Author's Note: I hadn't planned on continuing this fic, but then I got started on this chapter and it pretty much wrote itself. (All except for the quote, obviously, which is from the KT Tunstall track Hold On). Not sure if there's gonna be a number five though.
4: The Littlest Part
Simplicity… A heart of gold, an old head, and young shoulders;
Quiet and lovely,
Becoming part of me.
And now I see,
From a handful of names and a thousand faces,
One light, burning, furiously.
Buffy was stunned. She felt strangely dizzy, and for a moment her surroundings seemed to blur, phasing out of focus while the face of the man sitting in front of her remained in startling clarity. So this is what's like to lose it, she found herself thinking absently. Everything goes quiet and dead people show up in Technicolor holograms to pay a visit. It's actually kinda nice.
That voice. It brought her back from the edge of mental breakdown, made her remember where she was and why she was there. She let herself stare into those bright blue eyes, trying to memorize every detail of them and the face they belonged to before the hallucination of Spike, or whatever it was, disappeared completely.
"Don't," she said hoarsely, before she could stop herself.
Spike had been so engrossed in studying the beautiful symmetry of her face, the slight changes in her hair and skin tone, that the desperate look in her eyes had escaped him for a moment. But now he caught it – the fear, the disbelief in them. He ached to reach out and touch her, but he didn't want to scare her any more than he obviously already had. "Don't what?"
"Disappear." Her voice was barely audible now, and her hands trembled slightly, so that she had to tighten her grip around on the cappuccino mug to still them.
He leaned forward earnestly. "Not going anywhere, luv." The fearful look in her eyes was still there, and it was killing him. "Never again, I swear."
"How…?" She took a deep breath, trying to calm herself. "You – the amulet – it was burning you. I saw it. You died."
He attempted a casual shrug. "Yeah, but since when is that the end of the road? I seem to recall a certain Slayer going six feet under at least twice, and she's looking spry as anything now."
He'd been aiming to get an actual smile out of her, but the softening of her features into something like an amused expression was good enough. "Spry?" she repeated, with the shadow of a laugh in her voice. "That's your idea of a compliment?"
"Hey, I've been dead," he reminded her. "Give me a little time to recover all my usual charm."
She did smile then, her body visibly relaxing as the realization that he wasn't a hallucination washed over her. "You're really here," she said, her voice full of wonder. And there was something in her tone that sounded suspiciously like gratitude as well, but he didn't want to read too much in to it.
Or actually, yes I do, he thought, his mouth twitching into its own version of her smile. I want to read a hell of a lot into it. Like, for example, that she missed me like blazes while I was gone. And that she's glad I'm not just a pile of post-Apocalypse dust topped by an incredibly poncey necklace.
He couldn't be sure yet, but judging by the way the smile was lingering exquisitely on her face, he'd say he was on the right track.
"What brought you back?" she asked. If she was honest with herself, she'd have to admit that she didn't really care, but it seemed like an appropriate question. In any case, it sounded a lot more calm and mature than Ohmygodohmygodohmygod!, which was what she actually felt like saying.
He shook his head slightly. "Don't know. Doesn't matter. Important thing is, I'm here." He held out his hand across the table. "And I'm human."
She glanced at his hand in confusion, and he smiled at her expression. God, I've missed that face. "Feel my pulse, silly."
She reached out tentatively and placed two fingers on his wrist. After a brief moment's concentration, she felt his skin throb underneath her fingertips, and her eyes widened. "Wow," she whispered. "I can't believe this."
"Join the club, pet." He chuckled softly to himself. "We've got membership cards and everything."
She raised her eyebrows haughtily. "Are they laminated?"
He looked offended. "Yeah, 'course. What sort of organization do you think I'm running?"
They managed to keep their faces straight for about a second. Then Buffy broke into laughter and Spike grinned, loving the sound of it. He picked up the white card printed with the café's menu, his eyebrows furrowing as he scanned it. "Don't they serve any black coffee at this place?"
"Oh, they do. They just don't call it that," she told him, pointing to the café noir listed on the menu.
"I'm not saying that out loud," he said instantly. "I'll sound daft."
"You do realize that's not a real word in any place that isn't in England, right?" she asked him cheerily.
He stared at her, but didn't respond. "What?" she asked, her smile fading slightly.
"You look… happy," he told her, his voice soft. "Hell, you even sound happy."
"Okay, so maybe I tend to live in the land of the depressed," she said, "but I have cracked a smile around you before, so it shouldn't really be a shock to your newly-human system."
"Yeah, I know. I'm just saying… It's good to know that you're still you, even after all that sticky business with the First and the world nearly ending and everything."
"I'm still me, but with a few extra wrinkles," she corrected. "Not to mention the bags under my eyes."
"Oh, you mean those invisible wrinkles and bags? Mm, they're definitely marring your looks, luv. You've gone from being bloody gorgeous to being … slightly more bloody gorgeous. It's a right tragedy."
She let her gaze drop to the table to avoid letting him see how pleased she was by the compliment. "So… what are you going to do now?"
"Well, so far my plans include trying out every kind of food ever discovered by man or beastie, and making an extremely rude gesture at the sun for all those times it nearly crisped me." He shrugged. "Hadn't really thought about it much past that."
"You should come back to the hotel with me," she said. And then, realizing how that sounded, she added quickly, "I mean, to meet the others. Willow, Xander, Dawn, Giles. They're all there now."
"I wasn't exactly jonesing for a reunion with the Buffy-troopers, but I wouldn't mind spending more time with you," he said, his eyes suddenly fixed unnervingly on hers.
Her regretful tone told him everything he needed to hear, and he held up his hands to stop her words. "Don't worry, I know what comes next," he said bitterly. "Me getting flash-fried in a pillar of flame and then popping up as an honest-to-God real boy doesn't change anything between us."
"Um, actually – yeah, it does." Buffy saw the glint of hope in his eyes and sighed. She didn't want to disappoint him, but she felt like she had to be honest. "I'm just not sure how, or how much. I mean, it's not like I don't… have feelings… for you, but they're all mixed up and hard-to-label. And what I said to you, just before the amulet went all Beacon of Fire… I thought I meant it, but you didn't."
"Think I meant it." She sighed again. "And maybe you were right. Maybe I didn't mean it."
"You don't tell someone you love them by accident, Buffy," he said. "I'll be the first to hop onboard the skepticism train when it comes to your feelings for yours truly; but at the same time I'm hoping some part of you did mean it."
She smiled uncertainly. "Even if it's just a little part?"
"Even if it's the littlest part you've got," he said, returning her smile. "I can wait for the rest."
"Could be a long wait," she told him.
"Yeah, well, I've got a lot to keep me busy in the meantime. Like readjusting to this whole heartbeat business." He poked himself in the chest. "I keep thinking the old ticker's going to give out on me. Feels a bit rusty."
She reached out slowly and placed her hand over his heart. "It feels just fine to me," she said softly.
Their eyes met, and it was a long time before Buffy had the presence of mind to move her palm from his chest. "So, um, we should get going," she said, clearing her throat. "People to meet, plans to make."
"Yeah," he said absently, his mind still caught in the memories her touch had brought back. Not all of them were good, but even the bad ones just reinforced his desire to make her happy. In any way, at any cost. He couldn't erase what he'd done in the past, but he was determined not to make the same mistakes in the future.
No more screw-ups – not if I want to earn the girl and the dippy happily-ever-after ending.
And he did want to. Very, very much.
Author's Note: So, yeah, feedback equals goodness. :-P