To steal a note from the first time around: Thanks everyone for reading so far anyway, and I hope you like where we end up... And we're sort of back in squiggly time again, because it made sense that way. It seems like a cheat to explain it (obvs I believe you should never explain things in notes!), but if you are stuck, think less snapping around in time and two timelines which both flow forwards, marked by their headings. For this part anyway. But whatever. Onwards!
[start of fic and notes]
'I love you' is a thing you say to people who are dying
Season 7. Buffy/Spike. Some Watchers survived, because sometimes people do.
[PART THREE (intermezzo)]
PART FOUR (bodies)
“Just tell me what this will do to me. Tell me what I need to do.”
--the next time--
It had been about a week since she’d woken up and groaned to get out of bed. It wasn’t too uncommon these days, but that morning, Buffy woke up in her own sheets, dressed in pyjamas of the sort a fashion-forward twenty-two year old would wear, and she felt it. Of course there was the crust of tears in her eyes, but also the sense of satisfaction that certain better aches brought with them. This time it came from pretty much every muscle between her hips. She felt hungry, wrung out, and mostly like she’d been fucked.
Thankfully, Buffy only needed to make the shower after everyone else had started training. That got her ready and into work with minutes still to spare.
Of course, this was the morning when work decided to behave like it was work-like, so the entire school was full of students who had Hellmouth problems.
“Miss Summers, please!” one of them ran towards her when she appeared. “Help me. I don’t know – Todd and I…” She was one of the cheerleaders, with a brunette ponytail and bangs. Her eyes were rimmed red from tears; she was looking at the floor. “We never before – it’s the only time – but everybody knows.” She whispered it in a confessional hiss, “They’re looking at me and everybody knows…”
“Knows what?” Buffy asked the girl, trawling her memory bank for a name. Melanie? It was a good a guess as any. “Melanie, what’s happened?”
The girl sniffed and lifted her eyes. Buffy met them and suddenly she was hearing voices.
“Gee, Todd, I don’t know…”
“Don’t be scared, Laney; get over here. You’ve seen my dick before.”
“Not like… It’s kinda – ooh, neato…”
Buffy looked away, blushing. Nearly hysterical, Melanie was crying again. “You see!” she screeched, red with shame and embarrassment. “How do you know? Why does everybody know?”
Officially, Buffy wasn’t really allowed to touch the students. Faced with the distraught girl in front of her, though, there wasn’t much she could think to do apart from draw her into a hug.
The girl sobbed, and Buffy felt it like she was herself. This feeling of shame, it was easy, and she knew she could feel it in the wrong time and the wrong place.
You scared, love?
That was the thing, this time. Buffy had gone to him and it had been good. Different, for them, and the role-play had slipped a little sometimes, but they’d got the deed done. They’d needed it. She’d needed it. Now…
“You’ve gotta be strong,” Buffy promised the student, Melanie, holding the girl’s arms and shuddering as the sense memory of Spike’s cock crept over her fingers. “Sex is…” she tried for words. “Sex is weird, you know? Most of the people who say they’re doing it, they probably aren’t – and half the people you never think would be probably are.”
There. That was advice. For a moment, in this bright sunny hallway, it almost seemed to work. Melanie’s sobs only got worse, but it was at least like she was paying attention.
“Hey, hey…” Buffy tried to sooth her. “We’re told to be ashamed of it, you know?” she added, with more conviction. “We’re told to be so ashamed of it, at the same time we’re supposed to be ashamed of not getting any.”
Fuck, Buffy, this isn’t right. I shouldn’t be – with you…
Is there something wrong with me, William? I thought… Do you not – do you…?
No, darling, no – shh…
Then why won’t you show me how?
“People say it changes you,” Buffy told Melanie, because she felt it, she really did. The girl pulled back, covering her eyes and clearly embarrassed for hugging a pseudo-teacher. “You think it makes you different from who you were before. It’s bullshit,” she finished, even though she wasn’t officially allowed to swear in front of students either. “It’s a part of your relationship.”
For a moment, the girl peeked out between her fingers – and the voices were back again:
What… What will it do to me?
You’re gonna feel good, babe; I promise. You’re gonna feel…
Buffy looked away and Melanie got it, shielding her traitorous eyes. “I wish I could believe you,” she finally said, her voice small as she looked down. Buffy’s heart broke. “I feel so…” She admitted it in barely a whisper, “I’m different.” She sounded lost. “I don’t know what’s gonna happen now. I don’t know who I’ve become.”
Let it out, pet. There, that’s it. Thought you were in the moment – you should’ve said. What’s… What’s wrong?
Nothing. Nothing’s wrong. These are happy tears.
Before Buffy could reply, though, to try and prove the whole idea wrong, Melanie was running away into the high school corridors. Her eyes were downcast, but Buffy watched her go.
There was another test for Buffy’s conviction later, of course, when she and Principal Wood found themselves in the basement – again. Things were going hinky enough that it seemed like there could only be one cause, and so there was, in the form of the First Evil’s death metal seal. It was glowing, which seemed pretty unfair considering all the time Buffy had spent with a shovel covering it up.
Obviously, Robin thought it would be sensible and manly to investigate said seal, which resulted in him throwing around what he clearly thought was a gross accusation.
“You’re screwing that vampire,” he swore.
From where she was examining the edge of the glow, Buffy looked up, startled. Robin was standing in the centre of the goat’s face, the full of his eyes bright white, and he was looking at her with more hate than anyone could measure. This was new. This was… This was interesting.
OK, so Buffy had been waiting for something like this. Really, from the moment she’d come up from the basement stairs there’d been a voice in her head telling her that something like this was coming. Someone was going to look at her with disgust in their eyes and the shame was going to swarm up from the inside of her gut and swallow her.
It was Robin, it seemed. He knew. He had to know.
Yet, as it was, Buffy didn’t really feel a thing. It wasn’t like there had been much screwing on Buffy’s part anyway, as things had turned out…
“Can you feel him corrupt you?” Wood continued to demand from her, his voice thick and polluted. “His seed setting root inside your flesh…”
The most interesting thing here, Buffy decided, looking down at him, was the sad and prurient way the First thought it could work its evil in this world.
“You wanna talk corruption?” Buffy challenged, tracing the glow of this particular bidet of evil. She walked steady footsteps around the pentagram, counting off the runes. The dragon would know, she thought, what all five of these meant. “How does it feel?” she asked Robin when she came to stand facing the tongue of Danzalthar’s goat. This was… This really was seriously interesting. “The Hellmouth licking at your heels. The First’s sway in this dimension.” The direct connection. Was it here? “Is it in you?” she tried to get an answer. “Is it in your body?” Would this be how…?
Wood was shaking with rage, and possibly something else. Whether it was the First’s or his own, Buffy wasn’t sure it entirely mattered. “You won’t deny it, how you let him touch you?” he continued. “You’re filth; a disgrace to the name. Do you know how I imagined…”
“OK!” Buffy interrupted, shaking herself from her thoughts. This was new information she had here, about how the seal worked, and she was grateful for it. Despite that, she wasn’t particularly interested in hearing Robin’s fantasies. “I think you’ve had enough evil for one day.”
Before Wood could figure out what she meant, Buffy rushed him – shoulder-first. Of course, he resisted, but it wasn’t nearly enough and with no effort at all Buffy had him free from the seal’s influence. He stumbled over the edge of the glowing dirt, crashing back into the wall as Buffy let him go. It wasn’t the most gracious save in the world, obviously, but Buffy only had so much self to sacrifice.
When Robin had recovered himself he was sitting on the floor, and Buffy was looking down at him, just how she wanted. “Are you done?” she asked, hands on her hips.
“Oh god,” Robin groaned, unable to meet her eyes. He struggled to his feet, wiping dirt from his shoulders. “I’m sorry, Buffy. I didn’t mean…”
“Yeah, you did,” Buffy replied, rejecting that particular white lie. That was the moment Robin found the strength to look at her – and she met his eyes, which were back to their normal soft brown. Unashamed, she shrugged. “It’s no big,” she forgave him. “You’re not the only one thinking it.”
This particular response, it seemed to send Robin speechless. He looked at her for a long time and Buffy waited, amused to watch him resist the urge to accuse her of everything he just had a minute ago. “Well,” he said finally, dropping his gaze back past Buffy to the glowing seal, “we’re gonna have to have to get this thing closed down. Do you think the witches will know how, or…?”
Buffy turned around. It was palpable, the evil that emanated from these carved designs. Not quite darkness, because it was still bright with its thick, eerie light, but it was so clearly a link between this world and the Hell that lay beyond.
How it had come to be there, Buffy didn’t know. Before, the Hellmouth had always been a crack in the ground, or somewhere she figured had to lie just beyond the last bend and turn in the sewers. It was possible that the seal had always been here, but no one had ever found it. The old school presumably had had foundations, and she remembered that they had been concrete; the new build and everything that had been done to clear the site must have allowed the Bringers to find a way through.
Buffy remembered, thinking back. What was it Anya had said, back when Buffy had been talking to Spike about the trigger…?
“It was Andrew who dug this up, you know,” Buffy told Principal Wood as she remembered. Still looking at the seal, she glanced over her shoulder as her boss came to stand next to her.
“Andrew who’s in your house?” Robin asked, sounding surprised.
“Yeah,” Buffy confirmed, kicking some dirt towards the glow. “Him and this guy from my class in high school. A good guy,” she conceded. “One you would have thought might survive this.”
It didn’t seem to affect the seal, when the dirt fell into it. Buffy didn’t expect it to. The Hellmouth tainted the entire town of Sunnydale – through the sewers, up its roads and into the bricks of its houses. Evil and darkness was threaded through the veins of the earth, every sod of all twelve cemeteries. She was the Slayer; she felt these things. Mostly.
“What happened to him?” Robin asked about Jonathan, almost cautiously. It was as though he thought it had to be a tragic story.
Buffy just snorted, thinking about the things that love could make you do. “Andrew killed him,” she explained. “Dumped his body here to bleed out.”
Robin didn’t say anything, but his clothes crunched as he shifted – uncomfortably.
“He wasn’t possessed or anything,” Buffy continued, thinking it might be reassuring. From Robin’s face, it didn’t seem as though he’d taken it that way. “There was this guy, Warren, who both of them had been friends with. He…” She remembered, “He was a piece of work, but he died last year. The First used his face to persuade Andrew to do what he did.”
“And you…?” Robin was taken aback by this story, clearly. The uneven light drew shadows on his face.
“That’s why we took him hostage,” Buffy confirmed. “To keep an eye on him.”
Someone was keeping an eye on him, anyway. She tried not to.
“But you’ve forgiven him,” Robin kept on, as though this had been his real question. “You treat him like he’s one of your own, even after what he’s done.”
Buffy frowned, staring at the seal’s glow and wondering whether somewhere, someday, someone would get this point. “He’s not evil,” she said. “He was weak, and he was stupid, but to take down the First that’s –”
“You’re gonna beat this thing, Buffy,” Robin interrupted, as though she had been doubting herself. “I have faith in you.”
He could have had faith in all of them, Buffy thought: her and Spike and the gang and the girls, and Andrew right along with them. He didn’t, though, just like none of them did. Buffy could recognise that, from the hero worship that filled his face.
She looked back to the seal. “We’re not gonna close it down,” she decided, accepting it. “You felt it,” she told Robin, still not looking at him. “This is a direct link to the First’s power.” She was ready now, to take the step in front of her, to cross the line. “This is its weakness.” She knew it.
“But, Buffy…” Robin began uncertainly.
“We leave it,” Buffy insisted. It was nearly time.
After all of it – after getting bit and the arguing with Xander and Dawn and even Spike himself, after bothering Althanea and explaining things to Ms. Chalmers – Buffy realised she didn’t want want to watch as Spike and Lydia did their thing. Even though Althanea was supervising, it didn’t sit right. Magic was sexy; they made songs about it – and even if Buffy was being irrational she didn’t want to be there to find it all out again.
They didn’t do it while Buffy was at work, for reasons no one understood. Instead they did it in the afternoon, which left Buffy to third-wheel Willow and Kennedy for a while. Willow was trying to teach her a floating spell, or at least convince her girlfriend that she could do a floating spell if she wanted. Buffy pretended to read, even as it made her head pound.
Later, the living room was taken over by Andrew and, weirdly, Xander, on one of their bizarre schemes of entertainment. They’d found a games console from somewhere and spent at least an hour hooking up the TV to host a gaming tournament, which apparently was on the Nigel-approved list of competitive activities. It drew a big crowd after dinner, but at no point was it ever explained why Xander and Andrew got to make themselves team captains.
By the time it all got going, Buffy decided she’d had enough crowds for one day. Really, she was still a little weak, so sitting ultimately was the best activity for her. After contemplating the leftover pasta, she found herself leaving the kitchen for the back porch with another glass of juice. She was ready to embrace the quiet.
Of course, the porch wasn’t free. Instead of the vampire who should have been there, though, there was Lydia Chalmers, woman of the hour. She was sitting on the steps, incongruously smoking a cigarette.
For a moment, Buffy was struck by the thought that maybe something had gone very Sunnydale, leading Spike and Lydia to swap bodies. Her head was immediately filled with awkward scenes of Spike mincing around the research books while Lydia’s lurked in the background, watching with that hungry, fearful longing in her eyes.
They were disturbing images, all of them. Thankfully, though it was also a tad disturbing, Buffy realised she knew Spike’s smoking habits well enough that she could be sure this wasn’t him. Lydia was holding the cigarette wrong and puffing in an all too dainty way for her to be possessed by a punk. On top of that, there was an ashtray sitting at her side, in the form of a teacup-saucer. There was only one other butt crushed into it.
It seemed the Watcher was just – what? Taking a load off?
“Isn’t that bad for you?” Buffy asked as an opening, refusing to feel jealous. That had been a thing earlier; she was over it now.
Completely devoid of supersenses, it seemed, Lydia even jumped. See, Buffy thought. There wasn’t so much to feel jealous about.
After jumping, Lydia turned slightly on the step, meeting Buffy’s eyes with guilt in her own – but she didn’t let go of her cigarette. She coughed, then spoke. “You’re right,” she said, glancing back to the garden. “But…” She seemed to search for the right words: she found them. “It’s been a long time. I think my lungs will forgive me.”
“Right.” In the grand scheme of things, Buffy was trying for cool – she really was. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem like cool was coming to her. Unable to resist the questions pressuring her from inside her head, Buffy swung forward slightly towards the porch. Her hand didn’t move from the door jamb. “So, uh, did it go OK?” she asked. “You know, downstairs?”
Smoke flowed out of Lydia’s nose in a stream. “I believe Spike will be out for a little while longer,” was what she said, frowning as she looked back to the garden.
It didn’t really answer Buffy’s question, but it at least told her something that she wanted to know. Accepting the point, she turned and shut the kitchen door behind her, coming out a little further onto the quiet porch. “But is he…” What was her question, really? Fixed? Safe? Alive? “… better?”
There was a glass of juice in Buffy’s hands, but she wasn’t so sure she wanted to drink it, at least maybe not with Lydia for company. She took a sip anyway, just for something to do. It took a few seconds, after all, and one more puff before the Watcher replied.
“I believe the exercise has been successful,” was what the woman said, although she didn’t sound that happy about it. She glanced Buffy’s way again, tapping some ash onto the saucer by her side.
In the end, Buffy took the peace offering for what it was. It didn’t seem there was all that much news that would be coming, at least before Spike woke up, so there was still no way to fill her evening until then. Carefully, she made the rest of the way over the decking and eased herself down on the step, not so far from Lydia’s side. The noise from the living room was a gentle murmur, far away and quieter than the crickets, who were happy with the fading light.
“When do you think he might wake up?” Buffy asked, her hand on the grooves of the wood. She took in Lydia’s drawn appearance, wondering if the whole affair had really been that sexy after all. Maybe there were some mysteries about Spike that she wasn’t supposed to know.
When Lydia looked back at her, it certainly seemed as though a great time was not had by at least one part of the group.
“What happened in there?” Buffy asked, taking another surreptitious sip of juice.
Lydia shook her head, pulling again on her cigarette. “Memories,” she offered, as though it was a vast understatement. Her gaze returned on the shadowed garden. “Reminisces.”
“Enough for your next book, I guess?” Buffy asked, because it was easy to.
Her frown deepened, but Lydia didn’t say anything in response to that. It was as though she was hurt, maybe, by Buffy’s assumption. Otherwise, she was suspicious of the way Buffy was talking to her at all.
At the end of the day, which this was, Buffy didn’t really get what it was she had done to this Watcher. There was a whole list of things in the other direction, but Buffy didn’t get how she could have started this. “OK, look,” she asked, “why exactly is it that you hate me?” She set her juice on the step beside her, to mark how serious she was. “I get you think I’m too rough on the Potentials, but I figure there must be people in the Council who are worse. And, OK,” she offered an alternative, “Spike’s your pet project, but…”
“There is no one in the Council like you,” Lydia interrupted her, crossing her ankles as she leaned back – away from Buffy. “No. There’s no one in the Council,” she corrected, bluntly. “They’re all dead.”
“What?” Buffy replied. “And you blame me for that?”
It made sense, maybe. Mostly it made the sense that wasn’t, but Buffy knew enough about grief to realise that the blame didn’t always end up falling on the right people. When she looked at Lydia, she could see a woman who was grieving, in shock for the loss of her workplace if not in actual despair about the colleagues she had lost. It seemed like she and Nigel got on well, even her and Travers, so presumably there were others that she’d spent time with. Being here in Sunnydale, with yet more risk of absolute destruction, it had to be hard. But didn’t Buffy know that too?
“Before Althanea rescued us,” Lydia began, looking down towards the lawn ahead of them, “we were convinced that we would die in the rubble. Sir… Quentin was unconscious,” she continued. “Nigel and I were both awake in the crawlspace, eventually, but…” She shut her eyes, swallowing once before she spoke again – with difficulty, “Higgins had been closer to the bookcase when it fell. All of us had been battered by the books, but he’d been caught between the floor and that – mahogany. It took him an hour to die.”
With a shaking hand, the woman took another puff of smoke. She blinked her eyes open, which to Buffy at least seemed clear, and wiped ash from what had become a very familiar set of track pants.
“All the time we were travelling,” Lydia added when she’d composed herself, “I was convinced that we would defeat the being who had done this. The fight against evil would be our revenge, and we would triumph.” She glanced at Buffy with cold, analytical assessment in her eyes. “And yet when we arrived,” she said, as though it meant something, “we found you, the Slayer, almost broken by the progress of the battle. In that… Pit.”
Buffy frowned, as usual not entirely certain what these people wanted from her. “I’m sorry?” she suggested, feeling the ridges of the decking through her clothes.
As though she was saying the wrong thing entirely, Lydia just waved her rapidly vanishing cigarette at her. She coughed again, then said, finding the words, “No. Don’t apologise.” She shook her head, her eyes serious behind her glasses before she was looking at the floor again. “My point is that this sojourn into Spike’s head gave me a perspective I had rather lacked before.”
Which is? Buffy wanted to press, but she waited instead – picking up her juice instead for another sip. She still had that slight pressure of dehydration inside her temples, from the bloodloss. It wouldn’t have been a great evening to have had her head filled with revelations, that was fair to say.
Eventually, Lydia got round to what she wanted to express, but it took a couple more puffs. “He thinks rather highly of you,” she commented finally, stating the obvious. “I’m sure you’re aware.”
The scrutiny was back in the Watcher’s expression, which made Buffy shift uncomfortably. “Yeah,” she said carefully. “I… I figured that out.” Presumably this trip down memory lane had left out the various obscene declarations of love. It seemed weird to Buffy; they were Spike’s speciality.
At least, Lydia seemed fairly relaxed about it all. “You are, I fear… I don’t know,” she added. “His idol. The face of his salvation.”
Unable to help it, Buffy laughed, a loud snort of it snapping out of her.
“What?” Lydia asked shortly. She sounded annoyed.
“Oh, nothing,” Buffy replied, though the smile didn’t quite leave her face. “I guess you have been inside his head after all…” Looking out into the garden – the thicket at the end of the lawn – Buffy cast her mind back. She remembered that phrase: it was a Spike phrase, something he’d said one time, but she didn’t remember it being about her. “He said that once,” she explained out loud, buying herself time. “About… About…” She remembered. “About Drusilla.”
“Ah,” Lydia replied – before she also laughed. “Well, I suppose it’s not surprising that a few things stuck.” She looked amused by this prospect, finishing her smoke as though one day she might too become the Big Bad.
Buffy wasn’t convinced, but she said nothing.
It wasn’t that funny, actually, the idea of Spike looking up to her. She didn’t want him to. It was fine, maybe, back when he’d seen that part as a reason to try and pull her down – it had screwed both of them over, but they’d both come out the end of it. Now there was the whole problem where Spike saw himself in the dirt and decided it was best for him to stay there. As far as Buffy was concerned, there wasn’t all that much she could do up in the stars on her own.
As she stabbed the end of her cigarette out on the saucer, Lydia continued as though it was her place to offer commentary on Buffy’s personality. “You are rather similar to her, you know?” she said, stubbing the last light from the but. “Drusilla.”
Of anything Lydia could have said, that wasn’t what Buffy had been expecting. “I’m – what?” she asked not sure whether to be offended or amused. OK, so everyone knew that while one boyfriend in common might be bad luck, two nearly always looked like a pattern, but…
Hang on a second, Buffy remembered. There was the birthday thing, wasn’t there? Oh god, she thought, rubbing her hairline to make sure it wasn’t curling. As long as she wasn’t similar to Darla, schoolgirl miniskirt or no schoolgirl miniskirt – she was wearing slacks today, at least, and Drusilla didn’t go for those either…
Lydia was smirking, as though she was serious about this plan to make things stick from Spike’s head. It only lasted a moment, however, before Buffy’s glare set her expression back into its usual skittering uncertainty.
All the same, the Watcher’s voice was strong when she spoke. “By all reports she was a sweet girl before she was turned,” she said, as though it was her job to defend the mad freak. “Her parents were Irish immigrants who fled the famine just after Drusilla was born, with her sisters. Her father was a mining overseer, who found work on the first London Underground tunnels.”
Then Lydia shrugged, presumably realising that none of this was exactly news. Buffy kept an eye on her, waiting for the point.
“Her calling was to help others,” Lydia then continued, glancing Buffy’s way. “But unlike you she never came to understand it. At first sight she was an obsession for Angelus, a match for all of his dreams and designs. Then later,” she finished as Buffy’s frown set deeply between her eyes, “at the height of her powers, she gave purpose to a man named William, who had had everything he’d ever dreamed of – everything he thought to define him – torn away.”
“But that’s nothing about me,” Buffy immediately complained, the moment she had a chance. Lydia picked up a packet of cigarettes from the other side of her leg and shook them slightly, turning them over in her hand. “That’s just Spike and Angel repeating their stupid patterns and – hey!” she interrupted herself, as she recognised the packet Lydia was contemplating, why the smell out here had been so uncanny. “You stole those from Spike!”
For all of a split-second, Lydia looked guilty as hell – then she shook her head and glared at Buffy as though she was the one responsible. “He’s unconscious,” she said, reaching down to pull up the other thing she had on her side of the decking. And that's not suspicious at all. “I stole his lighter too,” she said, taunting Buffy with the familiar silver Zippo. “I’ll get him some more when I’m next at the shop,” she dismissed finally, flicking the lid of the packet open as though this solidified her decision.
Buffy was speechless as Lydia lit up again. This was - completely unreasonable. It was theft! And…
The thing was, she came from California: smoking was generally considered evil enough that she didn’t have to worry about the chain part. Nor the stealing. “Am I supposed to cut you off at some point?” Buffy found herself asking, as if Lydia was going to answer. She couldn’t fuss over Spike's cigarettes, of course. It was all too familiar and he could fight his own battles anyway. “I mean,” she tried a more sensible comment, pulling herself together. “You’re gonna live through this, you know. And you’re gonna need all your tubes when you’re eighty.” She’d seen all those throat cancer photos. They were pretty nasty.
The look in this Watcher’s eyes was pure sarcasm. She was still sunburned from the other day, but the patches on her cheeks and her neck and her arms – they had a definite ruddy-tan thing going for them now, filling her with freckles. They made Lydia’s mousy hair look blonde. “You can’t help it, can you?” she said, like it was an accusation. Sucking in and then blowing out a fresh mouthful of smoke, she returned the lighter to the decking and kept on, “Fitting into that position, being everything anyone could ever…”
She sighed, looking down before she tapped a minute sprinkle of ash onto the saucer with the rest.
“My point is precisely that I hoped for too much from you,” Lydia said finally, as though she hated herself for it. “I wanted so dearly for you to save us all.” She laughed, puffing air down her nose with a hack. “I still do.”
Buffy wasn’t sure what to say to that. Really, she wanted nothing more to leave Lydia to it, but there was nothing much for her to do inside right now. Besides, the smell of Spike’s cigarettes was almost comforting.
A little later, Buffy went back inside. Lydia vanished, and as the night truly fell a slight chill rode in on the breeze.
Naturally, she found herself in the basement, watching Spike while he slept off the last of the spell. To start with Buffy simply moved from one step to another, from the porch to the top of the basement stairs. She even kept the light from the kitchen behind her, so the image of Spike was dim and shadowy and far away. It wasn’t always constant, the light, as people stomped in and out of the kitchen, casting shadows over the gap in the door she had ajar. They pulled what seemed like an endless supply of snacks from the refrigerator, slodging the door open and closed and before they beeped the microwave buttons. They laughed and talked and bitched about people, not excluding her and Spike.
The hubbub from the living room was a steady hum behind it all, and eventually Buffy tuned it all out into background noise. Her eyes adjusted too. As the minutes passed she could make out not only Spike’s arms and head, but his nose and ears and his face as he slept. She could see the hard set of his mouth and the tension in his fingers.
Increasingly, he became restless, turning on his side, then back, then back again. His nose twitched like he’d just inhaled some dust.
Someone in the kitchen laughed uproariously, the giggles high and squeaky on sugar. Buffy figured it was time to give them both some privacy. She shut the door behind her and flicked on the light. The noise of everybody else dimmed into insignificance.
It took a while, but the basement’s two fluorescent strip lights slowly heated up as Buffy came down the stairs. They flickered once, twice and then again before finally they were stable and Buffy was sitting on the edge of Spike’s bed, watching him rouse into wakefulness.
“Hey,” she said, as his eyes eased themselves open. He blinked the way she was blinking. “How’re you feeling?”
In a heartbeat, the strain and tension around Spike’s eyes relaxed into immortal youth. Buffy wasn’t fooled, of course: she reached out to touch him on the cheek, to make sure he knew that she knew.
For a moment, Spike smiled, before he was pulling away to sit up, back against the wall where they usually sat. “Think the trigger’s gone,” he said abruptly, like she was there to talk about business. “Got it all sorted now in the noggin,” he added, like that was an explanation, tapping two fingers at his hairline.
With a bit more grace and elegance, Buffy sat back into the space his legs had just swept from. “Good,” she said seriously, trying to take his hand. “I’m glad.”
It was less obvious this time, but Spike still squirmed away from her, pulling both of his hands into his lap. It was an obvious game, a little like before and a little like he’d seen himself and decided he wasn’t so nice, not to her and not with his needs.
Buffy sighed. Did he think she didn’t realise how imperfect they all were? “You know,” she said, much less gently. Spike looked at her. “Neither of us really has the time to do a whole two-steps-forwards-one-step-backwards thing.”
The vampire still looked confused, so Buffy got on with making her intentions clear. She put her hand halfway up Spike’s thigh and squeezed, curving her fingers around to trace his jeans’ inseam. It was seamy, she decided, but not in a bad way. More like a plain and unambiguous signal of I-am-hitting-on-you-so-give-it-up-with-
As she traced her fingers around in a circle, Buffy glanced up, to check the signal had been received.
Thankfully, for all his other flaws, Spike was nothing if not a massive slut, so his cocked knee relaxed happily towards her hand. The look in his eyes, though, Buffy was disappointed to see, that was all ingénue. “Watcher bee had a point, you know,” he said, swallowing as Buffy crept a little higher. It made his leg all kinds of twitchy. “There’s this thing I do with you, project my feelings – see what I want to see.”
“You do, huh?” Buffy asked, figuring she could have made that point herself. A year ago. She turned towards him, taking the dare. “And what is it you’re seeing right now?”
Immediately Spike dropped his head, pulling back and looking pale against the dark brown bricks. Buffy waited, because she at least had time for this, and when Spike looked up again she wasn’t surprised to see his eyes fall straight to the wound on her neck. It had closed during the day, but the bruising was still pretty deep. Buffy mostly hated wearing dressings, though, because they made her look vulnerable, so she hadn’t covered it up.
Fitfully, Spike looked between the wound and her eyes, then down to her hand then back again. “All I’ve ever wanted,” he admitted, “is your forgiveness.”
He winced as he said it, and looked away like Buffy was going to shoot him down. It kept him from noticing, she hoped, what was a breath of relief that staggered out of her mouth. This part of her feelings, at least, she was willing to get into with him. “Hey,” she said.
Her slutty hand moved of its own accord, going to clasp Spike’s face. Really, Buffy was annoyed with herself. She’d been worked up all day when she should have realised how she was needed – and why it was she’d really wanted to be here.
Spike looked how Buffy knew he felt. Devastated – like usual. “You’ve got it, right?” she told him. “I forgive you.”
They were looking directly at each other. Buffy had her feet curled under her on the mattress and Spike’s hand was brushing against her knee. He made a move, riding the crease between her legs with his thumb as his palm slid slowly up her thigh. At the same time, Buffy leaned up towards him, bringing her other hand to his face as her gaze dropped a few inches. It was all, in the end, kind of easy.
Obviously, that was the moment someone decided to open the basement door.
Unhurriedly, Buffy paused and rolled her eyes. Spike grumbled in frustration, sniffed, but they shared a smile as she pulled back. Rain check, she mouthed at him.
When she was back against the wall again, Buffy crossed her arms. Spike’s thigh next to hers was all muscles and twitches, so she was pretty much ready to give whoever was coming downstairs a serious piece of her mind.
Then, even more obviously, it was who it was.
“Giles!” Buffy exclaimed, nearly jumping out of her vampire-romancing skin. “What are you doing here?” she asked, because her name was actually subtlety. Subtuffy “I thought you were halfway around the world or whatever…”
Thankfully, Giles was caught up in whatever old-guy British conniption which had brought him downstairs in the first place, and seemed oblivious to Buffy’s lack of cool. “Buffy,” he demanded, taking the last few steps down to the floor. “Would you care to explain why the last of the world’s potential Slayers, the final hope we have against evil, are all upstairs playing video games?”
Buffy looked at Spike. Spike looked at Buffy. The noise upstairs was pretty loud after all.
“Uh…” Buffy began, while her heart sank.