By Gwyneth Rhys
Sequel to Heliotrope
Of Heaven of Hell I have no power to sing,
I cannot ease the burden of your fears,
Or make quick-coming death a little thing,
Or bring again the pleasure of past years
This is how I will write it down: that love is real, and doesn't always leave you when you need it most. That from the most unlikely places it will grow if it's cared for, if it's believed in. That trusting someone, even someone who was once your enemy, won't destroy you.
Most of all, that love doesn't bring rewards; love is its own reward.
I will write it down when it's over, when I've given up the fight to someone else. I will write the book of my life with him at my side, because he taught me all these things. When I've written that last word, I'll close the book and rest my hand on the cover, and he will rest his hand on mine, together.
These days, she thought about it a lot. About what their life together would be like when she hung it up for good. How it would be when she was older, when this wasn't their life anymore. Buffy thought of it now as she lay next to Spike, moving her fingers lightly over the side of his face, tracing his profile. How could things be, living with him when she wasn't a slayer? Buffy still loved this existence, but lately, increasingly often, contemplated the immortality and mortality questions, thinking about futures with pull dates and futures without end. They weren't necessarily great for mixing; anyone who'd seen Highlander knew that.
When he slept, all joking aside, he slept like the dead. Alert to threats and ready to fight in a heartbeat, but when he was safe with Buffy, completely under, blissfully unaware of the tender liberties she took. Even after all these years, his scars and marks and patterns still fascinated her; if she couldn't sleep, she would read his body like an old familiar book, full of histories. It was known to her by heart but not by rote: the curve of his biceps, the hollow on the flank, each dip and rise of muscle on his belly, those unearthly cheekbones. All hers.
And when she wanted him to wake, she knew exactly how and where to touch him.
The sun came in too easily in these little rooms they'd taken near Russell Square. The building was mostly flats for tourists to let during longer stays, and the housekeeping staff hadn't known what to do the first few days when they came in to find Spike's lifeless body sprawled across the bed they were supposed to make, some of the sheets thrown loosely over the windows instead of his naked form. But now everyone had got used to the strange American girl and her lover with the odd hours.
It was nothing like her first time in England to rebuild the Council, feeling out of place, adrenalined, edgy. Now it was a second home, as familiar to her as Los Angeles. There was less and less slayer work to do here now, so few vampires left after the tide of girls claiming their heritages had swept them away. Buffy and Spike were on holiday here, their time spent like normal people. When Dawn came with them, as she had this time, the picture was complete, and Buffy went home feeling, not sad, as she'd used to when leaving those she loved, but fulfilled.
There were still so many places to visit, for Spike to show her. Most of the Continent waited like a box of treasure to be opened. Though much of Europe was connected to his past, Buffy was comfortable with that now. It was a connection she should loathe, but this past belonged to her lover, and she'd grown to understand and accept that. Acknowledging who he was before and what he was now, this vampire who had changed because he loved enough, wanted enough.
Stirring beside her, he turned and threw a hand haphazardly across her hip. Buffy ran her fingertips along his jaw -- he had such a strange chin, both strong and weak at the same time. As if it reflected his character, all the astonishingly resilient and tough qualities, as well as those soft and breakable ones he showed only to her.
"I feel like a question mark," Spike mumbled in his sleep. It had taken her some time to grow accustomed to his habit of talking in his sleep. He did it only as he was just about to wake, moving out of his deathlike state, but he'd delivered entire soliloquies at times. Mostly he just blurted random, surrealist comments like now that made her laugh out loud.
Her howl woke him. He uncurled from his question mark position -- because that's exactly what it had looked like, she thought with amazement -- and glanced at her through squinty eyes. "What?" he asked with a snuffling breath. His voice was cranky, lushly sleepy, and so sexy.
It took too long to stop laughing; Buffy kept putting her hand over her mouth and holding the giggles back, but then they came out in a torrent. "You were talking in your sleep again. Sometimes it's just funny, that's all."
He made a face of bitter amusement, closed his eyes, and pulled her tight.
"What are you goin' to do with yourself today?" When they were here, Buffy could keep daylight hours, and would frequently play at being a lady who lunched, prowling the shops, sightseeing, hitting the galleries and historical sights she'd never bothered with before. It was such a different life, one that she was deeply aware he'd given her. Spike had offered her freedom, made her a new person, with that final act of sacrifice. But it had taken his forgiveness, when she found him again, in order to complete the creation. She could never be wholly her own after that, to be herself was to be with Spike now. There was no life alone, not really; if there was, she was happy not knowing about it.
When they visited friends as they traveled, they always gave each other room. Spike understood her occasional need for distance, he was never stingy about time or greedy about his role in her life. And Buffy knew that he needed solitude, offered him room to take time away from her when and how he needed it. Such time made the coming back together sweeter, even though there was always an unnamed grief Spike carried with him, kept like a tiny jewel secreted in a box, hidden in a pocket.
"Meeting Dawn for lunch, then shopping, and then Council."
"Mmm. The oracle must put in her appearance."
"Yup. At some point I'll have exhausted all the possibilities for amusement in this city and I'll get bored, and I know the meetings will make me antsy, but right now it's nice not to be fighting."
He opened his eyes, fixing her with his heavy-lidded, basilisk stare. "That's the third time you've said something like that since we got here. What's going on?"
Buffy pulled her head back, perturbed. The acuity of his gaze unnerved her. "Nothing. Why do you think something's going on?" Although she knew it was useless to pretend anything with him, he saw through her cellophane-transparent pretenses, always.
At the beginning of this life together, still as forlorn and withdrawn as he'd been when she'd found him, Spike didn't ask many questions, instead appeared to take everything at face value. But over time, as he'd relaxed somewhat and the rectitude of his new persona was gradually shed, he began to trust that the ride wasn't to be a short one. He grew more testing, challenging her constantly.
"You are such a bad liar."
"I'm not lying! I'm... "
Someday she would have a big enough vocabulary that he wouldn't be able to finish her sentences. It was her second biggest goal in life.
He kissed her forehead, her cheek. Spike never seemed to tire of kissing her, and Buffy never tired of letting him. She still felt giddy with the girlish desire that flared inside when he touched her, left her bones nothing but soft wax.
"You've been intimating you want a holiday. Possibly even long-term leave." The way he peered at her made her think he'd been waiting to talk about this, scouting for a perfect opportunity to bring it up.
"I have? How?"
"The five thousand references to taking a break? To traveling like tourists? To hanging about here spending time with the Council?"
"Oh. Those. Well, if you're going to count that."
His laugh, sometimes, was like melting chocolate, so warm and rich and deep. If she could make him laugh for all her mortal life, then Buffy could feel complete. Yet this feeling wasn't something she could confess to Spike, because he refused such sentiments in his own melancholy way. Somewhere he had decided there was no such thing as forever, no permanence on this earth.
That was really what it came down to, now. Her mortal life, and his immortal one. How he seemed to age, yet not. These recent thoughts and concerns, so firm in her mind, hadn't ripened yet. She didn't know how to share them. Spike desperately wanted to make everything right for her, and this... if he knew she was afraid of mortality, of growing older and apart, Buffy could envision him leaving her, believing it was precautionary, sensible. Yet sensible was not what she'd ever wanted from her relationship with Spike.
"It's just... don't you ever think about more? About, I don't know, that we should be getting more out of this, or something. Do-gooders don't get paid well. It's supposed to all come out in the benefits. Of which there are, oh, let's see... none!"
"Guess I always reckoned this was my payment," he murmured, placing his hand against her heart.
"Yeah." Not fair. He always said the thing that would make her throat tighten and eyes sting with impending tears. "But... I guess I keep thinking that you, especially, deserve more." He made jokes about being her sidekick, often spoke in exaggerated radio-show-announcer tones about being the Slayer's boy wonder. That wasn't what she wanted for him. His sacrifice, his changes, deserved to be honored.
"Not to come over all Bette Davis, but maybe we shouldn't ask for the bloody moon when we already have the stars, you know?"
"You really need to stop watching TV." Buffy paused, let him kiss her throat, her breasts, until the bass drumbeats of her heart thudded heavily in her head. "Stars aren't enough. I want the moon and the sun too, dammit. And planets. Lots of planets. Geez. It's not like we're working for minimum wage here."
"Is that the second hand on the biological clock I hear?" He slid his hand between her legs, sliding his fingers around in the most delicious way. But she pulled her head back and glared.
"No! This has nothing to do with that. Nothing's ticking."
"I'm just enjoying being relaxed."
"If you say so, dear." His voice was sing-songy with mockery. "But you're being awfully cagey about all this relaxation."
"And you're being all supposey-guy. Feh."
"Feh?" he chuckled. "Feh? Who are you now, Sylvia Klein from Palm Beach?"
"Will says it all the time, and you never mock her."
"She can get away with it."
Buffy rolled her eyes. "I'm just enjoying the peace and quiet. I was enjoying the peace and quiet with you, but I've rethought my position and now believe that any vacation would naturally exclude you if I wanted to have fun."
This time he spread her legs apart, and draped the left one over his hip. Buffy liked fucking like this, on their sides, either back to front or front to front, didn't matter. It was the perfect morning way to make love, dewy with sleep, languorous and quiet. She pushed her hips forward as he slid into her, and sighed.
He said softly, "Just try."
Buffy wrapped her arms around him. She knew that anything she asked, he'd do. It had never been his tendency to lead; instead he was happy to follow, to be a part of whatever interested her. From the moment he'd taken the keys out of her hand, she felt they'd been joined, bonded, in a quest for a fate neither of them really cared to know much about. She was afraid to gaze too far into the future; yet she couldn't stop all of a sudden, compelled by something unknown to see what would happen to them.
Although she was happy, totally happy, Buffy never knew for sure if Spike was, too. In the half-thought moments she gave to considering it, wondering at this part of him that seemed so inexplicably sad, she believed it was his fear of losing her again. Every day that she got older and inched toward what she hoped would be a natural death was one more day nearer his inevitable loss of her.
But then he gripped her bottom with both hands and thrust into her, biting along her neck so that her skin thrilled with tickles, tugging her earlobe with his lips, and her worries floated away like seeds on the air. Buffy gripped his hair with her fingers, pulled his mouth to hers for hard kisses. His tongue slid, firm and savory like an oyster, through her mouth, to the back of her throat.
The familiar flush of heat overtook her skin, the muscles tensing inside her, ready to explode from his slow, careful movements. Spike could take Buffy to the edge, leave her hovering there, breathless and weak against the groundless universe spreading back behind her, until she looked into his twilight eyes and let herself fall into joy, knowing, always, that he would be there to catch her.
After lunch with Dawn she took the Tube to the Courtauld Gallery again. This was the third time she'd been since they'd arrived; it was her favorite place in London, somewhere she'd kept to herself, where she could spend solitary hours contemplating pretty pictures. Of all the changes in her life, the ability to be still, to be private, was the most dramatic and the most valued.
Buffy had never even heard of Tiepolo until her first visit here, but she had grown absurdly fond of his paintings, the caramelly browns, sky blues and flaming oranges, gilded pinks. Something in them reminded her of her heaven; she was never sure what it was. No visit was complete unless she went to see the Manet she loved so much, and it was here Buffy drifted today, settling onto the seat, staring up at it. The room was quiet, just weekday tourists and art students scratching away at their pads, trying to draw like the big boys. The quiet was broken only by the soft click of heels on the floor, the scratch of crayon on paper, or the occasional murmuring voice, until someone behind her cleared his throat and said in a plummy voice, "I thought I might find you here."
Giles smiled at her as he sat down.
"How did you find me? No one knew I was coming here."
"Spike said it was a possibility. That you're exceedingly fond of this place. And Dawn said you were 'shopped out,' I believe. A flick of Willow's wrist and..."
"Oh." Somehow she'd forgotten she'd told Spike; Buffy told him so much now that it was easy to forget how little she kept private. "Yeah, I am fond of it. I like this one best." She waved her hand toward the girl in the Bar at the Folies-Bergere. "There's something about her... she reminds me of me, at one point, I guess. I can never figure out if she looks sad, or just tired, or something else altogether."
"The best paintings always do that. Make you wonder about the interior life of the subject."
They sat silently looking at it for a while before Buffy asked, "So, what did you need to find me for? Beasties?"
"Nothing serious, but I think I've an interesting job for you and Spike. A demon who's rising, seeking a hidden talisman. Never been successfully stopped before. Really quite old. And I wasn't certain whether I'd see you for a few days, and I had a bit of news."
There was something very cat and canary about Giles's face, and even after all these years it seemed out of place on him. Somehow she'd never shaken her stuffy-Giles father-figure dependency, no matter how old she got.
"Oh, boy. Do I wanna hear it?"
"Depends on how you feel about Claire." He smiled serenely.
"No way!" Giles had been dating another watcher for years now, but Buffy had given up hope of him keeping her once she got tired of his permanent bachelor routine.
"Way," he said in his best clipped voice. It was hard to resist the urge to throw her arms around him, but this wasn't the place for big displays of affection.
"She actually pinned you down to matrimony? Did she blackmail you?"
"I asked her, actually," he said, making a face and pushing his glasses up on his nose. "Not getting any younger, you know, and it seems to be a good time, with you and Dawn here."
"Wow! That's... just wow." This was something she'd wanted for him always, since back when things had been good with Miss Calendar. But now that it was here, she felt a vague, undefined envy at his happiness, something she herself could never really have. Not legally, anyway. Willow and Buffy had grumbled about it before when they were drunk, how unfair the rules were that gays and the undead weren't allowed to marry for real. But it wasn't even that, really, that bothered her. It was more the sense of parity and fairness in others' lives -- the mutuality of a relationship like Giles and Claire's. They would both grow old, both need the same things in life, both walk a similar path as they got older.
She put her hand over his and they looked at the painting some more. Giles was watching her out of the corner of his eye.
"There's something bothering you, though, isn't there?" he asked eventually.
"No, not really."
"Something about me?"
"No, it's totally cool. I'm just..." she sighed heavily. "Aren't vampires supposed to be immortal?"
"Technically speaking, they're just undead and therefore not really mortal or immortal. But yes."
"I know this sounds weird, but Spike looks older. He has these really noticeable lines on his face, and there's something about him that just seems older. And when we visited Angel last year, he looked older too. Not old old, but just... older. Much older."
Giles stared at the paintings for a bit. "I'm not certain this is the answer, or that there even is an answer, but it might be that they're worn their human faces longer than any other vampires, so perhaps it has the effect of aging them."
"What?" Buffy had grown more appreciative of Giles's intelligence and abstruse knowledge of nearly everything on the planet, but more often that not, she couldn't stay on the same road to reach the conclusions with him.
He got more animated. "Think of it this way -- most of the vampires you've faced show only their vampire faces, correct?" He didn't wait for her nod. "Kokistos, the Master... all of them, after a certain age, lose their human faces completely, and the vampire manifestation grows more and more pronounced. Angel and Spike have lived a very long time, but in that time, they've more often than not worn their human faces. Perhaps we're seeing something we weren't even really meant to see -- vampires with souls, who keep their human faces. And that's why they seem older."
"Huh," Buffy said. "That makes a kind of sense, I guess." She played with her program. "It just got me to thinking about the long-term again, which I don't normally do. About staying in one place. About me getting older and being with someone who's gonna live forever. And then Spike was giving me a hard time today about wanting to settle down. I guess I'm giving off settling down vibes."
"The ticking biological clock?"
"No!" she barked. "Why does everyone keep thinking my biological clock is ticking?" All the people in the gallery turned to look at them.
Buffy made shooing motions. "Let's go." All these strangers probably thought they had some horribly sad May-December romance going and Giles was trying to back out of his responsibilities. They went outside and stood facing Somerset House, leaning against a railing in the late afternoon shadows.
"Who keeps asking if your clock is ticking?" Giles quizzed her with glee. Once everything had settled down and he'd no longer had to carry so much of the weight of the world on his shoulders, he'd turned out to have a childish sense of humor, one that he showed often. Buffy had always felt like that man had been hiding there all those years, lurking under all the tweed.
"Spike said it, Dawn said it, and now you. It's got nothing to do with that, really." It always confused Buffy to hear people tell her things about herself, or for them all to ask the same questions, as if she was giving off a vibe off about something she was unaware of in her own consciousness. Always fairly self-reflective and tuned in to her own feelings, Buffy was easily annoyed by her friends assuming something she absolutely didn't feel. "I'm just talking about things like sticking around, like settling down. And everyone assumes I want a church wedding and a diaper service."
Giles tapped his fingers absently on the rail. "It's not surprising, really. You've been slaying for a few years now, spending time with Spike, living life on your own terms. But throughout most of your life, people have left you when you needed them. I'm as guilty as anyone of that. Possibly you're expecting that Spike is going to leave now, too, what with your concerns about getting older."
"So you're saying... what? That I have abandonment issues?" Her voice was stern, but she smiled at him.
With a slight shift of his shoulders indicating he was uncomfortable -- at least she still had the power to make him nervous, always a plus -- he answered, "I wouldn't have put it in quite those psychobabbly terms, but yes, I suppose I am saying that. It's not the least bit surprising, Buffy. At some point, nearly everyone has left you or rejected you. Even Spike, and it had to hurt to find out he'd come back and not even contacted you. So you have a history with... with all of us, and now you're wondering whether, if the two of you led a different life, that would mean he'd abandon you again. Or would we."
"You're always good with the pointed points. This one's extra pointy." She rocked back and forth, holding on to the rail and leaning as far back as she could, then pulling herself forward. "So, you said you had a job for us. What's up?"
Giles took her by the shoulder and they walked out into the low-slanting light of early fall, shadows checkerboarding the Strand, sun glinting off the car finishes. They walked toward Charing Cross, where the Council's offices were located, as Giles told her the story of the demon they were after, one who rose only every fifty years or so from his human-induced post-snack slumber. There was a talisman that he used, once risen, to do Something Big and Important and Dangerous. Buffy only half paid attention, sometimes casting her eye around this ancient city, wondering what it would be like to make it her home for a little while. By the time they got to the offices, Dawn, Willow, and Spike were there. The city lights came up, casting their white and gold sparkle as evening fell.
Spike was describing something to Dawn, arms flying about in big, sweeping arcs, and Buffy smiled. He wore her favorite blue t-shirt and black jeans. It was easy to travel light with him, there were only a few things he took everywhere, and only about five changes of clothes. The most baggage he carried was his piles of CDs and DVDs. He'd adopted a new leather jacket somewhere along the line, but hip-length now, and had since stopped bleaching his hair quite as dramatically as before. Despite their close company, despite what should feel like a daily grind, each new glimpse of him after being away for a few hours swelled her heart with affection.
Giles and Willow excitedly pointed her to the musty pile of fragile books that lay in the center of the big table, their pages, foxed with history, threatening to crumble in her hands as she tried to follow along. It had been years since they'd all been around a table like this, planning, and yet they each fell into their roles precisely, soldiers regimented for their special duties.
It had taken a while, but eventually her friends had learned to accept Spike for what he was, and to see the man she cared for. Not that it had been easy -- with Xander and Giles, especially, Buffy equated it to hammering big fat nails into concrete. But now Giles treated Spike with a kind of avuncular antipathy, as if he still had to maintain a certain level of distaste under the friendly exterior. And Spike responded with a sharp-edged teasing dislike, what Dawn had once referred to as boy's-school acceptance. Buffy watched them both now, bent over the table, discussing hidden buildings, bemused over the turns her life had taken.
Dawn went out to the curry house on the corner and brought back dinner while they plotted and planned; the Council now kept blood in the refrigerator just for Spike. Quentin Travers, Buffy assumed, must turn in his grave every time that fridge was opened.
Once they were all informationed up, Spike took the little map Giles had drawn for them, and Buffy kissed everyone goodbye. These days she was Kissing Girl, offering at least a quick peck on the cheek before she went off to do something with potential dire consequences. Showing emotion had become easier the longer she'd been with Spike -- and the longer she'd been away from the weight of being the only chosen one.
They took the Tube out to Liverpool Street station and went up, Spike regaling her the whole way with tales of the disused stations and tunnels of the Underground. Many he recalled wistfully from his own personal experience, describing them in some detail. She'd seen them in films and TV, but in reality the idea gave her the creeps, though Spike's histories made them seem alive and fascinating. They'd been quite popular with vamps except for the war years, when they'd often been used as shelters, until creeping around in the tunnels and stations became a trendy thing to do for humans and they'd no longer made good lairs. There were whole underground worlds in this city, he told her -- shelters from the Blitz, an underground reservoir, the Tube, a mail delivery rail. There was a reason London was popular with dwellers of the nether regions.
With a quick flip through his A to Z, he found the street they were looking for, not far from the station. Buffy had no idea what she was looking for, clue-wise, but as he ducked into a crumbling building on a dark street, Spike suddenly said, "Aha!" and yanked her inside. Weeds had crept into the little tumbledown space, the only remains of the station before it had been moved, he said, and dust covered everything, including the weeds. Brickwork and tile, wood and plaster all lay scattered about, as she examined the surroundings with her flashlight. The air was close and dense from the heat of the day, the cellary smell making Buffy wrinkle her nose.
After a few swift elbow hits Spike loosened some tiles on a wall, then he hopped up, grabbed a slight ledge above a door, and swung out with his legs, kicking most of the bricked-up wall in with a great sweep of dust and noise. It was a good thing it was so late and there was no one around. They jumped down, and then farther down, and down some more, and walked their obstacle course for a ways, until Spike found the tunnel he was looking for. The station they'd entered from had been abandoned in the early twenties, he told her. Unlike many of the disused stations, this one was virtually unknown, and it was clear that no humans had set foot down here for quite some time. Buffy shivered, because it wasn't hard to guess why it was unknown -- it fairly vibrated with demonic energy. The bricked-over entrances looked sinister.
"This just gives me the heebies, squared."
"Turn off that torch, it'll look a lot less creepy. You're creating bloody great shadows, which makes it look all Hammer Horror."
"Said the guy who can see in the dark."
"Just take my hand and follow. Be a good little better half."
She smirked at him, and he smirked back. But she wondered if he'd said it on purpose, harking back to their earlier conversation.
"I don't know. There's something really sad and creepy about this place." She expected ghosts to manifest, apparitions dressed as in the twenties or the teens going about their lives, waiting for ghost trains to carry them to their ghost homes and businesses. The walls' crumbling tiles, once beautiful and evocative, were dingy and sad. It was an almost unconscious, visceral discomfort, seeing what time and age and decrepitude do to even the most vibrant and useful of things. "I don't mean to sound all Han Soloish, but I have a bad feeling about this."
"Princess Leia. She said that most often, not Han."
She exhaled loudly. If he started quoting the whole movie back at her, she'd have to beat him with the flashlight. Once Spike and Xander had gotten to a place where they could be in the same room together without wishing the other were dead -- because Xander maintained, obstreperously, that "I have to give him props for saving the world, but that doesn't mean I have to like him" -- the two would frequently throw movie quotes back and forth until she itched to kill them both.
Farther on they found a tunnel carved into the wall that took them underground from the Underground. Now it was pitch black, and Buffy had to turn the flashlight on. Water dripped down the walls in black rivulets, and she was certain she heard rats scurrying. Above, it felt spooky; now it felt demony and dangerous.
They crept carefully along the cobwebbed passage until they reached what looked like an entrance to a room, covered in rough, primitive script.
"Can you read it?" she asked, and Spike shook his head. "Should we just go in? I imagine there must be guards or alarms or something." She pulled the bag of weapons in front of her hip and unzipped it.
"Well, you want to catch the monsters, that's usually the way to do it. Or we could just stand here jawing and wait."
"Hardy har." Buffy scowled.
They tiptoed into the slightly larger chamber on the other side. Just as he put his boot down, two spiked gates came out of the walls on either side of the passage. Spike slammed his hands and legs out sideways, catching the gates before they could skewer Buffy. He caught one spike through the hand as the gates tried to keep coming, his left calf getting pierced in the process.
"Oh, fuck!" he bellowed. "Get clear!" She stepped sideways, but what triggered the gates had apparently triggered the walls, and the room was suddenly filled with... stakes. Hundreds and hundreds of stakes, covering the walls and ceiling. They were made of every conceivable metal and wood -- all the better to kill you with -- and someone had definitely had the foresight to ensure no type of creature could get through these tunnels. She turned in horror to face him, knowing there was no way for him to move. Even if he let go and twisted sideways, the stakes were poised to shoot out the instant those gates shut. The force of keeping the gates open would be too much for him, but she couldn't wedge herself within to add her strength, the pointy ends were poised so close to his body. Buffy tried pulling back on the bars, but it made little difference. The only thing keeping them open was sheer opposing force, and most of that belonged to Spike. Apparently this talisman was very, very important.
"Oh god oh god oh god." It wasn't like her to mutter helplessly, but Buffy's strength and resolve had quickly evaporated in the flame of terror crackling in her heart. There was nothing in the weapons bag strong enough to wedge between the bars; at best anything she put there would snap in half one second before they were staked or decapitated.
"Can you dodge behind me and get clear if I shift? I can't hold this much longer." Blood dripped from his impaled left hand, soaked the leg of his jeans. It was the first time she could ever remember seeing real fear on his face -- nostrils flared, lips pressed in a thin line, chin up in the air and the cords of neck muscle twitching violently under the strain. Even at the end of battling the First, he'd gone out fighting, proud, whatever fear he'd felt carefully hidden. Now he just appeared scared.
Buffy looked in horror past his head at the passageway they'd just come from. Axe-like blades jutted from the walls, right at head level, and from the ceiling. She was guessing they whirled out faster than the speed of light. "Even if I could get past you, which I can't, I don't think it's a good idea." She pulled helplessly again on the gates.
"For fuck's sake, Luv, there's got to be some way out of this." This was punctuated by a high, almost hysterical laugh, all his fear and tension burbling out. "These things are like tests or puzzles. Think! What are we missing? What would they expect an intruder to do?"
He was clearly in terrible pain and trying desperately to find a way to save them, but she couldn't see a way out. Everything appeared to be booby-trapped. "I don't know. There doesn't seem to be any reason for this room..." She looked around frantically and her eyes lit on a huge stone near the far wall. Maybe that was what they were trying to keep people away from. If she could wedge it against the gate and they could keep it open just long enough, they might be able to get out without triggering the other weapons; at this point she didn't give a rat's ass about any talismans or million-year-old demons. "Weight," she said.
He snarled low in his throat. "I can't wait. I can't hold this thing much longer, dammit."
"No, weight," she snapped, sprinting across the room, though Buffy would have sworn she was moving in super slo-mo, as if she wore bags filled with lead shot around her ankles. "This big stone. If I can get it over there, we can keep the gate from closing. The weight will keep it open. I don't think these things will spring until the gates close completely. Otherwise we'd be kebabs already."
"Well then bloody doitrightnow!" Panic wasn't something she was used to in him, and its presence in his voice and face made her own fear rise higher.
Buffy shoved with all her might but the stone wouldn't budge. Then she kicked at it and pushed with her legs, but nothing happened. Dropping to her knees, she started digging away some of the dirt around the stone to see if she could lever it up with an axe, only to realize that it went deep into the ground. "Stupid rock!" she whined, and began crying, looking up at Spike, whose arms trembled with the effort of holding the gates. She'd lost him once and got him back; now after all these years and all these fights, his greatest fear was coming true. They were both going to die in this stupid place, and not even in each other's arms. He stared at her across the room, his face soft with confusion and fear, mirroring the terrified desperation she felt once again, after so many years. It was too much like the last time she'd lost him.
But with that thought, Buffy remembered. "Wait!"
"Yeah, I got the idea, Pet," he whispered hoarsely. "But it's not going to do us a damn bit of good, is it?"
"No, I mean, wait, hold on." She frantically dialed her cell phone.
"Willow!" she yelled into the phone as soon as her friend picked up, voice blurred with sleep. "Find us, now! We're going to die any second!"
I never wanted it to end like this, his eyes told her.
All she could do was answer with her own that she didn't want it to, either.
On the other end came a "Buffy, wait, what?" She threw the phone down and ran to stand by Spike, pulling lamely on one side of the gate again. He looked over at her and smiled weakly, with finality, not much different from how he'd smiled at her that day in Sunnydale. This was what she'd dragged him back into, and she could hardly see his face through her tears of guilt, his form swayed and shimmered. At first she thought it was the crying that cast a golden, blurry haze over the room, but then awareness dawned: Willow was here.
"Holy crap!" Willow shrieked as she fully materialized. She spat out words that Buffy couldn't recognize -- Latin or Greek, but they sounded like "gel gee you eight feet." The room was washed with brilliant blue light, and the stakes, the axe heads, the gates, all vanished as quickly as they'd appeared. Spike crumpled to the floor in a ragged pile of leather, blood, and quivering flesh.
"Oh, fuck me," he moaned, and passed out in Buffy's arms.
Willow tucked the last bit of gauze into a knot and patted Spike's arm. "He'll be good in a day or so. I think it's best to let the healing spells take a little time, so that the body does most of the work." They'd taken off the coat, and Buffy had cut the leg of his jeans, since she didn't want Will to get an unnecessary eyeful of Spike's commando tendencies, and then put him to bed to work on his wounds.
"Even on a dead guy?"
Willow smiled at her. "Yeah, even then. It's easy enough to just erase the wounds, but I've learned that it's actually better when we help the body along instead. Something to do with an immunity-like thing -- as if, you know, magic was an antibiotic and it gets overused, so the body doesn't do so good next time it gets an infection. But since he's dead, you should also apply this--" she held out a vial --" just in case. It's a balm of dandelion milk and other stuff that I won't give away trade secrets about."
Buffy twitched her head sideways. "Wow, that's so cool, Will. You're like a bad-ass Wicca and a doctor at the same time."
She got that funny smile on her face, the slightly chagrined but proud little crinkle around her mouth. In a wondering tone, she said, "Yeah, I guess I am. I wonder if I could be a good-ass Wicca, though. Don't you think the message should be more positive or something?"
"So, I'll see you guys later?" Willow asked, standing.
"Yeah, if he gets back on his feet by tonight, we'll come over, but if not, expect us tomorrow."
"Cool!" Gemma and Spike had hit it off incredibly well, much to Buffy's and Willow's mutual surprise, and they had a standing invitation to their flat whenever they were in town; tonight would be movie night after sundown, and Spike would hate to miss that.
Buffy paused for a moment by the door, her hand on the knob, as Willow walked out. "Willow, can I ask you something?"
Cocking her head sideways and looking worried, Willow said, "Of course. Anything." Even after all the time they'd spent apart from each other, Will was still her best friend, and the friend she trusted most. There was still that part of Buffy, a distant, icy part that wanted to keep things inside and hold back the way she'd learned was safest, but she'd grown to understand over the years that it was crucial to unburden herself from the dark thoughts or worries that slithered through her brain.
"Do you like living here? In England, I mean. By itself, not just because of Gemma. Do you like the work that you do?"
Willow paused, staring thoughtfully at the ceiling. "Yeah. Yeah, I do. I think I want to go back to California someday, but for now, this is home. It's kinda like I told you before, back in high school. This is the way I can help. This is how I'm useful."
"I was thinking about maybe staying put for a while." There. She'd said it, and now it was more real.
"Here, or back in the states?"
"Don't know. I haven't worked that part out yet, it's just a... a feeling I've had lately."
"Buffy..." Willow said gently, resting her hand on Buffy's shoulder. "Are you having second thoughts about the long-term with a vampire? About... the immortality thing and all?"
That was just creepy, and Buffy vaguely wondered if Willow had somehow done a little mind-meld spell under the touch. "Are you guessing, or did you figure that out because you're Witchie-Poo?"
"Neither." Willow lowered her head, now a bit sterner. "It's not hard to figure things out with you anymore, Buff. You don't keep stuff inside the way you used to, and maybe it's not like you're reflecto-girl, but you're definitely letting the inside shine through to the outside. And you just thought you were both gonna die, so..."
"Yeah." Buffy kicked at the threshold of the door, sighing. "I just... he's here 'cause of me. If he gets killed, it'll be 'cause of me. But if he sticks it out as I get older, it's also because of me, and for someone who can live forever, imagine how tedious that will get. He'd stick it out even though he didn't feel romantically attached to me anymore."
"Have you ever talked to him about this? Because I think you're, you know, way wrong."
"Not in so many words."
"Well, maybe it's about time to pull the words out of the box. Lots of them. Give 'em some air." She looked past Buffy's shoulder to Spike's sleeping form, and then back to Buffy. "I think he's kinda earned it."
"Yeah." They said goodnight, or rather, good morning, and Buffy went over to the bed. She lay down next to his blanket-swaddled form, his gauze-baffled hand resting outside, dotted now with pinpoints of crimson.
For a while she watched him sleep, her arm slack across his chest, reflecting on what both Giles and Willow had said to her in the past few days. Permanence was a concept that she had disregarded for most of her life; at least since the time her parents had first begun showing signs of trouble in their marriage. With the gravity of being chosen, she had unconsciously banished the word from her vocabulary, because it held no more meaning for her than a random phrase in a foreign language. Everything in her life before had teetered constantly on the brink of vanishing; now that things were supposedly safer, she couldn't let go of the fears that clung to her, clammy and cold. Could no longer shake her impending sense of emptiness and loss.
Eventually he stirred beside her and she touched his face, kissing the cool skin, so petal smooth and pale. The blue of his eyes was a soothing potion to Buffy; she had only to look at them deeply, like now, to feel safe, relaxed, calm.
"You're staring at me," Spike said in a voice plush with sleep.
"I know. I'm silly that way."
"I love it when you call me names."
He smiled, the lines around his eyes crinkling. Maybe vampires do age in their human faces, she thought, and wondered briefly if that was such a bad thing. "Got a thousand more where those came from, if it gets you hot." Flexing his hand, he examined the bandage, and asked, "Red gone? She saved our arses again." He smiled at her. "Guess it really does take a village."
"Yeah." There was a sense of weight coming down on her, and try as she might, Buffy couldn't shake the itch to be serious, to lock and load the big guns. With a tug on his shoulder, she pulled him on his side to face her, and ran fingers through his hair. "I wonder a lot lately what we'd do without her, without all of them. Whether we could keep on keeping on."
Always attuned to her moods, Spike shifted his head, his eyes growing instantly serious and his body language attentive. It was uncanny, really, something that continually made her marvel. The slightest squint to her eye, the faintest drop in her voice, and he would rapidly orient himself to full attention, just because Buffy needed it. There was never a time she didn't understand how lucky she was to have that, what a rare gift it was for a man to give a woman.
"This is about that immortality thing you were twining on about the other day, isn't it? You're feeling afraid of the future."
It wasn't a question, how he phrased it. And she could tell by the tone of his voice, the faint tinge of resignation, that he expected her to say it was now time to move on -- or something worse.
"No. I'm not afraid." That sounded harsher than Buffy wanted it to, but after all these years, it frustrated her that he still didn't believe she wanted to be with him, now and for as long as ever would be. "It's just that... it's been a long time since you and I had anything this bad happen to us. What we do... it's dangerous and iffy. There's no guarantee that what saved us this time will save us next time, yadda yadda."
Spike didn't say anything, just sighed theatrically and drew his lips into a tight line of concern. He ran his fingertips over her lips, along her jaw.
"And I'm fully aware these days that I'm the one who dragged you on this little quest of mine, and that you never really had any say in the matter, not really. You're risking everything because of what I wanted."
There was a tangible tension in the air suddenly, stretched taut between them. He rolled over on his back and put his wounded hand on his forehead, rubbing his brows. "Well, that's who I am, isn't it?"
"It's the sort of half-wit I am. Did just about anything for Dru, no matter what she put me through. Would have, and still will do anything for you and Dawn. And it's got nothing to do with the vampire in me -- I was like that when I was alive, too. It's the weakness that got me into this bloody vampire mess in the first place."
"This is the kind of thing where Giles would say I've exploited a character flaw of yours." She laughed at the concept, but Spike didn't laugh with her.
"It's true. You did. Because I wanted you to."
"After all these years, you'd think I'd be able to understand what the hell you're talking about, but I still can't." The heaviness was settling into her guts, her heart. They so rarely had these Big Conversations anymore; everything between them had been dealt with long ago and there was such a comfortable understanding between them that explanations had become unnecessary and intrusive. Their great gift as a couple, she believed, was acceptance, a grace they had both grown equally skilled at.
"D'you remember that night I attacked you in your bathroom?"
The weight now turned to a frigid fist. Why he would dig around in the stratified layers of their history, pulling up such an unwelcome artifact?
"Of course you do. Something you never understood -- that I never bothered to explain because I didn't want you to think I was making excuses for it." He put his hand to the side of her face, gently rubbing his thumb back and forth across her cheekbone, staring intently into her eyes. "See... I kept insisting you loved me, wanted you to feel it, because I had to believe. If I told myself often enough, then I could believe it. Could feel like a man, one who might deserve you. Not a monster, not your former enemy... not your pity fuck. Never had that kind of love when I was human. Only as a vampire, and I wanted it for me. The old me who was still trapped inside, loving you."
Buffy only half understood what he was saying, but she got the gist of it. She swallowed hard, eyes stinging with arriving tears, then closed them to stop herself from crying. The corners of her mouth pulled down, and she bit her tongue to stop it.
"Oh, now, don't go all blubbery on me. That's not why I was telling it." His exasperation was never more than half-hearted at best, more like a floor-show of how macho he still wanted to be. He liked acting the part of the put-upon husband.
"Deep down inside, you still don't really believe I love you, do you?" She had hoped, back in the beginning, that she could wipe away all traces of doubt. But it remained, always a distant part of Spike, something held back and uncertain but clear to her lover's eyes. This ghostly filament of his insecurity was most visible when they were with others, as if he never felt he was worthy of this life, but now she understood just how deep this undisclosed part of him ran, how much space it occupied in his soul, and that it had nothing to do with others -- only with her love. She could forget the past, but he could not, and in his voice she heard it again: "no, you don't, but thanks for saying it." Buffy dropped her head to his chest.
"No, I do. Really, I do. I just don't know that it's the same way I love you." The matter-of-fact tone in his voice disturbed her, so discordant it hurt.
"I do see you that way. As a man. Not as any of those other things, and I haven't for years. Years, Spike. I don't know why you're saying this."
"Because you've got that look. And you've been talking about not slaying anymore, about immortality and dying, and I know what this is all leading up to."
Defensiveness rose in her throat, its taste green and bilious. "Oh, what's that? Do tell."
He smiled tenderly and smoothed her hair. "You want to quit this. Quit me. I've expected it. You can't accept that I will never stop loving you no matter how wizened and crone-like you get, but you still see yourself getting older, not being able to live this life anymore. What will you do with this vampire if you're not out fighting the good fight? There's no real future for it. For us. Knew that when I signed on."
Buffy hurled herself out of the bed, stomping around the room. Normally when she got like this he'd tease her about her pouty lower lip, make fun of her knit brows, but this time he just lay back, watching her.
"You're so... stupid, sometimes. You're just an idiot."
"No, I mean it. After all these years, you'd actually believe that."
"Then you tell me." Spike sat up in the bed, the covers draped over his knees. The dark t-shirt he wore stretched across his shoulders as he leaned back on his arms, acting as if he hadn't been nearly mortally wounded only hours ago.
"I'm just... I've been thinking about permanence. I told you a long time ago that it wasn't worth thinking about the future, but I can't stop myself lately. And almost losing you again... if there's some reward at the end, I want to know about it -- or if there's nothing. If you get to do that shoo-shoo thing that Wes told us about--"
"Shanshu. And there's no guarantee that even means what they think it means. It's probably Angel's big thing, anyway. I'll never be the Powers' golden boy, I can tell you that."
"WHATever!" she bellowed. "Let's just say that's your reward, yours and Angel's, for all of this, or you get to go to heaven. Well, I want a guarantee, with a little gold seal on it and everything, that you and me are permanent. That we graduate with flying colors, together. That this means more than just us running around staking things until you or I die and that's the end of it, boo hoo."
When he started laughing, she nearly lost it. Slowly it began, tiny muscle spasms in his torso, then the laughter bubbling up through him like ripples in a pond, until he exploded with helpless guffaws and fell back into the pillows. Buffy stood there, dumbstruck.
All she could do was to make strange little noises that dropped out of her mouth half formed. "Wha -- eee -- hhh." Finally she got hold of herself. "What the fuck?"
"Oh, Pet. God, I do love you." He beckoned her to him, and she went, letting him enfold her in his arms. "You know what you're thinking about, don't you? It's that going to the chapel bit again. And maybe even procreation. You want a legacy, you want it all to be legit." He kissed the top of her head. "And it'll never be that way with a vamp."
Buffy socked him hard in the stomach, and he let out an "oof!" in her ear. Then laughed at her again.
"Why does everyone keep thinking this is about wedding bells and pacifiers? That's not what I'm thinking about." She sat up, pulling the tie out of her hair, shaking it loose across her shoulders. "Look. I think I had enough of playing mom for a while there with Dawn. And the slayers in training. I'm just not interested in it right now. And just because Giles is getting hitched and everyone's all coupley and happy doesn't mean that I'm hiding bride magazines all over the place and writing my vows."
He ran his hand over her hip, settling it there proprietarily. "Then what is it?" The penetrating glare of his gaze made her feel pinned like a butterfly to a board.
Buffy stared out the window. "All this time we've been slaying, we've never really had anything scary happen. Not life or death scary. So far the whole thing's been a... a..."
"Yeah." She frowned. "What is a cakewalk, anyway? What the hell does that mean?"
"Blowed if I know."
"Anyway. So it's a cakewalk. We've been skating through this slayage thing like we're Torvill and Dean."
Spike raised an eyebrow at her, smirking.
"You're not the only one in this relationship who gets to throw zingy metaphors around."
"All right, continue."
"Only last night wasn't, and if we both get topped, I get to go to heaven or something like it, we know that. Right?"
He nodded, but didn't say anything. There was a hint of guilt on his face. He acted as though, by his nature and his past, he was undeserving of reward, and nothing she'd ever done could convince him otherwise.
"Well, wherever I was... it's not like everyone's got a shape and they're all sitting on a cloud going la la la and playing harps, but you know that your loved ones are there with you. I knew Mom was there, other people I loved. It's a feeling, a warmth and a kind of shared consciousness, I guess. You know everyone's there, and you're all one big happy blob. If we go, even if we go together, we may not get to stay together. Share that higher plane thingy."
Hoping for a sign of understanding, she peered at his face, but he remained unmoved.
"I want the Powers or whoever decides this to pony up, now. I want some kind of... of ticket that will make sure everything you've done, all these years and even when you were good before you had the soul, is going to get you past that limbo place you were in before. That's what I mean by permanence. Not a wedding ring. Eternity. The whole shebang."
She nestled herself back into his arms when he didn't respond. This was the lesson she'd learned with such difficulty back at the beginning, with Lou's help: how the volatile, talkative man she'd known so long ago was, more often than not, a front. The real Spike needed time to process, to make sure he was saying and doing the right thing.
"I'm grateful," was the first thing he said, and let it sit in the air for a while. Eventually he added, "That you think of me that way."
Most of the time she preferred not to let words do the talking, to allow their actions to speak instead. But she realized now this had been a long time coming, and Willow was right. He'd earned it, but Buffy had taken it for granted that he knew.
"So, let me get this straight. What you want to do now is take a little holiday. Find out what's in store for us should we stick together till the bitter, wrinkly, decrepit end, and just..."
"Be. Just be. For a while, anyway. I don't see us sitting still for long, we're not like that. Ixnay on the a-slay for now."
"You're really very bad at that," he intoned, voice vibrating against her ear. "And you should stop." His fingers combed absently through her hair, a touch she prized above almost anything else. Sometimes she asked him to wash her hair simply because the way he ran his fingers through it left her quivering with delight. "All right, so we stop, and we see what we can find out with the official underworld oddsmakers. Here or the states?"
"Don't know. I haven't figured it out yet."
"I never said I knew what I was doing."
"That's why I love you. We're brash and impulsive together."
"See? That's what I've been trying to tell you. Together."
His hand crept around her back, roaming up and down, tickling her skin. She uncurled from his grasp like a cat stretching after a nap and draped herself over his body. Despite all this time together she had never stopped thrilling to his touch, never wanted her physical contact with him to lessen.
They kissed, steeped in the sweet ache of understanding and forgiveness, for a very long time. If she ever did write the story of her life, she wanted the pages to be filled with these kisses, with the imprint of his lips on hers, her hands on his body.
Buffy put her hands gently along the sides of his face. "Do you remember, when I was brought back, how I said I didn't know much about dimensions, but that I thought I'd been in heaven?"
He nodded, biting her lower lip, shadowing kisses along her neck. She had said she wanted the sun and the moon and all the planets and stars, but that wasn't enough.
"We always talk about hell like there's a bunch of different dimensions, but we talk about heaven like there's only one. I think I understand, now." Buffy stared hard into his blue twilight eyes, touched the oh-so-human lines that fanned out from their corners. "I think there's a lot of heaven dimensions too, and some of them are right here."
For Ali, for all her help and support.