When she lets herself think of him, she thinks of the back porch. Now that she has time to remember (oh, God, nothing but time, and who'd have ever thought that that would scare her more than any apocalypse ever could?), she realizes they'd spent more time on that back porch than she'd ever realized. Those times were always quiet, the space between them stained silver by the curl of cigarette smoke and the scatter of moonlight. No matter who or what they were in the rest of the world, on the back porch they were peace and quiet and breathing. When he wanted to kill her—when she wanted him to want to kill her—when they were taking out all their desperation on each other in the most destructive ways possible—when they could barely look at each other—when they were groping towards something like forgiveness and healing—when they finally got there: none of those things mattered when the wood of the steps was digging into her thighs, a breeze was tickling her cheeks, and he was breathing beside her (he never needed to breathe, but somehow he always did when he was beside her, falling into her rhythm, and that scared her because maybe more than all the confessions of love or all the longing looks, that told her that what he felt was real).
But she can't let herself remember the other times—and yes, there were happy ones mixed with all the pain—because all the other times, happy or painful, are mixed up together in a confusing vortex of more emotion than she'd have ever thought (sitting on the steps of Hemery High, innocent and free as she would never be again, thinking about the big dance) herself capable of, while the porch was the eye of the storm, some of the only times in her life where she was free to be instead of feel (or fight or joke or give or bleed or run or die).
She thinks that he would like it, if he knew, that those are the times she remembers, because she knows that those were the times he gave her the best of himself (and maybe those are the only times she ever gave anything back).
When the time comes to choose a house—a real house, the first one since Sunnydale (it can't be put off any longer—Dawn needs a real home—and for the first time she really starts to believe that Sunnydale is gone and she can never get it back, and who'd have ever thought that she'd want to?), bought with the Council of Watchers' assets at Giles's insistence—she floats along behind Dawn and Giles, letting them both be coolly efficient and examine every option with appraising eyes. They both ask her opinion multiple times, but she doesn't care: Nothing too big. It goes on like that for months: looking at dozens of houses all over the Cotswolds, Buffy wandering aimlessly through empty rooms while Dawn makes checklists and asked penetrating questions of the realtors that Buffy would never have even though to ask. One place bleeds into another, and no matter how much Dawn begs, Buffy expresses no opinion. I don't care, Dawnie. It has been years since Dawn let her call her that. Wherever you'll be happy, I'll be happy. Dawn's look clearly says that she suspects her older sister is being passive-aggressive, and for all her lists and confidence, Dawn can't quite make a decision.
One last house—a cottage, more like, though with three bedrooms and a study just perfect for Dawn and her dozens of books in dozens of languages—on the edge of a village not too far from Oxford and closer to London than Sunnydale was to L.A.—good for shopping trips. There isn't any other word to describe the place besides "picturesque," though Buffy sees a magic store on the drive in, signaling that perhaps this town is closer to its magical roots than its serene appearance might suggest (she notes all of the graveyards on the way into town—after all, she is who she is and always will be). They arrive near sunset, with mellow late summer light pouring through the windows and staining the wood floors a honey color. It's a pleasant house, old enough to be comfortable with itself, but not so old as to be given to drafts and doors that stick. But it doesn't call to her, doesn't feel like home—not until she wanders away from Dawn's appraising gaze and the realtor's wheedling voice that fills the rooms like oil. The latch gives easily under her hand, and then she's on the back porch. Wood silvered by age and English weather, space for a table and chairs (the perfect place to eat breakfast, she thinks, and it's the first time she's imagined herself and Dawn in a house since Revello Drive), a honeysuckle bush tumbling over the banister, a view of a backyard so green it almost seems unnatural.
Most important, though: exactly three steps of just the right height. She settles down on the second step, closes her eyes till all there is is the warm breeze, the scent of honeysuckle, the feel of the wood beneath her.
She hears the door swing open, two sets of footsteps behind her. Buffy?
She turns around to meet her sister's eyes and realizes tears are trickling down her cheeks. Dawn's eyes are warm and look like home. Her not-so-little sister nods, turns to the realtor. This is it.
She lets Dawn be in charge of decorating the house; her little sister takes such delight in picking out fabrics and paint swatches in between classes at Oxford and Watcher training with Giles. Dawn has grown up into her tastes, leaving her profusion of pinks and purples and fluffy pillows behind, turning their home into an elegant yet comfortable space. This is fine with Buffy; she has almost no possessions. She'd lost every memento she really cared about—from her childhood Christmas ornaments to Mr. Pointy to Mom's jewelry to Angel's book of poetry—when the Hellmouth closed (no, don't use the passive voice: when Spike and his beautiful, beautiful soul closed it), and she hasn't accumulated much of anything since then. She's found she doesn't need to: her memories are what are important, and she's learned the hard way how painful it is to lose stuff when you associate your memories with it.
After Sunnydale, she'd had this alone: a picture of her and Mom and Dawnie during their first Christmas in Sunnydale, Angel's ring, the little brass plate from her Class Protector award, Spike's Zippo: the things she could fit into her pockets or carry in her hands. She still carries those things with her always, emptying them onto her dresser each night and transferring them into pockets each morning (now she makes certain to buy clothes with pockets). But even if she lost them, she would be alright. She's never been as certain of this as she is when she steps out on the porch tonight, a cup of hot chocolate in her hands (the only thing she ever learned how to cook from her mother), the impassive stars above her.
She breathes deep, and she feels like she's really breathing for the first time since Sunnydale.
It isn't too long before she feels him. And she doesn't try to write it off as a wish or normal vamp-tinglies (she learned how to distinguish Spike from any other vampire—any other—that night in the alley behind the Bronze when he told her he was going to kill her on Saturday): she accepts it right away. Because she didn't know that he was alive, but now she isn't at all surprised that he is.
Of course. Of course he would be here now, crossing that lush, night-shadowed backyard, the same as always (hair darker, true, something a bit off about the fit of his leather duster, but the same black, the same swagger, the same face cut to ivory in the moonlight, the same Spike). And of course he would sit down beside her on the step, and of course he would be silent (the back porch was the only place they were ever silent together, and it always felt so very, very right). And of course tears would slide down her face.
And of course she'd made sure that Dawn bought her a king-sized bed (they always needed lots of room, the two of them, even if they rarely made it to an actual bed) and a Xbox neither Buffy nor Dawn really cared about, and of course Buffy had left an empty drawer in her dresser (three pairs of black jeans, eight black t-shirts, a few pairs of socks—no underwear of course—could fit quite easily into one dresser drawer, leaving a couple of button-downs to hang in the closet beside her angora sweaters and the summer dresses she brought from Italy, and a corner on the floor for his boots, and there's always space for his weapons in the chest at the foot of her bed, and she imagines them mixed up with hers) and made sure that the drapes were thick enough block all the sunshine. Of course she's been preparing a place for him even though she had no way of knowing he was coming; of course she's been waiting for this last thing to make her home complete.
Of course. Of course.
And this is complete: home: a back porch: Spike. The words are synonyms, variations on the same idea (warmth and memories and peace and comfort and sanctuary and challenge and a future and love, always love), subtle hues of the same color, and she thinks that she somehow always knew that in the back of her mind, but she needed to find her way here, to this place, in order to really learn that lesson. Because somehow she always knew that if she could find her way back here (home: a back porch), he would find his way to her.
And so they sit, side by side, facing (heading) the same direction: starlight above, cigarette smoke between, a half-empty mug of hot chocolate beside. And they don't have to touch or speak or even look at each other in this moment (all of that will come later; they have all the time in the world, now). They don't have to hash out the past or plan for the future. They don't have to be warriors or leaders or champions. They simply are.