Now and At the Hour
by Lily Ann
Summary: Post-Chosen, Buffy and Spike find each other again.
Notes: Okay, this is gonna be an orgy of hurt/comfort so if that's not your thing...also potty mouth and a strong R for sexual stuff, eventually.
I would live in your love
as the sea grasses live in the sea,
Borne up by each wave as it passes
drawn down by each wave that recedes.
I would empty my soul of the dreams
that have gathered in me,
I would beat with your heart as it beats
I would follow your soul as it leads—Sara Teasdale
I am beyond your peripheral vision
so you might want to turn your head–Ani DiFranco
Chapter 1: Turn
Buffy was buying a tub of frozen yogurt on the morning she got her life back.
Just going through the checkout line at an ordinary 7-11, in the heart of Los Angeles, sliding a shivering lump of Neopolitan–Buffy liked Vanilla, Dawn was a strawberry girl. It was all about the compromise--toward some chatty cashier with a crooked name-tag ("Millie, Five Years of Service! I Can Help!") and a story to tell.
"...so the freak wants smokes, but, I'm telling you, Heidi, I was sure he didn't have had a single honest penny on him..."
Digging in her jeans pocket for cash, Buffy was only half-listening to the orange-haired Millie's cigarette saga, but Heidi, the bagger, was clearly fascinated. Leaning on her elbows, the teenager smacked her wad of grape gum and nodded sympathetically. "Another bum looking for a handout?"
"That's what I thought! The guy was dirty!" Millie's long, blue fingernails left furrows in the frost coating the carton when she tapped it for emphasis. "Like he was living in the dump. Or an alley."
"Ooh! He probably had bugs!" Heidi squealed and Millie laughed. Both women ignored Buffy.
"Umm...plastic's fine," she finally piped up, glancing pointedly at her purchase.
"Uhh-huh." Millie reached for Buffy's money, but aimed the rest of her words at Heidi, who was boredly stuffing the yogurt into a bag. "Then he pulls out this honkin' wad o' cash! We're talking some serious green here, girl!"
"No WAY!" Heidi's glossy little mouth dropped open.
"Way." Millie laughed. "So I says, 'Mister, put that away. Aren't you afraid o' muggers? People are murdered for that kind of dough!"
"Ah...could I get my change?" Buffy stared, with great meaning, at her watch, even though it was Saturday and Angel didn't need her until the first of the week. And maybe not even then. It had been a slow month. The helpless seemed to be helping themselves, for once. Or dying quietly, under the radar.
"Sure thing, sweetie." Millie favored Buffy with a smile, but returned, irresistibly, to her story. "And this fellow, he looks right at me with the bluest eyes I ever did see, even under all that grime, and says the strangest thing--"
"You owe me $1.40," Buffy interrupted and received a dirty look from Heidi.
Rolling her eyes, Buffy scanned a tabloid and waited for the gossip to run its course so she could get her change and go home, where television and take-out Chinese awaited her. A quiet–lonely–afternoon with Faith at Robin Wood's and Dawn spending more and more time with her new school friends. There'd be a short call to England, maybe, for Willow's chatter, which she missed. There might be a few hours of sleep, after that, without dreams of Sunnydale, if she was lucky.
"'Should I never return, love, all is in order.'"
"What?" Buffy's head jerked around like a marionette's, pulled to attention by shock. Her narrowed gaze landed on the orange-haired Millie, suddenly as bright and focused as a searchlight. She had to remind herself to breathe. And though it was late fall, the tail end of the dying season, her clothes suddenly felt clammy, like the memory of cold, pale skin, gone many months ago.
Lost in a moment of supreme sacrifice.
Millie huffed impatiently. "That's what he said. Just like that. And that voice, oh my stars and garters..."
There was a buzzing in Buffy's head, like a thousand bees harvesting sweet memory of a time and a man gone forever. Gone from her, to dust and ash and whatever afterlife awaited him, bitter or joyous. It wasn't for Buffy to know. Oh, but she wondered, though. Wondered all the time. What became of his essence, his pilgrim soul?
Her beautiful, punk boy. The most dark and loving creature she'd ever known. And the lover she'd wronged the most. Yes, lover. She could finally admit what he was to her, for all those dark months, give him a place of honor in her life and memories. It filled her up unexpectedly at times, the paradoxical grace of having been Spike's lover, dropping slow when she heard the rough laughter of a man or cupped her hand around a guttering candle flame.
He burned brighter than the fire, and even his memory is intense enough to take her breath away.
And that one word–love–inserted into a sentence so casually by a stranger...
Stupid. It was stupid to suddenly hope. Spike was dead–deader–than he'd been in his London grave, more than a century ago and a continent away.
Burned and scattered to the earth that bore him. Resting in the crater of that secretive old town, with the bones of Anya and Amanda and Jonathon. Her mom, and Tara, too. And all all the little girls that fell in that last, desperate effort to hold back the darkness.
All dead. And Buffy remained.
Suddenly aware of how she looked, standing frozen in the aisle of the 7-11, clutching her package for dear life, Buffy looked up. Her reflection shimmered in an overhead mirror, and she really looked at herself for the first time in weeks. What she saw was a too-thin girl with dark roots in her golden hair, an aged woman at twenty-two. What was most appalling, though, was her sad, sad eyes. Spike used to make them blaze with passion and anger and a thousand other emotions he brought out in her from moment to moment.
"Look Beautiful, you do, all sails to the wind and full of starch."
Whatever that meant. He was a master at words, her Spike, but too cavalier to ever be a good poet. He butchered the language and made his own, a passionate vocabulary of all he'd seen and done and been. Of people he loved, and hated, killed or forgave.
Buffy couldn't bear it another minute, this remembering. But when she closed her eyes, he was there, too. Defiant in the First's den of horrors...loved by moonlight before a forbidden altar...sleeping peacefully in her arms, a tangled contradiction of dark and bright.
"Sorry," she stammered at a confused Millie. "I...I have to go. Keep the change."
But, as she reached the swinging door that would take her back to her life alone, Buffy hesitated, mind ticking over the coincidences. Blue eyes...crazy talk...cigarettes. A voice like honey. It can't be. I'll just go now...
"What was he wearing?" Buffy didn't turn around, just waited for Millie to answer. In her mind's eye, she pictured the cashier biting her lip in thought.
She was bracing herself, and barely aware of it, but Buffy still wasn't ready for the answer when it came.
"Old leather coat. Looked like it had been through Pearl Harbor, plus the Mexican war." This earned a snicker from Heidi.
No, just a couple apocalypse, many beatings, countless brawls, then the great grandmother of all cave-ins and possible death. Buffy's heart leapt in her chest. One hand, of its own free will, reached out and caught the edge of a shopping cart as her knees buckled.
"Hey, are you okay?"
"Fine...fine," Buffy managed. She straightened and carefully turned around. Very faintly, she heard her own voice asking, "Can you...describe his face?"
His beloved face, curving beautifully under her lips, her palm. Weeping in life, warmly golden in death. Earnest as he tells her she's the One.
Millie frowned. "Like I said, honey, he was dirty, like street-folk get. But good bones, overall. Unusual. Thin." Millie looked thoughtful. "And there was something else..."
"What?" Buffy asked faintly.
"A scar." Millie gestured to her perfectly plucked brows, and laid a finger there. "Here." One manicured nail traced an invisible x and Buffy felt the motion like a slash across her heart.
The frozen yogurt hit the floor with a smack.
She knew. She just knew.
"On the last day, he'll be judged, like the rest of us, by the one, merciful God."
"He entered this faith a hundred and fifty-years ago, through the rite of baptism."
"Even the faithful still strive to conquer sin."
"I know that the cleansing fire of purgatory visited your Spike here on earth." Father---- squeezed her fingers comfortingly . "And he departed this world in God's grace, if only for a moment."