He’s back. The man of her dreams and nightmares all rolled up into this ball of crazy moaning on the jaws of hell. He’s hurting, he’s desperate, and she can’t do more than stand with her arms folded and watch him sleep. There’s safety in that sleep, for both of them.
When she kneels close to the ground, she can feel it – whatever “it” is, trembling below them like a fault line or even...a pulse. Hers threads faster being near him, she hates how her body won’t lie. They’re feeding off each other still and something below them, inside and underneath, feeds off them, too. They must be making it worse.
“Stay here, and help me be quiet,” he’d asked in one of his more lucid moments. Hearing the pleading in his voice, it struck her how his clarity scared her more than his raving.
“I think it's worse when I'm here,” she’d answered and left him, only to return later and watch him thrash on the floor in a fitful attempt to rest.
His words from the church ring in her ears: Can we rest now, Buffy? Obviously not, as evidenced by how he twitches in sleep and fights the images he sees in his dreams. No rest for the wicked.
She knows what’s making him crazy, the thick cloud of it rolls up and over her, she can hear rushing in her own ears, and feels how well this knows them, knows her. It finds all of her wounds and picks them, like a vindictive serpent striking at her own Achilles heel.
She tries to shut her eyes, but “it” makes her see them. All of the men she’s loved and lost march past her, a parade of betrayal. Which one has hurt her the most she isn’t sure. She could say that it’s him, but she really doesn’t want to give him that much power. None of them ever come back. None of them dare, the slayer sense asserts, but she can’t quite believe that. Where do they all go to lick their wounds and do they all look that broken? Father, soul mate, watcher, lover, lover, lover...a chorus of goodbyes.
She looks down at him. In sleep, he shows her his true colors. The ridges and bumps of his face that she wishes she could forget belong to him, so that the curious child in her could run her fingers along their peaks and valleys. What does he dream?
I dreamt I killed you, he had said at the church and the words haven’t stopped playing over in her head.
”How did you do it?” she asks aloud now and though his body lies in sleep at her feet, she sees something in front of her like his spirit maybe, wearing his black, all cocksure and bloody.
“Like this of course,” he answers, his voice thick with smoke and desire, the last word barely a brush on her skin before he pierces her neck. When the vein explodes in his mouth, spraying on his tongue, it’s a gift for both of them…her blood, his survival and his capture, her peace.
”How did you do it?” she asks once more, and the image of him shifts before her eyes, appearing before her stripped and defiant.
“I licked your wounds closed and held your head until your heart stopped beating and turned silent against mine.”
”How did you do it?” she asks and sees a picture of him she knows she never really saw, how his beautiful body had been covered with dust and tears and etched with fractures.
“I ran, I fell, and when I looked up I could have sworn you were diving into me.”
How did you do it?
I betrayed you.
How did you do it?
I loved you.
And all it does is burn.
When he’s awake, there’s only the one of him. Whoever thought of safety in numbers never hallucinated vampires.
“What are you eating?” she asks. Practicality serves her well, to be concerned with all matters of necessity, not comfort.
“Bits and pieces, dribs and drabs,” he mumbles. “The porridge is cold today and my bowl’s cracked straight through.”
“Spike.” Her mind races down several lines of thought on what to say next. “I could bring you something.”
“Spot of tea would be lovely,” his voice perks in hope. “We’ll invite Mother and make a jubilee.”
“Not exactly what I had in mind.”
“I’ve nothing to offer you here, not a crumb, not a smidge, you’ll go hungry in my pantry.” He wanders off down the hall and away from her.
The dark swallows him again. She tries to count back to how many days it’s been since he last showed her his face and loses count before she hurries back upstairs. He could be turning into anything down there.
“I need to ask, I can’t remember, you see. Can’t quite recall, how many times it’s been that you’ve visited us?” he asks the next day, his voice muffled from being wadded up in a dark huddled corner.
“Not enough. Not nearly enough, because here you are. Still.”
“Tell me, if you would, what’s the climate of the lady’s face today?” he asks, drawing out the words, making it last. “Are you the agony or the ecstasy? Slayer light or dark?”
“Just me, Spike. It’s just me.”
“You said,” he points behind his back, still not facing her. “One of you said you’d help me.”
“I meant it. I can’t do it all, though. You’ve got to meet me halfway.”
“Meet you in hell, you mean.”
“No, and not in heaven, either,” she plants her feet firm as though she could show him. “Right here.”
“You can’t… I can’t let you. You can’t see me like this. It’s altogether wrong and incorrigible of me and surely I’m in no state of grace.”
Her eyes roll nervously. “I’ll take my chances.”
“It won’t, you see,” he turns towards her miserably. “It won’t go away.” In the shadows, she can see the light stripe over his face, which is already marred by his vampire features.
She forces herself not to be startled. “What were you thinking about?”
“You, of course. Can’t help but think of you. Save me, damn me, all the same in that face of yours,” he sobs in a grimace frenzied and sad. “In mine, too.”
“Stop it!” she snaps, then takes a breath and tries again. “You’re dying down here.”
“Oh, Buffy. Isn’t that what you always wanted?” He laughs and laughs, his laughs turn to screams and she wants to run, back to the brutal light above, where it’s so much easier to forget how his virgin soul atones here for sins it never committed. Yet ugly as it is, she’s fascinated by his anguish. His body’s truly a traitor to him now – perhaps that’s why he won’t let her near him like this. Finding no solace, he folds himself up until the deafening roar he wails becomes a lull. He sleeps again.
Only then does she step forward, wind her hand under his, and continue the stroking of his hair that he’s begun without her. He mimics it, this motion that she only allows them when he’s gone like this. It’s the only way she knows that somehow, somewhere between the cracks, she’s getting through.
He’s still sleeping when she returns and when she eases his head into her lap, she sees what’s happening. Even under the mask of the demon, she can tell that he’s starving, the telltale circles under his eyes. Rage rises up in her throat for how he’s allowing death to come for him. She won’t let that happen after all the wars they’ve waged together. All they’ve done is battle. He can’t go like this.
She’s built up quite a god-complex for herself being the Slayer, the agent of death. Death is your gift. Fingering the strands of his newly bleached hair, dry and lifeless to the touch, she wars with herself over the need to give something more -- like life, for a change. The agent of life is blood. It’s always got to be blood.
Am I saving you to kill you? she wonders. No, you just don’t get to die this way, she decides as she pulls up her sleeve. It’s her choice now, that’s all it took, just a moment of choice and how dare you take it away from me. Every slayer has a death wish. The chip, the soul, the man -- he won’t kill her, she finally knows that. Not now.
She exposes the length of skin under her forearm where the flesh is dry and cool, a tender spot easily punctured where bruises can hide and heal without discovery. His jaw’s half open, delirious with sleep, and it takes no effort for her to move his mouth under her arm and lance his fangs onto her. His lips twitch in confusion, then attach, and she feels only the briefest prick of contact. There’s no viciousness in this embrace of teeth on skin, just a pure need as he sips the life from her and makes it his own.
That last night without his soul, he’d never bruised her, never made her bleed; she wore the wounds inside instead. For all the violence and pain he ripped through her, it came from weakness, not strength.
Did you make me weak?
“Both of us got weak,” she whispers. “That ends now.”
“You’re different,”” says the girl in white.
"You have a soul now? Show me,” says the girl in black.
“Which one of you is real?” he asks in his haze.
"We’re all real,” she whispers and bends towards him, cradles his head and lets him feed while the blood seeping from his lips stains her blouse of gray.
Full in his sleep, his tongue winds over her arm in a grateful caress.
“Sure to be punished,” he mutters through his fangs. “Certainly worthy of a thorough beating.”
“I’m not your judge. You are. That’s what a soul does.”
“Ha,” he drawls with languish, back to the personality she recognizes. “Slayer, you’re judge, jury, and executioner. Let the blade sing, love.”
“You can’t change what you’ve done. So what can you do?”
He twists in her lap. “Something different. Something better. Something else.”
“Then do it. You think you’re the only one burned by this soul of yours?”
So he’s brought them together again after all -- only this time they’re sharing the same depths, and she suddenly understands what it means to love something and want to kill it all in the same breath.
The hunger she can satisfy, alone in the dark. His pain, though, when he’s awake, is not something she can comfort. This guilt he bears, she can’t look at him for how much it sickens her. If only he’d revel in his conquest like he pretended to do at the Bronze, crow over how he nearly bested the slayer, so she could finally be done with this and dust him. He won’t, though.
His days of being straight-up black hat bad have long passed and she mourns them as much as her litany of lost-loves. In giving her his soul, she hates him for what he’s taken from her. He's ended a part of her life; she can feel it actually withering away, the part where everything could still be as simple as good and evil. What to do with this man who’d thrown himself into the land of neither?
I want you to suffer (I can't stand it) I want to watch you die (I couldn't bear it) I will kill you if you touch me (I want it) I want it my way, my feelings, my time, my place, not you, don't burden me with your wants when I have so many to call my own. You’re too ruined to be a savior and I’m too selfish to be a martyr.
“You’re getting stronger,” she tells him when the shadows in his face fade and she reopens the wounds on her arm for him again. Something about it pleases her that she’s the one doing this for him, and how no one knows. He doesn’t even know. In the dark quiet of the basement, with only the sounds of knocking pipes and hissing ventilation, she can practically convince herself that she doesn’t know, either.
There’s guilt here for her, too. For as much as she rages against it, she’s done this, made him into this new thing. Tracing the grooves between his eyes, she notices how much the vampire at rest looks like he’s frowning, as though he’s aggrieved by his own condition. She can’t paint over him, like a discarded canvas. She’ll just have to learn to see him how he really is.
Not yet, though.
“Get up and get out of this basement,” she tells him. Certainly she has more blood to give him, but she’s fresh out of patience.
“I don’t have anywhere else to go.”
“Of course you do,” she bends down and holds out her hand. “Come on.”
He cringes away from her. “It isn’t time, not halfway ready…”
“I have to get us out of here. I can’t keep coming back and doing this.”
“It isn’t required of you,” he says with a haughty little toss of his head. “I’ve got everything well in hand, all in the proper parameters.”
“Spike, listen to me,” she says firmly and his indignant gold eyes gleam back at her. “We can’t just stay and hope that the spirits that move here will move somewhere else. We have to move them instead.”
“I don’t know how.”
“Neither do I. So let’s try to figure it out.”
“Buffy,” he grabs at her hand like he’s afraid it will disappear. His features smooth back to reveal a frightened human face. “How much of it was real?”
“Come on,” she says again and tugs at him. “Xander’s car is still running.”
Each step he takes upwards is a triumph, every one a testament to how much he wants to live. Outdoors at last, and when he catches sight of the starless sky, he gazes up at the moon with a quiet awe and gratitude that makes her think of an imprisoned man when he glimpses the day again. The night is his sun.
How much of it was real? The arm that leads him wears short sleeves today and the sliver of white bandage could cover any scuff from the rough edge of a headstone or scrape from a tree branch. Except it doesn’t. She feels his eyes try to search her face in wonder, but she’s already closed herself to him again, along with the door to the car, and sets her jaw with a grim resolve. He’s back -- and nothing will ever be the same.
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