Length: >100,000 words
Disclaimer: Nothing is mine. Only the plot, one demon and the veil are.
Setting: Right after 'Dead Things'
Summary: The night after, all he wants is talk.
The night after, there’s nothing she wants less than talking.
And suddenly they find themselves in another dimension; one that Buffy can’t leave. There’s only one way to get her out. A way with consequences.
He sits on her bed for a long time after she left. He tells himself that he can’t bring himself to pull off his boots, that he’s too bloody tired. He knows it’s not the whole truth, though.
He lets his gaze wander around the girlish room of hers; he hasn’t been in here for a long time. Not since the night he brought her to the blood whore house where soldier boy had been for his special kind of suck job. He’d often been up here during the longest summer of his life, but he never cast a glance over the threshold - it would’ve hurt too much. And he never once before so much as even touched her bed.
And now she wants him to lie down on it.
But not like he always dreamed she would want him to. He sighs.
“Yeah. Not gonna happen, mate,” he mutters, silently putting the remnants of this old delusion to rest.
He’s surprised that it doesn’t hurt as badly as he supposed it would. It leaves a well-known ache in his chest, of course it does. He loves her, and he will always wish for being loved back, with everything that comes with it.
But where the constant ache lives, deeply embedded in his heart, there’s also something else now - a calm gratefulness for being here at all, brought to her room by her to help him. He really needs her help, he knows that. He’s not even sure whether or not he’d still be alive without her intervention. But to say that he’s surprised that she gives him what he needs from her so willingly, so determinedly even, would be putting it mildly. A part of him is almost scared that she’s fighting for him so fiercely, because he has no idea how to handle that.
Mostly though he’s just grateful.
He fought this fight for such a long time on his own; it seems like a lifetime to him, even though he’s aware that it was only some weeks, and he is beyond exhausted. And nothing ever changed since he began fighting. Nothing, until she showed up.
No, actually until he linked their souls. Right then it was the very first time that he felt like he could breathe again, so to speak. The first time that the ghosts of his past didn’t assault him, for as long as she was with him.
He’s not complaining. He knows he deserves this. More than a century of slaughter and mayhem more than justify his misery. And yet…
Since she first found him in his crypt, since she first got through to him, through the fog of his cruelties, something profoundly changed. It feels to his muddled brain that with her presence she keeps the ghosts haunting him at bay. Without her, he got lost in his gruesome past, feeling nothing but horror, guilt and remorse - stinging, biting, burning. It’s been like standing surrounded by all his barbarous deeds, seeing what happens but being unable to stop the terror, until all he could think of was closing his eyes, trying as desperately as it was futile to shut it all out, because he couldn’t change a bloody thing.
With her by his side it’s different. Her being there, caring for him, fighting for him, helps him to face the monster that was him, gives him the strength to look harder, to remember and regret. It’s the only way for him to give the lives he’s taken a meaning; looking at the pain he caused, acknowledging each one of them as a single human being. It hurts so incredibly he can barely stand it. It threatens to overwhelm him again and again, and often it’s just too much. But every time he falls back into insanity, ready to drown in there, she reaches for him, tears him out and holds him steady. All that is necessary is her touching him, because if she can still touch him, he is still here. And as long as he’s here, there can be a tiny chance to redeem himself one day.
And slowly, slowly he begins building roots in reality again.
Sitting in her room now feels a little like being wrapped in her presence, even when she isn’t here. It’s she who wanted him to be here, who fought for this. He heard her fighting Harris for this, hit him even. After all those months that she didn’t dare to tell her friends about him, now that he’s insane she stands up for him. Only weeks ago he would’ve given soddin’ everything to see that, would’ve rejoiced in the sight and gloated about it; but now he oddly finds he’s just deeply touched.
He carefully runs his hands over her pillow, caresses it, but he still doesn’t lie down. He can’t. So he still sits like she left him when she enters her room, holding a mug giving off the scent of warm blood. He stares at it, feeling his stomach constricting like before, a wave of disgust rushing through his body. It’s not the blood disgusting him, he’s still a vampire after all; it’s what he did to get it for all those decades. He knows it’s kind of stupid, but in his mind, the notion of drinking blood is firmly attached to Spike the monster.
And he really would love to kill this guy.
Her voice is so soft, so warm. He squeezes his eyes firmly closed for a moment, his jaw clenched, and swallows convulsively. Then he reopens them and looks up, tentatively, anxiously. Their eyes meet and lock, and he shivers at what he sees there. It’s the same warmth he heard seconds ago, a tenderness he never saw there before, and he knows she sees something else entirely when she looks at him than he does.
It’s always been like that. Regarding him, her view was always very different from his. But now, for some reason, the tables seem to have turned.
Right now, she doesn’t see the monster he is. She just sees Spike.
And for the first time since he left the cave in Africa, for one fleeting moment, he is Spike.
Buffy tears her eyes away from his with an effort, and it almost hurts her physically, almost stings deep in the back of her skull. She tries to chase away this weird feeling as if the world had shifted in its axis, and with it that God damn tenderness that once more has swashed over her. She steps over to her bed and sits beside him, her hand gripping the mug tightly.
“Hey,” she says softly; apparently she can’t get rid of this softness inside her. But how could she not be all soft, after what she saw in his eyes just seconds ago? It pierces her heart in a very uncommon way, unknown, unwanted, and yet spreads warmth throughout her whole body.
It’s been a myriad of emotions she saw there, as his eyes convey so often; but mostly she finally saw Spike in them, the Spike she sought for ever since she found him as a heap of nothing in his crypt. He’s here with her now, still full of fear and uncertainty and desperation, but undoubtedly Spike.
What throws her though is that he looks so bare right now.
She never saw him that way before; whatever they did, she never could forget that he was a vampire. A vampire who she liked more than she cared to admit sometimes, who she trusted to a certain degree, but a vampire nonetheless. A thing. Evil from the core. Doing some good things lately, but not out of conviction; only held back by the chip in the beginning and, later, by his twisted feelings for her.
It rattles her deeply, defying everything she believes in, to see him appearing so human all of a sudden, and for a moment she averts her eyes.
She briefly considers whether it’s only her view of him that changed so much, but dismisses the idea with an impatient shake of her head. Her view did change in the portal, but additionally something is definitely different about him, and she opens her mouth to ask him again what happened to him.
When she looks up again though, she instantly decides otherwise. He’s trembling from exhaustion, and he’s getting paler by the minute. He needs blood and rest, just like she told the others. And he needs both now.
She offers him the mug, feeling oddly naked without it to hold onto when he takes it with shaking hands and slowly begins to sip the blood.
“You haven’t lain down.” Oh, that’s a good one, she scolds herself; a really sharp observation.
He gives her a look over the rim that says exactly the same, and she feels relief tugging the corners of her lips to a wary smile; that glance too is finally some real Spike.
But then he lowers the mug, looks down to the floor in front of him and shrugs. “Couldn’t,” he says quietly, “don’t belong here.” The smile on her lips fades.
For a moment the helplessness is back, then she forces action-girl inside her to take charge. She takes the now empty mug out of his hand and places it on the night stand.
“Look, I want to clean the wound on your chest, and it’s easier if you’re lying down.”
His hand jerks up in front of him, covering his chest, protecting it, his head turning aside to evade her look. “No.”
She sighs. “Again?”
“It’s not hers…yours to see.” His eyes flicker over the wall beside them; he’s embarrassed, she realizes surprised.
Buffy gently lays her hand on his and gingerly pulls it back. “Spike, I saw it already. It looks nasty, and I have to clean it, so that I can see if you need stitches. Please.”
That gets to him; he could never resist her plea. He lets her lower his hand, but he snorts. “Vampire here. Don’t need stitches.”
Her eyes dart to his face, and once again her stomach churns. There was clearly disdain in his voice. Buffy swallows, hard. This is just not right. Spike always loved to be a vampire. He felt alive for the first time after his turning; he’d told her so himself, and she knows damn well that he meant it. He can’t loathe what he is. There is something seriously wrong with him, and almost of its own volition her hand rises to cup his cheek, and she’s not surprised to feel it wet.
“God, Spike…” she whispers, but then she pulls herself together and gently pushes him back, arranging him on her bed to get access to his chest. She doesn’t care anymore about his boots; she just wants to finally have him lying.
He tries to suppress it, but a small moan still slips out of his throat; his broken ribs hurt, and so does probably the wound. His eyes fall shut as soon as his head touches her pillow.
He lets her tug up his shirt without further protest now, doesn’t react to her hissing when she sees the shredded chest again. She goes to her bathroom, fills a bowl that she always uses to tend her battle wounds with warm water and grabs a cloth and some dressing material. When she comes back, she sinks slowly to the edge of the bed.
She knows it will hurt like a bitch to wash the wound, but she can see that it hasn’t started to heal yet. She hopes it’ll help to clean it, and she’s sure it hurts like a bitch anyway.
She dips the cloth into the bowl and carefully begins to wash him. The more blood and scab she wipes away, the clearer she sees the extent of the wound, and the more horrified she becomes. At several places it goes so deep that she can actually see the ivory color of his ribs.
“Dear God, what happened to you, Spike?” She doesn’t really ask him, and she doesn’t expect an answer. So she’s a little startled when he speaks, his voice low and casual, as if saying nothing of interest.
“Wanted it out.”
“What?” She feels a shiver run down her spine.
“Didn’t need it anymore now, did I?” The same quiet, disinterested voice as before, but in Buffy’s ears it rings like thunder. She stares at him, eyes wide with horror at what slowly seeps into her conscience; her hands still, frozen.
“What are you saying?” she whispers, her vocal chords not obeying anymore.
He briefly opens his eyes and looks at her, then locks his pained look behind his squeezing lids again and turns his head aside, away from her. “Too much, ‘t was too much. And she was safe. Too much…” He pauses, and then his eyes fly open and his head whips around to meet her gaze. “But you…you’re here. Still need it to…” He breathes in, heavily, shaky, and holds her eyes with his. Tears are streaming over her face, but she barely notices.
“You did this,” she whispers, shocked. She doesn’t know why he mauled himself, she only knows he did.
“Well, yeah.” There’s surprise in his voice, as though it only registers now with him that she didn’t know before that it was him. He regards her silently, traces her tears with his eyes, and suddenly his face takes on an expression of urgency. He lifts his hand and takes hers, holding it tight. “Buffy. Don’t. I’ll keep it. I can do that. With you.”
Her face contorts in fear and pain. “Spike…oh my…Why?”
He raises his other hand to brush her cheek, wiping away the tears. “Don’t,” he repeats, “’t’s okay. ‘t’ll heal.”
And then the small trace of fighting spirit that had briefly flared in his eyes vanishes again; he’s simply too weak. His hand sinks back on the bed beside him, his lids close again. She feels the hand holding hers go limp. Within mere seconds, he’s fallen asleep.
Buffy sits frozen for a long time, holding his hand. Her eyes are rooted to his face, which for the first time since she found him looks…peaceful.
Inside of her though rages a storm.
Why did he do this to himself?
She thinks of Riley, who dug into his chest to get the initiative chip out, but he hadn’t looked half as bad as Spike. But the vampire hadn’t a chip in his chest; why then would anyone in his right mind maul themselves like that? Did he try to scratch his heart out? She knows he wanted to die after all.
Then again - he isn’t in his right mind, is he? He’s acting crazy ever since he came back to the portal.
Buffy forces her racing heart to calm down. Is he really not in his right mind? He clearly fights something she can’t see, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. And only because what he says doesn’t make any sense to Buffy, it doesn’t mean that it’s senseless, right?
When her hands stop shaking she goes on cleaning the wound. Even though she only uses her free hand, leaving her other in his, it’s easier now that he’s asleep; she’s not so afraid anymore to hurt him. He winces a little a few times, but he doesn’t wake up. She carefully patches him up then as good as she can without disturbing his sleep and tugs his shirt down again.
And then she sits and watches him, watches him and is aware of the tenderness still lingering inside her, softening her gaze and her heart. And watching over the vampire’s sleep, the vampire who mauled himself, who is still way too thin, she finally gives up her resistance – she finally begins to think.
She’d refused to think about anything that wasn’t slayer stuff or how to behave as she was expected ever since she’d been brought back. Thinking inevitably would’ve led to feeling miserable; so she’d mostly put on her mask of bravery and happiness and worked on shutting out the yearning for heaven, no matter how much it cost her.
The only times she could let herself relax somewhat and not pretend had been, weirdly enough, when she’d been together with the vampire in front of her. From the first day on he knew the truth, because she had confided in him. He’d been kinda safe; she didn’t have to care about hurting him with her sadness, because he was just a vampire - just a soulless demon, a thing. A thing couldn’t hurt for someone else, right?
Yeah. So much for that.
She knows now, after the long hours being stuck in the portal, how wrong she was; knew it probably even back then, deep down. But it was convenient to think that way, and she really needed those times, so she selfishly took what she could get. Of course it helped that Spike didn’t seem to mind; he was happy to provide her sanctuary, happy to get a small, but genuine smile out of her once in a while.
And here’s the thing, she thinks - he did. He succeeded where everyone else didn’t, despite their extensive efforts: he got her to smile. Not that she’d been happy then, but for brief, flickering moments, she wasn’t as miserable as usual either.
Her eyes roam over his sleeping form, considering his still so skinny body, then travel back up to his face, resting there. She feels the warmth rise in her chest.
Rest. That was what he had given her from the beginning. She remembers her first hours back in life, can still feel the heat of the fires on her skin. Hell fires. She’d felt the blazing heat, but it had left her frozen. She’d been convinced to be in hell; where else could the heat of fire only get you cold?
Then she had to go back to doing her duty immediately, slaying demons, hacking and slashing. No rest for the wicked. And then the first encounter with her friends. Staring at her, huge expectation on their faces. Expectation that would never leave them in the months to come.
Finding the tower was a relief - hope to get back to peace, hope to escape. Until Dawn showed up. Sweet, needy Dawn. Again with the expecting, though she doesn’t blame her sister. She was just a kid, having lost her mom and her sister in the space of just a few weeks, and she was trying so hard.
And then he was there, and for the first time she felt a slight sense of calmness. Felt like being allowed to be just silent. To just be.
That’s how it started.
But like she refused to think about everything else, she’d also shied away from analyzing his continued ability to take away her misery for short moments. Had taken it as a given, had sought it out frequently; had relaxed more and more around him. But had refused to think.
Then, thanks to Sweet, she had spilled the beans; her friends suddenly knew about her secret, and even after telling them she found she didn’t care. Her brain kept telling her that it must be horrible for them, and all it did to her was make her annoyed, because Spike had been right. They couldn’t deal. Somehow dealing was also her duty, not theirs. And she still felt numb.
And she wanted so badly to feel again. Because she remembered happiness and sadness, fear and anger, and she knew it had been a better life then, filled with all those emotions, good and bad. So she turned once more to the one person that had been able to elicit a smile sometimes, only now she wanted to know. So she pushed it and kissed him.
That had been the end of what had begun to hesitantly become a friendship.
Because it had felt good. She had felt good, had felt, as long as it lasted. But the very next moment, she had remembered that she wasn’t supposed to go to the evil, bloodsucking fiend to feel good; and sure as hell she wasn’t supposed to kiss the evil, bloodsucking fiend to feel good. A smile here and there she could ignore; a kiss she couldn’t. So she ran.
And hated herself for finally feeling something kissing Spike of all people. Not being with the people she loved helped her to feel again, but being with Spike. She hated him and hated herself, but couldn’t let go of the rare times she finally succeeded to feel. So the spiral of hatred began, and over the weeks she forgot how good she once had felt with him.
Had she let herself look closer, had allowed herself to think, she would’ve seen that he hadn’t lied to her. That he had changed, that he did try. And maybe she would’ve seen that still he was the only one giving her moments of peace; moments when she briefly forgot about her hatred and her distaste for him, for herself; when she was almost relaxed again.
Alas, she hadn’t wanted to see. Seeing it would’ve required acknowledging that he stirred feelings of a different kind in her, too. And she couldn’t afford that.
Couldn’t afford to deal with the possibility that once more he was right, that maybe she was a creature of the darkness. She had enough to deal with.
She only once reluctantly conceded that sometimes she liked him. She couldn’t even admit that she had come to trust him, although immediately after her denial he eagerly proved the opposite.
What happened in the portal and the insights she’d gained there were quickly washed away by the fury about the images she was sure he somehow had planted into her mind. Not even the fact that it had happened while he’d come back to get her out could outweigh the flood of cruelties he had damned her to see. She latched onto the fury with all her power; it was what she was used to, what shielded her from dealing with the unwelcome wish to be held by him that she’d had in the portal. Helped her ignore the nagging worry lingering somewhere deep inside her. The worry that surged to the surface when Anya sent her to look after him.
That, to her utter shock, turned into blazing fear the moment she found him.
She snorts; all that thinking about the past, only to finally come to the point that she admits to herself that within a heartbeat she was not worried, but terrified of losing him.
She’s terrified. That’s a feeling, right? Yay me, she thinks, rolling her eyes. Yeah, but it’s so not the feeling she wants to have. Not the being terrified, but the being terrified of losing him. Because…what does that mean?
Her hand rises, her fingertips cautiously touch his cheek, so soft that she barely can feel it. She thinks back to the moment when she realized that he refused to drink because he wanted to end his unlife, at what she saw in his eyes then, and again she feels something deep down in her belly freezing. The thought of never touching him like this again causes her hands to move, to lay her palm against his skin, feel more of him.
Why the fucking hell is this scaring her that much? She tries to imagine losing one of her loved ones. Losing Willow, maybe. No, bad example. Deep down, she’s still too mad at her for yanking her out of heaven without asking. Dawn then. Yeah, that scares her too, but Dawn’s her sister, that kind of doesn’t count. But even so, she realizes with a pang, it’s not as terrifying as…yeah. Probably because her sister is not in any imminent danger of dying.
And then, out of the blue, the memory of the moment after the demon attack crosses her mind, the moment she realized that he’d wanted them to end it and she broke down on his chest, a sobbing mess, pleading with him not to die on her.
Just let me go…I can’t. I love you.
She remembers that she instantly dismissed the comparison to the night in the alley as impossible. It just couldn’t be.
Now she reluctantly allows herself to contemplate it.
Her hand still cupping his cheek jerks away, every nerve in her screams to run away.
God, she can’t even think about finishing that thought; it’s too frightening.
Only her other hand still connected to his and the knowledge about the soothing effect it has on him keeps her from storming out, to leave those confusing feelings behind. She breathes in, then out, in again and out, the steady rhythm supporting her trying to calm down her racing heart a notch or two. She forces her hand back to his face, forces herself to let the tenderness engulf her, to let it flow through her hand cupping his cheek again; focuses on feeling the connection between them, at both her hands. Those hands that she suddenly can’t prevent from trembling.
Then she tries again.
Does she…love him?
She swallows. A week ago she would’ve laughed her ass off at the mere suggestion, had she been in a good mood then; otherwise she probably would’ve used her fists.
She doesn’t know.
She wants to scream, no, of course not! But she knows it’s not so easy. The fear for him that never stopped to clench her heart since she found him is too strong, too real to be ignored. There are feelings for him. As much as she’s still repulsed by the notion of her falling for him, falling for a vampire again, as much as she hates him, hates herself for even having to contemplate it – there are feelings for him, and for the first time, she’s honest enough to admit that much. But is it something remotely close to love? Could she love someone without a soul? Someone who didn’t feel any remorse about all the evil he had done over more than a century? Who had slaughtered thousands of people without batting an eye and didn’t regret it?
But he loves her. And he had been so good to her. Had saved her in the Bronze, even though she’d ran away when he’d sung to her and later had once again humiliated him for the singing. Had cared for Dawn, protected her; had felt guilty for not saving her on the tower. And the list could go on and on. And all that without a soul.
The thing is - he did change. Did stop killing humans. The chip stopped him, a fierce voice inside her head interrupts her train of thought, only the chip.
But she’s still firmly, if shivering, on the honesty train out of denial land, and she shakes her head; no, that’s simply not true. He could easily have gone and find someone capable of getting it out, had he really wanted to. Or adjusted otherwise; getting minions, making them hunt for him.
Could’ve gone with Drusilla.
But he didn’t. Instead he confessed his love for the Slayer, offered even to kill Dru to prove it. Even if this wasn’t the romantic love declaration every girl dreams of, it undoubtedly was the truth. And ever since, he always only had helped her, ready to go down swinging for her, to protect her sister. All the while knowing perfectly well how she felt about him.
How could it still be the same person as the vampire that couldn’t wait till Saturday to kill her?
And - doesn’t it have to count for something? Doesn’t his willingness to change for her, to give up everything he defined himself by, overweigh the past he couldn’t undo however much he regretted it? It can’t be easy to forfeit his inner nature, even less so without getting anything in return but broken noses and disgust; she sees that now, and a hot wave of shame colors her cheeks.
She watches him closely, tries to block out the knowledge of Spike the evil killer, tries to see just him, the man lying on her bed whose hand she still holds in hers, whose cheek she still cups gingerly. Who she suddenly finds herself unable to let go of. Would she feel differently about him if she didn’t know about his past?
And even if so, could she ignore this past, his lack of remorse for his deeds? She sighs; she doesn’t think so. How could she ignore that all the good he’s done he didn’t do because he felt it was the right thing to do, but because it was what he thought she expected him to do? That he still hasn’t a moral compass of his own? That she could never fully trust him, because everything he does hinges on her?
But maybe…despite every fiber in her screaming in horror at the thought, at the sheer wrongness of it - could she be falling for him anyway?
He certainly made her feel affection for him she hadn’t felt before, and wouldn’t have anticipated either. The Spike who had been with her in the portal had given her a feeling of safety she hadn’t even known she’d yearned for; had chipped away at the walls she’d built around herself for years, had finally broken through and given her the first real feeling since coming back, opening the way for more tentative emotions.
So – could she? Be falling for this Spike, despite his past? For the one she tried to ignore for such a long time, the one who had changed, for her?
Eventually she lifts her hand a little, smooths once again the detested curls back.
She really doesn’t know. All she knows is that she can’t lose him. He’s the one person helping her feel; she needs him, and he needs her, too.
She listens to the shallow breathing that lifts his chest slightly with each breath he takes in and lets it sink down when he exhales again. A timid smile sneaks on her lips, lighting up her eyes for a moment, too; for whatever reason he’s doing this breathing-in-his-sleep thing, she’s relieved he’s doing it again. It crept the hell out of her when he went completely still while sleeping earlier, and it weirdly makes him look more relaxed than before. And decidedly less dead.
Her hand curled around his squeezes lightly, and she slowly feels a hint of peace weaseling its way into her, a small trace of something she hasn’t felt since she’s been torn out of heaven.
Suddenly she longs to be closer to him, and even though a part of her is once more taken aback, she surrenders and lays her head on his belly. Her eyes drift shut almost instantly, she hasn’t slept at all last night after all, and not well in the days before that.
I’ll only rest for a moment, she thinks, finally feeling safe enough to do so.
Only seconds later she sleeps, too.
When Spike slowly drifts to consciousness, it doesn’t take long to become aware of how close she still is. Her head rests heavily on his belly, his left hand is tucked securely in hers as it was when he fell asleep, and her other hand lies on his shoulder, just above the wound.
It must be why, for the first time, he awakens feeling kind of rested; although, having drunk a much bigger amount of blood earlier than he had all day before altogether probably didn’t hurt either. Still, for the first time he’s not sure the nightmares have been there at all; at least he doesn’t remember any. Even more important, the ghosts of his past are still lingering, but far away enough to not be intrusive. Far away enough that they almost could be ignored.
Not that he wants to ignore them; he really doesn’t. It’s too important to see them, recognize them, acknowledge them. He knows he needs this; it’s essential for dealing with his past that he remembers, really remembers.
But he also knows that ever since they ambushed him for the first time, brought him to his knees in the desert in Africa, he’s teetering on the brink of insanity. Not the kind one might confuse with recklessness; no, the kind when someone loses their mind for good, their ability to think clearly ever again.
The kind that puts people right to the edge of a steep cliff, tantalizing them with the allure of oblivion.
He’s pretty sure that, if it hadn’t been for her, he’d have fallen over the edge by now. It’s she who tore him back and kept him here, with her insistence, her willpower, her tears. He has no idea how he deserved this, but she did it.
She’s a bloody miracle.
He listens to her even heartbeat, feels her chest rise and fall shallowly; the flat breathing of sleep.
He’s touched that she fell asleep like that, that she stayed with him, again, instead of going elsewhere to catch some sleep. She must be exhausted; he can’t be sure, of course, because he remembers he slept in the crypt, but he thinks she didn’t.
He wonders if she knows how much it really helps him to have her near. That she is the reason that he begins to be strong enough to face his past. Of course she probably doesn’t even know that he’s constantly confronted with it, painfully reliving it kill for merciless kill. He’s a little fuzzy about the last 24 hours, but he’s quite certain that he didn’t mention anything about what is going on in his crazed brain, and even less about what’s causing it.
Maybe it’s better this way.
For a long while he just lies and watches her, feels warmth spreading out from her trusting posture, suffusing his every cell; watches her and is aware of the tenderness always hovering inside him. That tenderness that really wasn’t supposed to be part of the persona he formed out of his old self, yet which time and again fought its way back into his heart, but that only for her gripped said heart so tight that it hurt. And watching over the Slayer’s sleep, the Slayer who so unexpectedly fought for him, he finally focuses on something other than his ghosts haunting him - he finally begins to think.
For weeks he couldn’t form any coherent thought apart from what needed to be done to come back to Sunnydale and save her. After that for the longest time his ability to think straight had been buried deep within him, suffocated by his newly risen conscience. Now, for the first time, he contemplates all that has happened to him during those weeks since leaving here.
He thinks back at the calm contentment he felt in the train on his way to the east coast, his excitement in the plane on his first flight and on his walk in the desert, all in the conviction of doing the right thing. Getting what he needed, not only for saving her, but for understanding her better, helping her. And for finally coming to terms with the changes he already underwent before, getting rid of the confusion they mostly caused in him. To finally be the man she needed him to be. He remembers that he happily pictured himself having an epiphany about how he could really help her.
He cringes when he realizes that then, of course, he not so selflessly also pictured her finally seeing in the process that she felt something for him. Oh well.
He furrows his brow; what the hell had he been thinking, almost feeling like a child on Christmas Eve at the thought of getting himself a soul? Had he really been that naïve, thinking that he could come out of that without a scratch?
Of course not. He had seen Angel struggling with the soul, after all. But for some reason he never would’ve thought it to be so hard, never expected it to crush him so completely. Hadn’t it, unlike for Angelus, been his own decision?
He snorts. And therefore, what? He didn’t deserve this?
He knows he does. Actually he thinks that he deserves much worse; sending his soul to hell, suffering eternal torment, because all the pain it causes him, as much as he can barely stand it, is nothing compared to the pain he caused over the decades.
For a moment he wonders whether, knowing what he knows now, he would do it all over again.
He really doesn’t know; his unlife was so much easier before.
His free hand rises, finds its way to her head, gingerly stroking her hair. That’s all he needs to be sure: yes, he would. The hope of helping her vivid in his mind, he would. He would do about anything to finally get her happier.
Reality is different though. He’s not a bit closer to understanding how to help her, because he’s a little preoccupied with surviving his shiny new soul. And about the having feelings for him? He sees now, even with his muddled brain, that what happened between them before the portal was her using him to make her forget for a little while. Nothing less, because, pathetic as it may be, in a way it still makes him proud that he could at least accomplish what no one else could; but nothing more either. No feelings toward him whatsoever included.
He’s equipped with a brand new soul, and all it does is hurt.
He’s truly and thoroughly fucked.
It’s kind of scary, he thinks, how his first remotely coherent thoughts for days still circle around her. Nothing ever changes.
But that’s not entirely true, is it? He feels her head on his belly, her hair silken beneath his fingertips, her hand in his; her presence surrounds him like a blanket, keeps him feeling secure, protected somehow.
Funny, how he wanted to help her, and now it’s the other way around. She snaps him out of his brief dive into bitterness without doing a damn thing, just by being there, sleeping on him. Helps him turn his focus away from himself and his misery, stirring his thoughts to what he wanted to accomplish to begin with.
Trying to understand her.
His mind leaps back, to a dark, dank alley. You can’t understand why this is killing me, can you? - Why don’t you explain it? He remembers his desperation that night, because he really didn’t. He couldn’t for the life of him understand why she felt compelled to turn herself in, why she felt so bad about that one dead girl.
Only one dead girl.
He winces when he feels pieces falling into place. Because now he understands. Had he really thought that one dead girl wouldn’t tip the scales that night? He closes his eyes, overwhelmed by how well he suddenly understands. He feels as if every cell inside him turns to stone, only to give way to millions of aching explosions underneath his skin.
Each dead girl, each dead woman or man, each dead child tips the scale. There’s simply nothing one could weigh against a taken life, no matter how many lives they may have saved. He thinks of Angel and for the first time understands his deep desire to amend, to devote his entire being to the task of saving as many lives as possible.
A low moan escapes his throat, because he also knows that there just isn’t a number that grants him redemption. Not Angel, not himself. No amount of saved lives could ever achieve that.
And yet – he was also right that night. One girl doesn’t tip the scales – he is still convinced of what he’d told Buffy then. The girl was dead; nothing could’ve changed that anymore. But she’d saved so many lives, with each fight, and more than once the whole world; it clearly would have done more damage to the world than just this one dead girl had she stopped being the Slayer.
His eyes fly open as a thought occurs to him; doesn’t that apply for him, too? Isn’t sending his soul to hell for punishment as he would’ve chosen for a while the same as her turning herself into prison? Isn’t both just giving up? Going the easier road? Doing more damage to the world than taking one’s place in defying evil?
He feels that this is not about redemption; there’s no righting the wrongs, what’s done is done, the end.
It’s about doing his part to prevent even more death.
For the first time since coming back from Africa he begins to feel a little more like himself, and he understands it was what she saw earlier. She must have sensed the change in him even before he did; his slowly coming back thanks to her. It’s then that he feels something begin to hesitantly rise within him that is so undiluted Spike that he wonders how he could’ve survived so long without it: the will to fight.
And it’s the same moment that he understands something else; it’s also so very much Buffy, and it’s what she left behind in heaven, too. She kept fighting alright after coming back, but it wasn’t because she felt the urge to do so. It was just carrying out her duty. She couldn’t feel it anymore, the fire within her that always drove her forward before. Where it always had been, she felt a dark, freezing hole instead, akin to the deep, dark despair he’d holed up in until she dragged him out. It was what she desperately tried to find again, that fire; that’s what she’d come to him for; because somehow he could, for brief moments, give her a spark of what she needed, but it wasn’t enough to ignite the fire, wasn’t real. It’s part of why she gave up that night, a part of her relieved to be released from fighting without it.
He failed her, he knew that; where she succeeded, tearing him into her light, he selfishly pulled her into his darkness. Because he thought he’d help her, but also because he saw the chance to be near her, not understanding that he drove her only deeper into her hell of despair. He’d caught a glimpse of his failure that night in the portal when she fell apart. But now he understands it on a much deeper level; understands that she needs the light of her fire not only to fight, but really to exist, understands that the darkness in her that he enticed her to embrace isn’t the same as the one he lived in; that it’s mostly the darkness of despair, not only darkening the light, but drowning it.
Now he knows, and new shame fills him; he squeezes his eyes shut, pushing the liquid gathering there back.
But then he feels something tickling through the haze of shame, a tiny thought trying to make itself known; he pushes it back, too, but it’s resistant; it gets stronger, and suddenly it’s there. He sees her again in his crypt, fighting for him tooth and nails, and suddenly he realizes that somehow, unintended, even unaware that he did, he did help her. In being one step short of giving up himself, he gave her back her will to fight, if only for him. Finally ignited the fire in her again, if only temporarily.
It’s huge, he knows that. He can’t take credit for this, of course, but that’s not what it is about. The important thing is that it happened at all, and that it even was strong enough for her to stand up against her friends.
A shy smile appears, tiny, but reaching his eyes, lighting them up with a soft gleam. It’s hope that spreads its wings; maybe they’ll find a way to help both of them after all.
He hesitantly strokes her hair, savoring the warmth a little longer, tearing strength off her, knowing now that it won’t weaken her. He’ll need it; he has still a long way to go, has to come to terms with his past. Has to find a way to live with what he did for such a long time without sinking back into despair, without letting himself be crippled by it. He’s more confident now that he’ll get there one day, but he’s still scared of the time until then, because he still hasn’t the slightest clue how to ward his ghosts off.
As if on cue, as if to show him that they are still a force to be reckoned with, or maybe to punish him for the ghost of a smile, they come to the fore now, closing in on him, encasing him like mist rising from the soil; cold fingers touch him, gliding over his skin, freezing his heart. He feels the air being sucked out of his lungs, air he doesn’t really need, but still it leaves him feeling suffocated. He gasps, pants for air; he feels a whimper bubbling up, tenses, fighting to keep it in, but fails, and in his ears it rings like a scream, a scream piercing his eardrums.
Until he realizes, it’s not him who screams.
And for a split second he’s grateful that she saved him again.