Buffy woke abruptly when a hand smacked her across the face, and she rolled away on instinct, remembering not to strike back at the last minute. They were in Spike’s crypt, and Buffy had been hoping for an entire night without nightmares.
Stupid wish, really, since they were about one out of every three—and Buffy knew that those nights were about the only ones Spike was able to sleep at all.
The backhand to the face was more accidental than intentional, and Buffy touched her cheek gingerly. She wouldn’t bruise, which was good. Spike might be a soulless vampire, but he didn’t like hurting her.
She’d learned not to try to wake Spike up, since any hands on him would cause him to come up fighting all that much harder.
Buffy stood and found her clothing and pulled it on as she waited for Spike to wake up of his own accord. She had been so certain that Spike would pull out of this with a little TLC. A few weeks on the outside, and Spike would be back to normal—or what passed as normal for him.
He was a vampire, after all. Shouldn’t he be able to shake off the trauma?
That was what she’d thought, anyway. Here it was August: she was heading back to school next week, and she had a boyfriend she couldn’t have sleep over lest someone call the cops when he shouted loud enough to bring the house down.
She was hunting for her shoes when Spike sat up, looking around wildly. “Buffy!”
“I’m here,” she said, giving up on her shoes to sit on the edge of the mattress. “You’re okay. We’re both okay.”
Spike relaxed, and then his jaw clenched, and Buffy knew that he was feeling shitty about his nightmare. Again.
She wasn’t sure she’d be doing much better, but Spike seemed to hate her being there after his nightmares as much as he hated actually having them.
Buffy couldn’t fix him, she couldn’t offer him comfort when he was like this, she couldn’t even tell him that things would get better—because that was patently untrue after three months of nightmares and short tempered outbursts and truly phenomenal sex.
In some respects, Buffy was surprised they’d lasted this long. She and Spike had been together for a handful of weeks in Los Angeles before they’d split up. They’d made it three months this time.
When she was being honest with herself, Buffy knew they wouldn’t make it another three.
“Did I hurt you?” Spike asked in a low voice, his bare shoulders tense as though waiting for a blow.
“Nothing I can’t handle,” Buffy replied lightly. “Don’t worry about it.”
“I hurt you again.” Spike’s voice was flat and lifeless. Buffy put a hand between his shoulder blades, and Spike shrugged her off. “Don’t touch me!”
She pulled her hand back as though burned, and then got to her feet, finally locating the really cute boots she’d been trying out—and that Spike had totally not noticed—and pulled them on.
“Look, I’m just going to go,” she said. “I’ll catch up with you later, okay?”
It was a crappy response, but Buffy stifled her hurt and pasted on a smile. “Okay, then!”
She left before her smile could crack, and before the ache in her heart became evident in her expression.
Wrapping her arms around herself, she walked home in the velvety darkness, the intense heat of SoCal in August having faded a bit by now. She felt chilled, and her cheek still stung a bit, and she suddenly found herself holding back sobs.
She was just so tired—Spike wasn’t the only one not sleeping—and she felt so fucking helpless.
Buffy felt a certain responsibility to him, and she wasn’t going to end the relationship over something Spike couldn’t control. At the same time, she couldn’t seem to help him.
It would be easy if it was all bad, she admitted, if only to herself. If Spike was always an asshole, she’d at least feel a little more justified in dumping him.
But there were parts of their relationship that were really good, and Buffy had reached the stage where she hurt when Spike hurt.
She hurt all the time these days.
There were nights Spike could forget, nights when he and Buffy walked side-by-side on patrol, their fingers tangled together with the kind of gentle grace he’d nearly forgotten existed. When they kissed long and slow under the stars, or fell onto his mattress and lost themselves in fucking, or found a good fight—
Spike could forget then, but when he closed his eyes, he was right back in that cell all over again.
As bad as that was, it was worse to know he was hurting Buffy—by commission and omission, you always hurt the one you—
Spike’s mind stuttered to a halt. He didn’t love her; that way led to madness.
Still, he owed her an apology, and he turned up on her doorstep as soon as the sun went down the next day, but Joyce was the one to answer the door.
“Spike, hello,” she said, sounding a little cool, but then he didn’t think she’d ever completely warmed to him. He didn’t blame her. Buffy could do better.
Spike shuffled his feet. “Is Buffy here?”
“She went out with Willow and Xander,” Joyce replied. “Did you want to come inside?”
He hesitated. “I don’t want to impose.”
“It’s no imposition,” Joyce said, stepping aside. “I have those little marshmallows if you want hot chocolate.”
Spike hesitated, wondering what, if anything, Buffy had told her. “If it’s no trouble.”
He caused enough trouble for Buffy; he didn’t need to be a burden on Joyce, too.
“Come into the kitchen,” she said.
Spike followed her, feeling ill at ease. He’d never had cause or opportunity to be friendly with the parents of someone he was fucking in the past.
For that matter, he hadn’t had much reason to be in a cozy little house like this in the past either, not unless he was eating the residents.
He perched on one of the barstools at the counter and felt his shoulders hunch. His back was to the door, and he felt the itch between his shoulder blades. He would have felt better if Buffy had been there, watching his back, although he still wouldn’t have been entirely at ease.
“Would you be more comfortable somewhere else?” Joyce asked, showing more sensitivity than Spike expected.
Spike made an effort to relax. “No, I’m fine.”
“The door is locked,” Joyce offered.
Spike forced a smile. “Thanks.”
It didn’t actually make him feel any better, but he made an effort to appear relaxed at least.
Joyce worked her magic with the stove, and then poured the mixture into a mug, handing it and a bag of little marshmallows to Spike.
He nodded. “’Preciate it.”
They had nothing to talk about, really, and so Spike just sat and watched the marshmallows dissolve in between careful sips. He pretended not to notice her watching him, although she wasn’t so rude as to stare, sipping her tea.
Spike finally forced himself to look at her. “I’m going to do my best not to hurt her.”
Joyce’s eyes were kind and wise, but there was also an implacability to her expression. “Spike, of course you will.”
Spike blinked. “I—”
“I believe that you won’t mean to hurt her,” Joyce added. “You might even be good for her in the short term.”
“But in the long term, what can you offer her?” Joyce asked.
Spike sighed. “Maybe nothing. Maybe just someone who will have her back. Or maybe she’d be better off if I left town, let her find someone better.”
Joyce held his gaze. “Maybe, but I think the better question is what you want.”
Spike wanted a multitude of things at that moment, but none of them were—or seemed—feasible. He wanted to be himself again. He wanted to sleep without nightmares. He wanted to believe that he could watch his own back, if only so he could be confident enough to watch Buffy’s.
He wanted out of Sunnydale.
Something must have shown on his face, because Joyce rose. “I have an early day tomorrow, but feel free to stay until Buffy gets home. It shouldn’t be too long now.”
Spike didn’t really want to stay when Buffy wasn’t here, but he needed to apologize, and this was the best place to catch her. He finished his hot chocolate and then sat in the living room to wait.
He didn’t turn on the lights or the TV; he just sat, lost in his own thoughts until he heard the sound of the key in the lock. He got to his feet then, squaring his shoulders.
Buffy stepped inside and closed the door, and then jumped when she caught sight of Spike. “Spike! You startled me!”
“Sorry,” he said immediately. “I’m sorry. I—for everything. For all of it.”
She sighed. “Spike, it’s fine. I get it. We both have our share of nightmares.”
“I hurt you,” Spike insisted. “I don’t want that, Buffy.”
Her name slipped out without him meaning to use it, and he could see when that struck her. He rarely used her name, preferring to keep things at least a little impersonal.
“I know,” she said quietly. “Look, I should probably patrol. Do you want to come with me?”
Spike nodded. “Yeah, that would be good.”
He let Buffy lead the way, and they didn’t head straight for Restfield. They took their time, visiting a couple of cemeteries, staking a few vampires, and then heading towards Spike’s crypt.
“Let’s stay outside,” she said. “Maybe the roof?”
Spike nodded, not wanting a repeat of last night. “Sure.” He leapt up and reached down to help Buffy make the jump, even though she didn’t need it.
They sat in a silence that felt heavy, portentous, and Spike looked up at the stars, starting a bit when Buffy’s hand found his. He entwined their fingers together and kept looking up.
“Do you even want to be here, Spike?” The harsh words were softened by her tone, weary and soft and a little plaintive.
Spike sighed. “I want to be with you, and I made you a promise.”
It was, he thought, the best he could do.
Buffy was silent for a long moment, and then she said, “I don’t think you’re going to get better if you stay here.”
He snatched back his hand. “I don’t need to get better. I’m fine.”
“You’re not fine!” she replied heatedly, with that fire he l—liked so much. “We share a bed, Spike! You can’t tell me you’re fine!”
“I will be!” he snarled and jumped off the roof in one easy movement. More than Buffy seeing his weakness, he hated that she thought him weak.
And really, what else was it but weakness?
Buffy couldn’t let him leave like that, and so she followed, jumping off the roof and running after him, wondering what the best thing to do was.
She wanted to keep Spike with her, and she certainly didn’t want to lose him, but at the same time, she thought she might need to do what was best for him, and for them, and that didn’t seem to include Spike staying in Sunnydale.
“Spike! Spike, wait!” she called, but he just jogged faster.
She wasn’t going to let him get away, and she raced after him. Buffy knew she could take him down forcefully, but the last thing she wanted was to hurt him. When it didn’t seem like he was going to stop, she did a flying tackle and rolled to take most of the impact.
She wound up on top, and she kissed him, putting everything she couldn’t say into that kiss—that she wanted him, that she cared for him more than she could express, that she wanted him to stay.
Spike was stiff at first, and then he relaxed, running his fingers through her hair, giving back as good as he got.
Buffy didn’t have a ton of experience kissing, but Spike was the best she’d had, pouring every once of passion he had into each touch. Sex had never been the problem with them.
Eventually, the kissing tapered off, giving way to brief, almost chaste kisses, their lips brushing, until Buffy rested her forehead on Spike’s shoulder.
His arms held her tightly, and he pressed his forehead to the top of her head. “I don’t want to leave you.”
“I know,” Buffy replied. “I don’t want you to leave.”
Fall, Buffy thought, was for endings, at least between the two of them. They had said goodbye to each other a few years ago at just this time of year.
“I won’t ask you to wait.”
Buffy made him no promises either way, but privately she thought she might wait a long time. “It’s okay,” she finally said. “We found each other again once before.”
She noticed that he didn’t promise to return, but then she hadn’t offered any promises either.
“Do you want to come back to my place?” Spike asked.
Buffy hesitated, not wanting a prolonged goodbye, but not wanting to pass up the chance to spend as much time with him as she could. “Yeah, I do.”
They made love that night, and it couldn’t be called anything else. The room was lit by candles, and Spike undressed her slowly, used his mouth and his tongue and his fingers, thrust into her with long, slow strokes until she couldn’t form words, could only make sounds of encouragement and desperate need.
Buffy memorized everything, knowing that he was apologizing with actions, not words. When he stretched out next to her, sated and silent, she brushed her lips against his bare shoulder in an act of forgiveness.
When he had fallen asleep, Buffy rose silently and pulled her clothes on. She wished she had something to write on, that she could leave a note for him as she had done before, but there was nothing.
Nothing except for a slim volume of poetry, and when she rummaged around a little more, she found a small stub of a pencil. There wasn’t enough to write a long note, and she was fairly sure that both Giles and Willow would have yelled at her for defacing a book, but she scribbled a short note in the front flap and set the book where Spike would be sure to see it when he woke up.
She snuck up the ladder and stepped out into the early morning sunlight, tipping her head back to prevent the tears from falling.
Taking a deep breath, Buffy trudged back home, letting herself into the house and closing the door with a quiet snick.
Her attempt to be stealthy was stymied by her mom’s appearance, coming out of the kitchen with a dishrag in her hands. “Buffy? Is that you?”
“It’s me, Mom,” she replied, keeping her voice even with effort. “Sorry I’m late.”
“More like really early,” her mom replied with a smile that fell away when she caught sight of Buffy’s expression. “Are you okay? Did you and Spike have a fight?”
Buffy shook her head. “No, Spike’s just going through a rough patch right now. We’re fine.”
It wasn’t even a lie. She and Spike were fine; she just didn’t think they were together anymore.
“Are you sure?” Joyce asked.
“Yeah, I’m sure,” Buffy insisted with a smile. “Great, even.”
Joyce didn’t look convinced, but she nodded. “Well, if you need to talk…”
“I’ll let you know,” Buffy promised. “I should go get cleaned up.”
“Have a good day, sweetie,” Joyce called as Buffy headed up the stairs.
Buffy managed to hold back the tears until she was in the shower, and then she leaned against the tile and sobbed, trusting the running water to mask the sound.
Maybe if she could sleep more than a couple of hours at a time, she’d feel better, but somehow she doubted it. If that was all she needed, she could have just insisted on a few nights in her own bed without Spike.
To be honest, Buffy didn’t know what she needed, except for maybe Spike to be the person she’d known in Los Angeles, or for them both to be in the right place at the right time.
When she’d cried herself out, she shut off the water, dried off, put on her comfiest pajamas, and crawled right into bed.
Spike woke with the unfamiliar sense of being well rested for the first time in ages, his hand automatically searching out Buffy, finding nothing but cooled sheets and a familiar slim book.
He sat up slowly, knowing that the book hadn’t been there last night.
He’d probably be more disturbed, but it was Buffy, and he trusted her. The depth of his trust for her frightened him at times.
The depth of his feelings frightened him.
Spike flipped open the book, certain that Buffy wouldn’t have left it there without reason, and he saw scribbled words in smudged pencil lead.
“You know where to find me,” he read. “Come back when you’re ready.”
Below the message was a word that had been scratched out, with her signature below that. The light wasn’t good, and Spike fumbled for his lighter, flicking it on and holding it up to the page.
If he didn’t know any better, he might thought it said “love,” as he could make out a harsh down stroke, the imprint of a circle, the point of a “v,” the long tail of a scrawled “e.”
For a moment, he considered ripping out the page, but then he closed the book gently and rested a hand on it.
And then, with a heavy heart, he started to pack.