By Isabel Ortiz
Part of History Lessons
Title: Carpe Noctem
Author: Isabel Ortiz
Spoilers: Through Showtime. This is just my little AU fantasy.
Disclaimer: Don't own them, not making jack off 'em. But we're having fun :)
Author’s notes: This is my first S/B fic. Many thanks to my awesome beta readers Helen and Chen!
but I can’t trace time.”
— David Bowie
On the sofa in her living room, the Slayer sat with her vampire. The house was asleep now; even before, everyone had seemed instinctively to respect their privacy. He’d collapsed here when they’d brought him home, the closest horizontal surface, and hadn’t stirred for several hours, not since she’d made him rouse himself long enough to drink some blood. Even now, as she sponged his chest and sides, cleaning the blood and sweat and soot from his wounds, he didn’t stir. Maybe he’d even sleep straight through until tomorrow night.
It was restful, in a zen kind of way. Dip the washcloth in the warm water, sponge, rinse, repeat. Dip, sponge, rinse, repeat. Dip, sponge, rinse, repeat.
What do these marks mean?
Even Giles had been stumped. They had been carved meticulously, deeply…. Buffy shuddered to think how that must have felt. Methodical carvings on her torso hadn’t ever figured among the many injuries she’d received in her lifetime. There were bruises, too, bad ones, and she knew he had broken ribs — not so bad when you don’t have to breathe, but Spike kept forgetting. Or maybe it was posturing. Or…
God, but the First had done a number on him. Buffy was glad he was asleep so he wouldn’t see the tears of anger and sympathy pricking at her eyes. She could barely stand to see him so shattered. It was desecration, really. Such a beautiful body.
On the coffee table lay scattered the remains of Buffy’s first aid, and she moved to clear them away. Spike’s most physically painful injuries were internal, and only time would heal those. Time, blood, and rest. As for the other ways in which the First had hurt him? They’d have to deal with those later, too.
She returned to the living room and to her great surprise found him awake. Tired, drawn, left eye still swollen shut, but as alert as could be expected under the circumstances. But there was something else in him, too. A clarity, a lucidity that hadn’t quite been there before. A calmness. She wasn’t quite sure how she could tell just from looking at the one blue eye looking back at her, but she knew.
“Hey,” Buffy greeted softly, sitting lightly on the edge of the sofa.
“Hey, yourself,” Spike answered, and there was a smile in his raspy voice.
“You, uh…feeling better?”
“Now that I’m not being whaled on round the clock and’ve had a good kip? You could say.”
A silence descended on them, pregnant with possibilities. This was new territory now, for both of them, together for the first time since the Bringers had taken him from the basement. It was just the two of them, with the lights dimmed and a clock softly ticking away the last while before morning.
“It’s pretty late.” Buffy’s soft voice broke the silence. “Everyone will be getting up soon, and it won’t be particularly restful in here. I’ve made a bed downstairs, it should be comfortable. You, uh…want me to help you down?”
“Don’t think I’ll be up for solo navigation for a day or two.”
Or three or four or more, thought Buffy, but kept it to herself.
She wrapped her arm around his waist and bore most of his weight as they made their way down the narrow stair. She tried her best not to jostle him, but she heard his sharp intakes of air against the pain, and could tell he was grateful to sink into the bed at last.
“Can I get you anything?”
“Stop fussing. I’ll be fine. I’m tougher than…” His voice trailed off as he gazed curiously at her face, a myriad of emotions flitting across his features. She felt him drinking her in.
“Buffy? Are you real?”
Her question to him so many weeks ago.
“Yes, Spike,” she reassured him. “I’m really real.”
She reached out and took his hands in hers to prove it, and watched as he stared at them. We can touch each other again, Buffy thought, and marveled at how easy it suddenly was. How good it felt. How necessary.
“Thank you,” he whispered without lifting his gaze from their entwined hands, and her eyes inexplicably filled with tears she quickly blinked away. Gotta stop doing that…
She didn’t really want to leave, but there was a part of her that didn’t think she should stay, either. He was back, he was safe…but he needed to rest, to heal. She should go. And Spike, for all his bravado, was showing signs of needing to go back to sleep, no matter how hard he tried to mask them. Still, she made no move to leave, and he showed no intention of asking her to.
“I talk to them because I can't talk to you.”
She remembered his trembling voice. The look in his eyes.
“Spike?” she whispered. “You don’t have to yet, if you don’t want to, I mean, we just got you back and all, but if you want…what I mean to say is…” She heaved a sigh, exasperated with her inability to communicate. “You can talk to me. We can talk. I…I’m here. I want you to know that.”
He contemplated her with something akin to wonder on his face before answering somewhat shyly, “I’d like that.” He settled himself back into the pillows. “Why don’t you start by telling me who all these heartbeats belong to around here?”
She hadn’t meant now, but he’d taken her at her word. She began to tell him about Giles’ return, the arrival of the Potentials, the Council’s destruction, her attempts to locate him, her fear that she would be too late, and suddenly she realized that they’d been talking for over an hour.
Just…talking. Sharing information. Contemplating one another. Simple touches to hands and arms punctuating and emphasizing, saying what words still couldn’t. He’d wanted to know all that had happened since he’d been taken; Buffy had asked him a similar question. She was sure there were some parts of his ordeal he was keeping from her, but she didn’t press him for details. He’s already suffered enough.
“It came to me as Dru at first, you know,” he was telling her now. “Wanted me to make a choice. Choose evil over good.” He lifted his chin. “I wouldn’t, though. Never broke. I’d already chosen, see? Kept hearing your voice in my head. Seeing you, the way you looked that night down here. Right over there, in fact. Remembering what you said. Knew I could do it, then. Knew I couldn’t let you down. You believed in me. But then…after…it came to me as you, too. Like before. Wanted me to think it was you. Told me….” A dark, pained look crossed his features, and he either couldn’t or wouldn’t go on.
She didn’t need to hear what the First had done or said in her body to torture Spike. It was probably no more or less than what she herself had done or said time and again.
Might’ve been different if you hadn’t given it a reason. Or a hundred. The memories sickened her.
“But I knew that you’d come for me, no matter what the other one told me,” he said eventually, a faint smile now playing across his face. “When you could.”
“I’m sorry I took so long,” Buffy replied sadly.
“I knew you were trying. I was worried about you, too. Knew she’d sent that vamp after you, knew first hand what he could do. But I knew you’d come through. You always do. You’re a hero,” he said, and his eye took on a soft glow.
“Guess I’m still all trippy, huh?” Buffy commented, but Spike merely shook his head.
“It’s what got me through, you know? It was what I kept telling myself, that it would end, sooner or later, because you would come for me. All that time I was chained up there where you found me, I kept repeating it. It became my mantra.”
Ever since he’d been taken, she’d been focused on it, too. I’m coming, Spike, she’d say to herself, where no one but Willow, if she were listening, could hear. Hold on. Could he somehow have heard her? She found his faith in her as staggering as he’d found her faith in him — but she wasn’t sure she deserved it as much as he did. “How could you know for sure?” she asked reluctantly, and found that she couldn’t meet his gaze. “After I…you know….” After the alley…
The alley — she’s remembering the alley…
She ducked her head, turned her face away from him; he could feel her shame as a palpable entity, choking her, and it pained him more than all his injuries combined.
“No.” Her voice was quiet, firm. Resolved. She wouldn’t meet his eyes, but he watched her throat work, her lips move; saw that she was trying to say something real. It’s always so hard for her.
When her voice finally emerged, it was soft yet clear. “You deserved better,” she whispered, finally chancing a glance in his direction. It was the barest lifting of her chin, her gaze alighting upon Spike’s for a brief moment before hiding away again beneath the curtain of her hair. “You’ve deserved better from me for a long, long time. You gave and gave and tried so hard, and I…”
He raised up her chin with a shaky finger, made it okay for her to face him. Silent forgiveness, sought and bestowed.
“I just knew,” Spike said softly after a moment, answering her earlier question. “In my soul. And you know something? It was the first time that I’d felt it do anything other than burn me.” In his eye was a look of pure awe, and his face relaxed in a smile. “When I thought about what you’d said, about how you believed in me.” He tilted his head, remembering, voice cracking. “When I trusted that you would come for me… For a little while there, in the middle of it all, my soul….” His blue eye, bright with moisture, bore into hers. “Buffy, my soul sang. Can you imagine what that’s like, love, after so many years? And after so much….” He couldn’t finish the thought, so he abandoned it. “Buffy, it sang because of you.”
Her eyes once again filled with tears in response to his fractured whispers and she turned around to face him, lean into him. She pressed warm and gentle lips to his forehead, once, twice. Again.
“I will always come for you, Spike,” she breathed against his face. Amazed at her words, he tilted his head back to look at her, lost himself in her somber gaze. Her countenance shifted, then, and she reached down and took his hands, her movements both gentle and deliberate.
“Remember the night I asked you about how you killed your two Slayers?” she asked, seemingly out of the blue.
How could I forget, love? Night I punched you in the gut, knowing you were wounded…night I taunted you with your greatest fear… “Death is on your heels, baby, and sooner or later it's gonna catch you.”…Night I threatened you…night I tried to kiss you…tried to kill you…right before the sight of you in pain and tears reduced me to putty…night I found out about Joyce…
“Before I went looking for you, I’d been researching with Giles, going through the old Watchers diaries, trying to figure stuff out about a slayer’s last battle, seeing as how I’d just had my closer-than-comfortable call. Not much information there, unfortunately. But, anyway, Giles told me that night that I was very nearly the oldest slayer on record.”
Spike furrowed his brow, anger starting to burn in his gut. He didn’t like where this was going. “The way you tell it, one Slayer snuffs it, another one rises. I figure there's a new Chosen One getting all chosen as we speak.” His stomach clenched at the memory of his callous words.
“I didn’t ask him to elaborate,” she added wryly. “I guess I thought…what difference would it make, really, knowing the details? Everything’s uncertain. Leave it alone. But now I wonder, have I already lived beyond it? Not like I was supposed to, anyway…”
She paused. He waited, concentrating his gaze once again on their clasped hands, willing his own not to tremble. Why are you saying these awful things to me? his mind screamed at her, racing. There was nothing he could say, nothing he could do. He hated her words, hated the harsh reminder of how brief her life was destined to be. Not if I have anything to say about it, he thought savagely.
When the silence had stretched on too long, Spike looked up to find that her eyes had taken on a faraway look that he recognized and hated with a passion.
“Buffy? Buffy!” Come back, love…
Relieved, he watched as she visibly gathered herself and returned to him, her green eyes regarding him with a wistful sadness that he couldn’t quite interpret.
“Let’s face it, Spike,” she continued, “it’s only a matter of time. I mean, according to what some googly oracle guy told Giles and Anya, this is all happening in the first place because my coming back from the dead somehow threw the whole mystical balance out of whack.”
Spike’s eye narrowed dangerously at that revelation and its implications, but she shook her head, forestalling his indignant tirade and quelling — barely — his fierce protective urges.
“The night I came looking for you at Xander’s…. There’s something I didn’t tell you before. That vamp, the one who told me you’d sired him?”
Spike felt a hot swell of shame and remorse suffuse his being but said nothing.
“We talked for hours in the cemetery that night. Really talked, like you and I used to, right after I…came back. And, talking to him, a lot of things started to make more sense.” Her big doe eyes searched his. “I’ve been so confused, Spike…and he was the first person I’d ever admitted to how awful I’d been last year. To you, to everyone. You were right the other day. I hated myself last year. It started before that, really, but last year, coming back… Wondering why, if I’d done something so horrible as to deserve being brought back here… wondering if I was wrong, feeling so wrong. And you, telling me I was…”
“Don't you get it? Don't you see?” he heard himself sneer at her, “You came back wrong … Came back a little less human than you were.” God, but he’d been a right bastard…
“I didn’t deserve anyone’s love. I hated myself, wanted to punish myself...”
“So you did. With me.”
They couldn’t hold each other’s gaze for very long after that, but Buffy only looked away for a moment before collecting herself, sitting straighter on the bed. She took a deep breath and looked him seriously in the eye. “I need to tell you something,” Buffy said, “and don’t interrupt. I know you don’t want to think about this, especially not now, and neither do I, but it’s important. ”
Spike nodded his assent and watched her carefully, half dreading what was to come.
“See, I used to think that it would be enough of a goal for me to make it long enough to see Dawn graduate from high school,” she told him quietly. “I figured, hey! — that would get me to twenty five. Seemed like a long time. Most slayers don’t even make it to eighteen. But you know something, Spike, with the way things are right now? Right now I just want to try to live long enough to make things right between you and me. And, no, please, don’t say anything yet.” She suspended his instinctive denial with a finger across his lips.
“I want us to stop punishing each other.” Slender fingers stroked down his cheek in a long, soft caress. “I’m sorry. For so much.” A pause, then, “Do you believe me?”
Spike nodded, speechless, as a deceptively delicate hand brushed through his hair. It felt like God. She leaned into him and gently brushed her mouth against his, just like she had done after his beating at Glory’s hand.
He was no less astonished now.
“I want to know how to make it right with you,” she whispered. “Whatever it is. But I don’t want an answer yet, okay?”
It was just as well; he didn’t think he could voice a coherent thought if he tried.
“Just concentrate on getting better. Wait. Think. Decide. We’ll talk more later…when you’re a little stronger, okay? I promise. I just…. I just wanted you to know. Rest, now. Just rest. Everything’s going to be all right.”
He stared at her, his golden goddess, luminescent even in the dim light of the single bulb hanging in the corner. Life was taking its toll on her, and it pained him to see it. Faint lines of pain and stress, even a few gray roots she’d never admit to having; that nasty cut marring her cheek, one she’d gotten fighting for him. But still, she was the most beautiful sight in his universe, and he couldn’t believe she was actually talking to him about second chances. Was he still in the cave, dreaming?
“Are you sure you’re real?”
She laughed a little in response, and the sound was, truly, like music. “Yes, Spike. I’m real.” He watched her smile fade slightly. “You look tired. I’m going to let you sleep now.”
“No, wait,” he implored, reaching to lay a hand across her arm.
“Spike… I need my sleep, too. I’ve got work in a couple of hours, remember?”
No, I didn’t, and I’m an insensitive wanker… He released her immediately.
Against his protests, she refused to put the shackles on. “The First isn’t coming back for you tonight,” she said. “Trust me, I feel it. Let’s take it one day at a time. Night. Whatever.”
Spike sighed, and hoped she wasn’t getting complacent. But he was too exhausted to argue.
“Night then, pet.” The endearment slipped out and he caught his breath, wondering how it would be taken now.
She merely smiled at him, cupped his cheek in her hand, and said, “It’s been… nice talking with you. Rest now, okay? We’ve got a lot of work to do later. And don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere yet.”
A last, lingering kiss to his forehead and then she was gone.
Spike listened to her footfalls ascend one flight, then two. When he heard her bedroom door click shut he settled back into his pillows with a sigh. He missed her already, fiercely, yet somehow… the ache at her departure was, for once, less bitter than sweet.
He shifted restlessly, trying to ignore his various aches and pains. Only physical, after all. He’d heal, and quickly. Had to. Buffy needed him.
She needs me… She said so…
She’d said so many things tonight…he was still trying to wrap his mind around it all.
“She’ll tell you. Someday, she’ll tell you.”
Oh, how he feared to hope.
But she’d said it, first. Said she’d seen him change. Saw the difference.
The difference the soul made.
He had changed — substantively changed — more since the day he came to Sunnydale and met the Slayer than he had in a hundred years. His first few years of vampiredom, now that had been a huge, paradigm shifting change. But after that? Static. A hundred years of static, days and decades bleeding endlessly into one another. Until the night everything changed, that one fateful night in the Bronze when he’d first set eyes on her. He hadn’t known it then, but somewhere deep down inside he’d felt it. The spark of certainty, the pull of inexorable destiny.
“We've been through things. The end of the world and back.”
So they had. They shared so much history between them — so much knowledge, so much pain. So much possibility.
So much fire.
Spike shut his good eye and tried to imagine what it would feel like in his newly regained soul if he could hold her in his arms again, if he could touch her in love, kiss her, taste her… You’re so beautiful… Love you so much… Buffy, love… and then he must have drifted off to sleep because the next thing he knew he had jerked awake, alone, and inexplicably saddened.
Where had she gone? Had it only been a dream? He couldn’t remember. He panicked. He was disoriented, and felt a growing desperation at having woken up alone. The sun was just now rising, which meant that he’d been asleep for… What, only twenty minutes?
Rational thought returned, and Spike was relieved that he could piece it all together. She’d only gone upstairs, promising that they’d talk later. She wants to talk to me… The initial glow of that thought fled quickly and Spike flinched inwardly, recalling the quiet urgency in her voice as she had spoken to him of time. Mortal time.
Her words were nothing he didn’t know, and everything he tried desperately to deny. Death — final death — was always, always in the shadows just beyond them. Lurking. Waiting. Certain. One day it would come for her, take her away from him again. The thought filled him with a terrible choking grief and he shut his eyes against the pain, buried his face in his arms. In his mind’s eye he remembered Glory, the Tower; he saw Buffy fall again, saw her beautiful body sprawled lifeless atop the rubble. Saw her cold and stiff and far too still in her coffin, saw it lowered into the ground. Saw her headstone, thought about what her next one might read. Beloved, devoted, sister, friend, lover, savior…
“Spike?” He felt the mattress shift, felt her turn to face him, pull his arms down and face up, thread her fingers through his hair, palms cupping his cheeks. He must be a wreck, he hadn’t even heard her come down. “Spike, what’s wrong? Why are you crying?”
He hadn’t meant to make any noise, hadn’t meant to wake her. Sorry, love…
Spike opened his eye to find her searching his face, looking concerned and discomfited. She brushed at the stray wetness glistening on his cheek, then gasped as he gathered her close to him with prodigious force, ignoring the tearing pains in his chest. They’re not important. This is.
“I’ll be dust first,” he said, as if taking a vow.
Buffy didn’t ask him what he meant; she knew, and for once didn’t pretend not to.
“We’ll see about that,” she whispered in response, silently wondering if he really would. She felt the tremors quivering through his body slowly subside as they held one another, yet neither made a move to withdraw from the chaste, yet intimate, embrace.
On a bed in her basement, the Slayer let her vampire hold her for a long, long time.