Fit the third
Spoilers through BtVS S6: "Dead Things"
It's just sneaking up on sunrise, when I hit the edge of town. Sky still a dark steel-gray, and far too early for decent folk to be up and about -- or receiving visitors. No need to start off on the wrong foot, no matter that I've been asked this time. Been asked, yeah, but the date on that letter is almost a year ago, even though I pulled it out of a post-office box in Queens for the first time last week. Things change. Even after *everything* changes, things still change.
And maybe I'm scared, a bit. Now that I'm here, now that I'm driving in slow circles through the subdivisions, the housing complexes, the downtown drag, and seeing it again for the first time since I left, it's all hitting me. How long it's been. All that's happened to me since I left, even before the whole world went wonky, and now...
Now, I realize I'm not just driving in circles because I need to kill time. Not just because the lack of vampires scurrying home through the shadows is making me all nostalgic for the memory of late-night-benders past. Not just because I don't want to stop or I'll end up in a parking lot rereading that letter until my eyes cross. I'm circling aimlessly because I've lost true north. The thing that lets every demon with an ounce of darkness in him know exactly where he is the minute he gets within a mile of the Sunnydale city limits. I can't feel the Hellmouth.
I know it's there, and I can't feel it, and I don't know how I feel about that except off-balance, and it makes me grit my teeth and wonder if I shouldn't pull into the Krispy Kreme and get so blasted on glazed lardbombs that the rush drowns out everything that used to be here in its place, and *then* maybe I'll have the courage to head over to Revello Drive. I don't even know what the hell I am anymore, so why would any of them recognise me? Want me back, when I only left in the first place because she begged me to go?
Just this time of day, when she came to me. Not light enough that I couldn't have been out huffing and puffing and not blowing down houses, and still have had half an hour or so to get back to the crypt before the Big Bad became the Big Bad Pile of Ashes. But I wasn't out and about, not when I could barely handle moving back and forth between the fridge and the chair for the last night and day and night. Not without every muscle and bone and joint and possibly even my hair, screaming in protest. The bed would've been more comfortable, but one step down that ladder, and I'd known if I took another, I'd skip the rest. Land flat on my back on the stone, and not move until I wasted away to nothing, or she showed up again, wanting to kiss my fucking sexy wounds.
When the door scraped open and I managed to squint through the good eye enough to see her standing in it, that's what I thought was up. That she'd come to give me that kiss. The same one she'd given me when she'd leaned over with that fake-real Buffybot smile on her face, and looked on what Glory had done to me, and pronounced it good enough. Only this time, the reward wouldn't be for letting a god pound me to a purple pulp to protect her sister. It'd be for letting Buffy do it herself, to protect... something. Whatever lived in her head that told her she had to be the same kind of monster as me, to want to be with me. The nasty little voice she had to drown out with the sound of her fist hitting my face.
And I'd have accepted it, that kiss. I would. I'd have snarked at her, and played up my undead English Patient status, and I'd have told her the only lie that ever had the chance of working. That the voice was right; she *was* a monster. And the true part -- that it was okay. She could hurt me all she wanted. I'd always be there.
But she didn't kiss. She just walked up to me, and she looked. Saw me sprawled out in that chair, half-drunk glass of blood and whiskey by my elbow. Bruises as wide and poppy-black as anything Glory had left on my skin, though Buffy'd at least left off at trying to pull my heart out through my ribcage. This time.
I looked too, through one puffy eye and one so swollen shut that it only let in the tiniest slit of light. Only took the tiniest slit, to see her. So thin, she barely blocked out the lamplight. So small, I almost worked up the energy to laugh at how it still felt like she was towering over me as she stood in front of my little black armchair. All five foot two of her. Perky new haircut all tangled and straggly. Face grimy with sweat and dried tears, salt body scents still flavouring the air around her.
"I didn't turn myself in," she said finally. Superfluously, since here she was, after all.
I coughed a bit for real, then a bit for sympathy, and gave the best nod I could. "Noticed."
"It was a trick. Some kind of hallucinations from the demons. I didn't kill that girl." She reached for the end of her hair, looking for something to do with her hands, rather than touch me, I guessed. Only she still wasn't used to the short cut, so it ended up an awkward gesture, missing something, then flicking it away, shaking it out like she'd never intended to reach in the first place. "She was already dead."
"Figured as much," I lied. It was close enough to the truth - the explanation made sense now, anyway. Not that it mattered.
Buffy shook her head, angrily. The rage in her eyes that she'd unleashed on me with honed ferocity in that alley outside the copshop. She leaned close, and I thought... I don't know what I thought. That she was bent enough to come to me just to see how much damage she'd accomplished, and now she'd decided it wasn't enough. That she wanted to climb on and straddle me right there -- not like we hadn't used that chair before -- and lose herself in the pain. Mine, hers, all of it. Anything to make her feel. And I'd let her. I'd love it, no matter how much it hurt, because it came from her.
Whatever I was thinking, she saw it. Saw something in somebody else's eyes, for once, beyond her own reflection. Saw fear, and saw that no matter how afraid I was that she'd hurt me more than even I could heal, I wouldn't close my eyes, because I might miss a second of seeing her do it. She opened her mouth, pretty round mouth with the pink lips all dry and cracked from crying, and closed it. Sank to her knees in front of me, hands twisted in front of her. Still not touching me, because if she did, she'd either hit me or shag me, I thought. Still think.
"No, you didn't," she whispered. Coughed, and the sound was almost as raw as my own had been. "You didn't think I didn't kill her. You just didn't want me going to jail for it. Didn't want me going down, so bad that you were willing to let me..." Buffy pointed. To me. To the bruises and the cuts. To my eye, my arm that I'd wrapped in an old shirt, fracture healing faster than the bruises because vampire physiology is just weird. Was just weird.
"You'd die in there." Not to mention I'd die without her around, or thought I would, but she *would* have died in there. She's not like that other Slayer, made for it from birth, heading for iron bars from the minute she screamed her way into the world, from what I hear.
"You think I'll die if I work fast food. Are you gonna let me come home to a nice dinner and a round of beat the shit out of Spike, every time I have a bad day in the drive-through? Just to keep me alive?" She was looking up at me now -- eyes glass-green with held-back tears, or maybe she didn't have enough left to spill over -- and she was still towering. It hurt to look at her, and not just because it made my neck ache to bend at that angle after hitting that alley wall a little too hard.
This time, I didn't lie. "If that's what you need, love."
Her face just...crumpled. Went from a tired, stressed, angry twenty year old girl to something so old, so terribly, anciently sad, it made me more afraid of her than ever. "Oh, God. You would."
"I never reckoned God had much to do with it."
She dropped her gaze, and it was like I'd been looked over by one of those really big, really powerful god-demon-things, the ones that make Glory look like a two year old in her mum's dress and high heels-- and been pronounced too small to bother with. The relief was that much, not having to see her eyes.
When she spoke, I realized she hadn't dismissed me, though. Not small fry after all, because she was talking to me. To *me*. Not to herself, using my name, like she usually did. Actually saying something to William the Bloody, also known as. "You love me." I considered torturing my jaw to say something about how many bloody times I'd told her, and no wonder she'd not been cutting it university, if it took her this long to catch on, but she didn't give me the chance. "You keep saying you love me. Do you? Really?"
What the hell was I supposed to say? It wasn't even worth being sarcastic. It wasn't even possible to be sarcastic, in the face of that desperate, mindless, torn-up question. "I do."
"Then go." And like she'd been all along, hot, cold, yes, no, go away, no, wait a minute, she said one thing, and her body did another. Her hands reached up and grabbed mine. The one not attached to the broken arm. Grabbed and held on so tight, so hard, it was like she was drowning, and I was the only thing in the whole wide ocean that would float. Almost hated to tell her that most vampires sink like a stone in water. No body fat to speak of. No air in the lungs.
"You think that'll work, this time? You tell me to get out of your town, and I run screaming, just because this time you backed it up with a good solid drubbing?"
She shook her head, still not looking at me. "No. This time I'm not threatening you. I'm asking." Then she did look up, and she was only human. Small and young, and so very afraid. "If you stay, this'll happen again."
And I understood, somehow. It really wasn't a threat. Not to me. It was a warning. A promise. A plea.
"I might... I don't know. I know I hate you, but I don't know if I love you. If I could. But if I do, it'll be like this. "
She was saying -- and my heart really did give a sick leap, jumping and falling, like Icarus realizing his wings were melting before he even half got off the ground -- that she could. Even saying she didn't know if she could, meant she could.
"I'll hurt you again. Because I can. Because I hate myself for wanting you, and I hate you for being here to want. Because you let me." She shook her head again, so hard it must've hurt. "God, listen to me. Because you let me. Two hundred pound guys who come home and break their wives' noses after a beer too many and a crap day at work say that. Because you let me."
"Yeah, but I do let you. And I'm not some little helpless wifey. Not afraid to hit you back. So there's a difference."
"Maybe to you. Not to me." She bowed her head again, and I earned a loud fuck-you from my bad arm by moving it across to put my hand on top of hers. She didn't move. "I don't want to be that, Spike. Whatever thing that's in me that could let me do what I did to you last night, I don't want it."
"It makes you beautiful." It did. Everything made her beautiful. The right light, the wrong light, wrinkled clothes that looked like she'd snitched them from Willow's cast-off pile. Everything. The ability to hurt me as much as she could, with a word, with a look, with her fist, was only one tiny, dangerous part of it.
"It makes me a monster. A worse monster than you, because you're not *supposed* to be good." She looked up at me, begging. Without even the words for it, and I still got what she was asking. *Really* got what she was asking, this time. She was telling me I could have her, on terms that I was willing to live with, and begging me, if I really felt anything for her at all, not to take her up on the offer. "If you do love me, then go. Don't let me do this. Don't let me be...this."
She'd never -- not even when I was lying on the ground being pummeled into blood pudding by her words and her hands -- looked at me with as much disgust as was in her voice now, as she pulled her hands free and pointed at herself. I didn't know what to say to her, again. The only one who ever did leave me at a loss for words, after Dru. I could only shake my head, which felt like it might fall off, and wasn't much happier about the experience than my arm.
"You never do remember that I'm evil, do you, for all that you think I'm such a sick, disgusting thing." I said it so quietly, with my knotted throat, that I almost thought she didn't understand what I wanted her to hear. Then she looked up again, and the hatred was back. The pure, redlit Slayer hatred that had bounced me off a wall and smashed me into the ground, and made the part of me that knew how to growl so fucking happy that if I could've done it without actually moving any of my aching body parts, I'd have danced.
"I should kill you."
She stood up, turned around, and walked to the door. I kept waiting for her to look back. Wanted one last look at that fire in her eyes, that she thought had died when they brought her back to life. She didn't turn back, though. Just stood in the doorway for a second, her back not as straight as it should have been, and paused. "I hate you." Then she was gone. Out into the not quite sunrise.
I sat there for maybe five minutes, giving her time to get out of the cemetary. Thought about waiting a little longer, and walking out after her -- there wouldn't be anything left to hate, then, and she'd be happy, in her way. She mightn't even know.
But I didn't. I was Spike, after all, and while I don't know quite what I
am now, I'm still Spike. Still too selfish to die just to make her life more convenient, if that death wasn't at least going to be at her fingertips. Quid pro quo. So I strapped my mostly stolen crap to the back of my completely stolen crapcycle, and I rode. Didn't quite make it out of town before sunrise, but far enough that I could hole up and drink up. Try to heal, and sit through the shakes that came when my body decided it would rather head back to the last place I'd seen her, than stay safe in the dark of a motel room.
Fought them and won, with the application of far too much booze and blood, though it didn't stop my brain from going at a gallop anyway. Screaming at me, asking me what I thought I was doing. Reminding me that among a hundred other reasons, I'd made a promise. To look after the Niblet until the end of the world. Even if I wouldn't miss her -- and I would, the one thing not-Buffy that would make me want to stay in this pisswater town where everyone knew I couldn't bite -- how the hell could I protect Dawn, if I went away?
But it was her, asking me to leave, and how the hell could I not, if I didn't want to see her drown in herself? If having her meant I lost her, because she lost herself... It wasn't noble, or good, or unselfish, me going. I'm not under any illusions about that bollocks. It was all about knowing that if she was broken, truly broken, she wouldn't be Buffy anymore. Wouldn't be what I loved. And deep down, it was the most selfish thing of all: hoping against what I knew to be true that someday, just maybe, she'd thank me for leaving, and it wouldn't be a Judas kiss this time.
The next night, I made it almost to New Mexico. Still heading into the sunrise, in my own way.
Sun still rises in the east. World hasn't changed that much. Orange and pink clouds like the neon bar lights broke when they blinked off for the night, and all the colour leaked out into the sky. Streetlights fade out. Shops open up, the not-open-all-night kind. And I've been driving around Sunnydale for an hour, in this haze of not knowing what I'm going to find, or who it is that's going to find it. If I'll be sent away with a kick and a cuff. If I want to be.
I may not know where the hellmouth is without looking anymore, but I know where her house is. Directly between parts and other parts of this town, I remember blustering eloquently, to explain why I was standing under her window next to a gargantuan pile of fag-ends. I turn down the alley behind, instead of parking in front. Got this feeling that they wouldn't really welcome me to the front door, if they'll welcome me at all, but mostly it's to catch sight of that back porch. Five years gone from this place, the last one filled with so much insanity it's a wonder I can remember my own name, and I can still take one look at that beat-up wood, and see her sitting there next to me, shotgun on the ground at my feet, as she told me what was wrong with her mother.
The Dodge is louder than I realized, even just idling here in the gravel alley. A light goes on upstairs, then one in the kitchen, after a minute. I turn off the car. Pull the letter out from under the snack foods I piled on top of it to weigh it down and protect me from its evil influence, and I fold it into my pocket-- like it's an invitation to the ball, and without it, they'll never let me in. And if there's sweat on my palms as I walk towards the back door, no one can prove it once I've wiped them on my jeans.
The door opens, and she's standing there. Peering out into the backyard that's not quite light because the sun's rising on the other side of the house. Frowning down at the man standing at the foot of her back steps. Long pale hair, she has now. Not quite platinum, not as white as I've still got mine, and hers is draped over the shoulder of a tatty plaid bathrobe. Shining in the light from the kitchen, yawning through her frown. Like a magazine advert for what home's supposed to be, familiar as my still sweating palm -- and at least three inches too tall to be Buffy.
I blink, and she blinks, and we all blink together. Eyes so impossibly huge and so ludicrously cornflower blue that I still have to wonder what those monks were smoking when they put her together, focus on me. See something, doubt something, then see *me*. Me standing there in jeans and a plain black shirt, long-sleeved because I get cold now at night. Me looking back at her, and wondering what she's going to throw at me, who left without a word to her, and never sent one, either. Never sent one because I didn't dare contact Buffy to ask what story she'd told them, so I wouldn't screw it up.
I wonder briefly, when her eyes narrow, whether Buffy still has that shotgun, because I don't remember taking it home with me that night. Wonder if she taught Dawn how to use it, and think it'd probably be a good idea at that.
"Spike?" As if she's still not sure. As if *I'm* the one who's changed, grown older, impossibly taller, instead of her. As if we haven't been staring at each other almost long enough for the sun to rise over the house.
I try to grin, and I don't know if it looks like the old kind of grin I used to give her, back when I was evil and dangerous and cheated at Yahtzee, or not. Maybe it'd be better if it doesn't look like that, if I look like some new guy who just happens to resemble her ex-babysitter and partner in smalltime pilfering. The stranger, maybe she won't hate.
Then she's down the steps and in my arms and knocking me almost off my feet, and I can't think about what the hell she's done to her hair when it's brushing my nose. Can't wonder what my face looks like when I smile at her, because I'm too busy doing it.
Fit the Fourth.
- The Human Condition