Buffy frowned at the empty bed. Hands on hips, she looked around the room. His clothes were gone, too. She went to the window to peek out into the parking lot, and breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of the DeSoto. Buffy shook her head at her own paranoia as she rummaged through the suitcase Dawn had packed for her. After tossing her towel aside, she got dressed, then took her makeup bag to the sink. She unwrapped the towel on her head and started to go back for her hairdryer, but decided to let it air dry instead.
She did her makeup on autopilot, her mind occupied with wondering where the hell Spike had gone. The sun hadn't been down for long, and all of the blankets were accounted for, so he couldn't have gone far. Probably just out for a smoke. She paused to give her reflection a wry smile. He probably wasn't any more up to evening-after conversation than she was. On the one hand, she felt relieved to not have to talk to him just yet. On the other ... he wasn't around to irritate her, to say something idiotic that would distract her from the memory of last night, make her forget how it felt to fall asleep and then wake up in his arms. One pro for the vampire column -- no circulation to cut off.
A hand appeared beside her, wrapped around a Styrofoam cup. Buffy jumped.
"Brought you some coffee," Spike said.
Buffy looked at him. "Don't sneak up on me like that!"
He looked surprised. "Sorry, Pet. Didn't think I could sneak up on you."
She sighed, and watched the cup float in the mirror for a moment before taking it out of his hand. "Thanks." She took off the lid and set the coffee aside to cool. "Guess I was a little preoccupied."
"Lot of that going around."
Buffy faced the mirror so she wouldn't have to look at him. "We should head back tonight."
Spike made a noncommital noise. She glanced at him. He leaned against the dresser, hands shoved deep in his pockets, eyebrows drawn together as he contemplated a worn patch of carpet.
She turned back around and leaned in to apply her mascara. "It'll take us, what, two days to get home? I should call before we leave, make sure somebody's there with Dawn." She shook her head as she dipped the wand back in the tube, then started on her other eye. "I need to start thinking up a good explanation for work. Somehow I don't think they'll buy the kidnapping excuse."
"We don't have to go back."
Buffy sighed, closed up the mascara, and threw it in the bag. "Spike ..."
"I mean, yeah. We'll go back and get kid sis. But who says we have to stay?"
"Um, Social Services, Dawn's school, my job, the Hellmouth ..."
As she spoke, his arms crept around her waist and he nuzzeled her neck. "Haven't been any real big nasties since you got back. Nothing your friends couldn't handle."
"With what? Xander's nailgun?"
"They'd manage." He lifted her hair and kissed the nape of her neck. Her resolve began to fade. "We could go anywhere you want, just the three of us. Anywhere in the world, for as long as you want." As seductive as his voice sounded in her ear, she also heard a tinge of desperation. "Doesn't have to be forever."
He had a point. Buffy closed her eyes and for the moment just enjoyed the feel of his hands on her body. This was the farthest away from home she'd ever been, the closest she'd come to a real vacation since she was a kid. Would it really hurt to let him show her just a little bit of the world? Just for a little while?
She opened her eyes and took in her rapt countenance. It shocked her, how happy she looked at the prospect of running away with Spike. She wondered how it compared to the look she'd worn right before she'd dived off that tower. Her resolve returned. She pulled his hands away. "I can't."
She picked up her coffee and turned to face him, holding it in front of her like a shield. "Warren --"
"Is human, Slayer. Not in your job description, last time I checked."
"He murdered his girlfriend. And set me up to take the fall!"
"And you were all too eager to take it!" He ran his hands through his hair and sighed. "Look, it was just an idea. Just ... forget it." He walked toward the window and righted a chair that had toppled over the night before. Then he plopped down and swung a leg over the arm.
Buffy ran a finger around the rim of her cup. "I wish I could." Spike looked at her, surprised. "I just ... you saw what happened the last time the Hellmouth went too long without a Slayer. I can't risk that again." He nodded, then pulled the curtain back and stared out the window. Buffy sipped her coffee as she turned to pack her things.
"So," Spike said after a long silence, "what's gonna happen when we get back?"
She shrugged. "I'll go to work and convince them not to fire me. Shouldn't be too hard with all the blackmail fodder I've got against them. Not that I'd actually use it."
Spike stood up. "I meant, what's gonna happen with us?"
"Oh." Buffy grabbed a shirt out of her suitcase and began refolding it.
"Well? What's it gonna be? We a couple now? You gonna go home and tell your friends about us? Or will it be, 'Sorry, William. It's been fun, but I can't use you right now. Go wait in your crypt like a good vibrator until I get another itch.'"
Buffy shook the shirt out and folded it again, making careful, deliberate creases. She'd let him have that one. She deserved it. After a deep breath, she looked at him. "Spike, last night --"
"Don't." He held up a warning finger. His eyes were furious and pleading at the same time. "Don't you dare tell me that didn't mean anything to you."
"Last night ... is a really nice memory, Spike. Please don't make me think of it as a mistake."
She'd never heard him laugh quite so bitterly. "A mistake," he muttered. "The only mistake was bringing you out here instead of hightailing it out of town like I should've done long ago." He paced the space of floor between window and bed. "No," he amended, "my first mistake was ever setting foot in bleeding Sunnydale to begin with!"
Buffy laid her shirt in the suitcase and smoothed it out. "You really feel that way?"
"What do you care?"
That stung. She fought to keep her voice steady. "I care, Spike. For whatever it's worth."
Spike practically flew over the bed to stand next to her. He grabbed her by the shoulders and turned her to face him. "Tell me you love me." Only the pleading this time.
She gently removed his hands, squeezing his wrists just hard enough to remind him that she was stronger. "Don't do this. I told you, I can't --"
"You can't?" He jerked his wrists out of her grip. "What's that mean, Slayer? Can't work up the feeling, or can't let yourself?" He sneered at her. "Won't is more like it." He turned around and stalked back across the room.
Buffy's fists clenched. Why was he doing this? This was worse than that first morning when they'd woken up in the rubble. Why did he always have to ... She saw her coffee sitting on the end of the dresser. She grabbed it and threw it at him. Most of it spilled as it flew across the room. The cup barely tapped him on the back of the head, but it got the point across. Spike turned and stared at her, eyes narrowed, as he sluiced the remains of the coffee off of his shoulder.
"You think you know me so well!" Buffy gave up trying to be the calm and rational one. "You're always giving me these speeches about what I need, what's best for me. And I'm sick of it! But you know what? You're right. I won't. I won't get involved with you, Spike."
Spike pointed at the bed. "You don't call this involved?"
"This--" she repeated his gesture, "-- has been fun. But it's over. Time to get back to real life. And real life doesn't include you."
He gawked at her for a moment. She could tell she'd hurt him. She didn't want to, but God, it was like trying to free a wild animal that didn't want to be cut loose. If she hurt him enough times maybe he'd get it through that bleach-soaked brain that he shouldn't be with her.
But then he smiled. A pitying smile. "See, that's where you're wrong, Love. This is reality. Back there," he gestured out the door, but she knew he meant Sunnydale, "it's ... well, it's Egypt."
Buffy rolled her eyes, but he didn't stop.
"So you go on back to the land of denial." He moved towards her. "Bathe in it. Soak it up. Do the bloody backstroke." He took something from his inside coat pocket and laid it on the dresser. "Maybe someday you'll really convince yourself that we never had anything worth trying for."
Buffy went over and picked up a Greyhound ticket. One way from here to Sunnydale, with an exchange in Los Angeles. Departure time in less than an hour. "What is this?"
"This is where we part ways. You go home, have yourself a nice, long life, without any Spike around to muddy things up for you. Or, be miserable until the next big nasty comes along and puts you out of your misery. I'll pretend you're doing the former."
Buffy checked the envelope again. One ticket. "What about you?"
Spike shrugged. "I haven't decided yet. Tell Dawn ... just tell her I'll write."
She looked up at him as all of this sunk in. "You ... you're leaving ..." She almost said "me," but the word died on her lips.
"Already left, Pet. Just not going back."
"Not now ..."
Buffy shook her head. "But you ..." You don't leave. No matter what. Not even when I try to make you.
"You think I want to?" How could be so calm all of a sudden? "You think I ever wanted any of this?" He shook his head. "I have to go somewhere, clear my head. Cut my losses and move on. Figure out a way to stop ..." He swallowed, and put his hand over his heart. "A way to not feel this anymore. Because this," he gestured back and forth between them, "is killing me."
Buffy stared at him, stunned. "So that's it? Here's a bus ticket, have a nice life?"
He sighed. "It doesn't have to be." He returned her stare, the pleading back in his eyes.
She looked away from him.
Spike nodded. "Figured as much. Get your things, I'll drive you to the station." He turned and walked out the door.
He drove her to the Greyhound station and saw her onto the bus. Neither of them said a word -- not even goodbye. Soon, the bus would pull away and take her home, and he would get in his car and drive out of her life forever.
Xander would be happy with the news. Willow would probably be indifferent -- disappointed to lose such a useful resource, but not heartbroken to see him go. Dawn would be, though, and would probably blame Buffy.
And she'd be right. Buffy was getting left again, and for once, it really was all her fault.
But it was for the best. She would go back to Sunnydale, and have nothing to do with vampires anymore except to slay them. Just as it should be, as it always should have been. Things would be so much less complicated. For both of them. He'd get over her, eventually. Hell, he'd gotten over Drusilla. He'd be fine. So would she. Without him around, she could finally find something normal and healthy to fill up the hole inside her, to make her feel like coming back from the dead was worth her while.
If she kept staring at the seat in front of her, refusing to look out the window, to acknowledge his presence, then maybe she could convince herself that all of that was true. But she allowed her gaze to drift back to where he stood watching the bus. He looked so lost. She could see his heart breaking right before her eyes.
Buffy faced front. So, what? After five years of not being able to get him out of her life, he gets to decide that it's over? Just like that? One last fuck 'n' fight, and that's the end of the Buffy and Spike story?
"This is so stupid." Buffy stood up. "Sorry," she told the old lady next to her as she stepped over her into the aisle. The driver boarded as she pulled her bag out from overhead. He took his seat and reached for the door lever. "Wait!" Buffy started for the front of the bus.
"You'll have to take your seat, Miss," he said. "It's time to pull out."
"I'm not going," she said as she passed him. "Sorry." She got off the bus and stood back. The bus started up, and she tried to ignore the romantic movie music that ran through her brain, the way her heart sped up when she thought of the look he'd have on his face when the bus pulled away and revealed her standing there. As the bus did just that, she realized she was holding her breath. She let it out in an irritated sigh when she saw that he had his back to her.
Rolling her eyes, Buffy shouldered her bag and walked toward him. As she drew closer she could hear a stream of curses punctuated with the sounds of him pounding on his car. She reached him just as he gave it a good kick. "Bitch!" he shouted, and reared back to kick it again.
"You wanna say that to my face?"
He almost fell on his ass as he spun around to face her, but he wound up slumped against the car, staring at her. *That* was the look she'd expected to see. She glanced down at his bloody hand. "God, Spike." She reached out and gently took it in hers, holding it up to examine the damage. "What the hell did you do that for?"
He pulled it away from her as he got to his feet, and grimaced as he shoved both hands in his pockets. "Missed your bus."
Buffy glanced back at where the bus had been, and shrugged. "Guess you'll have to take me home."
"Why should I?"
Buffy let out a single, humorless laugh and focused for a moment on the bugs swarming around the streetlight behind him. Of course he was going to make this difficult. "How about, because you're the one who brought me here, and you're responsible for getting me home?"
"I paid your bus fare," Spike said. "I did my part. This was supposed to be goodbye. You want me to take you home? Then tell me." He got down in her face, his eyes boring into hers as he carefully enunciated each word. "Why ... should ... I?"
Buffy felt her lip tremble and the sting behind her eyes as tears began to well up. She looked away. She would not cry in front of him. Not again.
They stood like that for a moment. Then she heard him sigh, and he brushed past her, back towards the station.
"Where are you going?" she asked.
"To get you a new ticket."
He stopped, and waited, but whatever she was going to say refused to come out. Without turning around, he said, "Say it, Buffy. For God's sake, just spit it out." His voice sounded raw and tired. "If you want me to stay, Love ... you know the magic words. Say them, and we can both go home."
Idiot. Didn't he get it? Didn't he know that the "magic words" never conjured up anything but pain and misery? She could say them ... she could even mean them, and maybe it would be good for a while, but it couldn't last. They were destined to destroy each other. Maybe not in battle, but if she gave in to this, sooner or later their passion would burn them both away until there was nothing left. Funny that their love would be more of a danger to them than the hatred they used to share.
Wait a minute ...
Spike started walking again, and went to stand in the ticket line. Buffy watched him in a bit of a daze as she replayed her thoughts. He was determined to end this tonight if she wouldn't give him what he needed to continue. Maybe it really was for the best. They could both get out, get the hell away from each other before they did any more damage. Yeah. 'Cause what's happening now isn't bound to leave you both hurting for a good long while, is it, Buff?
As he reached the ticket window, she backed up until she hit his car, then deflated against the hood. She buried her face in her hands as a sob escaped.
"I do love you."
It came out in a whisper, barely audible even to her own ears, but it was as much of a shock to her system as if someone had screamed into her ear. She let out another sob. Then she sucked it up and wiped her eyes, looking up in time to see him coming toward her.
His hands were empty.
He came to stand in front of her, leaning over her in that intimate way of his, his face at once lit up with hope and clouded by wariness. "Say it again."
She stared at him. "How did you ..." Duh. Vampire, stupid. He could hear when she got into trouble on the other side of the cemetery over the noise of his television. Of course he could hear the one thing he'd been waiting over a year for her to say. Even if it was whispered from twenty yards away.
He reached up to wipe her cheek with his thumb. "Please, Buffy."
"I ..." She swallowed. It was already out, and she couldn't take it back. No place to go but forward. "I love you."
She'd had no idea that he had dimples. He'd never smiled that wide in her presence before. She only got to glimpse it for a second before he kissed her, wrapping her in his arms and stroking her hair. He broke off the kiss, and that smile returned. "And again?"
Buffy touched a hand to his cheek. "I love you." Every time she said it, it got easier. She matched his smile even as tears of a different kind blurred her vision. "Oh, God, Spike. I love you so much."
He cupped her face in his hands and kissed the track of her tears from the top of her cheek to the corner of her mouth, then she turned to catch him in a full kiss. She tasted her tears on his lips. As her other hand reached up to stroke his face, she realized it wasn't only hers she tasted. For some reason, this made her laugh.
Spike pulled back and arched an eyebrow. "What?"
"Nothing, just ..." She wiped her nose with the back of her hand. "God, look at us."
"Yeh." Spike looked a little sheepish as he ran his palms across his eyes. "We make quite the pair." He dug in his pockets and produced a wrinkled napkin. "Here."
"Thanks." She took it and blew her nose. She glanced up and realized he was watching her, still smiling. Embarrassed, she dabbed at her nose and pocketed the napkin.
"So," he said, "we officially in love now?"
He nodded. "And when we get back to Sunnydale?" His smile wavered just a little, and his voice held a hint of trepidation.
Buffy closed the gap that had formed between them and slipped her arms around his waist. She raised up on tiptoe and planted a reassuring kiss on his lips. "We'll tell them. First thing. No more hiding."
Spike just looked at her for a minute, his face full of wonder and disbelief. Then, as if to assure himself, he bent down for a longer, lingering kiss.
"Right, then," he said at last, and went to open the car door for her. "Let's go home."
Thanks for reading!