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After The Dance

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He wonders what that Warren boy dreamed. Did he thrash with guilt for his sins, waking up with the coppery, tangy taste of blood smearing the lip he'd bitten so hard in his sleep? Did he remember the look in her eyes right before it happened, and right after? You can

((try to))

live your waking hours in a state of blame-free self righteousness, but when you go to sleep, it's an entirely different matter.

Spike knows this first hand.

He thinks about what it must have been like for the girl before she died. The gang had pieced together what must have happened, far too late of course, and he focuses on the girl. Katrina. It's easy to focus on her pain rather than on his own. Well, easier.

She must have fought them, because skin clung like grit beneath her nails. Must have been so scared, and he knows quite a bit about fear too, especially lately. Its hard to control the fear when you can't sleep. He thinks about the gash on the back of her head, the lump with the cut that stopped bleeding almost as soon as it began because... She was dead. Matting her hair, so smooth and cool, slippery, at the tips, but warmer, sticky and wet near the base of her skull. He remembers the scent of that blood. It makes him hungry.

It makes him hate himself even more.

~You can't understand why this is killing me!~

Yes, he can.

 

He tries to be careful with what he thinks about. He can control his thoughts when he's not sleeping, so he wisely attempts to steer them clear of most of the previous century. There are four-hundred and twelve discernible cracks in the floor of his crypt. Sometimes he counts them. Other times, he counts the drips from the leaking pipe in the corner. One day, there were more than two thousand of them.

These are safe things to think about.

But sometimes the dripping sounds like a fluttering little heartbeat. Sometimes the cracks are in sort of he same shape as a slice he inflicted on someone from the serrated knife he carried around at his hip in the twenties. In those moments, it's

((ohgodohgodohgod, I can still smell them, I can still taste them, and it felt so good, it did, how can it hurt so much right now, and that lying sack of shit never told me that this was what a soul was like; he never said how much it would hurt instead of just smiling his sad little smile before walking off into the night to do some good and he lied by not telling me all of it so long ago!))

nearly impossible to shut his mind down, to think about the cracks or the drips and so he closes his eyes and thinks about the dark, the way it wraps around him. He can sense the cold but hasn't felt it since he was turned, only now he feels it deep inside, in that scary place that's so hard not to look at.

That scary place has a lot of things in it. One of them is the knowledge that he'd loved the Niblet, loved her huge blue eyes and loved her smile and eagerness to listen to him tell her gory stories for hours upon end, loved her so much, and every time he'd seen her, he would look at the pulse throbbing in her neck and want to be there, deep in there, sucking at the life in there.

Another is... That night, and he shies away from it even now as it enters his head, because it seems like the

((betrayal in her eyes))

horror is too much to stand, the worst crime of all.

But this is one of the lonely days where the cracks are cuts and the drips are heartbeats and it's harder if not impossible to just not think about it, or even to wrap himself in the dark like usual, and it's flashing through his mind before he can

((beg it to stop))

force it out.

Because sometimes Drusilla had loved to be held down and "coerced." She used to whimper with pleasure even as she would tremble with the pain and the fear she was never totally without, her wrists trussed up and bleeding, her eyes pleading for him to stop and to never stop, bleeding other places too, and even though he'd hated it, he'd done it for her because somewhere in her mind she had convinced herself it was what she needed.

But Drusilla was not Buffy, and Buffy had not wanted to be hurt like that. He doesn't know how he could have ever imagined otherwise, ever imagined the soft, wild look in her eyes that she used to get before

((consensual))

sex. Because she hadn't--had. not.--had that look in her eyes while he'd been tearing at her robe and trying to convince her and telling her that they were meant for each other as she'd sobbed and struggled and, Jesus, thrashed beneath him like a fish on a hook.

He thinks that maybe the worst thing ever is that he still loves her. He'd loved her when she hated him and loved her when she confided in him and then tore the house down screwing him and loved her when he tried to force himself on her, and he wonders what kind of love is that?

On rare occasions, he thinks about seeing her and trying to apologize again, trying to take her hurt away, maybe finding out if she could love him like this, and forgive him. She'd loved and forgiven Angel.

But he's not Angel like she's not Drusilla

((he loved her much more than he'd ever loved anything, even his dark goddess))

and so most days, he doesn't have to try hard to stay away.

 

He'd heard about the curvy little witch through the grapevine--Clem was a gossip--and was unprepared for his surprise over how much the detail of her death hurt him. He shouldn't be surprised by the hurt anymore but, god, he mourns her in a way he hadn't imagined. He mourns Joyce again, too, and all of the thousands of others...

But it's Tara's face that passes through his mind more often than not. He doesn't really understand it. They weren't that close. But there was a peacefulness about her, a wisdom and serenity he wishes he could hold onto now, when everything in this world makes him feel so lost.

And she was nice to him. He suspects that she knew about his relationship with Buffy

((Muscle cramp. In your pants?))

but she reacted differently than he'd thought the others would, and she was a sweet little thing, most of the time. Powerful, too, and not like Willow. A magic all her own, that he could taste when he was around her. It had stung like grapefruit juice behind his eyes, but he'd loved the sensation. She was soft, in so many ways. Soft body, soft voice, soft eyes, soft magic, soft heart. He sensed that she would've forgiven him, maybe understood, if he'd taken the time to really get to know her.

And now she was gone.

So many things are gone now, but it's hard to be pragmatic about it. Not like the old days, which he's disgusted with himself for missing. Back then, he probably would have felt the twinge of regret that he'd been getting more accustomed to when he'd heard of her death. Now he feels

((totalconsumingfuckinggrief))

the pain as if it is his right, his sadness, the ability--too much ability--to mourn that she wasn't in this world anymore.

But she was probably in another one, maybe like the one Buffy had described to him.

((And I was warm... And I was loved... And I was finished.))

Good for you, he thinks to Tara, through the ceiling--one gaping hole in the corner and eight jagged cracks--you deserve to be there, if you can't be here.

Which was the one who cared about Tara? The five months ago Spike, or the current day Spike? Maybe both.

 

The chip still works. He's not sure what he thinks about that. It's a harsh reminder of such an ugly time in is life, but he can feel it leashing him in and he's grateful for that. He shouldn't still have these cravings, for the hunt, the kill, the blood

((dark and rich and wet and hot. Salty passion coursing through him. Blood and other things...))

but since he does, he's glad for the chip, glad that it means he can't ever fall back on old habits, no matter how tempting they might be.

He found out almost right away. Running through the jungle in his terror, shaking and sobbing and confused as memories flashed like pictures or movies in his head, all first hand, he was there on the set when those movies were made. And then he'd run into someone, he doesn't remember their face, and the pain in his chest almost overrode the pain in his chip as his fists moved forcefully and erratically in the direction of his obstacle. But then, oh right, it's a person, this buzzing is my chip and my soul, and I can't hurt people anymore, and he'd run away.

He doesn't know how he survived those first few days. The African jungle, thick and shadowy, had probably taken care of the sunlight. He thinks he might've fed on some small animals, because when he'd finally come out, he could sense that there was fresh blood in him, but those days are very unclear, panic and the terrible twisting in his heart

((darkdarkdarkdark and she screamed so loud and smelled like peppermint and she was only four years old and had brown eyes and she screamed and we laughed))

filling his consciousness.

He'd thought that was so terrible. Now he wishes the clarity would fade again.

 

There's a sense of anticipation outside of her house. He doesn't know whose it is; his own, maybe? But he doesn't expect to see her... He's not even sure he would be able to survive

((this bloody soul))

seeing her, if it came to that.

But it had gotten too quiet back at the crypt and he could practically smell the peppermint or feel the thrashing of a body running out of life in his arms, and he'd needed to get out, get away, get anywhere but there. Somehow, he'd ended up in front of her house.

Leaning against the tree, chain-smoking Marlboros, just like old times. Just like the old times when he was stalking her, that is. But he does it anyway, not sure if he's waiting for something or just unwilling to give up the sense of relief that being near her gives him.

The bark brushes against his coat and makes soft rustling noises. Dropping his cigarette, he stares at the burning cherry laying on the damp grass before he reaches out with the toe of his boot and snuffs it out. He remembers making love to her here.

Even now, even with all of the changes, he still feels some bitterness towards her when he thinks that because, didn't she know? Or why wouldn't she let herself? It was always making love, to him. Fucking, screwing, down and dirty house-falling-down, back-breaking, bed-breaking sex, but always, always making love.

To him.

He resents her for never being able to accept it as it was, simply because he didn't have a soul at the time. But resentment is only one of the things he feels for her, one of the lesser emotions at that, so he manages to shove it to the back of his mind as he inhales the faint scent of vanilla coming through her open bedroom window.

She must still spray her pillowcases with the same perfume.

He wonders if he would lose his soul if he made love to her again. He doesn't think so; this soul was at his own request, fool that he was, and so the vengeful elements of the gypsy clan's curse shouldn't apply. But still, the idea is tantalizing. Losing his soul again... No more of this pain. He would still

((be haunted by the memories))

have the chip, so he would be unable to hurt people. The more he thinks about the idea, the more he likes it, the more comforted he is.

It's never going to happen though, of course. That's part of its comfort.

Because as much as he wants it to stop

((please stop, please don't do this Spike....please stop!))

he knows he deserves this torment, knows that it's only the smallest fraction of the pain that he heaped on humankind for so many years.

His thoughts are carrying him away again and he shakes it off before it goes too far. Pulling out and lighting another cigarette, he turns to leave.

But Buffy is there.

For a moment he stands, startled and distracted by her heat, and the smell of the blood leaking from an ugly cut on her upper arm, and then he makes his face blank, a smooth mask, hoping that she can't see the bewilderment and sorrow and pain and guilt inside of him. Maybe he can convince her to stake him. That might be good.

Hello, love, he thinks rapidly, just say it say it fast like it doesn't matter at all how much you hurt her before you left, but what actually comes out of his mouth is, "You okay?" with an accompanying nod toward her wound.

Buffy winces and shrugs with her uninjured arm, gesturing vaguely to the porch steps. She told her mother she was the Slayer on those steps, he remembers. He was there.

That awkward moment of familial intrusion was possibly the start of it all.

They sit, side by side, awkward again in a million different ways that have nothing to do with their past or maybe everything, he isn't sure. But she remains silent, so he forces the words out of his mouth. Not so hateful, the words, but the tone he drawls them in leave a lot to be desired. "So. Hello, love. How you been?"

It's a lame insult, this tone, but it could work. He holds onto that hope desperately, but Buffy just shrugs again after a moment, looking out into the night. There's a smudge of dirt on her neck.

"How have you been?" she asks, in a too-quiet voice that tells him she knows more than he wants her to. Off his look, she smiles gently and explains, "Dawn invites Clem over sometimes. He's teaching her to play poker."

His voice fails him as the implications start in; Clem knows and can't keep a secret, bloody gossip, how could he do this?

He starts to get up but the soft touch of her hand on his arm stays him and he's almost bemused by it. He can't remember her ever touching him softly before in public. Or possibly even in private.

Buffy seems so calm, her hair glinting but mussed in the pale light from the moon, her face expectant but not hard, Buffy and not the Buffy he knows, not entirely, and for a second all he wants to do is lean forward and see if she'll take his head into her lap as he cries because, Jesus, he really wants to cry. Except he can hear her pulse beating faster and louder in her throat and he realizes that she's anxious too, maybe remembering or making herself not remember, and trying to be....

A friend?

((You're not friends. You'll never be friends. You'll be in love 'til it kills you both. You'll fight, and you'll shag, but you'll never be friends.))

Those words never felt so true as now.

Subtly, he shakes her hand off his arm because her touch hurts him in a bunch of ways he can't identify, and he takes another drag on his cigarette, which has almost burned completely down. "So you know then," he says needlessly after he's exhaled.

"Yes. I know."

"How long?"

"Since you got back into town." An expression passes over her face that he can't interpret, like she wants to say more but isn't going to, and then she surprises him by actually saying more. "I was going to go to see you... I was going to. But when you didn't come to see me, I thought maybe you didn't want to. Or..."

"I wanted to," he admits after only the smallest of pauses. "I didn't think you wanted to see me."

"Sometimes I don't," she tells him honestly. "I remember..." But she stops whatever was coming after that, Thank God, he doesn't think he could've stood it otherwise. "But sometimes I do. I know it can be hard."

"What can be?" he asks, playing dumb even though they've already established that he's got a damn soul.

"Being alive."

"I'm not alive," he says automatically.

"You're more alive than you were," she points out, almost musingly. "So am I."

"You've always been alive, pet," he murmurs softly, so softly he's not sure she can hear him. "Even when you were in the ground."

"I had a place to go then," she murmurs back, and he hates the almost tender note in her voice, even as much as he longs for it. "You didn't."

"I have a place," he says defensively.

"You do now."

This stops him, and he looks at her, feeling his brow knit in confusion and hope and bitterness. After a silence that lasts just a little too long, he says, "I'm not him. I make a poor Angel substitute."

"Yes, you do," she says, so agreeably that he flinches. "But then, Angel makes a poor Spike substitute, so I guess it's even that way."

She doesn't look at him when she says that, just stares downward at the scuffed tip of her shiny boot and his gaze is riveted on her in wonder, his tiny darling who can kill a demon with one breath and worry about fashion with the next, who doesn't read anything published before 1995, but has the ability to dispense wisdom far too great for her years.

Her heart is beating one hundred and four times per minute, he notes in the silence that pervades them both. The counting doesn't help this time, however.

Maybe it never did.

Still slightly stunned by her

((compliment??))

words, he waits for her to add onto them, and is relieved when she finally does. "Do you want a drink?"

"I don't drink anymore," he mutters, and feels rather than sees her glance at him in surprise. He doesn't explain that alcohol numbs the pain, and as much as he wants it numbed, a part of him grappling desperately for ease, he never allows himself the comfort.

The comfort of her arms would be a different thing entirely.

"I was thinking more along the lines of hot chocolate," she offers after a moment. "With little marshmallows."

It sounds good to him, but even when he nods, he makes no move to get up from the steps and go inside. "Where is my place to go?" he asks in an unwilling voice.

"Me." Finally she meets his eyes, and he realizes only then that she'd been avoiding looking at him directly. "I'm your place to go. If you want."

And oh, that stings. His fondest wish granted to him when he's no longer sure he can accept it. "Why? Why would you let me... After what I--"

The silence is there again, a big scary elephant in the yard that neither of them look at, possibly because they're too busy looking at each other. Her eyes are sad and understanding and even show some of the confusion that he feels. He doesn't know what he wants her to say, so he waits. He's getting good at the waiting. He never was before.

"It's different than with Angelus," she says in halting explanation. "He was so drastically different than Angel.... And he hurt me in so many ways. But I was a--child then, and I didn't know...." He wants to hear what she didn't know, but she veers off that course. "You, the other you hurt me after I'd trusted you not to. I mean, not like that. You're the same as you were before, but you're different. Even then, even right after, I knew you were just.... Hurting, like me."

It makes a strange sort of logic that he's not sure he grasps but he latches onto it hopefully anyway.

"Things aren't the same," he says inanely.

"I know," she whispers, like his words carried the weight of the world and all of the answers in them. Then, "You were wrong about the dance, Spike. It was always ours, but it wasn't only the steps that stayed the same; it was the music. I want to change the tune."

"To what?"

She laughs, the sound making his unbeating heart swerve and dip and clench, and then she shakes her head. "I'm not sure yet. Are you game?"

And then she touches his brow with a lingering fingertip, and he remembers with a sudden shocking vibrancy the feel of her softly curved body wrapped around his, her soft walls wrapped around his cock, hot and slick and tight, and with amazement he thinks, This could be better.

((Come on, Slayer... You know you want to dance.))

"I'm game," he assents, moving his mouth into what feels like a smile. He's not sure; it's been a while, and his smiles would've been different back then anyway. For a second, he thinks he can almost see himself reflected in her eyes, her look is so expressive.

She pulls her hand away, and settles it in her lap. "Good. Different song, different dance." She pauses. "Different you and me."

He thinks, there's a you and me now? with some surprise and pleasure, but doesn't comment on that either. There are a lot of things he doesn't comment on in this new world, it seems.

He starts to lean in, because she looks receptive to a kiss and old habits of taking whatever chances he's offered die hard, but forces himself to pull away. No point in risking whatever this new thing is between them. And it is something new, he understands as the world around him shifts slightly, to click into a better world.

"So," he says abruptly. "Hot chocolate?"

Buffy smiles, widely, a smile that he doesn't remember her ever sharing with him before, and nods. "With little marshmallows, don't forget," she says as they stand up and make a show of dusting themselves off.

"No." He thinks of Joyce, listening to him complain over the same drink; thinks of Buffy, so like her mom, about to do the same thing. Thinks of Dawn, who'll maybe join them. God, he loves these Summers' women. "No. How could I?"

They walk into the house, not touching but close, and a different song

((a different dance))

begins.