It was much easier to get drunk as a human. Spike discovered this after taking the second sip of whatever he had first yanked out of the mini-fridge. And true, while it was against his better judgment, there was a rationale wracking his brain that demanded to remain sober. Thus when he wavered a bit with the unease of a new body, he placed the alcohol aside and collapsed on the mattress.
The look on her face…
It didn't matter now, he supposed. He had his answer. He had everything he needed for having come as far as he had. And here he was now—reclined on some foreign bed in a hotel he would never see again. Just miles away from where she was. Just miles.
Not an hour ago, he had been inches.
Spike didn't know what he had been expecting with tonight. There was no limit on endings; a thousand plus scenarios entertained. Conversations he had had with her over and over again in his head, taking his time to perfect exactly what he needed to say. An open field of misgiving. He had already endured the venom of her tongue, the warmth of her embrace, the taste of her mouth, the salt of her tears, the brunt of her punch all within a mind's cavity before the door had opened. Before he was swallowed alive in those eyes of such wonder and uncertainty.
"Spike," she had said, her voice wracked with disbelief. True disbelief. Not simply a figure of speech. She looked as though her sanity ought to be in question for even entertaining the possibility that he could be standing at the threshold. "Oh…"
He had smiled best he could, muscles clamping with the need to shove etiquette aside and take her in his arms. He had not truly believed she existed in the realm that had rebirthed him until that moment. That some part of his sentence, regardless of humanity, coincided with being a world apart from the woman he had earned that humanity for. But no. No. She was there. Buffy was there just as he was promised. There and more beautiful with the grace of human eyes than he ever thought possible.
There was nothing, though. No tears, no shouts, no confessions, no half-sobbed lunge into his arms. Nothing. She had stood aside, numbly, and gestured that he should come in. Wesley had followed at the heel, said something that Spike failed to catch, and they were escorted to the main area where Xander and Willow were decorating a Christmas tree.
From there, everything was downhill. Though watching Xander fall off the chair he was perched upon would forever remain a highlight of the top-ten variety. Willow had stared at him for endless seconds while the boy ranted in the back that the First had found them, silencing immediately when the redhead all but leapt into his arms in a hug that sufficiently astonished the room.
Not that Spike minded.
Not a bit. It was the first hint of contact that came out of genuine affection rather than helping him wobble from a downtown pub or administering medicinal practices for the sake of curing a dimensional fever. She mentioned something about missing him then looked pointedly over his shoulder.
But Buffy wasn't watching. Her skin was pale and her gaze was distant; a dumb, blank look colored her features. She answered when he called to her but refused to look up, closing her eyes once as though willing herself awake from some horrible dream.
Spike had learned a lot of things in the course of one hour. The Bit was off in New York at some fancy boarding school that she had somehow talked Buffy into. He found it more surprising that she wanted to be in boarding school in the first place. Perhaps it was the normalcy, or the teenage need to be away from parental authority figures.
The Scoobies, with all their faults, were about as parental as anyone could ask for. At least when it came to the kiddies.
So Dawn was away—she had even opted to stay in the Big Apple for Christmas. Something about flying overseas for one holiday just didn't rest well with her. She was there, and Giles was piecing the Watcher's Council back together as best he could. That, of course, resigned him to London with a healthy selection of the Slayers that had been called the day the Hellmouth was closed.
The townhouse in Rome, therefore, was only home to Willow, Xander, and Buffy. Willow having separated with Kennedy before she left with Giles for England. A decision that no one felt the need to dispute.
All this revealed. Spike hardly speaking. He had spent his evening watching Buffy. But she didn't watch back.
Now he was at the hotel, debating the virtues of holiday drunkenness.
He wondered if Wesley was doing the same, or if the two unconfirmed lovebirds were having a yuletide shagathon.
Buffy had not said anything. Not a thing.
Shock was one thing. Spike understood shock. Even in their world, it wasn't every day that ex-lovers that had, at last count, been buried by a Hellmouth turned up on Christmas Eve on your doorstep. Especially if your doorstep was a good ocean away from it had been the last time there was any significant conversation. Shock he had expected. But this? Buffy's disposition reminded him of her catatonia after Dawn was taken, though her vibes were clear and it could only mean that she did not want him. That his presence tonight was an unwelcome reminder of what had transpired before the summer. The life she had once led. And it was too late now.
That much he understood. Had even expected.
But not a word.
Spike offered the room a pained smile and rose to his feet. He had not even realized it was Christmas until he saw them decorating the tree. All the other signs—the airport, the lights, the city's luminosity—all had escaped him until tonight. Somehow it was Christmas. His Slayer's first Christmas not being the Slayer in nearly a decade.
And he, the formerly vampiric jilted lover, come back from the dead.
Destroying the happiness he had sacrificed himself to create.
God, he was such a fool.
Christmas drunkenness was not a good idea. He didn't know yet if he was suicidal. After all, it wasn't too long ago that he had been slicing his flesh just to see his blood. He had won the debate on carving his heart out to see if it actually beat, but right now, he didn't know if his inner logic was enough to battle the demons of depression. The realities of a world no longer made for him. These hands that had known chaos and destruction—now human and unable to stand the bath of so much red.
Human hands drenched in blood could not touch her. A demon's could.
Life was irony's bitch.
Spike leg's wobbled under his weight. There was someone pounding on his door. That enough merited a headache. It was likely Wesley, giving up on Fred for the night to retreat to more neutral territory. Then they could toast to the unreasonableness of women and pretend to be better off without them while getting so sloshed that tomorrow's hangover would make the Spanish Inquisition seem like a ride at Epcot.
Well, if it meant he could forget for a few hours.
And sod Fred and her apples; he was going to have a smoke. If the world were going to be so cruel as to give him life without a reason for living, he would do his damndest to make it as short a life as possible.
The knocking grew more persistent.
"Hold your bloody horses," he grumbled. "'m comin'."
His vocal rebuttal only fueled the fire.
"I swear, Wes, this better—" Spike jerked the door open to a proverbial sucker punch that successfully knocked the air out of him. His eyes went wide and his heart pounded furiously—sensationalism beyond control attacking him from all ends without an ounce of shame. The art of being human at its worst.
Her hair was pulled back in a sloppy ponytail. The night breeze graced her tear-stained cheeks with an accent that no other could provide. Her arms were wound around her waist, a lightweight sweater protecting her from cold that seemed nearly mandatory. Her eyes met his with the rage of war he was far too familiar with, held, and broke again with the tumble of her sobs.
Spike's eyes softened. He wanted to touch her but didn't know if he was welcome. "Buffy—"
And that was it. That was all it took. The simple whisper of her name and she lunged into his arms, hugging him to her as her body wracked with an emotional storm that neither had seen coming. There was nothing else but that. Every fiber in his body rejoiced, his arms coming around hers with eagerness he had never known before. Tighter. She was here. She was here, in his arms, and he would never let her go.
"You're real," she sobbed into his skin, clutching him tighter. "Oh God, you're real."
The words stabbed at his heart and his body sagged with weightlessness.
"Buffy…" He pulled back, a hand going to her face to wipe at her tears. "Sweetheart, I—"
He had no time to think. No time to react. The warmth of her mouth was on his, wrestling needy kisses as her hands pawed at him. Not out of sexual comfort—no, she was reassuring herself. Drawing him into her mouth, ravaging his tongue with hers. Spike clutched at her desperately, brain wracking into overload. He had no thought but to get her inside. Shove the door closed and get her to the place where he lived, where he could finally keep her.
Vampiric senses had nothing on human touch. He tasted her in ways he never thought possible.
"Your warm," she whispered.
"Got me a heartbeat," he murmured back, pressing a kiss to the nape of her throat.
"And you're real." She glanced down, eyes fogging again. "I didn't want to believe it. My dreams…they'd all felt real before."
"But then I'd wake up and you'd be gone." Her hands were at his face, gliding over his skin, matching his awed gaze with one of her own. "But you're not. You're here." Her eyes fogged with tears again. "You're really here."
Spike smiled and pressed a kiss to her brow. "'m here, kitten. Never goin' anywhere else."
"God, I thought I'd gone insane."
"You really missed me that much?"
Buffy's head shot up, eyes blazing. "You were gone," she said, "and you weren't coming back. You weren't away in Brazil or getting a soul in Africa. You were really gone."
He breathed a trembling breath and guided her to the bed. The night already seemed surreal; having the Slayer in his arms, having her with him at all, shoved everything beyond the boundary of expectation. He was beginning to doubt his own tangibility alongside hers. Perhaps neither of them were real.
"It didn't hit me until we were in the Midwest," she murmured, head cradled at his shoulder. "I guess I kept assuming you'd pop up. Have I missed you? I was just beginning to not look for you wherever I go…not thinking you'd be there, but…you'd never been gone before, Spike. You were always somewhere."
They were silent for seconds; the former vampire having no conception on what was expected of him. He sat in solemnity, rocking her back and forth, drawing her hair over her shoulders. All the while repeating the inward mantra that this was real. Buffy was real.
"You were dead," she whispered into his skin, clutching him tighter. "You were gone."
"'m here, baby."
Spike smiled and pulled back, running a hand softly through her hair. "Were you at all there when Wesley explained this?"
"No. I didn't want to look at you."
He winced. "Caught that much."
"Didn't want to chance that you weren't really there. As long as I didn't look and just heard your voice, you were."
Spike froze and just stared at her.
Never had he imagined himself here. Buffy in his lap. Speaking these words to him. Even in his wildest. Even when he was a vampire—as soulless as the sun was warm. He never thought she would ever feel anything that could be conveyed into words as powerful as those. With emotion as deep as what she was giving him. Never.
Her hands glided up his arms and linked behind his neck, her brow pressed intimately against his. It was strange, but the warmth of her was almost enhanced. As though he could feel her with everything he was—even the parts of him that were not touching her.
"Tell me I'm not dreaming," she whispered. "I mean, I've heard of Christmas miracles before, and I was so sure you weren't real. Please…"
Spike's eyes watered. He pressed a kiss to her lips, and again to her forehead before encouraging her cheek to find his shoulder. "You're not dreamin', sweetheart," he murmured, battling the choking emotion that threatened to seize everything he had left. "God, isn't that my line?"
"Not after what I've been through." She sniffled and the sound made his soul weep. He had never known this side of her. Never known her to need anyone, much less him. And while he would not delude himself into believing that it was him she needed, he would similarly do nothing to cast this feeling away. For the first time in his existence, the warmth he gave was being given back. That love he had offered to three was finally accepted by the one his heart had long ago claimed. He felt it even if the words remained absent. Every cell in her body was combust with that sentiment. "If this is a cruel joke, you might as well…the Powers can't give you back to me and take you away again. They just can't."
"'m not goin' anywhere," he promised, brushing his lips against the pulse of her throat, smiling when he felt her skin flush against him. Perhaps that was one thing that would never go away. Her blood still sang to him; just in a manner he had never expected. "Took me too long to get here."
She nodded slowly, her eyes making the journey from pained incredulity to the guarded part of her laced with acknowledgment. She was afraid to let herself admit that he was there, and the knowledge tore at his heart. "What happened?"
Spike pulled back slightly so that he could see her face. "I don' know, really," he answered honestly. "I don' remember anythin' before…you were in the cave, holdin' my hand. Then nothin'. Wes says he found me in some pub."
Her eyes dropped to his arms, a smile quirking her lips. "You're still wearing black tees," she said.
"Became human, luv. Din't lose my fashion sense."
"Didn't know you had any."
Spike smiled. There she was. He rumbled a small, affectionate chuckle and kissed her temple. "That's my girl."
But she wasn't paying attention. In just two seconds, the half-smile on her face had dissolved, replaced with fear and sorrow. Her hands were on his arms, then. Tracing the patterns of scars that were healing but new. The scars he had inflicted upon himself, demanding the world to prove to him that he was real.
In that, he could understand her hesitation. After all, if he doubted his own existence, what right did he have to ask her to believe it?
"What did you do?" she asked, her voice barely above a whisper. "Spike…"
"Made myself bleed," he replied, tilting her head upwards so that her eyes were level with his. "Had to see 'f it was blood. 'F it was real. If I was real." He smiled gently at the look on her face. "I don' remember much of that firs' night, but there was blood. Wes says I was cuttin' myself up an' threatenin' to cut up others. Took mentionin' you to get me back to the straight an' narrow."
She blinked. "What?"
"Knew I was s'posed to be a vampire, sweetling. Knew I was s'posed to be dead. My heart was poundin' so loud. So hard. God, it hurt. Nearly broke my chest, or at least felt like it." He frowned, taking her hand and placed it over his breast. "Feel that?" She nodded numbly, caressing him through the thin fabric of his shirt. He bit back a moan at her heavenly touch. Every whispered hint against him was enough to send him spiraling toward a rapturous end. "Still hurts some. Was hurtin' earlier when I saw you. God, I thought you hated me."
That snapped her out of it. Buffy's hazel eyes jumped to his in astonishment. "What?"
"You ran across the world to get away from us, din't you?"
"I couldn't be near the Hellmouth. Anywhere. Too many—"
"You were given a normal world…an' here I was, the wanker come back from the dead to destroy it. I—"
"I love you." Her eyes glistened with liquid crystal, stealing the breath from his lungs and the beat from his heart. And amazingly so, it was she who bent first to tears. With such a revelation, he had always suspected she would cripple him with words, should she ever say them. It was so real now. Sitting in the cold of a foreign hotel room with Buffy in his arms. No ghosties. No goblins. No vampires or First Evils. There was no apocalypse; nothing but two people who were tired of running from death while life chased after. People scarred so many times over that their wounds had become a work of art. And for everything else in the world, there was only this. Only this moment. None before or after. This.
She loved him.
"You love me?"
Her face began to crumple. "You didn't believe me."
Spike's eyes widened and his body hung with instant regret. Oh God. She couldn't think that. Had she spent the last few months thinking that? Thinking that her last declaration wasn't the single most blissful moment in all his years? Not knowing that he had carried it with him to eternity?
No you don't. But thanks for sayin' it.
God. He was love's fool.
"No, pet." He pressed a kiss to the palm of her hand, smiling into her skin. "I believed you. An' that's why I had to let you go."
Buffy bit her lip. "You did? Really?"
"Yes. 'S what made my mind up for me. What made me know that closin' the Hellmouth was the only way to…" He expelled a deep breath and cast his gaze downward. "You told me before then, you know. You jus'…I don' know 'f you were…'f you knew."
He smiled softly, his grasp tightening in need. "Remember the night before? You came down the stairs an' we…"
Watching her blush with implication was something he would never forgo. With everything they had seen, with everything they had done—with a heated history between them burning a matched love with more than either had known—she still found humility enough to blush.
"I love you," he whispered heatedly, claiming her lips in a sudden flash of need. "Never loved anyone like I love you. Don' even know 'f I knew love before there was you. Not the way the romantics write it. You take every bloody sonnet an' make the poet's weep for bein' so unworthy to even touch you." His insides wrenched and he found himself out of breath.
"I want this poet," she murmured into his throat. "Stay. Stay with me, please. Forever."
As if he was capable of anything else. The soft request, so unsure, so hesitant, inspired the tears he had been fighting over that final barrier. And he could do nothing but weep with her, kissing her into oblivion.
This. This was the happy ending he had told Fred to ask the Powers for.
But there was no ending. Only beginnings. Here in this room would birth a beginning. Paved with blood and tears, but held together with love that had emerged from a storm so violent it was amazing anything carved of beauty could survive.
"Forever," he found himself gasping before she commanded his mouth to hers again. Kissing the sun. Burning from the inside. He would sacrifice this for nothing. His hell was paid, and Heaven was finally letting him in. "For our forever. Here. Wherever you want. I'm yours."
She smiled at him. That final nod of acceptance. Emerging from the shadowlands to acknowledge what was true. And that was it. The final solidification of anything he could have ever asked for. It was now. He had found it, and he was never letting go.
Tonight. On this Christmas Eve. On this holy night.
His arms wrapped around the woman he loved, she curled into his embrace. Stealing kisses and caresses, holding onto each other in defiance to a world that had moved time to separate them. A world screamed. For whatever else there was, this was something that would never again be robbed from him.
Just this. This penance. Beauty created from chaos and born to hope.
This was it, then.
Tomorrow promised a new and glorious morn.
This story was a much condensed version of a more epic idea that first started formulating after the series finale more than a year ago—something I never got around to writing. Many things were left purposefully unresolved, more notably the Fred/Wes storyline. I feel that it is necessary at times to admit that life rarely ever resolves anything, and will leave readers to conclude what they believe happened in a way that is satisfactory to the individual.
In the meantime, happy holidays, and thank you for reading. :)