TITLE: Gentle (1/?)

AUTHOR: OneTwoMany (Sabre)

SUMMARY: Let's fill in some of those blanks in Chosen. B/S all the way, baby!

SPOILERS: Everything that ever happened on BtVS

RATING: R

DISCLAIMERS: I own nothing. Trust me when I say I'm not worth suing.

FEEDBACK: Love it! Onetwomany@bigpond.com

THANKS: Much thanks to Juliaabra, for the wonderful assistance and for the title.

CHAPTER 1

"I dunno what I would have done if you'd gone up those stairs."

"Let's not find out."

Buffy drops her hand from Spike's cheek, soft fingers running gently over his jaw before falling to rest on his chest. His face tingles where it holds the memory of her touch, chest burns beneath the reality of it. The moment feels frozen in time, their gazes locked in a silent imparting of relief and quiet understanding. Then she quickly withdraws her hand, twists it with her other one, as she drops her gaze to the floor.

All he can do is nod.

Leaving him standing amidst the shadows, Buffy makes her way over to the corner of the basement that still houses her put-upon washing machine. It always strikes him as a bit odd, that symbol of domesticity sitting not-so-quietly amongst the punching bags and nasty weaponry. The future of the world lies in the hands of a gaggle of girls who train surrounded by the smell of soap powder and the rumble of white goods. Fuck if the town isn't strange.

He watches as Buffy bends and begins to root through a haphazardly packed basket of clothes. The angle affords a perfect view, and not even his shiny new soul can stop him from admiring the curve of her ass, feeling the tremor of excitement the sight brings. Not right, to think such things tonight. Fancies Angel wouldn't be so brazen. Probably look away like a gentleman. Self-righteous bastard. Although in moments like this, Spike half envies the Poof's restraint.

It takes Spike a moment to realize that Buffy's looking for something to sleep in, instantly wonders if she is planning on changing there. Not sure whether to smile or run, he settles on simply standing still. Hopes she finds what she's looking for and stays, lest she disappear upstairs and leave him alone down here, endlessly replaying images of his girl and his grandsire lip-locked on that battlefield, with the First's taunting words, reminders of his own uselessness, ringing in his ears.

Give it a rest, mate. Give it a rest.

"Aha!" Buffy smiles broadly, as she pulls a dark camisole out of the pile. Pretty smile, perfect white teeth and dancing green eyes. So rare to see her light up like that, thrills him no matter how lame the reason.

She turns to face him, clothes in hands, and time simply stops. Kinda stuck for what to do now. He breaks her gaze, looks away, and her eyes shoot to the floor too. Clothes shiver slightly in her trembling hand. Then she pulls her gaze back to him. Confused. They both are. Such a bloody stupid thing to be scared about when facing the end of the world. .

"I need to change. You can turn around, or, um, not…"

The blood is rising in her cheeks, its rich and potent scent seeping into the still basement air. Spike feels an electrical thrill that causes his borrowed blood to rush to other parts of his anatomy. He shifts nervously, as Buffy starts to ramble.

"...As long as...if you want to, if it wouldn't be too much or, er, distracting, then you can...I don't mind. Nothing you haven't seen before, right?"

He feels a grin pull at the corners of his mouth, even as he thanks God that vampires can't flush red and tender.

"There's nothing I haven't seen, Slayer."

Right. That sounded gratifyingly sultry. He's pleased with his self-control, delighted with the second flush that rises in Buffy's cheeks.

How he'd love to watch, feast his eyes on her one last time, make her glow all over with that delicious rosy flush that showed when she fought not to cover herself. Sweet temptation, worse than even the richest of blood. But he pushes down the longing. Not right, he reminds himself. Not now. Not after…and too much besides.

There's a rustle of clothing, and Spike's eyes are drawn unbidden to Buffy's two small, perfectly pedicured feet, as she kicks off her shoes. Red-painted toenails that reveal the girl within, and glorious, golden skin that speaks to the diligent application of bronzer - can't imagine she's had much time to go to the beach and get that tan. Hell, he's known Scots who've spent more time at the beach than these California kids. Still, Slayer always found time to take care of herself. She's vain like that. Bit like him, or the old him, back in the days when he visited the barber for his bi-monthly bleaching. These days of apocalypse and poverty, he has to make do with L'Oreal.

The gentle sound of cotton hitting the floor reaches his ears, and his eyes focus on her clothes, as they fall to the floor. Jacket, shirt, a glimpse of brightly-colored bra beneath the folds. His eyes follow the line of her body up. Long memorised this, he has, the curve of her legs, the slight swell of her hips, the contours of her stomach. But he never tires of watching. Pauses when he reaches the line of her low-rise pants, watches how the muscles dance beneath her skin, as she pulls the camisole into place.

When she's finally covered, safe, he raises his eyes to meet hers.

And, suddenly, he's shy again. Chest tight and constricted, mouth dry, hands clenching into fists. Bloody William, struggling to find words, as the blood follows its all too familiar path out of his bloody brain. Can't quite believe that she's here, in her own home, safe with her irritating little friends, yet she wants to be with him again. Wants let him hold her, to share her human warmth and take whatever cold comfort his tired, dead body can offer. That she'd wanted it once was gift enough; twice is almost too much to deal with.

But her eyes reveal no indecision, just calm acceptance and perhaps a slight amusement. He almost wonders if she's laughing at him.

Spike shakes his head, clears the cobwebs. Sucks in his checks, as he turns to motion toward the Spartan cot. Not exactly the setting he'd dreamed of bedding his woman on their last night on Earth, but it'll do. It's the company that counts.

"So, luv, how we gonna work this?"

Buffy surveys the cot with a brief, critical eye. Probably remembering where she got it from – wherever that was. Maybe not the best of thoughts. Then she smiles, walks toward him, hips swaying gently with that unconscious sensuality that comes with that confident slayer grace. Reaching him, toe to toe, she places her hand on his chest again, fingers soothing caressing the cheap linen. Goosebumps rise on the flesh beneath.

"I was thinking…" she says, voice gentle and softly teasing. Flirtatious? He dares not think it. "You lie down, and I lie down, and then you just hold me. I know you know how."

And he surely does. Stretching out on the cot, he pulls her to him, spoons himself around her like they've practised this before. So familiar with her body, he is, knows her planes and angles and occasional curves. Knows how she sleeps, the sounds she makes, the angle at which she bends her knees, the way her hand curls around her stomach as she dreams. Always been an observer, he has. Stalker, really. So much better, when it's for real. Actually holding her close, feeling her muscles soften, knowing her body is seeking peace as he lies near.

She's turned away from him, arms around her mid-section, head on the pillow behind her. Can't see her face, but the gold of her hair falling in streams across the pillow, tickles his nose. Pretty strands, even through the smell of bleach and dye, masked badly by the remnants of fruity shampoo and the slightly salty smell of some treatment conditioner. She's not a natural girl, his slayer, but few are these days and she's beautiful nonetheless. Such a different world from the one where he was born, different setting, different women, but this, this holding his girl as she sleeps, this is as old as time.

Spike swallows hard against the lump in his throat, pushes down the rising William. Not gonna get all teary. But he pulls her closer, molds himself to her body, lies very still and hopes that this is what she wants. Hopes for so many things.

Hope, it's such a terrible thing.

Wrapped in his arms, Buffy shivers slightly.

"Cold?" he asks. Voice sounds painfully stricken even to his own ears. Room feels fine to him, but he never knows for sure. So out of touch with human climes. Aren't women meant to get cold?

"No." Her voice is barely a whisper. "I'm fine. Good."

"I wish I could offer a little more warmth…"

"Spike, you're giving me everything I need."

He bites his lip, wishes he could believe her. Pulls the blanket closer around them, even as he realizes that it's not the cold that causes her to tremble. Wonders whether words would help. Maybe if he can think of something that doesn't sound trite? But he settles instead for running his hand through her loose hair. Acceptable sign of comfort, that. Learnt it from the tellie, and it seems to work just fine.

"Spike, do you ever wish you were human?"

What the fuck? Where'd that come from? Always throwing curveballs, she was. He's learnt the art of dodging, but her voice carries the ring of determination. The words are aimed with precision. Worrying her. Bloody Angel and his farcical pontificating about domestic bliss. Things she probably can't have, shouldn't fret about besides. He feels the anger rise again, stomps on it reluctantly.

"No, pet. Can't say that I do." Not a lie, although not entirely true.

She turns to face him, eyes wide and dark, face shrouded in shadows. "Really? Not even with that 'living' stuff you sang about?" she asks.

Sprung. Bloody Xander, always screwing everything up.

Spike leans up on one elbow, but when he speaks it's to the end of the bed, to their covered feet, not to her.

"Being dead…well, not all it's cracked up to be sometimes, you know. Always outside of everything. Detached. Makes the killin' easy, but when you're not doing… that…"

He pauses, free hand worries the edge of the sheet where it lies around her waist. New, but cheap. She'd bought it for him. Strange that. Slayer shopping for her vampire ex. Doesn't need it, really, not for warmth. But it's nice, comforting. Always liked blankets and sheets and human trappings. Supposes he's sentimental like that. The echo of his humanity, a time when life was more than blood and sex, but also a time when he needed so many things just to keep breathing.

He swallows, continues, searching for words that usually come so easily.

"You're alive, and it's hard to explain what that means to someone who isn't dead. It's like…your existence is about more than ours. Fuller. You grow and change and lust after so many things, good and bad. Sometimes, even 'fore the soul, I wanted a part of that. But I got no illusions about greener grass. Bitch to Anya about it enough, sure she's filled you in on the copious downsides." He finally pulls his eyes away from the sheet, fixes his gaze on hers. "And if I were human, I'd hardly be much use to you, would I?"

He's proud of how steady his voice sounds when he speaks those words.

"Spike…"

"Know my place. I'm your strongest warrior, that's my gift. And it's only 'cause I'm a vamp I can be that. And I'm not gonna navel gaze and brood 'bout it. That's someone else's' schtick."

She snorts and rolls her eyes. Starts to turn again, but he holds her fast. Not quite finished. Gotta say his piece, but this is dangerous ground and he needs to step carefully.

He meets her eyes with fervid intensity. A penitent wanting to confess

"I regret what I did as a vampire, Buffy. God, you gotta know I regret it…wanted to end it so many times, since the soul… thought that I should, you know…But I can't regret still being here. Meeting you. Finally finding a purpose for my worthless existence. If that means I'm not remorseful enough, if it makes me a bad man, then bugger it. I can deal. Still get to help you. Still get to help save the world." He pauses, summons his most wicked smile "Again".

She smiles at that, eyes softening. "What's that now? Three apocalypses in six years? You really are giving vampires a bad name, Spike."

He snorts, and she turns to lie down again. Falls silent again, motionless against him except for the soft rising and falling of her chest. Thinking, probably. Hopefully, not remembering. No good there. Live in the moment, Slayer. 'Tis better all around.

"You're a good man, Spike. Just gotta let yourself believe it," she says finally. She raises her hand to caress his face again, and he wonders if maybe he sees tears in her emerald eyes. "Thank you for being good for me."

He's breathing now, little lung-fulls of air, as he forces down the rising tide of emotion. Will not be a wanker. Smiles against the rising tears, tries for a joke.

"Already said thanks, Slayer. But that's fine. Not like holdin' you is a big chore or anything."

"No, not for this. For everything. For being here for me, and trusting me. Believing in me. Actually sticking around."

"Showed quite a bit of faith in me yourself. Got me through the bad patch it did. Still doing."

"You earned it."

"Yeah?" He still can't keep the ambivalence out of his voice. Can't quite think that he's earned much at all. Not after a year spent killing the general populace, squatting in her basement and having animated conversations with you-stow-it crates beneath the school.

"Absolutely." She settles herself down again, back pushed again to his chest. Nice. Until her next words break his train of thought, sweep aside the warmth with a wave of resentment and fear.

"Spike…about Angel."

He doesn't want to do this now. Accusations, recriminations, excuses he will want to believe even as they tear him up inside. It's over, done. Put it behind him. Make her stop so he can forget…

"Don't." His voice is harsh. Hard, cold, and stupidly jealous. She shifts instantly, and he realises that he's tightened his grip around her waist. Too tight. Wanker. He swallows, forces himself to relax, to start again.

"Not now, Buffy." He whispers, the desperation leaking through with every syllable. "Just….not now. Please. Let me hold you and sleep."

A moment of silence, and Spike imagines he can hear the tick of distant watches as time and distance stretch between them. Then Buffy nods, movement obvious only in her hair shimmering across the pillow. He wishes he could see her face, but then wonders if he really wants to witness the truth in her expression.

"Okay," she replies softly.

She shifts slightly, settles back against him, impossibly close. Imagines that's a peace offering of sorts. He feels her hand begin to gently caress his own. Her touch is rhythmic, calming, near-searing fingers leaving a trail of smouldering sensation against his own cool skin. Too callused to be considered lady-like hands. Suited to the warrior she is: Strong, deadly, and precise.

Spike closes his eyes and loses himself to the sensation and to the knowledge that he's here, with her. That she believes in him.

And right now, that's all that matters.