Okay on to business. New chapter. Bit nervous about this one...
Chapter Twenty – Are You You?
For one long, terrible moment, haunted with the memories of past failings and that long summer soured by grief, Spike feared he was too late.
Below him at the bottom of another grave, surrounded by her vanquished foes, Buffy rested in repose. Laid out with her hands carefully arranged across her breasts and clutching a large, ornate axe like a Viking shield maiden embarking on her final journey, she was as still as death, her eyes closed and unmoving, the starlight delicately caressing her golden hair like a shroud.
He’d almost missed her.
Tracking her through the thick, impenetrable fog, the pungent reek of the Bringers she’d slaughtered had almost masked her scent. Yet, over the heady stench of eau de mouldering corpse, a hint of her perfume had lingered like a sweet note in a dark, chaotic symphony, and it had drawn him to her as surely as it always had. But what he’d found in that white world wasn’t the woman that had snared his enraptured heart, but a brutal and nasty fight. The Bringers Buffy hadn’t already killed had put up an adequate resistance for a short while, but their clumsy, undisciplined attacks were easy for Spike to repel and soon their bodies had joined their dead brethren, their Shaman cast down and broken amongst its own.
As it died and the infernal spell ended, the veil of fog began to lift, rolling back and retreating into the dark trees, where it dissipated, leaving all but a gauzy trace of thin, listless mist. Spike was alone in the cold night, his lost love lay in state before him. But she had not returned to heaven’s loving embrace. Her chest rose and fell in a steady rhythm and her strong thumping heartbeats reassured him that she lived.
As he watched, she woke, her eyes opening with a flutter of disorientated confusion. Still not quite ready for this meeting, he quickly stepped back, melting into the shadows, drawing them around him like a cloak. Seeing her again was a knife wound to his battered heart, threatening to crumble his resolve to move on. Like the frustration that snapped in his gut and set his nerves on a knife-edge every time he saw her, his ever-simmering feelings – full of fears and doubts and hopes stirred up by an ‘I love you’ he didn’t dare believe – were still an ache so deep in his heart, he was lost to them once more. This wasn’t the time for dwelling on three small words that might not mean anything. This trip was business, nothing more.
Unaware of his presence, Buffy pulled herself into a sitting position and rubbed her head. For all his uncertainty, Spike couldn’t help himself; concern that she might be injured made him step closer – bonds around his wrists he could break, but the bonds of love would forever keep him trapped. She was filthy, bedraggled and looked a bit like Carrie at the Prom, but she still took his unbreath away.
As the moon cast his shadow across her, she looked up at him, her huge eyes wide with surprise. "Spike?"
He nodded. "Evenin', Pet."
He reached down, offering her his hand to help her up, and she moved to take it, yet their hands did not connect. Buffy wavered, as if debating the wisdom of accepting the assistance, but in the end, to Spike’s relief, she took it. No flames or sparks or anything of that sort ignited as they touched this time, but her fingers entwined round his with an unspoken acceptance.
"How...?" was all she could say as he pulled her up and onto the grass, “Are you…? I mean, are you you or are you a copy of you?”
“I’m just me, Pet.” He smiled indulgently back. “How’ve you been?”
“Fine,” she said doubtfully. Her eyes narrowed, scrutinising him, searching for something in his face. He let her look, watching her as she circled him in disbelief. “You… You can’t be real. Are you another trick? The First…”
“Ah, about that…”
She raised the axe. “I’ve had enough of these games. I don’t care if this doesn’t hurt you, I’ll find something that will!”
“Hey! Not the First, not the First!” Spike took an anxious step back. “You know that. Don’t you?”
Her eyes never left him, still not quite believing, but by the hope shining in her eyes, she wanted to. She lowered the axe again. "You were dead."
The memory of her death still sharply in mind’s-eye focus, he replied, “So were you."
Buffy seemed to catch the choke of sadness in his voice and she let the heaviness of the grief between them hang there for a moment, then said, “The First. It looks like you. It’s corporeal.”
Spike tensed again. No bloody wonder she was suspicious if The First had been here already. “It was a part of me, but it’s gone now. Came straight to you by the sound of it. You know the difference though. Know you do.”
Buffy hesitated and then muttered, “I guess.”
“See?” he hoped his nonchalance was reassuring. “No trick.”
“How?” she asked again, awed. She stepped forward, stretching her arm out to touch him once more, but however much he willed her closer, her fingers hovered just short of his chest.
"How did I come back from the great beyond? Something brought me back." He watched her hand, hypnotised.
Without thinking she asked, "Why would anyone want to resurrect you?"
Pissed off now, His grin faded into a resentful scowl. "Oh. Right. So that's how it is then? Since you don’t need me, I'll be off…"
He could hear the cold fear in her voice as he turned away. "Spike! No!"
He looked back at her, tense, fearful, a little angry that he’d been such an idiot to let himself hope, that he’d forgotten why he’d come here and allowed his stupid heart to lead his head again. His love was caught in amber, after all.
As he waited for her reply, the trees surrounding them seemed to crane in to listen, a silent and rapt audience, impatient, expectant, enthralled by the drama played out on the open stage before them. They held their breath.
"I'm sorry. I didn’t mean it that way." Buffy said finally, She gave him a reassuring smile, but somehow, the tension didn’t break. "I'm pleased to see you're okay. What happened to you?"
"I died, Pet," he told her gruffly.
"Then?" she prodded.
"How did you escape the Hellmouth?"
"Didn’t,” he said, sullen. “Burnt up and dusted proper. It was all over, Buffy. I was happy with that. Went out a sodding hero. Then the amulet had to spit me back out in the middle of Angel’s fancy new office."
"The Amulet?" she blinked in surprise.
"Yeah. Seems it sucked me up as the Hellmouth closed. All some plot by Wolfram and bloody Hart."
"Wolfram and Hart…” she mused. “I’ve heard of them. Aren’t they…?"
Spike wondered if the whole world knew about Angel’s elevated new position. "Angel’s new Lords and Masters? Yeah."
"I thought he was in charge?"
"Hardly." Spike snorted. "Thinks he is. Thinks he can turn a place like that around. He’s dafter than Andrew."
"This happened when?"
"While back. Just after you scampered over here, I reckon." He watched as she calculated all that had happened since Sunnydale was returned to the earth. There’d been such a lot of water under the bridge.
"And you’ve been back since then?" she asked after she’d come to her conclusion. The question was loaded; full of jumbled emotions he no longer trusted his ability to read.
He shrugged sadly. "Not really. Only been solid again a few days."
"Huh? Solid?” she asked, confused. “What are you talking about?"
"I was a ghost, Buffy. A sodding ghost destined to roam corporate hell for eternity with The First stuck inside me."
“The First!” she latched onto the name, putting the events from both sides of a wide ocean together. “It was here, waiting for me. I’ve only been in this place a couple of days, you think maybe it was triggered by you being all fleshy again?”
“I was its prison. All Wolfram and Hart’s idea to keep it line. Couldn’t care less about me.”
“Oh,” Buffy thought about that for a moment. Her face cycled through a number of emotions as all the implications sank in. “So you were like Casper or something?”
“Yeah. Walking through walls, terrifying the locals, the lot.”
She touched him now, hesitantly, then bolder as her tiny hand splayed wide across his chest, gentle, reverent. Though she’d held his hand before, it seemed she needed to prove once more that he was still there. “You’re not like that now."
"Yeah. Wonderful bird by the name of Fred used her big brain to put old Spike back together again. Owe her a bunch of favours." And he did.
“So do I,” Her hand reached for his, but he moved away, evasive. “What?” she said.
He stayed remote, both in distance and in emotion. If he let her under his guard he wouldn’t resist her. After all that had happened, the misunderstandings, the heartbreak, the pain they had put each other through, he feared to drink from that well again. Love was an all-in gamble, a calculated risk of sums he couldn’t seem to get to add up. “You know what.”
“But...” she struggled to find something to say. “But I meant it.”
He shook his head. She couldn’t say what he wanted to hear most, even now with an ‘I love you’ already out there, locked into their past; and now those words became empty and worthless as they rang hollow in his memory – just as he’d thought they might. His heart broke. “Nah, you want to. You might even believe you do, but you don’t.”
“What do you know about it?” Buffy snapped. “How do you know what I feel?”
Spike sighed. “You can’t even say it unless I’m being roasted and toasted over the infernal barbecue.”
“I…” she looked down at the axe, poking her boot with it.
“Thought so. Buffy, all the hopin’ that comes to nothing. I can’t take it anymore.” And with that he turned and walked away, putting a proud lope into his stride despite it all. There was nothing left to be said.
“I love you.” It was a firm, definite statement meant to leave no room for doubt. “Spike, I love you.”
He stopped. It was a little late to tell him this. After any of those times they were together, for sex if not in any real sense that counted, when he'd longed to hear those words from her lips instead of seeing her head turn away from the love in his eyes, it wouldn't have mattered even if she hadn't meant them, the words themselves would have been enough to keep him foolish. Now the words were out there, true or not, as fragile as the breath they were spoken on, but sharper than glass.
“You’re kind of late to this party.” He couldn’t look at her; he didn’t want his stupid soft heart to betray him. If he saw any sadness in her eyes, he’d change his mind. But his feet wouldn’t take him away from her.
“I wasn’t going to come back,” he said, quietly. Once upon a time he would have crawled on his knees back from Africa, soul in tow, begging for this chance with her – or so he’d thought before he’d actually tried it – but time was indeed a healer and although he still longed to be hers, he had more dignity now.
“That’s OK,” she said earnestly, coming to him. “You were dead, you didn’t know…”
“No. That’s not what I meant,” he stepped away, kept his distance. “I wasn’t going to come back here. Find you.”
That stopped her. He turned to her – her bottom lip was trembling. “Why? You... You always come back.”
“I didn’t want what happened to not mean anything,” he said, open and honest. There was no point hiding now.
She laughed bitterly, wrapping her arms tightly around herself. “What? That’s such bullshit, Spike! You wanted to go out with a huge romantic gesture? Well, fine. You did. But I was here, thinking the man I fell in love with, who loved me so much, was dead. And I waited for you, and I didn’t even know that’s what I was doing! Then you…” She’d started to cry then, small tears pooling in the corner of her eyes, before slipping down her cheek in glistening trails, but she didn’t come closer and he didn’t close the gap. “You were alive and in L.A. with Angel. Why didn’t you even try to call me?”
“I couldn’t. I didn’t have a body. I was a bloody ghost!” he protested. More quietly, he added, “I thought you should start over.”
Seething, she replied, “You shouldn’t make that decision for me. Angel…”
Now he was angry. “Oh, no. That’s different; I’m not like that sodding git, walking away because it got too hard. I was dead, you stupid bint. You’ve started over, with this nice new life of yours. You deserve to move the bloody hell on.”
“I deserve the man I love!” she protested.
“Oh, don’t get cranky…”
“Cranky? I haven’t even started!” Her temper flared. “I know why you didn’t come here, it’s because you were scared. So scared that I didn’t love you that you’d rather stay away. Well, I told you I loved you and I do. I meant it.”
She wasn’t hearing him. He hadn’t come to discuss this. “Listen, Buffy. I’ve had a lot of time to think lately…”
“You don’t trust me, do you?” she said, softly.
“I trust you with the world,” he replied firmly. “Followed you to the end of it. It’s just…”
“You don’t trust me with your heart.”
His eyes flicked to her, but he couldn’t reply. Agitated and fidgety with turbulent push-pull emotions, he waved his hand at her dismissively. “Forget it. You…”
“Stop. Just… stop. It's complicated, I know that. Back when… You know. I had feelings for you, and they scared me, but I wasn't in love with you – not yet. But there were times when I thought that I could be, but I just… shouldn’t. I didn’t want to be… Look, in the Hellmouth, when we touched, I could see your soul, and it was beautiful beyond words.” She reached for him and gripped his arms to make him listen. “I knew you. I knew exactly who you are and who you were and who you could have been.” Her eyes implored him to believe her, even though they were tight, raw and still beady with tears. “It was the last piece I needed. It’s been inside me ever since."
He sucked her statement in. A smile from her would have made him happy enough, all he’d ever had were her frowns, but suddenly his arms were full of Slayer, grasping him tight, her eyes tearing again as Buffy buried her head in his embrace. His resolve crumbled as he held her close, hoping as ever to meld her soul to his. After what he'd done, after the events that night in her bathroom, he didn’t have the right to ask anything from her, he would never push his feelings on her again, but his girl had changed; she’d come to him, offering everything she had withheld before. To hold her, and best of all, to be held by her in love, felt so wonderful that he thrust all his fears to the back of his mind. Despite his noble intentions, dying hadn't made bit of difference – Buffy was still the centre of his universe. He held her tighter, buried his head into her shoulder and just held on.
"So, now what?" he whispered into her hair. She smelled of blood and that sweet scent that was Buffy alone, yet to his demon she smelt like a banquet to a starving man. It was awake and agitated, but his soul and years with the Initiative chip restrained his bloodlust. Pavlov would have been proud.
“Are we cool?” she asked, looking up at him with affection.
That was new.
“We’re cool.” For now.
She wiped her damp eyes clear. “Don’t die again.”
He brushed her warning off. He was only too happy to stick around. "Nah, not likely to want to dust again – hurts too much."
“We’ll get back to this later. I think we’d better get outta here.” She extracted herself from his arms and looked around at the bodies scattered around them. “What happened to the fog? This your handiwork? There’s more Bringers here than I killed.”
“Yeah.” Spike waved an arm towards a body at the edge of the clearing. The Shaman lay face down, its neck broken. Even now, as its cadaver cooled, contrails of ghostly mist wisped from its splayed fingers. “I finished them off, including your cloudbuster here, but there’s going to be more. What are you doing out here anyway?”
She gripped her axe tighter, readying herself, back on alert. “I was looking for the First.”
“Huh, looks like you found it.”
“No. It’s still out there somewhere.” She paused, scanning the dark tree line, squinting into the depths of the wood. “It’s waiting for something. It’s trying to scare me, but it won’t touch me, like it’s just playing with me…”
“Slayer wouldn’t be wrong at that,” a sneering voice said behind them.
The hairs on his neck prickling with cold dread, Spike turned to meet… himself.
“Well, well, well, now it seems I have both the lovebirds to play with. Good for me,” said The First, stepping over the remains of his Shaman, “but oh so bad for you.”
Previous parts are here.
This was beta'd by myfeetshowit who put up with my whinging. Thanks!