RATING: R for pretty non-explicit sexual content
SUMMARY: Buffy's having trouble finding reasons to live. Spike can name a few.
SPOILERS: Up through sixth season 'Buffy' episode "After Life".
DISCLAIMER: They're not mine, and that fact alone is enough to depress me. D'you suppose Joss might give them to me for Christmas?
Most of Buffy's reply was lost to the ringing in his ears, but he caught just enough of it to make him wish he'd heard the rest.
"--right, as usual, and don't gloat about it." There was a pause, and a grunt, as she vaulted over a tombstone in pursuit of her own opponent. She didn't spare him a glance as he scrambled away from the demon that was using his head for putting practice. "As much as I hate to admit it," she continued, "you do occasionally display flashes of insight. You know, like those... what're they called? Savants. Idiot savants."
Spike had a clever retort all ready to fire off, but he promptly forgot it and opted to concentrate instead upon more urgent matters, like surviving the next few minutes and not losing any vital parts of his anatomy. He ducked under another swing of the demon's club, and executed a neat and incredibly flashy flip over the creature's head, grabbing its horns as he went and snapping its neck with a very audible crunch. The maneuver left him facing in Buffy's direction as his prey fell dead at his feet, and he smiled his most obnoxiously cocky smile purely for her benefit, only to find that she wasn't paying him any attention. His aerial acrobatics had all been for naught, and he found himself somewhat annoyed by her lack of attention to his stunning physical prowess.
"Could you repeat that bit about me being right, Slayer?" he asked. "I was suffering a major head trauma at the time and didn't get to enjoy the moment."
Her laughter sounded almost as amused as it was mocking. "Like you'll ever hear me say that again," she replied. "I hope this experience has taught you a very valuable lesson."
She might have continued, but she stopped talking long enough to take advantage of an opening in the second demon's defenses, and drove her sword through the beast's throat. Then she twisted it, just for good measure, and ripped the blade out sideways instead of straight back. When the demon was on the ground, very dead and beginning to dissolve into a steaming pile of blue goop, she finally drew back, with a dissatisfied look that said she might've stabbed it a few more times, if there hadn't been a danger of getting slime on her boots. Spike wondered why she cared, considering that a broad arterial arc of the ugly bugger's blood had already spattered all over her formerly crisp and clean pastel shirt. Not to mention her cheek, and her arm, and her hair.
"And what lesson would that be, pet?" Spike prompted. He leaned back against the nearest non-cross-shaped headstone and scowled down at his coat, swiping his fingers somewhat ineffectually against the lapel, succeeding only in smearing the glob of demon guts across the leather. He sometimes wondered why so many creatures of darkness had such flourescent innards.
"Don't weave when you should dodge," Buffy declared. Spike wasn't entirely sure whether she was addressing him or the unfortunate and odiferous carcass she'd left behind.
"Well, pardon me the occasional mistake, Miss Vampire Slayer Who Hardly Ever Slays A Single Sodding Vampire," Spike groused. "But I'll have you notice, if you please, that I did kill mine first. And without the benefit of weapons." He tilted his head back, just a bit, so that he could look down his nose at her in the most literal sense possible. "Come now, Buffy. Weapons? Don't you think we're past all that now? Don't you think we're better than that? I understand that the first step in overcoming any dependence is in admitting you have a problem."
She raised an eyebrow at him, and reached down to snag a corner of his coat, using it to wipe her blade clean until he snatched the abused garment back with an indignant protest. She smiled sweetly at him, then strode purposefully off between the headstones, throwing out her next insult in a conversational tone, as if she'd expected him to fall into step with her, and so didn't bother to raise her voice. He had followed the motion, of course, his own longer stride shortened slightly to match hers as he remained constant, like a shadow at her side.
"You would've been fighting with a weapon, too, if you hadn't dropped your axe and screamed like a girl when that demon jumped out of the bushes. And where'd you hear that bit about dependence, Spike? Bloodsuckers Anonymous? Or was it your bi-weekly Billy Idol impersonators group?"
He was on the verge of making a sharp comment about her ex-boyfriend's particular addictions; it was on the tip of his tongue, just waiting to be unleashed, to inflict wounds more painful than the physical. But it took almost no effort at all to bite it back. Still, he wondered what it meant, that he'd had the thought at all. Wasn't love supposed to banish that impulse to hurt, harm, and tear asunder? Or was it more important that he knew he had that power, and chose not to use it?
"What's the matter, Spike?" Buffy said. Her voice interrupted his musings, and she pressed on before he could even open his mouth to argue that he had not screamed like a girl. "Mentally rearranging your social calendar? Just remembered that your Terminally Stuck In The '80s support group has been rescheduled?"
"Yeah," he replied, picking up the thread of insults where he'd dropped it. "They had to move it to make way for that Learning To Control Your Overbearing Inner Bitch seminar I enrolled you in."
"Aw, you shouldn't have," she sighed, as if he'd just handed her a basketful of flowers and chocolates and puppies and other things that girls tended to sigh over. "And just for that, I call first dibs on the shower."
She took off at a sprint through the cemetery, headed toward his crypt, and he smiled as he dashed into the night behind her.
"But it's my shower!" he shouted at her retreating back. The protest was half-hearted, however, and he couldn't really claim to object to the idea of a wet, naked Buffy in his home.
In the short two weeks, three days, and six -- no, seven -- hours since Buffy had returned to his life, Spike had amassed a special collection of nervous habits. They were all designed to keep him from dwelling on the fact that she was near enough to touch, and none of them really worked well. He'd pace the length of his underground lair, three times up and three times back again, and then he'd grab a book from underneath the bed -- this week it was the collected poems of Lord Byron, whose sensual tone he quickly decided did not make for a good distraction -- and re-read the same line at least five times before shoving the unfortunate piece of literature under the bed again. Then he'd start to sit on his very large new bed before remembering that he probably had all sorts of demon slime all over himself. Then he'd stand in the middle of the room, wanting to strip off the dirty clothing but unable to get any farther than the duster, worried that Buffy would step out at any moment and find him naked. And, he thought, while that might not be entirely bad, the scenario would surely never end with hot sex like he imagined, but rather with pointed comments and quite possibly physical damage to his delicates.
He occupied himself with carefully cleaning the goop from his duster until he heard the shower turn off, and the rustle of clothes as Buffy dressed behind the privacy curtain he'd hung between the main room and the smaller bath chamber. He recalled that she'd been pleasantly surprised the first time she'd ventured down to see the redecorated downstairs that he'd once bragged to her about. The new furniture for the crypt had been easy enough; there was no end to yard sales, garage sales and estate sales in Sunnydale, where all manner of furniture could be bought from the families of the deceased for the price of a pack of cigarettes. The plumbing had been harder: he'd had to win ten games of pool and take over two weeks' worth of Harris' patrols before the boy had agreed to apply his Do-It-Yourself attitude and put his tools to work to bring all sorts of gloriously modern amenities into the vampire's home. Fixing up the crypt had been a nicely diverting project at a time when Spike had needed to put himself to work, but it had turned out even better than he'd hoped. The shower provided Buffy with an excuse to linger after their patrols, and it was an excuse she was beginning to take advantage of frequently.
She never came out and said that she was lonely, or that she wanted to talk about the secrets that she had shared only with him, but he never expected her to. There were a million things unsaid between them, and they were both comfortable with silence.
Buffy emerged from the bathroom dressed in clean -- albeit heavily wrinkled -- jeans and tank top, and found Spike in the middle of the main room, holding her dirty clothes at arm's length, directing a scowl at her.
"I never can decide, Slayer," he grumbled, tossing her clothes into his hamper. "Is it that you're just a slob, or should I be concerned that you're nesting? With all the crap you leave strewn about, and the fact that you've been keeping more clothes here than I even own, I sometimes wonder when you'll be moving in."
"People have been known to misplace more clothes than you own, Spike," she replied, in a kind of bored, 'I'm only explaining this to you because you clearly come from another planet' tone. She flopped belly-first onto his bed, propped up on her elbows and kicking her little bare feet absently back and forth in the air, like the carefree teenager he knew she wasn't. "Most of us say, 'Oh, gosh, where did I put that blue shirt?' And you say, 'Oh, gosh, some demon's torn my one and only shirt. Guess I'll go half-naked from now on.'"
He smirked at her, tugging his surprisingly clean t-shirt over his head and tossing it, too, into the hamper. "Oh, you'd like that, wouldn't you Slayer?" he teased, heading for the bathroom to take his own turn in the shower. "Me running around all shirtless and tempting. Like you'd be able to keep your hands off."
"Like you'd want me to," she shot back loudly as he disappeared behind the curtain. She heard his low chuckle, and added a very heartfelt, "Pervert," under her breath.
The moment she heard the water in the shower turn on, Buffy shifted herself to the edge of the bed, lifted up the trailing edges of the sheets and blankets, and peered into the darkness underneath. Spike never left anything he didn't want her to see out in the open, but he didn't tend to hide everything very thoroughly, either. Much of what she saw was the same as what had been there the last time she'd visited, two days before. There was still a long, sharp knife tucked away within easy reach; a book of poetry, a short sword, and something questionable and fuzzy-looking that always sat in the same place but which she thought must surely be alive. She never had ventured to touch it.
She'd been about to abandon the search, disgusted that he hadn't left anything scandalous or even the least bit interesting for her to find, when she spotted the piece of paper peaking out from behind the edge of the night stand. It had no doubt fallen from the surface above at some point in the past, and she might not have disturbed it, if the top line of Spike's messily scratched handwriting weren't visible in the gloom. All she could read of the sheet was a name:
She didn't hesitate to drop to the floor, stretching her arm out underneath the bed and around the edge of the nightstand to snatch the paper up. She gave no thought to Spike's privacy, but only wondered what the paper might be. Her mind offered up helpful suggestions as to what the sheet might reveal, even as she pulled it from its hiding place. She imagined a letter that began, "Dawn: You're a swell kid. I'd like to turn you into a vampire. What do you think?" Or a to-do list, maybe. "Beat up Willy. Torment Xander. Corrupt Dawn. Clean out refrigerator."
The real thing turned out to be a little stranger. Small writing, line by line, filled the front and back of the tightly folded, well-worn page. Some kind of list, she saw, but she didn't have time to read it over. Spike had finished his shower already -- he was always fast when she was waiting, as if he were afraid she'd run off while he wasn't looking, though to be fair she *had* done that a few times -- and she could hear him moving about in the other room. She only had time to read the first three lines of his cryptic list before she heard the rasp and rustle of the curtain being drawn back. It said:
Spicy buffalo wings
All she could think was "Shopping list?" before she rapidly tossed the still-folded rectangle under the bed.
"I wanted to talk to you about what you mentioned before," Spike was saying. He'd emerged from the bathroom with his head down, his hands vigorously rubbing his hair with a towel, and he'd completely missed her furtive movements and innocent looks. "About me being right. You know. About what I said that night." He lowered the towel with a frustrated sigh, and gave her the piercing, earnest look she'd become familiar with in the past two weeks. "As you know very well, Buffy, I'm almost always absolutely full of shit. What I said about -- about you having a death wish. I was making it all up. You can't possibly use that against me now."
Her loud "hmmph" as she made herself comfortable against the headboard showed exactly what she thought of that statement, but in case he hadn't gotten the message, she went ahead and spelled it out for him. "You are sometimes full of shit," she admitted. "Like now, for instance. You and I both know that everything you said that night was true. Maybe not of all Slayers, but of me, at least."
"Yeah, right," he muttered. "True. Like all that 'I've always been bad' and 'I needed a gang' and such. I don't suppose if I told you the truth about all that, that you'd believe that I was lying about the rest, as well?"
"No, but you'll have to tell me one day anyway," she said, laughing a bit more nervously than she would've liked. There were other things she wished he'd tell her, too. Like whether other vampires made shopping lists, and why her sister's name was on his, and did he like to taunt her by pulling on his shirt that slowly?
He took a seat at the edge of the bed, and fixed that intense stare on her again, his 'We need to have a serious talk' look planted firmly on his face. "You're telling me you've had that death wish," he said. "And you're saying you still have it now. Right?"
She nodded, wordlessly, and pushed the strange paper from her mind. She'd been leading up to this conversation all night, in her own round-about way, and she was desperate for reassurance. Once she'd divulged her biggest, scariest secret to the vampire, she'd found him to be a willing and patient listener every time she felt the need to drag that secret screaming into the light and dissect it.
"But it's stronger now," she confessed, softly. "I don't like to dwell on it, because it makes it harder. But everything seems alright here. You all seem to be getting along okay. And now that I really know where I was, what I'm missing, what's after this... I can't help but wonder why I can't have it. What's to stop me?"
When she'd first discussed the idea of suicide with Spike, she'd expected him to explode. He never had been one to disagree with her quietly. But he always just looked at her, contemplative, as if he understood what she was going through and couldn't find a fault in her logic. But he always made some argument, enough to keep her going for another day, another week. And when he couldn't find words for it, the emotion was written plainly on his face. Just knowing how that face would look if he lost her again sometimes kept her from seeking out a sleep she'd never wake from.
"Well, what's the rush?" Spike asked her. His head tipped to one side as if he were admiring a particularly mystifying painting. "You know what you've got here, and you know what you've got there, and if you know you'll end up there again, why not enjoy the time you have left with us? Grace us with your presence a bit longer? After all, some of us aren't going to such pleasant places when we expire."
He winked at her and sprawled out across the foot of the bed, his hands reaching out to catch her bare feet and draw them up against his chest. He'd started doing that not long after she'd begun turning up at his doorstep at all hours, wanting to talk. They both drew comfort from these meetings: he gave her sanctuary from her blissfully ignorant friends and offered soothing words, and she allowed him the casual touches and fleeting caresses with which he assured himself that she was real. He played absentmindedly with her toes and gently massaged her arches, his eyes remaining locked on hers, waiting for her next argument. But her mind had already wandered, back to the list. She silently debated whether she should just ask him about it. Perhaps it was intensely private, and just knowing that she'd seen it would prompt him to destroy the delicate house of cards that was their relationship. Or maybe it really was his shopping list. Mostly she wondered if she'd be able to restrain herself from mentioning it for any length of time, but she didn't wonder for long.
His head, hanging just over the edge of the bed, tilted downward as he caught sight of something on the floor, and immediately she knew that she'd not shoved the paper as far under the bed as she'd meant to. One hand abandoned her foot massage and stretched out to pluck the mystery item up.
"What is it?" she blurted out. The look he gave her said clearly that he knew it hadn't been there on the floor before.
"I was wondering where this went," he murmured, turning it over in his hands. "You read it?"
She shook her head, and drew her feet up beneath her, turning around on the bed so that she stretched out beside him, their heads close together and bent over the paper.
"I just saw the first few lines. It was under the bed, and I saw Dawn's name, and for some reason I feel bad about snooping when I ought to just kick your ass and make you tell me what that is and what it has to do with my sister."
He smiled the very soft and patient smile that she'd only seen since her return. "It's a list," he answered. "And you don't have to kick my ass for it. In fact, I'm glad you found it. I thought I'd lost it, but it doesn't matter; I don't need it anymore. You do."
"I need your list?" She frowned, squinting at the small writing, still not sure what it was.
"No, pet," he said, chuckling. "You need to make your own. See, after you -- after. I had a rough time of it. Didn't see much point in sticking around, you know? I had a promise to keep, but sometimes that was hard to remember. It was hard to focus. So I started writing this list, adding at least one line every day. My own little pillow book, I guess you could say."
Buffy sighed, snatching the paper from his hands and unfolding it, her eyes scanning the lines but still not making sense of it. "I saw that movie," she commented. "The one with Ewan McGregor and all the sex and nakedness and the chick who wrote on people. If this is some kind of elaborate come-on, I really am going to kick your ass."
He laughed, and rolled over onto his back. The motion brought their bodies closer together, and his arm brushed against hers, his knuckles coming to rest lightly against her hip.
"It's a list of things that make life worth living," he explained, as if she were a particularly dimwitted five-year-old. "Obligations you can't bear to duck out of. Things that make it worth the bother to get out of bed. Small pleasures that add up to a pretty big reason to keep going."
"Have you considered getting a job with one of those teen hotlines?" she interrupted. "You could tell everyone about how they should make lists about rainbows and puppies, and then ask them if they've found Jesus."
"Or I could just ask them if they wouldn't mind terribly hanging themselves instead of slashing their wrists, because that's a horrible waste of blood." He smirked again, and she turned it into a scowl by digging her elbow into his side. "Now don't change the subject, Slayer," he chided. "It sounds stupid, but it really does help. Helped me, anyway. I carried that around with me, so when I needed a reminder it was there, or when I thought of something new for my list, I'd add it on the spot. At very least, it can distract you from your troubles."
He fell silent, and she let the quiet stretch out for a moment, reading over his list of pleasures, which became more detailed as the list went on. "Dawn. Spicy buffalo wings. Blood," she read aloud. "Good to see you've got your priorities in order, Spike."
"Shut up," he commanded in a good-natured tone, with a smile on his lips.
"Loud music," she continued. "Killing things. Annoying Angel. Krispy Kreme donuts." She chuckled, and her eyes skimmed down the page to some of the more detailed items. "The scent of the night air, and the dew on the grass. The rush during a fight. Doing 110 on the highway with all the windows rolled down. Sunshine, as seen from shadows. The memory of her lips." She stopped there, glanced at him, and then put the list aside.
"Don't laugh," he muttered, still staring at the ceiling.
"I'm not laughing," she answered. "Got a pen?"
Buffy was somewhat dismayed to find that her list had stalled at five. She's started off strong and lost steam somewhat abruptly, and couldn't help but wonder if this was a sign.
"Maybe I don't have so much to live for after all," she said. Her teeth nibbled delicately at the cap of his pen as she regarded her short and ultimately very pathetic list.
"What've you got so far?" Spike asked. He was still sprawled on his back, staring at the ceiling, one arm bent to cushion his head.
"Number one is Dawn. Two is Scoobies, three is chocolate, four is slaying, and five is sleeping late. That's all I've got."
Spike frowned, and rolled over onto his side, peering over her shoulder at the short list. "Surely life has more pleasures to offer than that," he muttered, disapprovingly. His voice was a soft purr in her ear. "Let me help. What about... dancing?"
Thinking of happy nights spent at the Bronze, she'd already written his suggestion down as number six on her list before she even thought to wonder if that sort of dancing was what he'd had in mind. When she met his eyes, she saw that it was most definitely, decidedly not what he'd meant at all.
He was close now, too close, his body laid out next to hers, that intense gaze even sharper with a lack of distance, his entire being invading her space. "Number seven," he said, "should be kissing." His voice was the soft, intimate murmur used by people sharing air, and then not even that stood between them as he closed the distance to demonstrate why kissing alone was worth living for.
"Maybe," he amended, when he'd finally drawn back, "you should make that 'kissing with tongue'. Pays to be specific."
She just blinked at him, in the confused and completely shell-shocked way that he imagined rabbits might, if you were hunting them with hand grenades. So he plucked the pen from her numbed fingers, and added number seven to the list himself. Then, after a thoughtful pause, he went ahead and added an eighth item to the list before handing pen and paper back to her.
She took the items numbly, blinking at the paper instead of blinking at hime, and managed to read his revisions. Number eight read, 'Nudity loves company.'
The list and the pen fell from her hands to the floor as he pushed her over onto her back and ran his nimble fingers up under her tank top, with the clear intention of removing the offending clothing. She shuddered at the light, skimming touch of his fingertips, and discovered that her hands were, quite of their own volition, tightly gripping his hips. He'd made the reach easy by straddling her thighs, but he wasn't pressing her too heavily into the mattress.
"This is typically the point where you'd be sighing, 'Oh, Spike, take me, you handsome creature of the night!'" he prompted. "Or, alternatively, punching me in the face." His hands paused, hovering, just brushing the lower swell of her breasts. "Tell me to stop, Buffy, and this ends now. But some sort of hint once way or another would be nice."
Her eyes had been hazily watching the bob of his adam's apple, wondering what his throat tasted like, but the words snapped her out of it, and her eyes focused -- really focused, for what felt like the first time in years -- on his face.
"Where was I?" she asked. "Oh, right. Number eight." Her fingers tugged at his shirt until he finally cooperated and discarded it, and then she sat up, herself, stripping off her tank top in one smooth motion. "And number nine," she continued, but she didn't name it aloud. Instead she wrapped her arms around his shoulders and leaned in to nibble on his neck, satisfying her curiosity about the taste of the skin there.
The paper had been abandoned and forgotten, but Buffy continued her list in her head, one part of her mind almost absently breaking down each moment into the essential components of seduction.
His low moan of need.
The hungry look in his eyes.
A soft sigh coaxed from his lips by a bold caress.
The way his muscles jumped and tensed when the touch was feather-light.
His impatient growl when teased too long.
The feel of his strong, lithe body against hers, filled with restrained power.
His hands, baring every inch of skin and then exploring it, as if memorizing the textures of her body.
His insistent lips, demanding kisses and offering them in return.
The jackhammer tripping of her heart when his blunt teeth close delicately over the pounding pulse point in her neck.
The freshly-scrubbed smell of his skin, the scent of his wet hair, and the faint nicotine tang of his mouth.
His wicked, nimble tongue, on her breasts, dipping into her navel, then moving lower.
His fingers, gripping her hips tightly enough to bruise.
A loud, involuntary cry of pleasure, and not knowing or caring whose mouth had uttered it.
The slow, luxurious build of tension, and the surety of trust, knowing that the exquisite torture will eventually culminate in satisfaction.
The white-hot progression of fire through her body, spreading through her body, all the way out to her fingertips, washing over her vision and forcing the breath from her lungs...
Analysis shuddered to a stop, and the world might have, too. Clutched in Spike's arms, enveloped in warmth and dim candlelight, reminded her of being in another warm, dark place, indulging in well-deserved rest. Real awareness returned slowly, but it didn't bring any disappointment with it, as she emerged from remembrance of one heaven into the reality of another. She found herself collapsed against his chest, her small hands splayed across his warmed flesh. She only managed a small murmur of protest when he rolled over, then immediately sprawled herself over his back, instead. The muscles of his shoulder shifted under her cheek as he reached for the fallen pen. He didn't bother with the paper; it faced him, on the floor, just within reach to be written upon.
"I assume you were taking mental notes through all of that," he mumbled. "What number did you get to?"
She smiled, slipping one hand down his back to caress his thigh suggestively, and said, "One hundred and forty-six."
He smiled, too, and scrawled out a very sloppy '147' on the bottom of the sheet, then wrote something even more sloppily after it, in what he hoped passed for English. The pen was tossed away again, and he snatched up the sheet, slapping it down on the edge of the bed, next to his right shoulder, where she could read what he'd written.
"There," he declared, clearly very pleased with himself. "Now you've got all the reasons you need to go on living."
Buffy squinted at his sloppy handwriting, then finally read the last item aloud. "One hundred and forty-seven," she read. "'Finding out what else Spike can do with his tongue.'" Her smile turned into a laugh, and Spike rolled over again, pulling her into his arms, intending a hands-on demonstration of all the best reasons for living.