, without even being greeted first.

Giles recovered from his fascination and briefly put a hand on his shoulder. "Well, Spike. Heard some rather interesting things about you. You don't look as if you could have had anything to do with the girls' disappearance, actually. What do you know?"

TBC