I can't remember
the last time that we kissed goodbye
All our 'I love you's'
were just not enough to survive
In her dreams, Spike's got a baby in his arms.
It doesn't make much sense, but then, Buffy's dreams rarely do.
She and Spike are both standing in a field scattered with sunflowers, vibrant petals floating in the breeze. The grass dances back and forth against their knees, the blades lush green against the striking blue of a summer sky. The sun above shines bright yellow, casting a mellow glow on Spike's hair, pale white under the shimmering gold.
Buffy thinks absently that the sunlight should burn him, but he does not even look up to greet its rays.
Spike stands there holding vitality and life, though he himself is a husk of a man with a demon and a soul slumbering in an uneasy truce inside of him. He is clutching the tiny baby close to his breast, watching intently as the boy gurgles and plays. There is something good and right about the way they fit together, something almost natural. Buffy wonders what it is that could make a vampire into a man, into a father to a little boy. Then she smiles, because Spike always was better than most at defying popular expectation.
Buffy knows Spike in love, has seen his eyes feverish with desire, has heard his voice heavy with regret, has felt his hands touch her with pride and steadfast belief. But the sort of love she sees in his eyes now is so much more than even what she has thought him capable of. He not only looks like he would die for this child--he looks like he would kill for it, tear the universe, this perfect day, asunder just to keep the smile curling peacefully between rosy cheeks. This loyalty, so characteristic and familiar of Spike, warms her more than the overhead sun.
It's when Buffy comes closer to him that she notices his chest is rising and falling. She places her hand over his heart, her fingers tapping over the smooth valley of his worn, familiar t-shirt.
Spike's heart beats. He breathes. He is alive.
Buffy watches, shocked, as her one-time lover meets her gaze.
"Hello," Spike says to her softly. "This is Matthew."
Buffy touches Matthew's little arm and smiles bemusedly. "Is he ours?" she asks, and even though that isn't what she meant to ask, it sounds right to say, anyway.
Spike waits a moment before looking down, eyes as blue as the rolling ocean under his dark fringe of lashes. "Not this one. But maybe one day, we'll have one just like him, yeah?" he asks gently, "Day's always got to have its night, after all." He kisses her temple gently and the baby boy catches Buffy's necklace in his chubby hands. Spike looks at the glimmering silver crucifix and says fondly, "Bringin' Granddad along, too, eh?"
And then he raises his face to the morning sun and smiles so bright that for a moment, Buffy can't see a thing. She throws her arms up over her eyes and all that gets through is light--just pure, white light.
She wakes up to cold, shaking hands, an empty bed, and a heart aching for a future she never knew she wanted.
Something your eyes never told me
But it's only now too plain to see
Brilliant disguise when you hold me
And I'm free
"Hi," the boy says in her dreams the next night.
He is tall and slender, with pale skin and angular features, and blue, blue eyes. When his red lips curl into an amiable smile, Buffy thinks she has never seen a more beautiful boy in her life.
"Matthew?" she asks even though her heart beats out in morse-code message that she already knows the answer.
He cocks his head and his dark brown hair curtains around his face. "Not so much," he allows. "My name is Connor."
Buffy closes her eyes and counts to ten, and when she opens them again, she is standing in the rubble of an LA street. There is smoke and fire and the curious smell of scorched human flesh mingling with demon guts. She knows that smell better than the scent of her own shampoo, and although the tableau that greets her is gruesome, she relaxes. She knows this place, this darkness, has been here before.
Is always here, on the inside.
Connor touches her shoulder and she turns. The way his jaw clenches, the grim set of his mouth, and that broad-shouldered stance he takes against her side when a demon starts charging their way...she knows this boy. Knows him well.
"Angel," she whispers, as her leg snaps out to catch the demon in its windpipe. Connor dives down to sweep the demon's legs out from under it, and then he is shoving a wicked blade into it's chest with all the visciousity that his father exhibits when one of his own is in trouble.
And she is Connor's own, even though she's never seen him before and even though he's never seen her before. Because this is flesh of Angel's flesh, and bone of Angel's bone, and Buffy has always, always been Angel's own.
"He needs your help," the boy says solemnly, wiping a spatter of blood off his face. "Once morning comes, I won't belong here anymore." He looks up to the sky, to the silent figure standing on a rooftop with the moonlit sky as a backdrop. Angel's shoulders are hunched in despair, his expression dark even in the glow of the wavering starlight. There is an aura of bleakness that permeates the air, heavy and smoky as it seeps through Buffy's pores.
"Night needs its day," Connor solemnly informs her. "Dad needs his girl."
Buffy is about to say something, she's just on the cusp of understanding, when the sinister clouds overhead blot out the pale blue moonlight and start to weep torrents on the ground below. Rain soaks her hair to her neck, her clothes to her skin, drowns her in its fury until she cannot see or breathe. It all fades to black even as she screams silently for what she's leaving behind.
She wakes up drenched in a hot sweat, clutching the cool sheets as a lifeline, and listens to her heart thunder like a jackhammer for hours to come.
I've been thinking
and here's what I've come to conclude
Sometimes the distance is more than
Two people can use
The jittery feeling of waiting pervades Buffy's life these days. She goes through the motions of living in Rome, sending Dawn to school before hopping onto her sporty little Vespa and zooming off to headquarters. There, she trains with other Slayers and logs a few more of her numerous Hellmouth experiences, all of which are being extensively filed for future reference. Buffy thinks it's funny that she's being used as a reference, because her life is so atypical that she can't fathom anyone ever rifling through the folder marked "Sunnydale" and empathizing at all with her life and loves.
Especially her loves.
When the day is over, Buffy swings a leg over her sleek scooter, feels the purr of the engine, and rides. Always towards some elusive tommorrow, always on the run from some dark thing that's forever got its hold on her. She doesn't stop until the sun has long set and she's released tightly coiled energy on a few dozen fledglings. Vamps don't usually get farther than fledgling status here, not anymore, and she should take pride in that. But it's all so meaningless, this mechanical, stilted way of living moment-to-moment.
Her clothes smell like dust and ashes all the time, now, and she would take a savage glee in it if it didn't remind her of a lover's perfume.
It's obvious that Buffy's frozen. Waiting for something, waiting for someone, dreaming these dreams that make her toss and turn and snap at everyone around her. Her life has become so damn fraught with an uneasy tension, it's a wonder she doesn't drop dead of a heart attack and save Giles the trouble of tracking down her two prodigal ex-paramours. But she keeps going, like a perverse Energizer bunny, fighting and killing and searching until the day she finds her answers and she can finally sleep. Finally be a "normal" girl.
So she gets up each day and begins her cycle anew. But she's taken to watching the windows at every opportunity, peering extra hard into the shadows when she enters alleyways, feeling for that tell-tale prickle on the back of her neck that warns of a vampiric approach. Every second is spent only half-invested in whatever it is she's doing. The other half of her is somewhere far away, searching for the two souls that could, quite possibly, complete her.
Because she's beginning to accept that maybe things aren't so black and white just because a Hellmouth collapsed into itself. She's beginning to understand that she's not normal now, won't be normal till some certain moment when everything clicks and fills within her. Buffy realizes that she's always been a little on the empty side, and maybe it's not because of the specter of death or the duty of Slaying that rests on her slight shoulders. Perhaps she's so empty because she's found that special thing that could complete her--twice---and then stood by and watched as it walked away. Or worse, she's walked away from it herself.
Love. The forever, twist-your-heart-into-pieces, make-you-wish-you'd-die (only-not-'cause-it's-a-good-torture), kind. She laughs bitterly when people least expect it, and she understands this: whether it's Angel or Spike isn't the question anymore. Buffy knows that she won't be whole until she's got both of them.
And she so desperately wants to be whole.
Buffy's dreams sort of make sense, if she lets herself think of them when she wakes up each morning, clutching her chamomile tea and watching life whizz by past the smoky curl of steam. Angel's her darkness, and she's his light. Spike's her morning, and she, his night. They could be a poem, a stanza of tragedy and hope and every cliche in the world.
If she could only find them again.
Cards and phonecalls, photographs, pictures of you
constant reminders of all the things you get used to
Is there a chance, in Hell or Heaven,
that there's still something here to build on
When Angel finally shows up at her doorstep, Buffy only blinks.
"Come on in," she says, in lieu of any other response, and opens her door, her heart up to him once again.
He looks at her for one long moment, drinking in her features in that silently wounded way he has, until Buffy snaps out of whatever it is keeping her from kissing him senseless. Her hands sift through his hair at the exact moment his arms wind around her waist, and then his lips are moving against hers, bringing the phrase cold comfort sharply to mind.
"Well, hey," a voice says behind Angel, and Buffy blinks again, pushing away a little. There's a man-child standing in her doorway, all snarky lift of lip and piercing eyes. "If I'd have known Romans were this friendly with the greetings, I'd probably have made sure I got to say hi to Angel's girlfriend first." His voice is teasing, lilting with the sweetness of a world that has never been hers. A world untouched by her and Angel's collective darkness.
Buffy wonders at it, but doesn't question. He's got a new life now, she thinks, recalling Willow's explanation of 'restructured reality' when some time ago, a bevy of alternate memories flooded her brain. That's why he said he didn't belong in the darkness, in my dream.
Her eyes are shiny as she touches Angel's shoulder, acknowledging yet another sacrifice made, yet another blow to his deadened heart.
A ghost of a weary smile drifts over Angel's face, even as he keeps his eyes hungrily fastened on Buffy. "This is Connor," he says, and his voice is rough with pride and worry and wonder. "This is my son."
Angel didn't deny it when his son labelled her the 'girlfriend', so Buffy doesn't play the blame game, doesn't let resentment eat at this moment, doesn't dwell on the why-nots and the could-be's and what-ifs. She just looks over Angel's shoulder, accepts what was, what is, what will be, and smiles.
"Connor," she says, and then she squeezes Angel's hand and turns it over, tracing his life line. "Let me make you two some tea."
She's not sure what to say or what to do now that they've finally found her, but the steady presence of father and son are enough to anchor her to the ground as she walks to the kitchen. If she doesn't do something with her hands right now, she's going to latch onto Angel's arm and never let go. As it is, there's barely enough control in her to keep from clutching his collar and hoisting him along wherever she goes. There's just that part of her that will always be sixteen and eternally starry-eyed over her first love. Once upon a time she resented him for that dependency he inspired in her.
Now she's just so glad he's here.
"I have blood, if you want," she says, and it's true. She kicked the Immortal out the third day after she first started having her dreams, but she kept stocking her fridge, out of habit or out of hope, she'll never know. Something has to be said, but words have always been Buffy's downfall. She does not think she has it in her to shatter this delicate moment with devastating reason wrapped into syllables and letters and reason.
"Will this be be okay?" Buffy asks instead, setting the Earl Grey down and watching as Angel sips it. They all know it's not the tea she's asking about, as Angel raises his eyes to hers. He gives a slight nod, reaching out and twining his fingers carefully through her own.
"It'll be fine," Angel says finally. "It'll be okay."
Before Connor leaves later that night, promising Angel he'll be careful and offering platitude upon platitude (though everyone can see it's just goodbye, plain and simple), he takes Buffy aside.
"Take care of him," he says softly. "He needs--I can't be here anymore for him. He needs you."
Buffy looks at him kindly, and knows he's done all he could, this boy who loves his father but loves also the life false memories have given him. His place in this world was always meant to be temporary, but it is the noble mark of his father that Connor has fought to come this far with Angel at all.
"Don't worry," she answers. "He's home."
Or do you just pick up the pieces
after they fall, but after all
There's a light in your eyes that I used to see
and a song in the words that you spoke to me
It's almost a week later, a week of strained silences and shaky boundaries and uncertainty swimming in both their eyes, when he asks where Spike is.
They've just taken care of a fledgling who'd had a tenacious grip on Buffy's throat, and when the dust clears, she rubs her neck and gasps, "What?" Never mind that this is what she's been wondering herself, for the past several days. It's jarring to hear Angel ask.
"Spike," he repeats, and there's none of the familiar antagonism present in his brown eyes, nor is there an expression of martyrdom painting his brow. He simply looks curious and resigned--maybe even a bit anxious? Buffy marvels at how Angel's time in LA, the mysterious life she had not been a part of, must have changed him. He's learned to accept the pitfalls of this nasty universe, and with a grace and acceptance she's only seen recently in her own face. It makes sense, Buffy supposes: everything he'd moved on to, the new family, the new location, the new love--it's all gone. All that's left, like always, is her, standing in the rubble and waiting for him to come back home.
But she's not the same girl he used to know any more than he's the same vampire she loved once upon a time.
Maybe its a mark of how Buffy's grown up, but she's not at all ready to compromise her new, older, wiser, more tired self. Not for Angel, not anymore. It's not to say that she doesn't love him, of course. In moments like this--when they've come to terms with who they are, and what they never had a chance to be--she thinks she's never loved him more. He's finally not going anywhere in a hurry, and they--they are finally going moving forward.
It's only this. There are two ghosts sleeping in her heart tonight, and just because one is right here in front of her doesn't mean she's forgotten the other.
"Spike's not--I'm not sure where he is," Buffy admits. She narrows her eyes and asks slowly, "Why?"
Angel rears back as a fledgling catches him by surprise. With a crack, he snaps his fist back into the vamp's nose, smiling in that familiar grim satisfaction before spinning and ramming a stake into its chest. Through the shower of ash, he says, "I have these dreams. They're--you--and him, he's in them, sometimes. Buffy, I--"
He stops and looks down, then away, wrestling with some internal conflict before taking a deep, unneeded breath and letting calm slide over his features. "I think Spike's human."
If he expects Buffy to be surprised, he's sorely disappointed. She just cocks her head and says, "Well, yeah."
Angel's hand misses the gravestone and he stumbles. "You--you know?"
Buffy grins as Angel rights himself. She reaches out and dusts his elbows off as he smiles back sheepishly. "In my dreams," she says seriously, "His heart beats. He breathes." Buffy closes her eyes and thinks of warm breezes and golden rays melting against her skin. "He's in the sun, Angel."
The look in Angel's eyes when she opens her own is indecipherable. "I figured it would be him. I signed away my right to that," he says softly. "I wrote a contract in blood. It's the risk I took, because I finally figured out that humanity wasn't the reward I was looking for." He looks down at her and cups her cheek with his palm. "I didn't need a pulse to be alive. Just a life. A family to love."
Buffy closes her eyes again and leans into his hand. "I love you," she says, and the words mean as much today as they ever have. "I'll be your family and this will be your life."
Angel sighs, a cool breath against her temple. "But you won't be only mine," he whispers, touching the silver chain of her necklace, a replicate of the one he'd given her so many years and so much innocence ago. What's unsaid lingers in his expression: Will I lose you to him, too?
"I guess I won't be only yours," Buffy answers carefully. "But I'll still be yours, all the same." Her lips tilt up and slant across his, that familiar thrill spreading over her, that aching song that crescendos in her blood whenever he is near. But now it is tempered by age, by wisdom, by the circumstances that have seperated them for so long. By the knowledge that they are not each other's one and only love, not anymore.
She looks up and sees the stony acceptance carve painfully slow into his face. His lips come down to brush against hers again. "You're the only family I have left," he says after a long moment. "Both of you, really. My lover...and my childe."
"Angel?" Buffy asks, surprised, because she thinks he's giving her his blessing, but she's not sure.
"Let's find Spike," he whispers.
Was I wrong to believe
in your melody
There's a light in your eyes
did you leave that light burning for me
They don't have as many resources available as they would like, because apparently, Spike's been flying beneath Council radar for quite a while. No one seems to know where Spike is, and sightings of him are practically non-existence in the wake of the LA disaster. Angel thinks this makes sense, because if Spike's human, he won't be so ready to endanger himself as he once was. "Self-preservation is an instinct most mortals have a tendency to listen to," he says wryly, "And Spike's always been more human than even humans.
Buffy disagrees. "Self-preservation or no, Spike's look-at-me instinct overrules pretty much everything."
They look at each other, and their smiles are fond. It's come to that point, finally, where Angel is just as determined as Buffy to find his grandchilde, to search out the only other creature--no, man--who bore witness to the last, glorious stand in LA. Angel and Buffy are much like hovering parents on the frantic search for a runaway charge, and indeed, when Buffy wakes up in the morning, shaking after a particularly jarring dream, Angel will soothe her with tales of when William was young and new to the fold. In an unflinching voice, he will trace the fledling's bloody ascent to legend and it's almost fond the way his voice inflects.
To hear such tales should cause dreams of more nightmarish proportions, but Buffy finds them comforting. To know a monster can turn to man just as easily as man to monster. To share in the darkness that pervades both her lovers' pasts, so that perhaps they can all, together, work towards a certain light.
Buffy has a dream one night of warm mouths and shaking hands and the press of skin against skin. She dreams of being surrounded, protected, by limbs and lips and love. There's a cool whisper of air against the shell of her ear, a heart beating hotly against her breast, two tongues wet and slow and deliberate against her neck. Buffy squirms and curls against this heavy blanket of sensations, and then ghosting down her side is a long, elegant finger. Cold and strong, stroking down her body intimately, as if its had eons to know her most private places. She shivers and stretches, feeling a lazy heat unfurl in her tummy, then twin touches soothe her simmering, heaving ache. Buffy's cocooned by them both, and when she feels one's teeth graze her collarbone, she twines her fingers through the other's hair, and God, she's so complete, this is what she's been waiting for, why has she never seen--
She wakes up keening low in her throat, to Angel's shadowed eyes and his soft smile, flashing white in the glow that filters in through the window. His hands move against her ribs, fingers fanning under breasts, stirring something restless inside of her.
"Angel," she whispers, because they should stop, they should really stop--
"It's okay," he says, and Buffy knows that empty something is always going to be in his eyes. It saddens her yet makes sense, this knowledge that his pure happiness has been redefined over their years apart. That the price to be with her like this has been too high, and that the reward is not his and his alone. But she cannot help that there was someone else for her when he went away, just as he cannot help that he lost the only other woman he could have loved.
Her heart contracts as she thinks of Cordelia, and she touches his lips gently. "It's okay," she agrees, and for tonight, maybe they can mourn their lost loves in the shadow of their own lost love. It's the least Buffy can do for Angel, who's done so much for her already.
I'm lucky, Buffy thinks, as his fingers trace shakily down her spine in tandem with her hot, relentless tears. Angel holds her waist and cries into her neck, salty, cool tears tickling at her collarbone. They move in slow, exquisite unison. Angel's here and Spike's not gone, neither of them are gone, and then she says aloud, reaching up and behind her to touch Angel's cheek, "I won't ever leave you, Angel." Because she knows the one thing in his life he's always been sure of is her. Because she knows this will ground him. Because she won't ever leave him, even if he needs to leave again.
His hips still against hers. "I know," he breathes raggedly. "You never have."
Buffy's finally realized that as physically far apart she and Angel have ever been and will ever get, they will never actually be truly alone. He's with her in every beat of her heart.
They go to sleep, a damp, warm tangle of limbs and then the next morning, Buffy gets a phone call. Spike is in London.
Should I keep on waiting
or does love keep on fading
It is decided implicitly that Buffy must go alone. This is her journey to complete, her amends to make. Angel kisses her softly to show he understands, and for once, its not a kiss of goodbyes, it's a kiss of see you soon. Buffy leaves Rome with the goofiest, most hopeful smile on her face. It's as if the whole world has opened up to her with Angel's kiss and the promise of Spike's raging humanosity, and Buffy thinks that maybe, some dreams do come true. In the weirdest possible ways.
"I get my cake," Buffy announces to the flight attendant as they land, "And I get to eat it, too."
The attendant gives an uncertain smile and tells her good day, and Buffy skips all the way to baggage claim.
Giles is waiting for her when she leaves the airport, and the sight of his face, years more youthful than its ever been, makes Buffy think that starting over hasn't been exclusive to just her, after all. The sign in his hands has a crudely-drawn image of her and a tiny little smiley face, and Buffy can't help but smile at this new, humor-having Giles. Everything seems new right now, and Buffy throws her arms around Giles's neck gratefully, squeezing.
Disentangling himself from Buffy after a few moments, Giles gives a gentle smile and places a hand on her shoulder. Buffy waits with bated breath for what he is about to say, knowing it will be about Spike and letting that knowledge hum through her nerves.
Instead, Giles says, "You look worn, Buffy. There's a nice little cafe just a block south of my flat. Peaceful, almost quaint. Good for a spot of tea. I'd like to take you there, if you'd go."
Buffy shakes her head, all the adrenaline coursing through her screaming that she doesn't need to think, and where the hell is Spike already? "Nah," she says distractedly, looking around. "Not really hungry. I just want to, you know, see him. Giles. Where is he?" She doesn't waste time on preliminaries, just as Giles doesn't even pretend that she's here for any other reason than the reason she's come.
Giles gives her a long, steady look. "Buffy," he says. And that is all for a lengthy moment of tense silence.
Wild fear grips Buffy. No. No, this is Spike, not Angel. He can't be back just to leave again, that's not how their story works. This is Spike, and he is all-pervading, impossible to leave behind. He was seen, he is here, and she will not lose him again just when she's found him. Just when she finally thinks she has a chance to apologize. To love him like he ought to be loved, because he loved her like she ought to be loved.
"Giles," Buffy asks desperately. "Where is he?"
A breath, and: "He doesn't want to be seen."
Buffy makes a quiet noise. "He doesn't want to be seen," she repeats. "You talked to him? You told me that there was only a sighting and--"
"We did have a sighting. A man fitting Spike's description. He was protecting the ritual sacrifice of a cult of demons, the Fell Brethren, nasty fellows. The boy's mother had been on the run from demons, and took refuge here on the advice of Spike--"
"Matthew." Buffy interrupts. "The boy. He's Matthew."
Giles arches a brow. "Yes." He looks at her curiously, but doesn't say anything. He knows that sixth sense of Buffy's, knows he doesn't want to understand it. "Spike left, however, and hasn't been seen by Amanda--the mother--since. But he left quite an impression on the operative who followed him. Said, and I quote, 'guts and muck all over the floor if he finds out he's being followed again.' I don't think he's going to be quite receptive of--"
Buffy shakes her head. "No. If he--if he finally let himself be sighted, he's here for a reason. He wants to be seen, he wants me to know he's here."
"He's a man, now, Buffy," Giles reminds her. "He isn't quite as stealthy as when he was a vampire--"
"It doesn't matter. If Spike let you see him, he did it because he knew you'd tell me. He doesn't want to be followed, fine--he wants me to find him, though." Buffy's voice is firm. "He deserves that, at least, Giles. For someone to go after him for once."
Giles squeezes her shoulder. "I'll take you to where we last sighted him. But then, I'm afraid, it's up to you."
Buffy gives a tight smile as she slides into the car alongside her Watcher. "It always is," she says. "I just hope--"
But she never finishes saying what she hopes, because by now, she doesn't even know what it is she's praying for the most.
It's been awhile since I've seen you
So how have you been
Did you get the letters I wrote you
That I did not send?
The hotel room he paid for is small, neat, dark. Faces away from sunrise, and Buffy smiles, because old habits die hard, don't they? A stake rests in her waistband as if to punctuate her point.
There are no clues in the nondescript room, only a bed that's been slept in and wood surfaces that smell like lemons. Buffy traces her fingers over the wrinkles of the sheets, remembering a time when the give of whatever she happened to sleep on did not feel right unless there was his added weight upon it. She gives a small sigh and slips under the thin, cotton-smelling covers, wrapping them around her.
And she waits.
She's good at that, usually. Got really good at it with Angel, at any rate. But with Spike, she's not used to waiting. With the two of them, it's always been send Spike away and he comes barking back for more, like the most loyal of dogs. Buffy's throat closes up and she thinks, Love's bitch, and then she sighs. Weren't they all?
The regret still has not gone away. Regret for how she treated him, not in the beginning, because that had been who they were--fucks and fighting and the teensiest bit of obsession of both sides--but for how she acted in the end. How she did not say the one thing she should have, in those last fiery minutes: thank you. Thank you for protecting my sister with you life. Thank you for hurting when I died, and hurting even more when I lived. Thank you for loving me harder than anyone ever has, even if it scared me. Thank you for understanding everything, even the things I didn't myself, or didn't want you to understand. Thank you for giving me the comfort I never gave you.
She should have said thank you. Instead, she said the words he knew were a lie, even as his soul burned merrily inside him:
I love you.
What's ironic is, Buffy didn't start actually loving him until after he was dead and gone and she ached with missing him so damn bad. Which needing him so damn bad, just as bad as he always said she would when he threatened to go away and stay away.
She laughs softly, thinking of what he'd say if he she told him that. "'Bout time, Slayer," he'd snark, but that tenacious hope would light his eyes, and his hands would tremble ever so slightly. Because he would believe her, this time. She would make him.
The shadows in Spike's room deepen and lengthen. Buffy shivers and settles her head gently down against the pillow that, if she pretends, smells just like Spike's smoky, leathery smell. It's just like the rest of him, so distinctive, so hard to forget. So easy to take for granted. Pain clenches her chest, and she burrows deeper into the bed, letting her own memories be her punishment.
Buffy remembers that the exact moment when the realization that she loved Spike hit her, she was holding the pack of cigarettes she'd found in Dawn's room. The waft of tobacco and smoke sent her spiralling backwards in time, to a memory of dangling ash and the stale taste of nicotine on Spike's tongue. Not the best recollection, perhaps, but something solid and unforgettable for her sense-memory to hold on to. That's the thing about him, really. The memories Buffy has of Spike may not be colored with the same rosy tint of a pre-Angelus Angel, but they're dear to her just the same. Because they're vivid, and colorful, and nasty, and dark, and real. When everything else around her was abstract and less than life, Spike was real.
Is real. Is. Buffy clutches the sheets tighter and rolls over, staring at the glowing numbers of the room's alarm clock. 8 o'clock. How many times before had she looked at the same numbers, recognizing them as a catalyst to encourage her towards Spike's crypt? Nightfall, his playground. But now he's human and he's got new habits. Habits that she would, if he would let her, learn as well as the habits she knew so well once upon a time.
Habits like touching her whenever possible, fingers skating up her arms or down her back, his hand a steady barrier between the outside world and the world they created for themselves. Habits like following her with that loping gait on strong legs, legs that could kick and jump and run. Legs that he used just the same as his arms, corded muscles bunching as he struck out at whomever tried to hurt her and her own. Habits like being exactly what she needed when she crawled out of that grave, like cradling her hands gently and not expecting any grand gesture, because he knew her moods and knew this wasn't about him. Habits like caring for her even before he got that soul.
Buffy used to wonder what it wasn't such a huge shock to learn he had a soul. But looking back, it's easy to see that he has always been more human than the rest of them, right down to the core.
There's a part of her that worries he may not want her anymore. That she dealt him one too many blow, that she's hurt him too much. Maybe that is why he never came to Rome, never let her know some blessing had brought him back from the ether, just like Angel. She is, perhaps, not enough for him anymore, either. Whispers of Shanshu and prophecies and humanity caress her ears, and Buffy cannot help but think, What if I'm not his reward?
Her eyes drift shut and she sighs. It doesn't matter. When morning light comes, she will go out looking for him. It's what she owes, and it's what she needs. After everything they've been through, Spike is hers and she is his, just like he always wanted. And for once, she isn't going to let that go.
There's a light in your eyes it's too bright to see
and a pain in my heart where you used to be
I was wrong to assume
you were waiting here for me
"Fancy meeting you here," he says when she wakes up, and she has to rub the sleep out of her eyes to make sure she's not dreaming again.
"Hi," she whispers. In true Buffy-fashion, it is the most woefully inadequate thing she could ever say, and yet, she has no godly idea what he expects otherwise.
Apparently nothing. He holds his hand out and she takes it dumbly, only to rear back and stare.
"What?" he asks, almost impatiently. His eyes are eager and dark, and there's a nervous energy about him that Buffy doesn't recognize.
"You." Buffy shakes her head. " You're warm."
Spike's lips tighten into a quasi-smile. "Getting used to all the little things, I suppose. Craving food, not blood. Sometimes I wake up and I can feel my heart beat, an' I forget to breathe. And you know, English skin doesn't take too kindly to the sun. Gone a bit rosy 'round the edges. But this warmth thing. Heard that's what happens when you're all livin'-like. Dunno, you tell me?" He leans in and cages her with his arms, letting his nose bump against her neck. "You warm, Slayer?"
And damn it all if she doesn't still quiver, falling back into old patterns. This isn't supposed to be about sex and desire. It's about reperation and redemption and--oh God, she can feel his pulse flutter against her skin as she twines her hands through his hair.
"Knew you'd come," Spike mumbles against her jaw. "Know I'm not enough to keep you, but knew you'd come for this, at least."
Buffy's eyes drift shut as his lips--oh, his lips are warm, too--press against her collarbone. "What do you mean?" she asks groggily, already half-blissed out on whatever drug Spike induces in her.
"Peaches not satisfying you, 'course. You can love him, but you shag me." His hand catches her wrist and tugs, dragging her arm so that her fingers brush his erection. Buffy's eyes fly open and she snatches her hand away, clenching her fist to keep from slapping him.
"Are you insane?" she asks. "Again?!"
Spike's smile loses some of its ferality, but he doesn't back off. "Come off it, Slayer," he says. "I know why you've come, it's why you've always come."
Buffy's lips tremble and she takes a breath. Why do things always go badly with her and him? "Enlighten me," she says evenly, clutching the sheet to her like a lifeline. "Tell me, 'cause you're so wise. Why did I come here?"
Spike snarls. "You came here because Angel broke you again, and you need me to fix you. Again. That right? You forget, I know you, Buffy. And if you haven't come before this, it's because you've been perfectly jolly up there in bloody Rome, flitting about with alternating gits of rather appaling quality, and now you're bored."
Buffy's breath comes hard and fast, and she stands, making Spike stumble and fall, his reflexes not as fast as they once were. This is familiar ground, this battle of words, and even though it's not what she wants, it's something she knows. "You are so stupid," she grounds out. "I came because Giles called and told me you finally let your guard down enough to be seen. Do you know, we've been looking for you for months? And I won't even get into what happened to me when I found out you came back all that time ago and didn't even tell me. I was worried, you jerk! Do you think I'm so heartless--"
"Stop. Don't need to pretend, pet, I know you." Spike's voice is quietly seething.
"What do you know?!" Buffy cries out, advancing towards him. "What is it you think I'm pretending?"
Then Spike stands, and his whole body curves like a bow, and his words are the arrow. "That you love me," he hisses, grabbing her arm. "Just like you pretended the day I wore that shiny thing that blew me up. Thought it was nice and tidy, didn't you? Knew I was gonna die, so you just let those words spill from your perfect lil' lips. I always thought--one day. Maybe. Even when I came back, all I could think was, hold up, man. Gotta wait for the right day to let her know, the day that she could maybe be in that place with me. That loving place. And when I was human, I figured, all the buggering better, right? Now I'm exactly what she wants. Maybe--" Spike's eyes shadow and his jaw clenches. "Stupid sodding fool, I was. The Immortal, Buffy? And now, Angel? I went to Rome and I saw and I fucking knew. It'll always be someone older, and darker, and taller and--"
"It's you." Buffy's voice is soft and desperate. Her hands clutch his. "Please, Spike. It's you. I came here to bring you home." Her lips ghost over his, coaxing. He makes a groaning sound, his head ducking. "I love you. I do, I can love you now, if you'd let me." She raises his chin up. "Please let me."
His eyes raise to meet hers, tortured and ever-hopeful and so confused, and then his lips come crashing down. Buffy almost can't breathe in the heat of it, and in the euphoria of his unrelenting trust of her. He's breaking into a thousand little pieces right before her eyes, and for once, she thinks she's whole enough to put them back together.
There's a light in your eyes
Did you leave that light
Burning for me?
Their lives are not exactly perfect. That is the one thing Buffy always reminds them both, when they're all together and happy and having a little too much fun.
Angel's prone to leaving for long jaunts at a time, to "clear his head" when Buffy and Spike's roaming during the day gets to him. Everything he wants but cannot have is right there in front of him, aching and mocking, and so when he goes, Buffy lets him. She knows it must be difficult to watch she and Spike share daylight while he remains in the shadows of nighttime. The night is what he owns, and sometimes, the itch makes him set off to other countries and adventures. Buffy watches him go and she understands, but she hurts. Feels like maybe Spike and her are not family enough for him. Like she'll never be enough for him to stay.
But, as Spike reminds her, wiping her tears away and kissing her sweetly, Angel always comes back home.
And he does, bringing tales and pictures and souvenirs. Clothing or perfume or beautiful things for Buffy. Leather-bound poetry books for Spike, who always looks surprised and gratified at the thoughtfulness. Sometimes, Buffy will lie curled between them both, Angel's cool chest beneath her fingers and Spike's warm breath against her neck, and they will both take turns quoting Byron. It's when she feels most loved, letting those dry, papery words of devotion skate over her.
Spike and Angel still fight. When they first came home, Buffy had a hell of a time keeping Spike from marching right out the door when he saw Angel. The idea of sharing was never something either men liked, and for Spike, who was so used to losing everything to Angel, it was an earth-shattering blow to find out another woman he loved wanted to keep Angel's company, too. Being human has left Spike more vulnerable than he cares to admit, and his old, fool-hardy ways have gotten him into more trouble than its worth. He picks fights in bars and stays out in the cold, eats unhealthily and neglects to take medicine when he's sick. Angel goes out of his mind trying to keep Spike from patrol, and Buffy can understand both their consernation. For Spike, it's another slight, letting Buffy and Angel share something he can't be a part of. For Angel, it's trying to keep another member of his family safe, where he has failed before.
And yet, even when they all snark and yell and Angel and Spike posture to high Heaven, not one of them ever, ever comes to blows with another.
It's a harmony, a routine they share, that seams flawlessly together as the day and night meld. For all Spike and Angel's differences, they also have history, and they share a very important future: Buffy. On days when Angel is there with them, they all eat breakfast together and laugh quietly, and Buffy makes cups of blood and coffee. The neighbors talk, but Buffy likes to think it's really European to live such an alternative lifestyle, she and her two lovers seeing her little sister off to school before getting down to business. They take the tunnels to the Slayer school in underground Rome, and Angel helps Buffy train the girls while Spike teaches English. When they go home, they shut the entire world out, sitting in front of the fireplace and chatting aimlessly, hands drifting and mouths roaming, watching the outside world blend colorlessly into the faded background. All that exists is the sharp, jarring presence of each other, and the first time they all made love, fumbly and awkward and new and vibrantly alive, Buffy cried and cried for hours from the catharsis it let loose inside of her.
They have their problems. They have their issues. It'll take years to sort them out, and being mortal, Buffy and Spike have a lot less left of them than Angel. He wrestles with the thought of losing them both one day, but usually, Spike puts a stop to that one, joking that he'll make sure to stake Angel before Buffy or himself floats away into the good night (At least, Buffy thinks it's a joke, but the way Angel's lips thin out, she's not sure either men believes that).
Yet Angel smiles a lot more now, too. It's a good look, seeing him grin and laugh. And Spike hasn't lost any of his good humor, although he does retreat within himself sometimes, looking wistfully into the darkness. Buffy sees demons dancing in his eyes sometimes, and sunshine in Angel's, and that's when she kisses them both, lets her body give them what solace they can take. One day, Buffy misses her period, and Angel gives her a delicate sniff. His expression is blank when he tells her she's going to be a mother, and Spike's eyes are conversely emotional, filled with fear and anticipation and pride. Disbelief. Buffy takes his hand and places it on the swell of her stomach, and she takes Angel's too. Places it on top of Spike's, and she asks wordlessly if they can do this again, share someone precious between them once more, give someone looking for love a home. They nod after a moment, and its as if the puzzle has been completed.
No, their life together isn't perfect. But it's home.