Disclaimer, etc. as before.
Author's Notes: Well, here's the shamelessly fluffy and equally angsty part two of the Counterpoint. I'll change the title when I can think of something suitable - suggestions thereof would be much appreciated. Anyway, for this part, I've tried to make it somewhat prophetic for "Chosen". If it makes it more interesting, pretend you haven't seen the finale and don't have a clue what's going to happen… It would have been fun to write this before seeing it and spoiler-free, actually, but at least I've got something to work with. I'm also playing somewhat with Spike's opening line of "Honey, you're home," in "End of Days" because it seemed just too random for my liking. Maybe there'll be a sequel using that conversation, too. Anyway, I'm rambling. Forgive me, and enjoy =)
He doesn't say it again. He doesn't even say it directly, but she can tell he wants to. She can practically feel him biting his tongue to stop from talking. He radiates affection she's never let him give and she wonders what she might have missed. Maybe if they're both brave enough, she'll find out.
He hasn't moved since she cuddled up to him, but it doesn't surprise her. He's scared of hurting her again; she's just as scared of hurting him, but not in the same way. He's even stopped stroking her hair, stopped his unnecessary, habitual breathing.
"Spike…" He tenses even more, if possible. She tries to look up, but can't see his eyes; she doesn't move her head, though, in case he thinks she's running. Instead, she reaches over for his hand. "It's okay," she says. "I'm not going anywhere." This time, she does look up, because he refuses to say anything. When he sees the truth in her eyes, he lets out the breath he's been holding, and relaxes a little. He squeezes her hand, as if she's his lifeline.
He's lost track of how much time has passed. It feels like hours, but maybe it's minutes. Maybe it's mere seconds; he doesn't care, anyway, because right now he doesn't want to think about this coming to an end. Buffy's lying in his arms, of her own volition, and as much as he knows it sounds stupid, this makes up for everything. If the sun dusts him come morning, he'll crumble a happy vampire.
Her hand is small and warm in his, and real. No matter where she lies, they fit together, two halves of one whole. She stares at him, and he wishes he didn't have to blink - for every split second of darkness, he dreads opening his eyes and finding himself alone - so he could savour what he can see in her eyes. It's not quite love, but it's more than friendship; there's trust in her gaze, and curiosity. Perhaps she's trying to read his soul. She strokes his hand with her thumb, and everything - all of the pain and hurt of the past, the impending war with the First, the doubt, the entire universe outside the stranger's bedroom in which they lie - melts away into nothingness. Compared to the previous year's activities, it's barely anything, but it means more than all the various encounters put together.
I'm drownin' in you, Summers; Buffy; love. I never stopped bloody drowning. I never even tried to reach the soddin' surface.
God knows how long they've been staring at each other. However long ago it was, Buffy pleaded with him to let her sleep, and now she won't look away. Not that he wants her to, anyway.
Her voice breaks through the silence again - he admires that she can trust herself to speak at a time like this, although he doubts this means as much to her - and he's so lost in her eyes that he almost forgets to worry about what she might say.
"Everything you said before," she reminds him, a question inevitable. "Did you really mean that?"
There's no doubt that he can detect in her tone, only genuine inquisitiveness. He knows a nod won't suffice as an answer, and he finds courage enough to speak. "Always do," he tells her. "Always have."
She gives a nod of relief. "I-I thought maybe you…" She changes her mind before she finishes the sentence, and averts her gaze.
"What?" he prods, bravely. He's surprised when she looks him in the eye again, ready to entreat her problem to him.
"I was worried," she says. "I… thought I'd lost you."
He's puzzled. "The Watcher's mission wasn't that dangerous, pet. Probably might've died of boredom, but-"
"Not that," she interrupts. She's silent again, unsure how to word her thoughts. When she finds the words, they surprise him - but that's just par for the course this evening, after all. "I was… I was afraid you'd stopped loving me."
He stifles laughter, but only just, amazed she could ever think that, even more amazed that she's admitted, in passing, that she believes him. He wants to say the words, prove it to her, but it doesn't feel quite right, as if it'll ruin the moment. Instead, he lets her know that nothing's changed, that nothing will change. "Never…"
"Tell me again," she asks. "I think I've missed hearing it…"
He wants nothing more than to grant her request, but a memory stirs of a similar demand, and it didn't end well. The last thing he wants to do is jeopardise what little she's giving him right now, and, regretfully, he shakes his head. She looks hurt, and it breaks his heart, but this is about self-preservation, now. If he tells her, he's not sure what might happen, and he's not prepared to risk it.
He shifts position a little, to make her more comfortable, his hand never letting go of hers. When she automatically pillows her head on his chest, he can't resist stroking her hair again. The rustling of their movement stops, and he speaks, quietly. "You get some rest, Buffy. You'll still hear in your sleep."
That's when she remembers how he used to mutter to her when he thought she was sleeping, whisper sweet nothings that she'd never allow herself to hear when fully conscious. There were times when she woke up to the sound of his voice, and she wanted so much, back then, to believe that everything he said was true: that she really was as beautiful and amazing as he said, that she could ever bring herself to deserve the kind words he bestowed on her. Soon enough, she'd turn it around in her mind, claiming to herself that he didn't - couldn't - care for her. This time, she'll listen, even if she has to pretend to be asleep, and even if it takes everything in her not to answer back.
Beneath her ear, she almost thinks she can hear a heartbeat, and pretends that the warmth she feels is his, not just her own. She's content and sleepy, safe in his arms; let the world end at sunrise, and she'd welcome oblivion so long as he was holding her, just like this. She feels her already closed eyelids getting heavier, her thoughts rambling to forgotten places.
"Could you sing to me?" she asks. It's as serious a request as the one before; it sounded ridiculous in her head, and just as ridiculous now it's been asked, but he doesn't comment. It's apt, on some level, considering what happened the last time he serenaded her; she's not asking for a "breakaway pop hit", or a ballad, or a love song. She just wants to hear his voice.
He clears his throat, nervously, and she bites back the smile she can feel forming. He's got stage fright, would probably be the first person to refuse to sing in public, but he's going to humour her. He starts a little shakily, his vocal cords not used to the activity, and his voice is soft. He sings the only thing that comes to mind; under the circumstances, it couldn't have been anything else.
"Early one morning, just as the sun was rising…"
By the time he reaches the end of the song, she's succumbed to sleep.
To think, he just sang the Slayer a lullaby. It's just the icing on the cake, now. A day ago, he would never have thought he'd be here, singing her to sleep. Her breathing slows perceptibly, her heart rate dropping with it; only when he's sure she's fast asleep does he risk placing a kiss on the top of her head. Is it possible, he wonders, to miss something one has never experienced? Because it feels like it's something he's been doing for years, but at the same time, feels new and wonderful, a moment to be savoured.
It seems an eternity since he's watched her sleep; this time, at least he's got permission. Now there's no fear of reprimand, he can say all he wants to, just like before. He keeps his voice low so as not to wake her again, and lets the words pour out.
"Said you'd hear in your sleep," he says, "but I don't think you can, more's the pity. But then again, 'sprobably for the best. I know you don't like it when I talk too much." He lets out a quiet sigh. "Can't believe you doubted me like that, pet. I've not exactly told you, I admit that, but I thought the soul-getting would be proof enough." Even when he doesn't have to face her, it's impossible to explain it. He stops, lowers his voice even further. "I love you, Buffy. I never stopped." She shifts a little, moving in her sleep as she reacts to a dream. He quietens a moment, in case she wakes up, and when she stills again, he continues. "When all of this is over… if you still want to hear it, I'll say it. Hundreds of times, if needs be. If you ever feel like sayin' it back, well… I guess we'll cross that bridge when it's built, eh, love?"
She doesn't move any more; her dream's passed and she's sleeping like the dead. Ironic, considering who she's lying with. He's run out of words, now; if they all survive this, he'd rather wait and tell her to her face. She's given him so much hope these past few weeks that he doesn't want to jinx it; he's not even sure if he's imagined it all. Perhaps he's still stuck in the school basement being taunted by the First; maybe this is a hallucination brought on from the pain, and he's still trapped in that cave, waiting for her to rescue him. Either way, the First's going awfully far to drive him crazy; the Slayer's been doing that for years without even trying, after all.
Her even breathing is hypnotic, and he finds himself getting sleepy. It's hours until sunrise, yet more until sunset, and he was planning to sleep through the day. He doesn't want to miss a moment of this, but unconsciousness is threatening. He's committed every second to memory so far; if he's lucky, he'll wake before she does and he'll get to watch her again. But then again, he'd rather be asleep, so he doesn't have to face the inevitability of her leaving.
As a child, she perfected the art of pretending to be asleep. When her parents argued late at night, it was impossible to try and sleep through it; she'd hear her mother shout-hiss down the stairs, "You'll wake our daughter, Hank. Keep your voice down!" before coming to check on her. She'd hear the door open and lie there, ever so still, practically holding her breath until her mother was sure she was asleep.
She feels a little treacherous, lying here, listening to him, but the words are so beautiful, so comforting, and she might not get to hear them again. (Or, then again, she might. If she can convince a vampire, whose every sense is trained to her, that she's asleep, she can do anything.) She wants to answer him back, thank him, say something, but knows she can't. She wants to kiss him, so softly, just to see the look on his face when she does, because she knows, for some reason, that it wouldn't go any further than that tonight. She wants to thank him, to tell him she's sorry for everything, to say she forgives him, she trusts him, she'd like him to know he can hold her like this again. And more than anything, she wants to stay right here, forever, until she's absolutely sure about how she feels, until she can look him in the eyes and tell him, outright, that she loves him.
It's wrong to keep on giving him such hope like this, when they both know it's impossible for her to say the three words he'd willingly die to hear. She still feels like she's using him, in a way, except she's sure this means more to him than she can even start to comprehend. Everything's confusing; it always has been where he's concerned. It's time to look inside herself and figure it out, once and for all.
A second later, she knows. He brushes a strand of hair out of her eyes at that moment, only for it to fall back again, and her heart jolts at the simple gesture. It's barely even a touch, but there's such a magnitude of feeling in it that she feels like crying for the loss of what they might have had. You've been in love with him all along, you moron, her mind chastises her, and now you probably won't get a chance to tell him.
She ignores the inner voice. The rhythmic, controlled breathing beneath her head finally lulls her to sleep.
He knows he's dreaming, but he doesn't try to fight it. The room is warmer, now; it must be sun-up. The window points north, so at least he won't burn up. Neither of them remembered to draw the curtains last night.
He doesn't remember falling asleep, and he's in that semi-lucid state where it's impossible to wake up completely, even though he knows he has to at some point. This particular dream's too nice to leave behind. She's left his side - but that was inevitable, and not even his subconscious can prevent it - but he can sense her nearby, even though he can't quite see her. She's moving about the room, rustling things, making herself known, and then she's at his side again, though not touching. She's whispering something that makes his heart do somersaults, even though he knows it's not real, and then she presses her lips to his, and then she's gone again…
She wakes in strange surroundings, and panics for only a moment. The arms in which she lies immediately remind her of where she is. It's familiar to wake up and find herself wrapped up in him, only this time she'll grant him the courtesy of not running away immediately. Much as she'd love to stay here all day and maybe for another night, she knows she's got an errand to run. Caleb needs to be stopped, and whatever he's protecting has to be uncovered, and she's running out of time.
Oh, but she wishes she could tell him how she feels. It's so tempting to wake him up, stare into those tortured ice-blue eyes and let him know, straight away. But she knows she'll never leave if she does. And besides, she'd rather let him sleep so he doesn't have to see her leave.
Carefully, she extricates her arm from beneath him, her hand from his, and rolls away until she can sit without disturbing him. She watches him a while; he's stopped breathing, which probably means he's dreaming. Do vampires dream? Or is it just this particular vampire that does? There's so much she doesn't know about him - about his history - things that, at any other time, now, she'd be eager to listen to him tell her. Maybe when it's over…
After a while, she gets up and moves around the bed to check the sun's position. He should be fine, but she draws the curtain shut a little anyway, just in case. She looks around the room in the morning light; it looks so different, now. The angles are softer, the colours brighter, the atmosphere less depressing, and it's only partially due to the sunlight. His leather duster still lies, discarded, on the comfy chair.
She doesn't want to just leave him like this. Not without some kind of explanation or expression of gratitude. After all, if not for him, she'd still be wallowing in self-pity right now. An idea strikes her, and she sets about searching the room, quietly, rooting through drawers, cringing at the various personal belongings of the stranger she kicked out the previous night. It takes a few minutes, but she finally finds what she's looking for.
If there were time, she'd write him an epistle of epic proportions. Instead, she scribbles some hasty words and hopes beyond hope that he'll understand the greater meaning. She returns to the other side of the bed and places it, folded in half, on the other pillow so he'll see it when he wakes. She tries to tell her legs to walk her to the door, back to the vineyard, but they disobey, and she finds herself sitting on the edge of the bed, drawing up her legs, lying parallel to him once more.
Well, what's a few more minutes, anyway?
She feels ridiculous, but suddenly she's speaking to him, returning the favour. It's strange, knowing he won't answer back, but it's also quite comforting, since she can say what she wants without having to worry about a reaction. "If you can hear me," she says, "I want you to shut me up. Right now." He doesn't move. Damn him. Now she'll have to talk to get rid of the thoughts in her head. "Thanks. You're a big help. And I can't believe I'm being sarcastic when you're not even awake to appreciate it…" She sighs. "I'm not good at this. I just… I didn't want to just leave you, after last night. You deserve to wake up and find me still here, but… but I have to go do this. I need to find Caleb and whatever he's got hidden at the vineyard. Anyway…" She stops her rambling and gets to the point. "I guess what I want to say is… thank you. For last night. It was… well, 'nice' sounds so pathetic, but… yeah, it was nice. I wouldn't be able to do this if it wasn't for you."
She links her fingers with his on the bed, distracting herself from the imminent task ahead - both physical and verbal. "God, I really hope you can't hear all of this…" She sighs again. From somewhere, the sunlight peeps from behind a cloud and reflects off something - the light fitting, perhaps - and briefly illuminates their joined hands. Hers shields his from the rays until they pass again. "I'm sorry, Spike," she manages to choke out, suddenly finding herself close to tears. "I really, truly am. I'm sorry it had to come to this, and I'm sorry you felt you needed to get that soul to prove yourself to me. I know it's probably a good thing, in the long run, but you must have realised how much it would…" The sentence trails off into a sob, but she chokes it back. "Dammit…" she mutters. When she's regained her composure, she continues. "When this is all over, I'm going to get Xander to build me a picket fence - symbolic, y' know? - and you can stay, and when I come home from patrol or work or heck, maybe even college, I can call out 'Honey, I'm home' like we're in a cheesy sitcom or something. You can tell me you love me, and I promise not to run away any more. I'll listen, I swear it. Maybe I'll say it back… I think… I think I could love you, Spike. I think I already do."
And now she wants a reaction, a glance, anything. He shifts a little in his sleep, but nothing more. She's run out of words, and she's wasting precious time here, much as it pains her to think of it like that. She sits up again, wiping the tears from her eyes, and makes to move again, forcing herself to stand, walk, think clearly. At least her brain is less fuzzed now.
She reaches the halfway point between the bed and the door, and stops. Damn her body for not cooperating this morning; she's beside him again, his back to her, and he seems balanced precariously on the edge of the bed. She leans over, almost bent double, holds her hair back out of the way with one hand, and places a soft kiss to his lips, as best she can.
With that final gesture, she heads determinedly out of the door. She's got a priest to beat up.
He wakes alone, but he's not surprised. The dream makes up for it, somehow, and he can't believe how real it seemed, as if she really was there, saying those things, kissing him goodbye. He looks around hastily, just to make sure - definitely no sign of her, and her scent's long gone, too - and then something on the other pillow catches his eye.
He reaches for it. It's a letter, folded neatly in half and obviously intended for him. He unfolds it, and reads it a little tenaciously, afraid of what it might say; he's expecting a sincere apology, something along the lines of "Don't get your hopes up", her telling him that there's still no chance. He keeps his dream fresh in his mind to cling to as he reads.
The words he finds surprise him. They're hastily scribbled and simple enough, but he can read between the lines.
Sorry I have to leave like this. You were right, about everything. I need to find Caleb and I'll be back at the house straight after. Come home as soon as you can and I'll explain what's happening.
Of the whole short note, only four words stand out. "Sorry" is one of them, and "thank you" comprises another two. An apology and gratitude, both from the Slayer; he's dumbstruck by the thought. It takes a few seconds for the fourth to register. "Home". It's too late to question when she started thinking of her home as his home, and he's not sure he wants to. Part of him tries to believe she wasn't thinking about what she wrote, but another, more determined part of him, knows she was. It's not like Buffy to make that sort of mistake, but it is like her to slip in something subtle and meaningful that throws him for a loop.
Her words to him from a few days ago ring in his ears. 'I'm not ready for you not to be here…' Oh, yes, that 'home' was intentional, no doubt about it.
His early-morning dream comes back to him. He couldn't hear what she was saying, not really, but her tone of voice was enough for him to work it out. Reading over the letter again, he suddenly remembers, clear as crystal, every single word she said. And then, he figures out what all the rustling was about - she was looking for paper and something to write with - and simultaneously, he wonders if, maybe, it wasn't a dream after all…
He scowls at the morning sunlight keeping him from Revello Drive, even though she's probably not back there herself yet. Every hour is an eternity between him and his Slayer; he wonders just how far he'd get if he tried to run. Then again, he should probably spend the time thinking things through. She spoke to him in his sleep - and now he realises that she must have heard everything he'd said to her in the night - and he knows the reason he does that: so there's no risk of difficult conversation, and no danger of getting hurt. She's terrified of the possibility of loving him, and he's always known it. He should probably use this time to mellow again, figure out how to approach her when he does go back there.
In the meantime, he's going to hang onto the letter. William wants him to analyse every last syllable of it, scrawl over it in coloured ink and make notes and underline things, but he's not going to desecrate it. He's got time to commit every word of it to memory, as well as everything she said before she left, and that's exactly what he's going to do.
Besides, he might not get another chance to hear her say she loves him.
A/N: Or possibly I'll do the "End of Days" conversation, too. Except I really don't want to because that'll mean I'll end up re-writing "Chosen", and we'll have another doesn't-want-to-end epic on our hands for another 11 months. Gah. Anyway, I guess if anyone's desperate for me to do that one, I'll do it, but I won't be happy about it. :P Review, pretty please…