|herself_nyc (herself_nyc) wrote in herself_nyc_fic,|
@ 2008-03-24 08:48:00
"Do you really think I can sleep, when you're so far away?"
He couldn't come up with an answer.
Buffy said, "Can I come there? Can I come now? I'm going to go wake up Willow."
He tried to speak, but his throat was closed.
"Spike? Are you still on?"
"Just to talk, yeah?"
A little silence on her end. Stubborn, sad, angry, he couldn't tell. His head was spinning.
"Come on then, Slayer. I'll put on a pot of coffee, meanwhile."
It was only after he returned the phone and wandered into the kitchen that he realized the timing wasn't going to be conducive. Soon the house would be full, girls coming back from school and jobs, fixing overlapping dinners, camped out at the big dining room table and in the sitting room with meals and homework and gossip, the TV blaring. There was no privacy for him except in his cellar, and he hardly wanted to bring Buffy down there for their reunion.
He thought about ringing her back, but before he could ask to borrow another phone, one of the girls tapped him on the arm. Her smile was arch and amused. "There's someone waiting for you out on the stoop. A lady caller."
"Outside? Why didn't you bring her in?"
The girl shrugged. "She didn't want to come in."
Somehow, taking the short walk to the front door felt like the hardest thing he'd done in years. The alley was a doddle in comparison.
A knot of slayers were crowded there, peeking out through the side windows, whispering to each other. He heard one say, "I thought she was supposed to be a blonde."
They cleared off when he appeared. He gathered himself, and flung open the door.
The woman standing half-way down the steps turned to look up at him, her long red hair streaming out in the snappish wind. "Hey Spike."
"Hope you're not disappointed."
Disappointment wasn't the right word; he felt a little unbalanced. He came down so as to stand level with her, one step lower. Willow smiled. She had a kind smile when she wanted to.
"Buffy thought maybe she came on too strong just now on the phone. She doesn't want to crowd you. She sent me on ahead to make sure it's okay."
"Is she okay? What's she been up to?"
"Working. We were in Peru for a week, weird situation in the Andes, we just got back two days ago." She tugged his sleeve. "Walk around the block?"
"Is she here?"
"No. She's waiting at the castle."
That made him feel a little easier. He followed Willow down the stoop, paused at the bottom to light a cigarette.
"She make you memorize a little speech to say off to me?"
"No. She just wanted me to gauge what's the what. See if you need more time."
"Not sure what time's gonna do. Steered clear of her after Sunnydale because I thought it was best for both of us, yeah? She tell you what she said to me, down in the hellmouth when I was startin' to burn?"
"She told me what she said, and what you said. But that was a long time agowhy are you acting like the last couple months when you were lovers, hello! never happened?"
"Don't quite feel like they did happen. Not exactly to me." The admission made him feel even more off-balance. They stopped at an intersection to wait for the light to change. "Remember it all, but it's like it happened to someone else. Like I was a sort of made-up toy for Buffy. Simple an' innocent. Easy for her to give herself to, easy to hold up in front of the others, because what did my past matter if I didn't know any of it?"
"I sympathize," Willow said. "I do. But as someone with a rotten pastwho hasn't been presented with any do-over opportunities with her best honeyI strongly encourage you to shut the fuck up about that and deal."
Willow held up a hand. "Okay, I get that it's not exactly the same thing. And I'm not telling you have no right to have some issues, or to air them out. But answer one question. No caveats: are you still in love with Buffy?"
"Willow, I don't want to hurt her."
"Yeah, well, she doesn't want to be hurt."
"That's the thing, don't you see? Dunno if love's enough."
Willow stopped, giving him a wary look. "You know, you still have to talk to herI'm not going to break up with her for you."
"Don't expect that! Was me proposed to meet, wasn't it?"
"Yeah, okay. Just ... shit. You're not really going to break it off, are you? I thought you'd always love her."
"Love her, yeah, care for her. But I'm not the same as when I was out of my head just now. All I knew about then was her. Bein' at slayer's service."
"Are you worried about hurting her only? Or about you getting hurt? You seemed completely willing when you got involved with her. You two, you just have something, that strong attraction. I'd say the chances of you both ever being in a situation where you'd be able to keep your hands off each other is slim to none."
"Well, what about the futureher future? She's not the one girl in all the world anymore. What chance does she have for a proper home an' kiddies if she's mixed up with me?"
Willow looked a little startled, before she rolled her eyes. "I haven't heard Buffy talk about wanting anything like that, not for years. But she misses you and wants you, all the time."
"That's because the life's ruined her for proper men. Vampireseven ones with soulsaren't fit lovers for"
"Oh shut up! That's old-school Angel-talk."
"Maybe Angel was right about that much. Thought he was, when I was with him in L.A."
He was sorry he'd begun this at all. Should've slipped off one night and disappeared. Kept Buffy where she belonged, a fantasy he'd never have to live out. Never have to fail at.
"Just not sure if I'm her man."
Willow stopped under a street lamp and squinted up at him. "She knows you're her man."
"Like I said, dunno if that's enough."
Willow thumped him. "Don't you make a fool out of me!"
"I told Buffy you weren't a coward. That you'd never been and never would be. But here you are"
"Not cowardice! Scruples. Proper caution, because"
She jerked at his sleeve. "Scruples? Caution? Hello, can I talk to Spike please?"
"You started this, Mr William Pratt. You fell for her when nobody, including Buffy, wanted you to, and you won her. If you pull this on Buffy now you will ruin her. All the men she's ever loved have walked away. But not you, Spike. Really, not you. You know you don't want to."
He felt like his clothes were full of ants. He wished he was that simpleton, who didn't remember the assault in the bathroom, who was no more aware of his soul squirming in him than of the tongue in his mouth, who knew nothing of decades of bloody murders but was brimful of memorized poetry. That fellow was an apt one for Buffy, if she had to have her pretty undead toy instead of a real live husband at her side for what looked like being a real-life-sized life. Should've left it alone when he had the chance, not started in with the magical cures. Not that Willow's attempts had had much effect.
He fiddled with the contents of his pockets. "Just tryin' to see the right side of it. Tryin' not to be selfish."
"Buffy would like someone to be selfish about her right about now. She'd likeshe needssomeone to lay claim and refuse to let go."
Willow smiled a gotcha smile that showed all her pink gums around her pretty teeth. "Well, duh."
Giles still kept a flat in Bath, not in one of the pretty old rows the tourists gathered in front of, but on a quiet stretch removed from the High Street. Its windows overlooked a tangled rear garden, still green in early winter. When Willow brought him there a couple of hours after their conversation in Cleveland, they materialized into a cold morning rain, mist camoflaging the backs of the house rows. Spike pulled up the collar of his duster.
"She's inside. Go on."
"You're not staying?" He couldn't think when he'd last felt so uncertain. Not at all like a lover triumphant, confident of his reception. Already he missed his simple little cot and the furnace in the Cleveland basement. How easy it was, to just kill vampires, get drunk, sleep it off, do it again. Simple and a little boring, but his inner life had been so fraught for so long it felt good to shut it off. Except that he was supposed to have used that time to work it all through, get himself sorted, be ready. And he hadn't. He wasn't ready.
"You don't want me here," Willow said. She laid a hand on his arm, went up on tiptoe and pressed a kiss to his cheek. "Go be Spike. Spike's good heart. It'll all work out."
She was gone before he could reply, leaving him in the downpour next to the wrought-iron garden table. He faced a house-back that was renovated into big swatches of modern window, all covered in blinds or curtains, the entrance a pair of french doors, their glass similarly swathed in fabric. He'd expected Buffy to be waiting right there, if not outside then in the open door, but there was no sign of her. The curtains didn't twitch. Getting soaked now, he went up and tapped on the glass. Wondered what to expect. What she expected too. Just let it work out.
His knock rang hollow in the empty room on the other side. Then he felt her approach; he could hear her hesitantly descending a carpeted staircase, her heartbeat getting louder. She paused, and he wanted to call out Know you're there! but he waited. The rain splattered his leather back. Then the knobs rattled, and she was in the doorway.
His first impression of her was pale-under-tan. She'd gotten some sun in Peru, but that didn't keep her from looking chalky, under-slept, bleary. The bruises he'd inflicted on her were gone. Her hair was brushed to a shine, hanging free. She wore a dress, a dark rough silk, simple and well-cut, her legs bare, boots on her feet. No perfume, no jewelry. She smelled like fatigue and a little bit like vomit, and very much like toothpaste. He put a hand up on the doorframe, feeling unobtrusively for whether he was free of the place. But he couldn't put his thumb around the edge. He'd have to be invited in.
There was a tinge of relief in that. He wasn't sure he wanted to go inside right away.
She didn't quite meet his eyes, was subdued as a shy girl greeting a blind date, not like herself at all. He felt for her, after how open she'd been with him, all that intimacy with his partial self. That fellow had felt perfectly free to follow his heart, whereas those adventures, all that he'd done and said and felt in that state, left him now stymied, embarrassed, confused.
"Look at you," she said. Her tone was almost off-hand, absent. She didn't actually look at him, except for his boot toes, which she stared at as if they were completely absorbing. A dog barked in a garden further off, and in all the houses round, people, children, animals slept. He listened to her heart thub, and the steady patter of the rain. Wanted to say something reassuring. He was seldom at a loss for speech, even if it was inane, but he couldn't come up with anything.
Buffy reached out and stuck a finger into one of the buttonholes on his duster. Balanced on one foot, the other hooked behind her ankle, she worked her finger slowly in and out of this tenuous connection. She blinked, and he focused on the fluttering of her eyelashes.
"You're all wet."
"You'll notice it's rainin'."
She didn't seem to. She stood in her one-legged stork-pose, plucking and twisting the buttonhole. Tugging his leather, but not so as to draw him inside. She seemed to sense that he wasn't eager for that. She stared at her hand, at the placket of his coat.
"You went back to the old look."
"Works for me."
"Yeah." Pluck, twist, tug. Concentrating on the buttonhole like it held the key to the whole moment.
She whispered, "Do you think you'll stay with me, Spike?"
Before he could react, she pulled her finger free of the coat and pressed it to his lips. "No, that wasn't fairtoo quick. I take it back. I take it back!"
She flushed hot, and he felt her starting to withdraw. At that moment he heard music, faint but plain, coming from the kitchen of the next house downimprobable music, a glittery Strauss waltz. He caught her hand, drew her across the threshold.
"Dance with me, Slayer."
"What?" She glanced around wildly as she emerged into the cold downpour, as he took hold of her in the waltzing pose and began the box-step. Their feet collided; he put her right, began again, and this time, though she was looking away, back into the house as if hoping for some intervention, she moved with him. Someone somewhere had taught Buffy Summers the rudiments of this dance, because she got it in a beat or two, and then they were moving with an easy rise and fall, across the slick short wintry grass, towards the bottom of the garden. Her breathing was louder than the music, edging towards frantic, and it wasn't until they'd nearly reached the wall and he'd whirled them back the other way that she brought her face around to look at him. She seemed bewildered and sad, but now her eyes were engaged with his, she kept them there. They lacked their usual light, their spark, yet at the same time she danced with a smoothness that suggested practice but must really just be her inherent grace.
The music faded before the end of the piece; they kept moving for another few steps, and he'd have gone on, humming for her to the established pace, but she stopped. Her hair was dark with the rain, her face lined in trickles. The silk dress was turned black, plastered to her body. She shivered now she was still.
"What are you doing? What is this?"
"Dunnojustheard the music"
She balled her hands into fists. "Have you been sleeping with Faith?"
"The hell I have!"
She cried, "I don't believe you!"
She started to take a swing at him; he caught her wrist before she could land the blow. "Woman, are you mad?"
"Yes. Yes. I've been waiting for youwaiting for youyou're not telling me what I need to know!"
"Haven't even touched myself since I left you, let alone Faith. She an' I talked a bit. We mourned some. That's all. Buffy, you know that."
She pulled free. She shivered hard, the rain pouring down her face mixed now with tears.
He drew her into the tiny summer house that took up one corner of the garden. Here it was drippy but substantially dry. Taking off his duster, he wrapped it around her.
She shivered under the heavy leather. "Forgive me ... I'm tired. I haven't been sleeping much. I know you didn't touch Faith."
"Never mind that."
"I forgot to even ask you how you are."
"I'm well enough."
"No, really. I want to know. Willow said"
"She repeat everythin' we talked about to you?" He wished she hadit might make this go better. So far he felt like he was groping around in the dark, not even knowing what he was supposed to say, or want, or how to act.
Buffy shrugged. "I don't think so. She said you were troubled. Which I'd figured out already."
"Troubled. Stupid word, makes me sound like a naughty schoolboy."
She didn't answer. She faced away from him, looking out into the soaked garden. The seconds slipped by, drawing out like a spider's silk, until a whole long minute had passed in silence.
Then she said, "I thought you wanted to talk."
"I did. I'm just ... havin' trouble gettin' started."
"I've been trying to imagine what it was like for you. The last year. The battle, the amnesia. Angel dying. Getting jerked around by a god with the face of someone you liked, someone who got killed. Then what we did together while you didn't really know what we used to be to each other. I don't blame you for resenting me. I knew you would. Because if it was the other way around, I guess I'd have resented it too."
He found himself smiling. "You? Know just how you'd be, fierce thing. You'd have been furious, an' you'd have smited me down for givin' you all that pleasure an' comfort."
It took her a few seconds to understand that he was trying to lighten the mood. "Pleasure and comfort." The is that all it was? was clearly implied in her tone. She turned again to stare out into the rain, holding the duster closed around her throat.
"I thought I understood why you didn't come to me after Sunnydale, why you didn't call. You'd bowed out. And your dedication to the missionI respect that like whoa. But I don't quite understand the hesitancy now. Getting all your memories back, does that really cancel out the time we've had together? Everything we said and did? Are you really that pissed off about it?"
"You're angry at me about something."
"Just not sure I'm the same man you gave yourself to."
"I gave myself to you. It was so sweet. It was ... I don't know when I was ever happier. Which is kind of pathetic, but we both know my love life is a big broken trail of pathos."
"Don't talk about yourself that way."
"Why not, it's true. Spike, I wanted you to be whole. Didn't I say so, over and over, didn't I show you? I knew that was the only way our love would be completely real. I gave you my all and now you're in one piece again, you're not sure you want it. So what's wrong with me? Or is it you?"
She was angry herself. He didn't blame her.
"Slayer, where d'you see yourself bein' in ten years' time?"
The question startled her. He wasn't sure where it had come fromit wasn't the sort of thing he was accustomed to thinking about for himself or anyone else. She glanced around at him, eyes wide, with a sound halfway between a guffaw and a choke. "Ten years? You know I'll be dead and gone." She was matter-of-fact, as if reminding him of something he should perfectly well know.
"You still believe that? Even now?"
"I may no longer be the slayer, but I'm still a slayer."
"Spike, don't. The Pollyanna stuff fits you like a hat on a chicken. We met because you were plotting my death, remember? Later, you were outraged at my resurrection. You've always been honest and direct when it comes to medon't ruin that now by pretending this is about releasing me to lead a more normal life."
She faced him then. "You know, I've finally gotten to the point where I know for sure: I'll never not be the slayer, but apart from that, I'm free. I'm free to live how I need to live, to love who I need to love. I mean, I might as well, because my job is harsh, and my life isn't going to be long."
"Harsh, yeah. An' when we come together, it always leaves marks. I leave marks, on you." When he thought of how she'd born them, how she'd convinced herself they were proofs of her devotion. He thought of the bite, that she'd seduced out of him.
"I'm confused here. What is it you're not telling me? That we'reliterallydancing around? Anger, I can deal withwe've been angry at each other before. But I don't know if you still assume I don't really want you. That you somehow still don't deserve me."
"Then you just don't want me anymore. You've been exposed to the full Buffy, nothing held back, and ... I was too much. Even for you. If that's it ... just say so. Just say, so I can quit wasting my time, and move on."
"You're wrong. I'm not ...." The words stuck in his throat. He closed his eyes, wishing himself away.
"Where do you see yourself in ten years? Hell, forget ten years. Ten days. Where do you see yourself? Cleveland?"
"Need to be right down in a city, yeah, ear to the ground, some place I can do some good, on the street, every night. Takin' a territory, being responsible for it. But not Cleveland. Cleveland was good, but it wasn't mine."
He could picture being dismissed by her, or dismissing himself. Leaving her there in the wet summer house, in his wet leather, going out through the garden gate, making his way into the town center and then away somewhere. He could see that happening far more clearly than he could envision entering Giles' house with her. Much less returning to the castle. That ivory tower.
"Guess I see myself back in L.A., in honor of my old Captain. Know the territory pretty well already. Plenty there to keep me busy."
Buffy's hand emerged from the leather flaps of his coat, hovered in the air between them, but didn't make contact. "You know what's weird? Right this minute I feel like you probably did, that night ... thinking that if you just grabbed me, got me going, you could make me see things your way. Remind me of how we connect. God, I'd really like to just hurl myself at you right now, knock you down and take you until you remember that you're mine. But that would be another big mistake. Here, take this back." She shrugged out of the duster, pushed it at him. "I wish you well Spike, in all your future evil-fighting endeavors. I'm going inside before I freeze."
She'd taken a couple of steps out into the rain before he lunged after. Seized her elbow, pulled her back. She tried to wrench free, and for a few terrible seconds they struggled, as they'd struggled so many times before.
The words poured out of him, unplanned, unimagined until that moment. "Slayerwould you come with me an' be partners? Would you do that?"
She dug her fingers into the sodden sleeves of her dress. Her hair hung in soaked rats around her face. "Partners? What do you mean by partners? You suggesting a business model, or?"
"Business model? No! Want you to come down out of your castle an' work with me night after night at what you do best. Bloody hell, I'd ask you to marry me, if that wasn't absurd." He heard himself say this, and was astonished, and yet he knew he'd finally managed to bypass his racing brain, that the words came from his soul.
"Why would it be absurd?" She was entirely, almost terribly, serious. Her gaze fixed on his, burning with attention.
"Dead man, vampire. Can't" Even as he stumbled over the words, a crazy awe rising in his heart, he found himself sinking to his knees. Purpose swelled in his breast. "SlayerBuffy. Buffy, would you"
She knelt too, as if drawn down by his own movement. Disconcerted, he gestured. "No, you're supposed toI'm proposin', an' you're supposed to be"
"I don't want to stand above you." Her knees almost touched his. She leaned in so her face was inches from his. "Isn't it better like this?" She was still sodden and pale, her face glowing greenish white in the rainy murk, but the change in her energy was unmistakable. Her eyes had come alive.
"All right then." He breathed in around the great knot that had formed in his chest. "Buffy, would you come to me an' be my wife?"
There was no lag between question and answershe'd opened her mouth to reply even as he was speaking. "Yes I will." Then she was in his arms, the ache of their mutual restraint exploded. Her face and lips were chilled, but her mouth when it opened against his was warm. She wriggled into his lap; they tipped back against the wall, gorging on kisses.
Gradually he realized that she was shivering, and that no matter how tightly he wrapped her in his arms, he couldn't warm her.
"You're wet through."
"You're wet through, Mrs Pratt." She'd grown light, her voice like a low clear bell. She rose, and pulled him to his feet. "So are you. Come inside now."
He followed, his hand in hers, back across the garden, and into the house. As he fastened the doorshe couldn't get them to catchBuffy picked up her phone from the kitchen table.
"What're you doin'? Should get out of those wet things first thing."
"I need to call my sister. I have to tell her I'm going to be a bride."