Title: Poetic License
Summary: S/B, Post-Not Fade Away: " She thought the sight of him should stun her. He was alive and whole, and he was right there. But all she felt was an odd mix of relief and excited anticipation, like waking up on Christmas morning. Like the moment she didn't even know she'd been waiting for had finally arrived."
Disclaimer: If I created them, I'd be rich and famous. I'm neither.
A/N: Originally written for and posted at the 2004 round of "Summer of Spike."
She knew him before she saw him. Before she even heard him. Funny. She would have thought that, after all this time, that visceral sense of his presence would have faded and he'd show up on her radar as just another vampire. But this particular tug had a name attached, and it rose to her lips moments after she entered the pub, before the sound of his voice reached her ears. That same honey-whiskey voice that used to murmur in her ear as she came, filling her with poetry even as he filled her with himself, now amplified to fill a room full of enraptured listeners. The voice was the same, but the poems were new. She let them guide her further into the pub, until she could see through the crowd and the smoky haze to the tiny stage at the back.
She thought the sight of him should stun her. He was alive and whole, and he was right there. But all she felt was an odd mix of relief and excited anticipation, like waking up on Christmas morning. Like the moment she didn't even know she'd been waiting for had finally arrived. Or maybe she had known. She knew he had come back. But by the time Andrew had told her, it was too late. Angel and all of his people had gone missing, and all she had was Andrew's word that, for a while at least, Spike had been alive again. Over the last year she had heard rumors. Battles in L.A. and down the coast into Mexico. A vampire and a blue goddess taking on hordes of demons and then disappearing again. Every time she tried to follow a lead, all signs pointed to Angel. Giles had confirmed the deaths of Wesley and another man named Gunn who was known to work for Angel. But there was never any word on Spike. Eventually, she had stopped looking. She supposed that was when she'd started waiting.
And now the wait was over.
She hung at the back, out of his line of sight, and watched him. He closed his eyes as he recited, so there was no danger of her being seen while she figured out what she wanted to do. He looked different. Darker hair, lighter jeans, no coat. But the passion on his face and his don't-fuck-with-me aura were the same. He caressed the microphone as lovingly as he used to caress her, and his audience was responsive to his touch. She bit her lip and looked around the room, suddenly jealous of all these strangers getting to see this side of him. Then she realized: this was him. The him she'd known he could be. He'd dug down deep and finally found that guy.
She resisted the temptation to be hurt by that. She understood. He'd once told her that he was drowning in her, and not long after, she'd found out exactly what he meant. He had needed time and space to figure out who he really was, just as she had. And he had started over, just as she had. But his poetry told her that he still carried her with him, just as she carried him. She closed her eyes and listened.
"Said Goldilocks to the Big Bad, 'Mind if I stay here tonight? My bed is crowded and cold, and yours is just right.' And the Big Bad lied, fed her some line about pride, and hid his joy that he was no longer her toy. She started to go, but he jumped up and said 'No! Please stay with me. 'Cause now I see that the angry little girl who once took without asking is now giving me the world. In you, my heart's basking.'"
Silence. A smile crept across Buffy's lips and a tear slid down her cheek. As she wiped it away, the crowd burst into applause. They even cheered. Onstage, the poet ducked his head shyly and smiled. "Got one more!" he shouted over the din. "This one's called 'Goldilocks and the Three Misogynistic Old Bears'."
Buffy already knew this story. She slipped away from the audience and went to the bar. If they could each start over new on their own, then maybe there was still a chance of starting over together. She ordered two drinks, and then sat down to wait just a little longer.
Getting to the bar got harder after every reading. The audience mobbed him, wanting to ask him questions, shake his hand or just pat him on the back. He was picking up a regular following. Groupies, even. There was always one bird--sometimes more--who wanted to know who Goldilocks was and to ease his pain for the night. Sometimes he let them. Felt good to forget. Felt bloody brilliant to be admired for his poetry, almost as good as saving the world, and without all the loss. It was dangerous business, this. Didn't exactly fit the definition of the laying low he was supposed to be doing. Sooner or later, they were going to find him, no matter how much he changed his clothes and his hair. And then there would be hell to pay.
Tonight he didn't feel like talking to the fans. He pushed through the mob, excusing himself as he went and turning down offers of comfort. There was none to be had. During his recital he'd gotten hit with a pang of longing for his subject, so acute that it was all he could do to keep going. He missed her so much at that moment that he thought it might kill him. Almost hoped it would. And the feeling wasn't going away. As he worked his way to the bar he repeated to himself all of the very valid reasons he had for staying away, to keep himself from passing the bar, going straight to the exit and making a beeline to the nearest train station to book passage to Rome. His only recourse was to sit down and start drinking, and to keep at it until either the feeling passed or he passed out.
"Bourbon. Neat," he called out as he sank onto a stool. The barkeep looked up from wiping a glass, smiled knowingly, and nodded to the customer next to Spike as a small, well manicured hand slid his order in front of him. He sighed, but managed an appreciative smile without looking up. "Thanks, Pet, but the mood I'm in, best I spend tonight alone."
"Jeez, presume much? It's a drink, not a key to my room."
Her voice shocked him out of self-pity enough for him to realize three things: one, that his mouth was hanging open; two, that the woman sitting next to him radiated strength, and that the scent of her was triggering all kinds of sense memories; and three, that he knew the hand wrapped around the shot glass better than his own. Knew how well it fit in his, how the nails felt scraping his skin, how it could curl into a crushing fist or unfold for a delicate caress. He kept his eyes on the hand. If he looked up, the face would belong to someone else and he'd know he was only imagining this.
He must have gone too long without saying anything, because the voice said, "Suit yourself," and the hand pulled away.
The scent and sense of her both started to fade. Spike closed his mouth and swallowed, then swiveled to see her back--smooth skin exposed by a halter top and hair swept up in a loose French roll--retreating toward the door. "Wait!" he called, and she stopped. She stood there a moment, shoulders rising and falling with steady breath. As she turned back around he braced himself for the mirage to fade. But it didn't. Buffy looked at him, her eyes taking him in while her face remained passive.
Finally, she shrugged and said, "Okay." Then she returned to her stool.
Lack of a heartbeat didn't stop something somewhere in the region of his chest from doing cartwheels. He'd do one himself, right there in the middle of the pub, if it didn't mean tearing his eyes away from her for a moment. Yeh, he was staring. Had to. His eyes were still trying to convince the rest of him that she was really there.
"So you're the poet," she said with an air of affected casualness before taking a sip of her Manhattan. The choice of drink was new. The face she made as she swallowed wasn't.
Spike smiled. "Heard that, did you?"
"I did. And I liked what I heard. Did you write them?"
He nodded, suddenly come over a bit shy and embarrassed at having been caught by her. He was also confused. When he imagined their first conversation upon reuniting, it involved fists and tears and shouting and not a little kissing. He didn't know what to do with nonchalance and small talk.
But apparently she did. "Cool. Y'know, I used to be involved with this guy who was into poetry. He'd recite it to me when we..." She stopped, her turn to look embarrassed. But not painfully so. "Anyway, he never read me any of his own."
His confusion spiked about ten points. His eyes narrowed and his head tilted as he tried to figure out what she was playing at. He was pretty sure he didn't look that different with darker hair. "Um," he said.
Buffy smiled. "Sorry." She set her drink down and turned on her stool to face him. "I should really introduce myself before I go all TMI. I'm Buffy. And you are?"
"Er." He looked down at her extended hand, then back at her face. Saw eyes full of expectation and... something else. Something that made him catch on. Time stood still as he licked his lips and then wrapped his large hand around hers. "Name's William." The electricity that shot through him upon touching her very nearly jump-started his heart, but he somehow kept his cool. "Most folks call me Spike."
"Both good names," she said perkily, not letting go his hand. "So which do I call you?"
He shrugged. "Up to you, Love. Been called a lot worse in either case." She laughed girlishly at his joke, and suddenly he got it, this pretense. Clean slate. No history between them, no vampire and no slayer. No obligatory "I love you" hanging in the air. Just two regular people having a chance meet in a bar, and the possibilities of where they could go from there were limitless. Spike swallowed his whiskey and exchanged it for a pint, no longer in any hurry to lose his wits. He relaxed and decided to just play along, curious and eager to see how far they could take this. "You're not from around here," he said.
Buffy grinned, a playful twinkle in her eye, and said, "Gee, how'd you guess?" She plucked the cherry from her drink and brought it to her lips, pink tongue darting out to catch a droplet of liquor. "I'm here from Rome."
"Funny, you don't strike me as Italian, either."
"That's because I'm Californian. I was born in L.A. What about you? Where are you from?"
Much as he was enjoying just watching her and hearing the sound of her voice, he remembered to take a pull on his beer in an effort to keep things normal. He swallowed, wiped his mouth and said, "London, originally. Been all over, though. Last place I settled for any length of time was Los Angeles, as a matter of fact."
"Yeh. 'Fore that, spent a bunch of years in a little town called Sunnydale."
"Get out! I used to live in Sunnydale!"
"It's totally so."
Spike grinned. "Hell of a town, that."
"You can say that again." Buffy smiled in return, but it turned wistful and he regretted bringing it up. "I suppose you heard what happened there," she said.
He blinked, but stayed in character. "Yeh, caught wind of something going down there. Hope everyone made it out."
"More or less." She frowned into her martini glass, running her finger around the rim. "I lost my best friend in the cave-in."
Bloody... Spike knew she didn't mean Willow, and Andrew had told him that Harris was also fine. Did she mean...?
Buffy set her drink down and turned to face him. "So, William," she started, her tone determinedly lighter, "what do you do? Besides the poetry, I mean. Unless that's all you do, which is also a valid life choice." As she spoke she leaned in closer, and at the last she briefly touched his knee. Spike was fascinated. She'd never really flirted with him before, least not in any way that didn't involve a threat and a punch in the nose and her running away before he could decide whether he wanted to kill her or kiss her. He liked it.
"Oh, you know," he said, "fight demons, protect the innocent, try not to die again. The usual."
A knowing smile crept across her lips. "Sounds like we have a lot in common."
"Sure seems that way."
The façade was slipping. They sat in silence, gazing at each other, eyes serving as windows into souls that knew each other too well. Maybe it was time to give up the game. Buffy's eyes misted over. Blinking, she turned back to her drink. Spike bit his lip and waited, determined to follow her lead. But suddenly the urge to touch her, hold her, came over him, as urgent and overwhelming as the need to simply see her had been ten minutes ago. Spike took a deep breath and reached a careful hand toward her. "Love," he began, but faltered as he became aware of the music changing. Some bird with a haunting voice started singing a ballad about lost love. Seemed apropos. He realized there was something else they'd never done together, least not in the literal sense. Bracing himself, he asked, "Fancy a dance?"
She looked at him, surprised, then looked out at the rest of the pub. "Nobody else is dancing."
"You don't really strike me as the follow-the-crowd sort."
Buffy smiled. Challenge met. She took his hand and led him beyond the tables scattered throughout the pub to a darkened corner. He practically floated behind her. It was dizzying, being so near her after being so far apart for so long. Even with his hand clutched firmly in hers he couldn't quite believe she was there. She picked a spot and let him take over. Once his arms went around her waist and her cheek rested on his chest, Spike buried his nose in her hair and dared to let loose a sigh of contentment.
For a while they just held each other like that, swaying to the music in silence. Then, "I've written some poetry."
Spike opened his eyes. "Have you, now?"
"I took a class in college where they made me. I didn't do much. Haikus, mostly." Buffy lifted her head to look at him. "Here, I can do one now." Her eyes rolled up to the ceiling as she concentrated on her composition. "'I love you,' she said... 'No you don't,' he said, then died... before she could tell him what a big dummy he was." She grinned. "What do you think?"
Spike had frozen in place at "I love you," and now stared at her as though she were a waking dream. "Um." He swallowed. "That last line was a bit more'n five syllables."
She shrugged. "So I took poetic license. But only with the form." Her expression turned serious. No more games. "I meant it, Spike." Her hand found his cheek. "I still mean it."
He was speechless. Probably a good thing; meant he couldn't say something stupid. Again. Spike closed his eyes and covered Buffy's hand with his own and tried not to weep openly. She held his face in both hands now, pulled him down until his forehead rested against hers. "I love you," she whispered.
And there were the tears.
The tavern door banged open. Around them, people screamed and scrambled toward the back of the pub. Their bubble burst and the rest of the world came into glaring focus as they both turned toward the source of the commotion. A demon stood in the doorway, the hardcore kind, all spines and teeth and claws. It sniffed the air, its head turning slowly until it found Spike. He braced himself. Here came the fists and fighting. Least it wouldn't be with each other. But the demon only smiled--or maybe it bared its teeth. Hard to tell--and turned to leave.
"Okay, what the hell was that?" asked Buffy.
"Scout." He started for the door. "Gotta go after it."
"Spike, wait." Her hand gripped his arm and kept him in place. "We need weapons."
"No time, Love," he said, shaking her off. "I can't let that thing report what it found."
"Why? What did it find?"
Buffy took only a second to watch him race out the door and to wonder how she'd fallen in love with such a headstrong dumbass. Then she scanned the tavern for a weapon. An armored breastplate hung above the bar, flanked by a broadsword and a battle-axe. Perfect. She ran across the room, leapt over the bar, and grabbed both.
"Oi!" the bartender shouted. "You can't take those! They're local treasures!"
Buffy held the sword in front of her as she turned to face him. "You want to see that thing come back here?"
Backing off, he shook his head. Buffy wasted no more time on explanations. She jumped the counter and ran after Spike. The streets of Bath were busy enough that all she had to do was follow the screams. She found them a couple of blocks from the pub, surrounded by a crowd of onlookers, taking pictures and cheering on the fight. Buffy shoved through the crowd to see Spike underneath the demon, the muscles of his arms and neck straining as he held the thing's jaws away from his face.
"Hello! Not a street performance!" Buffy shouted to the crowd. "Get out of here!" She got a running start and then leapt into the air to aim both feet at the demon's head. She hit it hard enough to knock it off of Spike and leave it dazed. Landing in a crouch next to the vampire, she handed him the axe. "Here."
"Thanks," he said, climbing to his feet as the demon came back around for another go. This time it lunged at Buffy. She jumped and somersaulted over its head. "It's me you want!" shouted Spike. "Leave her out of it!" He leapt on its back, fangs bared, and buried the axe blade in its thick neck. The demon bucked him into the crowd, knocking people down and sending the rest running and screaming. At least that took care of the bystanders. As Spike got to his feet, the rest of them crawled away to safety. He had the demon's full attention now.
Buffy saw her opening. She readied her sword and charged the creature, aiming the point of her blade at the wound Spike had started. It was totally focused on Spike, stalking him, ignoring her completely. Or so she thought. At the last second it spun, faster than she thought possible for something with that much size and bulk, and hit her with the back of its massive claw, knocking her down. Then it swept her up and flung her at a shop window. "Buffy!" Spike screamed, but it was drowned out by the sound of shattering glass.
She landed on a hardwood floor in a tangle of cloth and mannequins. Pain exploded through her shoulder. For a while she just lay there, too stunned to move. Outside, she heard a barely human howl of anger. Moments later she heard another howl, this one far less human and full of agony. It was followed by silence. Then, "Buffy!"
"In here!" She pushed a mannequin off of her and sat up, sucking air in through her teeth as her shoulder gave protest. By the time Spike found her she was on her knees, cradling her limp arm.
"Are you hurt?"
"Is it dead?"
They both asked at once. With a distracted nod, Spike knelt beside her. "Is it bad?"
"My shoulder," she said. "Help me put it back."
Gently, he took hold of her arm and held it out straight. Then she braced herself against him as he shoved it back into place. It hurt worse going in than it had coming out, and she yelped. It left her dizzy for a second, with stars swirling around the edge of her vision.
"Damn it," Spike muttered. Then, "Fuck!"
"What's wrong? I haven't even been back in your life a full hour and already you're hurt. That's what's wrong."
"Spike, I'm fine. Don't make a thing out of this."
"It's already a thing, Love!" He jumped to his feet. "You could've been killed!"
"So could you!"
"But that demon was gunning for me."
Buffy stood up. "Then it's a good thing I was here."
Spike shook his head and growled in frustration. He raked his hands through his hair and turned to pace, all signs of an irrational rant coming on. Buffy decided to head it off at the pass. Before he could say another word, she grabbed him by the shoulders, spun him around and cut him off with a kiss.
He didn't seem to know what to do with his hands. Hers clutched the collar of his shirt, holding him to her with no intention of letting him go. Not again. But his hands finally settled against her shoulders and pushed her back. "Buffy..."
"Spike--" The two-note sound of an English police siren cut her off. Reluctantly, she released his shirt. "We should get out of here."
"Yeh. Come on."
He led her out the back of the store and through a series of alleys before taking her to a one-star hotel, the kind of place that's full of cheap tourists and backpackers, where everybody has to share the same bathroom. Spike's room was in the basement, natch. Buffy felt a pang of sadness for him that he was living in yet another hole in the ground. More so once she got inside and saw how much he hadn't done with the place. Normally he had a knack for making even the most dismal digs feel like a home, but here he hadn't bothered. The whole set-up screamed "temporary." Spike was homeless. There was so much wrong with that picture.
As she brushed past him to enter the tiny room, his nostrils flared. "You're bleeding."
"What? No I'm--"
He grabbed her and turned her until he found a shard of glass sticking out the back of her calf.
"Huh," said Buffy. "I didn't even feel that. Of course, now that you pointed it out it hurts like a bitch."
Spike took her carefully by the elbow and guided her past the bed to a little wooden chair. "Sit here. I'll just be a minute. Gotta be some first aid around here somewhere."
Alone in the room, Buffy sighed. The small table he'd sat her next to held a desk lamp, and she reached over to turn it on. Paper covered the table, lines of poetry written down, crossed out, and written again. A nearby wastebasket overflowed with crumpled up rejects. That, along with a filled up ashtray on the table and another one next to the unmade bed, were the room's only personal markings. A large duffel bag sat at the foot of the bed with rumpled clothing peeking out of the top. He hadn't even unpacked.
Buffy grew suddenly angry. As far as she was concerned, Spike was still one of her people--a Scooby, whether he liked it or not. He'd earned that. He deserved to be living as one of them, part of them, to be taken care of as they all had been. He deserved a real life. Not this. She could understand why maybe he didn't believe he deserved better. But she couldn't understand why he would choose to live this way. And she couldn't understand why he'd chosen this over her.
Spike came back in carefully balancing a couple of bowls and a box of extra-large adhesive bandages. "Best I could do on short notice," he said. "Wasn't exactly plannin' on patching up company."
"It's fine," she said, reining in the desire to scream at him.
Spike knelt in front of her and set the bowls on the floor. Then he picked up her wounded leg and slid off her ankle boot. He looked up at her, his eyes asking if she was ready, and she nodded. She gritted her teeth as he yanked the glass out of her leg. He dropped it in the empty bowl with a plink! and then took a wet rag out of the other one, wrung it out, and pressed it against her wound. He sat there, cradling her foot in his lap and holding the compress to her cut, without looking at her or saying a word.
She couldn't take it anymore. "Are you going to make me ask what that thing was and why it was after you?"
Spike shrugged. "Blood hound, courtesy of Wolfram & Hart."
"So you got mixed up with them, too."
"Yeh, I did. Hell of a tussle, that was."
"I take it you lost."
Spike gave a sharp nod. "We put a hurting on 'em, though, and they're mightily pissed off about it. What's left of their army is hunting us all down." By now the rag was soaked through with blood. He rinsed it out and pushed her pant leg up. "Couldn't find any antiseptic, Pet. Just have to be sure and wash it good."
"Don't worry about it. And don't change the subject."
He smirked a little as he washed her leg. "Same old Buffy," he murmured.
Her back stiffened at that. "Not really. Not in a lot of ways."
"Didn't mean it as a bad thing."
Buffy sighed. He was being so matter-of-fact. She could feel him pulling away from her, and she was growing desperate to reel him back in, keep him confiding in her. "So where's Angel?" she asked, and by the way he winced she knew it was the wrong question.
He covered it well, though, his lips showing the barest hint of a rueful smile. "Don't know. Sorry. He thought it best we split up. We tossed a coin over who got to baby-sit Illyria."
"And he won?"
"Probably wouldn't see it that way if you met her."
"Who is she?"
"Long story," he said, smoothing a bandage over her cut. "Suffice to say she's an ally, of sorts. We wouldn't be alive if it weren't for her."
He seemed to drift off into memory, and by the look on his face it was a painful one. As he spoke he absently stroked her leg, as if to draw comfort from the contact. She found the touch pretty distracting, but she didn't pull away. Somehow, she pushed the sudden awe that came with the reality that he was here, and he was real, and he was touching her, to the back of her mind and made herself pay attention.
"We didn't figure on surviving that fight, y'know. We were in it till the end. But then Charlie fell down and didn't get back up, and Illyria... she said she'd had enough. Grabbed Angel and me and popped us out of there. Been on the run ever since." He sniffed. "Not exactly my style, running away. But then neither is suicide, least not without a noble cause to back it up. That's all it'd be, going up against 'em now, just the three of us and no more surprise on our side. And to tell the truth, I can't see that getting ourselves killed would make any difference this time."
Buffy's anger evaporated. He looked so lost, and tired. This wasn't the same old Spike, and that broke her heart a little. She wanted to push for more info, but first she had to make sure. "Spike." When he didn't look up, she leaned forward to smooth the hair over his ear. "Are you okay?"
He looked up at her--really looked, their eyes fully connecting for the first time since the pub--and seemed surprised by the question. Then he choked. Squeezed his eyes shut and turned his head until he got himself under control. Finally, he let loose a weak laugh. "Funny. Thought I was. But..." He met her eyes again and smiled. "Think you must've spoiled me, Pet. Don't just mean the winning. With you... fighting with you, for you... could always count on it being the right thing, even when I didn't care. And after, I knew we made a difference. When I stood there and let that amulet burn me up, I knew I was changing the world for the better. Hell, even when you died I knew it wasn't for nothing."
He fell silent. Gripped her foot a little more purposefully, studied it as his thumb stroked her instep. Buffy shivered, but she stayed on course. "But?"
"But." He let that hang there a moment. "But I don't have that this time. Can't tell we changed a single bloody thing, other than getting some people dead. Now, Angel, he thinks it was all worth it. Thinks we must've done something good if the Senior Partners are so hell bent on wiping us out, even if we can't see it yet. Wish I could be that sure."
Buffy reached down to take his hand from her foot and give it a squeeze. "Spike, I know you." She thought about it a moment, then added, "and I know Angel. You guys wouldn't ask people to make that kind of sacrifice if it wasn't for a good cause. Maybe it didn't go the way you thought it would, but that doesn't mean you were wrong to try."
"Glad somebody can see it that way."
Buffy shook her head. "What I don't see is why you didn't come to me. I could have helped. I could have rallied the troops--"
"It wasn't your fight, Love."
Her frustration came back, guns blazing. "Since when is your fight not my fight?"
"Since I didn't want this to be about you!" He pulled his hand from hers and stood up.
Buffy sat there, stunned. "Ow."
"I didn't mean..." Spike sighed. Then came the pacing. "Look. I needed to know that it's in me to do the right thing for the right reasons."
And she was back to confused. "Sure. Because dying to close the Hellmouth was so self-serving and wrong of you."
"No. I don't get it. You had nothing left to prove."
He stopped to look at her, and she could see how much he'd needed to hear that. God, she'd forgotten how expressive his face could be. "Maybe not to you, and don't think that doesn't mean the world to me. But for myself... I had to know that I could do it without you, Pet."
She stood up, the better to look him in the eye. "You don't have to do it without me, Spike. I'm here for you. All you have to do is--"
"No. Like I said, this isn't your fight. And as long as I'm wearing this target on my back, I'm not gonna--"
"Target? You want to talk targets? I'm still a Slayer, Spike. I'm a walking bull's eye."
"You wouldn't've tussled with that demon if not for me."
Buffy folded her arms. "Shows what you know. I'm in town because of that demon."
He looked back at her, the tilt of his head and the crease of his brow asking questions he didn't need to vocalize.
"Giles has been tracking these things," she explained. "They've been spotted all over Europe and Mexico. He thinks they're moving too deliberately to be coincidence. When the coven turned him onto this one, he--"
"What? Sent you to take care of it?" He rolled his eyes. "Typical Watcher."
"Actually, I volunteered." Irritation crept into her voice, and she let it. "I followed that demon here. Hunted it. You think this--" she pointed at her leg "--is because of you? The only thing you did was distract me from facing it sooner. Maybe it was too much for me to handle alone. And judging by the way it was about to eat your face when I caught up, it was sure as hell too much for you. So I'm thinking that just maybe the only reason we're both still alive right now is because we took it on together."
He smiled a little. "Always did make a hell of a team."
Buffy unfolded her arms and took a step toward him. "Spike, if there's some other reason you're trying to shut me out, just say it. Because this 'I'm too dangerous to be around' bullshit isn't going to fly. Not with me."
"You're right, Love. It's not just that."
Buffy stiffened, bracing herself. "Then what?"
He cupped her cheek. "We don't need each other anymore."
The backs of her eyes hurt. She closed them, refusing to let any tears flow.
"Took me a long time to figure that out," he went on, brushing her loose bangs behind her ear. "Wasn't exactly a fun lesson to learn, and I can't say it's preferable. But I can live without you, and still be okay. And I know you're okay without me."
"What makes you so sure?" Her voice trembled, betraying her struggle not to cry.
His hand fell away, but he gazed at her as lovingly as ever. That was the part that killed her the most. "Saw you, in Rome. 'Bout a year ago. You were dancing with the Immortal." The title came out of his mouth coated with disdain. "And you looked good." He nodded, as if reassuring himself. "Happy. Carefree. Reminded me of the first time I ever saw you. You were dancing then, too, y'know."
She shook her head. "Spike--"
"So you don't have to worry," he cut her off and backed away from her. "You don't have to drop everything to take care of me. Don't have to come running to my aid. You don't owe me anything, Buffy."
Owe him? "Is that what you think this is about? Obligation?"
"I think that you're done, Pet. You're out of it. You don't have to be the Slayer anymore. Don't have to live in the darkness. You can have any life you want. Any one you want."
"Maybe not," she said, "because I'm looking right at him and he sure doesn't seem to want me back."
Sadly, Spike shook his head. "You don't know what you want."
"Don't!" Buffy held up a finger in warning. "Don't you da--" She stopped as something hit her. "Wow." She laughed a little, looking up at the ceiling. "So that's how it feels."
Now Spike looked confused. "How what feels?"
"Having your feelings discounted. I guess I deserve that. God knows I did it to you enough times."
"Buffy, that's not... this isn't payback. I just can't--"
"Can't what? Why is it so hard for you to believe that I want to be with you?"
"Because it's me!" He spun away from her, hung his head and wrapped his hands around the back of it. Then he dropped them limply at his side. "After everything I put you through... have to be either stupid or a saint to take me back." He looked back at her over his shoulder. "And you're neither."
Buffy let the tears fall. She'd spent so many nights after he died replaying their final moments over and over in her head. "No you don't," he'd told her. She had so many different ways to rationalize that phrase. Oh, he was just being Spike, he had to go out arguing with her. Or he was just being noble, trying to make it easier for her to let go. Trying to convince himself so that he could let go. She never even entertained the option that he really, truly didn't believe her. That he went out of this world believing he was unloved... and then came back into it and patterned a whole life around the same belief. And that he didn't believe he was worthy... She didn't know what to do with that, so she just stood there and cried.
He saw and came back to her. "Please don't."
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry! Spike, God... I'm so sorry I waited so long, that I didn't tell you--"
"No." She shook her head. "No, you have to hear this. You have to know what you mean to me." She caught her breath and tried to get herself under control. He just stood there, waiting, not meeting her eyes. "You fought harder to be with me than anyone else ever has. You were there for me when nobody else could even try to understand what I was going through. You did everything you could trying to help me, to make things better for me. I didn't see it then, but I do now. I have for a long time. And maybe it was flawed, but you do get points for intent. You changed your whole being just to be good enough for me, and you became better. You made me want to be better."
"Listen!" She sniffed and swiped at her tears. "Leaving you in that Hellmouth was one of the hardest things I've ever done, but I knew it was your decision. And I was so proud of you..." Her voice broke again, and she had to stop for a minute. Then, "You think I don't need you anymore? I had to learn to be okay with you not being there. It's not like I knew I had a choice." She shook her head. "But you were my best friend, and I... you knew me better than anyone. You saw what kind of person I was capable of being and you still--" Her eyes went wide. Suddenly it all made sense to her. "Oh."
Spike looked up, his eyes shining. "What?"
Buffy rubbed her face and sniffed again. "I get it," she said. "I understand."
"Good. 'Cause I don't. Maybe you can explain it to me."
"It's okay," she told him, even though she was dying inside. She put on a brave face. "You had time to think about how I treated you and..." She shook her head and laughed. "I guess I finally know what it takes to make you fall out of love with me."
"What!" Spike stared at her, horror-stricken. "Buffy, that's not-- are you daft?"
"Maybe." She laughed again as she wiped her nose. "Talk about the shoe being on the other foot."
"No." He crossed the floor to her in a flash. "Look at me," he said, taking her chin in his hand. "There is nothing--not a thing--that you could ever do to make me stop loving you."
He'd lost control of his own tears. Buffy reached up to catch one and wipe it away. "Then why can't you believe I feel the same way?"
His frustration melted, leaving behind only wonder. "You..."
Buffy stroked her knuckles down his cheek. He closed his eyes and pressed his face into her palm. "I do," she said, taking his face in both hands and kissing one of his tear tracks. "I love you." Kissed the other.
"Buffy," he breathed. His eyes, when he opened them, were full of hope and hunger. He fixed his gaze on her mouth and ducked his head. Instinctually, she tilted up to meet him, but he stopped just short of kissing her. He squeezed his eyes shut and clenched his jaw. "Don't want either of us getting hurt, Love."
"Then we should probably stop talking now."
He opened his eyes again and searched hers, their gazes locked, so close their noses were touching. In the space between she could taste the alcohol and tobacco on his breath, feel it cool against her lips as his body breathed hard in response to hers. She realized he'd gone as far as he dared, and it was up to her to close the gap. So she did.
It wasn't a romantic kiss. There was nothing sweet about it. It was hard and desperate and deep, and instead of a loving embrace their hands tore at clothing, driven by need and sheer longing and memory. Her skin cried out to touch his once again, and her hands ached to mold themselves to his contours. She burned for him from the inside out and she just knew it would consume them both before she could get him inside her.
Buttons ricocheted off of the walls as she bared his chest and arms and she was vaguely aware that she'd never be wearing that halter top again but that didn't matter because his mouth was on her exactly where it should be and his arms were lifting her and her legs were around him and paper rustled as he set her bare ass on something hard and then Oh God he was in her and then--
She was afraid to move. Afraid to speak, afraid to breathe. Then he pulled back without pulling out and just looked at her, the same way he had looked the first time.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
He tilted his head like the question confused him, then ducked his head bashfully and gave that little "I'm so overwhelmed with emotion" cough of his, and she loved that she could still read him so well, even if he was an open Reader's Digest Giant-Sized Print book. "Thought I'd never be here again," he said, his voice a thick rasp.
And suddenly it wasn't about need anymore. It was just about love. She pulled him to her and wrapped her arms and legs around him and for a while they were motionless, just holding each other, just being there together. Their next kiss was everything that the last one wasn't: soft and slow and full of feeling. It lasted as long as it took for him to lift her off of the table and carry her to the bed and climb on top of her and back inside her. They took time for all of the little rituals of tenderness that they had never bothered with during their first affair. There was no need to hurry. No need to bring this house down. Their hands clasped as they rocked together, mouths tasting and worshipping wherever they could reach, skin and hair and air and fluid and souls mingling and becoming one for a few oh so precious moments of shared ecstasy.
They both needed a while to recover. Once they did, of course, she flipped him over and rode him like a pony.
She loved him.
He let that float around in his brain, letting it make him high even as he was still coming down from their last round. Buffy loved him. Had this entire time.
Proof that in the land of the dip-shits, he was Prime Minister.
"Tell me another one," she said drowsily.
"Not till you say it again."
They were both lying naked on the floor, where they had tumbled after the bed broke. He reclined against his duffle bag, and she reclined against his stomach, legs stretched out perpendicular to his. They made a sort of perverted cross. Or more of a capital T, he supposed. He lifted a hank of her hair and watched it slide through his fingers, and thought how life had gotten ever so much better over the course of the last few hours.
Buffy heaved a falsely put-upon sigh that did excellent things to her breasts and said for the fifty-third (he knew, he was counting) time that evening, "I love you." Then under her breath added, "You big dummy."
Spike grinned. "Already won me over, Sweetness. No need to impress me with Buzzcocks lyrics."
She frowned and angled her head to look at him. "What? There were lyrics?"
His turn to sigh. "Never mind. Before your time."
She settled back down and stretched her arms along him lengthwise, one set of fingers teasing the curls around his ear and the other stroking the back of his knee. "Come on, Grandpa Sid." She nudged him with an elbow. "Your turn."
"Sid's the Sex Pistols, not the Buzzcocks."
"Whatever. It's still your turn."
He fished among the sheets of paper scattered all around them and held his selection up to read. He squinted at it, and frowned. "Sorry, Love, can't read this one. It's got a big smudge in the shape of an adorable little bum." He held it to his nose and inhaled. "Mmm. Smells like Buffy."
She slapped him lightly on the thigh. "Pig."
"Yeh, well, that's what you get for picking up strange men in bars." He slipped a hand under her bottom and squeezed. "Oink."
Buffy giggled and rolled over, repositioning herself to spoon against him. "So is it about me?" she asked, reaching for the poem.
He held it out of her grasp. "They're all about you."
"Lemme see!" She wrestled him for it, but he was too comfortable to put up too much of a fight, so it didn't take her long to pin him down and take it from him. She sat up on her knees to read. As she did he took the opportunity to trace a lazy finger down and over the curve of her breast. She didn't read it aloud, for which he was grateful. There was still too much of the Wounded William in him to be able to stand hearing anything the least bit like mockery in her voice. Nevertheless, he watched her face. It started out intent, but soon went all soft and dreamy. "This is beautiful," she said, and read on as his chest swelled. Then she wrinkled up her nose. He bit his lip and braced for the criticism, but she only said, "It really is smudged. Ew." She put it down, then rose all the way up on her knees and craned her neck around to look at her backside. "Do I have ink on my ass?"
"Prob'ly not since all the licking," he reassured her.
She turned back and smiled down at him knowingly. Then she lay back down, all snuggled up against him.
"Aren't you tired yet?" he asked as she trailed butterfly kisses across his chest and up his neck.
"Mm. Getting there." She dropped a lingering kiss in the spot where his jaw met his neck.
"Think maybe we should try sleeping? Not that I want to discourage you, mind."
"I don't wanna," she pouted. "I don't want this night to end."
He glanced up at arched window set high in the basement wall. He could easily make out the stairwell and the street beyond in the light of dawn. "Think the sun has other ideas, Love."
"The sun can bite me." With a sigh, she settled her head on his shoulder. "So what happens after we wake up?"
Spike closed his eyes. He didn't realize how much he'd been dreading this question until she asked it. "I expect you'll want to check in with Rupert. S'pose maybe we've got time for a few days together before you have to go back to your life." He managed to get that out with a steady voice.
"I could spend a few days in Bath," she said. "Do the touristy thing, maybe some shopping. Lots of shopping, seeing as how I'll have you to help me get all my stuff back home."
"What?" She lifted her head to look down at him, challenge in her eyes.
He sighed and looked away. "Maybe you don't mind getting caught in crosshairs that are meant for me, but there's still Dawn to think about."
"Spike, Dawn's in college."
His head snapped back to face her. "No kidding? Nibblet? A college girl?"
Buffy smiled sympathetically and patted his chest. "And she's taller than you now, too."
"Anyway, she's rooming it on campus. Which actually means I don't even have to go home, if I don't want to. I'm officially free of strings. If you don't want to come with me, I guess I'll just have to go with you."
"You would do that?"
She shrugged. "Why not? I'm at the age where I'm supposed to be seeing the world." She scootched on top of him and worked her arms underneath his head. "What better way to do that than with my older..." She kissed his throat. "...wiser..." Kissed his jaw. "...worldly boyfriend as my tour guide?" Before he could answer, she caught his bottom lip in her teeth and then graced him with a thorough kiss. She broke it off and smiled brightly down at him. "Besides, it'll be fun," she said, tossing her hair out of her face. "You can do your starving poet thing wherever we go, and when you're done with your recitals you can point at me and tell the audience how the beautiful blonde in the front row is your inspiration."
He smiled. "And I wouldn't even need to take any poetic license." He was liking this plan. Except... "There's still the matter of me being Public Enemy Number Two on Wolfram & Hart's most wanted list."
She grunted irritably. "They just became number one on my hit list. If you send me home, I'll take the fight to them."
Spike's eyes narrowed. "That's blackmail."
Buffy shrugged. "That's life." Her face softened. "If they come after you again, we'll deal with them. And when the time is right we'll go after them. Together."
"Think Angel will want a piece of that action."
"The more the merrier."
Spike's eyes narrowed even more. "Are we still talking about battling evil here, Love?"
She gave him a smirk that she could only have picked up from him before settling her head back on his chest. He pressed his lips to the top of her head before burying his nose in her hair. "Love you."
"Mmm," she said sleepily. "Love you, too."
"So that's the plan, then? You and me on the road, all Butch and Sundance?"
She raised her head back up to peer at him. "I was thinking we'd just be Buffy and Spike."
He smiled. "Even better."