Title: Thought You Should Know - Chapter 34
Summary: Spike wrote a letter to Buffy before the final battle in Not Fade Away. What happens when Buffy finally discovers Spike is back from the great beyond?
Genre: Romance, Angst
Rating: R for Extreme Violence, Blood, Language and Adult Situations
Warnings: Spoilers for the end of Angel Season 5, After the Fall and up through Issue #23 of Buffy Season 8.
Disclaimer: I don't own them. Just playing for fun.
A/N: Special thanks to sueworld2003 for the beautiful banner and to ladyofthelog for the lovely icon and her invaluable beta insights. Supreme, heartfelt gratitude to penny_lane_42 for the wonderful beta, her incredible enthusiasm that inspired me to push through and for just being inspiring in general.
Comics Background Info: This story loosely follows the comics canon but reading the comics is not necessary to understand the emotional heart of the story. A few points to note:
1) Buffy was never in Rome as shown in The Girl in Question, but rather leading a new Slayer organization of over 500 members in the fight against evil. The "Buffy" that Angel and Spike tried to visit in Rome was actually a decoy set-up by Andrew to protect the real Buffy and keep her true location a secret.
2) Out of the 1800 Slayers that were activated during Chosen and the 500 Slayers that have chosen to work with Buffy, a group of Slayers led by one Slayer named Simone have gone rogue and have been abusing their power a la Faith in Season 3. Want. Take. Have. In Issue #23, Buffy and Andrew go to Rome to try to gain intel on Simone and her gang, only to be forced into a standoff on the island Simone has taken over off the coast of Italy. Andrew's squad of Slayers ("Italy squad" as he calls them) come to their rescue, but Buffy fails to rein in Simone or remove her from power. Simone's violent acts have brought intense scrutiny on the Slayers from the world's media coverage.
3) Angel survived the battle in Not Fade Away and the events of After the Fall, but now everyone in LA knows Angel exists and is a vampire just as they know about the demons that walk the streets. He's become a citywide legend.
4) Vampires are the cool new thing thanks to a reality TV show starring Harmony in LA (Buffy Season 8 #21 Harmonic Divergence). A Slayer saw Harmony and how she would feed off her adoring, sycophantic entourage and decided she needed to be stopped. She attacked Harmony while they were filming, failed and was killed by her own stake. The attack was used to make Slayers into the enemy and show vampires as sympathetic victims.
So this is torture. This is torment. Bloody soul.
Spike enfolded her in his arms, holding her up when her knees went limp then sliding to the ground to cradle her in his lap. He’d seen her pushed to the edge of exhaustion, physically and emotionally beaten, but this – he’d never seen her destroyed. Her sobs went past the edge of high-pitched keening, diving into spasms of guttural rasps and moans.
No words he could give her. No comfort he could offer. There was only her pain and despair battering at his heart. God, it made him want to lay down with her in the grass, eyes closed, and curse the world into the end of existence.
Take the world, Apocalypse. Won’t fight you today. Just be sure those fucking bastards who did this get a special place in Hell.
He’d felt her suffering before, a silent anguish over heaven lost and the drab sorrow of everyday life. Then, her numb grief had strengthened her mask, her stoicism that separated her from outward emotions. The too-much emotions that brackened at her walls, threatening to upset her shaky inner balance. He’d once wondered if the distance had kept her sane. Well, saner.
He’d felt her suffering then. Rather he’d known she was suffering even though he hadn’t understood it. He'd seen her feeling it and wished it away.
Here, now – her walls were stripped down, burned to the bloody ground, leaving her naked and shivering. And then the overwhelming desolation flooded over. She’d capsized and her undertow had pulled him down into that dark place that strangled hearts. His heart hadn’t been ready for this, hadn’t known this torment before.
The difference between sympathy and empathy had never been clearer – pain had a way of clarifying things.
Was this the godawful fate of the ability to feel? Sensitive souls were doomed to suffer for actions only contemplated? To drown in oceans of guilt for crimes yet to be committed?
Bloody soul. The brightest, the best were just a lodestone for suffering and self-castigation.
It was all well and good when the soul made with the compassion and commiseration – sharing love and a belief in a better… something better. Softness of the heart – it bridged the divide of space and flesh, gave birth to empathy. A vulnerable connection – sharing strength of the spirit. And somehow that sum of a multitude of souls outweighed its individual parts. So reaching out, being vulnerable, held this promise – together, connected, strong.
And wasn’t that the rub?
Strong, but only in the right circumstances. The bloody problem with vulnerability was that it left you vulnerable. Vulnerable in a world full of evil bastards ready to pounce at the first sign of weakness. Case in point – the strongest woman he’d ever known was reduced to a sobbing mess in his arms.
He wanted to rage at the bastards who’d done this to her – rip out their throats, snap their necks, tear their heads off and drink from the bleeding stumps. He could torture them for days (thanks Brooding Wonder) given the right motivation and it didn’t get any righter than this.
He wanted to shake her for not jumping out of the window with him. Why did she always have to be so damned heroic? Why did martyrdom always trump her sense of self-preservation?
He wanted to curse himself for leaving her behind. Why hadn’t he known she was going to do something damned heroic? He should have known. Idiot. She always did.
He wanted to force her to tell him what happened after he’d left. If he knew what went wrong, what pushed her over the edge, he could tear it apart and show her how unimportant the rended pieces were to her.
He swallowed his wants. What he wanted didn’t matter. What she needed – that pulse beat inside his silent heart.
She needed his softness now, whatever crumbs he could scavenge up, whatever depths of kind reserves he could plumb and bring to bear.
And so he held her. He held her, rode the waves with her, and waited for the deafening quiet when there was no more pain to sob out of her chest. Because that’s when she would need him the most. When there was nothing left to hold onto, not even pain, when there was nothing left to hope for, when it felt like there was simply nothing left – when the nothing came, she wouldn’t be alone. He would be there.
Paltry comfort, that – his presence – but it was all he had to offer.
With a final shudder, Buffy went limp in his arms. Her forehead pressed against his sternum, her hands unclenching their grip on his t-shirt to fall into her lap, cradled between them. She shivered with the aftershocks of a too-violent release of grief, then raised her head to look at him, neck swaying from side to side. Red-rimmed and framed by lashes caked with tears, her eyes were heavy-lidded and empty of expression, hazel depths gone gray. The color of mourning – the color of ashes after the fire’s gone cold.
A smear of blood stained her cheek. He stared, riveted at the drying red painted on her. Not out of hunger, though by all rights he should be ravenous. No, the churning twist in his gut – that was disgust. Revulsion. The red didn’t belong there, glaring bright on tan skin gone sallow, running diagonal horror underneath eyes dimmed. As if all her natural colors had been leeched away by the bright, garish slash.
His thumb brushed the dried blood on her cheek, rubbing away at stray flecks. She raised her own hand to touch her cheek out of self-conscious habit, her pupils dilating at the blood staining her palms, grits of death stuck under her nails. She looked at him, numb and weary – there is blood on my hands there will always be blood this is who I am now – and dropped her hand into her lap, head falling to the side to rest against his shoulder. Her eyes remained open, distant and unseeing.
He shifted her in his arms, grabbed the Scythe, and rose to his feet. She let him carry her, she just let him and the wrongness of it stabbed his heart. His fingers dug into her too tightly as he hoped for her to protest and demand to be put down. She merely watched him with a complete lack of curiosity or concern. He had the disturbing thought that she’d have looked at the reaper with the same hollow gaze. It wasn’t about trust – he was sure she was beyond that now – but an inability to care.
He slowly traced the way back to the make-shift camp, through the sparse trees. It wasn’t so much a forest as a glen of tall grass and bushes. The cold water seeping into his boots took him by surprise. He’d walked in ankle deep before he’d noticed the stream cutting through the grass.
“Just what the doctor ordered,” he murmured, stepping back and kneeling on the bank.
He slid Buffy off his lap, steadying her next to him before plunging his hands into the frigid waters. Spring in Scotland was cold as hell – just another reason to revile the place. Cupping water in his right hand, he brushed his knuckles against her cheek, molding his palm to the curve of her face and rubbing away at the blood staining her. He stopped when her skin was chafed a clean pinkish red and goosebumps shivered across her skin.
Holding her hands by the wrists, he hesitated for a moment before immersing them in the water and scrubbing away at the blood. She gasped at the shock of cold, the first sound from her in what felt like an eternity of silence, and shivered. Pulling her hands out of the water, he began to rub them between his own, hoping to create warmth from the friction. Cursing his lack of body heat, he shrugged his duster off his shoulders and pulled his shirt off, wrapping the cotton around her hands and continuing to rub furiously. Giving her hypothermia hadn’t been part of the game plan.
“Are you-” she paused, teeth clenching against a full-body shudder. “Are you tr-trying to distract me with your hot body?”
He looked down at his bare chest and snorted. “Hadn’t really thought it through.” He squinted at her. “Is it working?”
“It’s gonna take more than rock-hard abs,” she whispered, smiling a bit brokenly. “Ju-just so you know.”
“Have you seen my ass?” he asked with a smirk, eyebrow raised. “I’m not worried.”
She coughed out a laugh. “Yep. You’re the fairest of them all.”
“And don’t you forget it.” He leaned in close, hand cupping her neck. “I thought this was the perfect seduction scenario. Moonlit glen, beautiful lady all aquiver with- eh, let’s be generous and call it desire, romantic dolmens blessing the union…”
“Fairy doorways for lovers. So the rumor goes. Though some say they’re just Celtic ritualistic stone thing-a-ma-bobs.” He nodded at the stone slabs at the opposite end of the clearing. “I prefer the romantic reading, myself.”
“You’re right. This,” she looked around her then gazed at him solemnly, still shivering, “is perfect. Take me. Take me now. Oh, you irresistible hunk o’ burning love.”
A slow smile lit up his face. “You big tease,” he drawled, pulling her forward to press his lips to her forehead. He held himself there for a long moment then brushed his lips across her eyelids. Resting his forehead against hers, he closed his eyes in relief and released a pent-up sigh.
She shivered in his arms, body fighting off the cold, and a warmth settled in his gut. Because she was fighting now. Again. Always.
He ran his hands down her arms, rubbing briskly, before removing the sodden mess of his t-shirt wrapped around her hands and stuffing it into the pocket of his duster lying on the grass.
“So what do you think? Up against that tree or just do it here in the grass?” He paused briefly, mentally weighing his options before nodding. “We should do it here in the grass – finish what we started earlier.” He brushed her hair back off her forehead, sending her a teasing smile when she failed to respond. “I’m kidding.”
“I know,” she whispered, her smile faltering. Her shoulders hunched up against the light shivers shaking through her.
He ran his fingertips through her hair, brushing down her neck and across her collarbone, squeezing her upper arms before dropping his hands atop hers. “Told you Scotland was a bad place to set up shop.”
She let out a quiet laugh. “What was I thinking?”
He chuckled, breathing in the peaceful quiet that settled between them. Then with a sigh, “Do you know what it’s like to live with a demon inside you? A demon and a soul?”
“I think I’m starting to,” she answered, her voice shaking.
“No. You’re not,” he denied, giving her a hard look. “Besides, that was a rhetorical question. Whatever dark place inside’s got you spooked, it’s nothing compared to my demon.”
“Fine. You win,” she said with a twinge of bitterness. “You’re the biggest bad there ever was.”
He scoffed, shaking his head at the idea of winning. “If first prize is a front seat on the rollercoaster to hell, then hand me the giant-sized teddy bear to go with it. Pretty sure I’m damned for all the things I’ve done, let alone all the things I’ve thought of doing. And that’s with a soul. I’m not planning on sharing this with all the kiddies, but I suspect you already know a part of me wanted to slurp down all the blood gushing from Faith’s thigh, suck her dry and lick the wound.” His voice dropped to a low muse. “Did you know blood from the femoral artery tastes just a little bit sweeter? Different kind of sweetness than from the neck. Top that with Slayer blood and I’m salivating at the thought. Hell, maybe I’ll get lucky and Faith’ll have a papercut that needs sucking when we get back.”
“Stop it,” she ground out, glaring at him.
“No. It’s my turn now. And you get to listen.” He held her by the shoulders, leaning in close to stare her in the eyes. Unblinking. Unwavering. “The second she landed in my arms, the second you tossed her fate into my hands, I wanted to drop her to the ground and devour her. To feed. To make her gasp as I sucked the life out of her.” His hands reflexively tightened on her shoulders. “Preying on the weak, the injured – it’s the most natural thing in the world to me. Instinct. Fighting to be something more than the animal within – that’s something I had to learn. That’s something I have to work for every second of every day. And you know who taught me that? You.”
“It’s different,” she denied, shaking her head from side to side. “This is different.”
“Bollocks,” he snarled. “The only difference is your holier-than-thou complex took a hard one to the kisser. No, look at me,” he ordered, holding her by the neck with both hands when she jerked away. “Evil lives inside us. All of us. It’s everywhere. But it doesn’t define who we are. It doesn’t define you. Whatever shadow has you running for cover, I promise you it can’t compare to the good inside.”
“No,” she gasped. “Not anymore. Not now.”
“Yes, now. I’m not surprised you have trouble seeing it.” He leaned back on his haunches, smiling with a touch of whimsy. “Does the sun know the warmth it breathes? No. It simply is.” He paused, collecting his thoughts. “There are a million truths I question. Sometimes I’m so full of doubts it spins me ‘round. I lose sight of people. Of myself. Of what’s important. Then I look at you and I remember what matters most. Do what’s right and follow your heart – that’s all you are. You know that, deep inside.” He shrugged. “Maybe you forgot for a minute there. It happens to the best of us. Guess you’re lucky I’m here to remind you.”
“God, you’re so full of yourself.”
“Being cocky doesn’t mean I’m not right.”
“No. Being not right means you’re not right.”
“Then answer me this. If you’re so evil, if the darkness is rising inside, then why are you so bent out of shape? Being truly evil means you don’t care. And I’m here to tell you, sweetheart, my arms are still aching from your demonstration of how much you care.”
“That’s just it. I still don’t care what happens to them. They can all go to hell for all I care.”
“And you think that makes you inhumane? They’re brutal killers. Worse than demons. They’re brutal killers with souls. So you tell me – where’d the inhumanity really start? When does a person stop being a person and become a monster?”
“I dunno,” she whimpered. “But I felt it. I felt it crawl into me.”
“You felt them crawl into you. All the evil they’d done. The inhumanity of human beings. People can be monsters, too. People become monsters when they choose to turn their backs on the good inside. You’ve seen it before.”
“Sure, but always from the outside. I’ve never felt it. I’ve never been it.”
“So keep it on the outside.”
“How? How? I don’t know how.”
“Hold onto the good. To caring. To mercy. You hold onto you,” he placed his hand atop her heart, “in here.”
She shuddered against his hand, laying her own on top of his and bowing her head. "Bad things are coming,” she whispered. “Do you remember before? When I went to see the Shadowmen? It was like that. Only I went forward. And I saw - I saw what's coming.” Fear trembled in her eyes. “I'm not sure if I can stop it. Or if I'm the cause of it. What if I’m the thing that needs to be stopped? I don't know what to do. I don't know."
He held her hands in his, clasping them in his solid grasp. "You can't base your decisions on some unknown apocalyptic Boogeyman."
"How can I not? Everything around me feels like a warning sign. And if I don't listen, then it really will be my fault. If I don't try to stop it, then..."
"You deal in the here and now. That's all you can do. One step at a time. Live in the present - not the future or the past. 'Cause that's the only way to live." He sighed and shook his shoulders loose. “And speaking of the present, the sun’s rising.”
“A brand new day. New chances to screw up,” she murmured with a tinge of bitterness.
“That and I’m about to go flambé with a side of ash on you. But really, no need to hurry. This seems like a nice enough place to go dust in the wind.”
“Enough with the dark humor, ‘kay?” she snapped, wobbling to her feet and pulling him up with her. “We need to get inside.”
“Sure,” he agreed with a too-cool shrug, sliding his duster on. “Why not?”
He bent down to grip the Scythe, rising up to hand it to her. She hesitated before taking it in her hand and letting it bang against her hip. They stepped across the stream, walking past the dolmen stones and through the brush. Silence again, but more peaceful this time. He’d take what he could get.
“You look like you escaped from an 80’s music video,” she snarked suddenly, staring at his bare chest underneath his leather coat. “All you’re missing is the body glitter.”
“Hey! I thought we nixed the body glitter talk.” He shuddered and placed a hand on his chest protectively. “It’s a bleedin’ crime against nature.”
“You’re a vampire,” she tossed over her shoulder, pushing through the bushes and back towards the cabin. “You are a crime against nature.”
“Oh yeah, well it’s also tacky,” he sneered. “And only poofters wear glitter anyways. Which, now that you mention it, would be the perfect present for the one and only Poofter in my life. What do you think he’d fancy? Silver glitter or more of a rainbow variety?”
She half giggled, half snorted. “Oh god, please don’t. I might die laughing.”
“It’s not the worst way to go, though I can think of better,” he said, leering.
“Pig,” she shot back with a fond smile.
“What?” he exclaimed. “I was talking ‘bout going down in the heat of battle. Glory till the last. Hell of a way to exit stage left.”
“I’d rather go from old age,” she mused, stopping at the edge of the brush when she caught sight of the cabin ahead. “Maybe just slip away while I was sleeping. Peaceful.”
He stopped at her side and bumped into her shoulder. “Hey now. You’re breaking the rules. Not allowed to talk about dying when you’re all serious-like. Gotta laugh in the face of death – only way to do it.”
“What if I don’t feel like laughing?”
“Fake it till you make it, sweetheart.”
She grabbed him by the front of his coat and pulled him close, murmuring, “Are you really encouraging me to fake it? Aren’t you worried what that’ll say about you?”
He eyed her hungrily, tongue playing with the edges of his teeth. “Don’t worry, love. When it comes to that, you’ll be too busy thanking your lucky stars.”
She rolled her eyes and shoved him towards the cabin door. “Get inside before I decide some time with Mr. Sunshine might make you less insufferable.”
“Insufferable? Ouch,” he drawled, opening the door and stepping aside to let her pass. “I would have gone with damned sexy. Or fiendishly charming.”
“How about annoying?” she suggested with a laugh, walking into the cabin. “Would you go for that?”
“Finally!” Kennedy snapped, glaring at Buffy across the cramped main room of the cabin filled with twenty-odd Slayers. “What took you so long?”
“I had to take care of something,” she answered. “But I’m back so…”
“So we’ve got trouble and we just wasted an hour wondering where our leader was when we should have been making a plan.”
Buffy’s head snapped back at Kennedy’s angry tone. “Okay. Time out. What-”
“No. No timeouts!” Rowena interrupted. “We have to come up with a plan. Like yesterday.”
“Calm down,” Giles ordered. “We’re not going to reach a solution by panicking.”
“And we’d be panicking why?” Buffy asked. “Willow said we’re safe here. So let’s rest up and come up with a plan.”
“Yeah, that’s a great idea,” Kennedy snapped. “Except if you’d been around you’d know that Willow is busy working her magical ass off trying to keep us off the radar.” She pointed at the corner behind her where Willow sat on the floor, Indian-style, eyes closed and beads of sweat dripping from her temples. “Those soldier guys are tracking us and they’re using magic to do it. So if the plan is to die immediately after resting up, then I vote we not go with your plan. ‘Cause it sucks.”
“We need to get out of here,” Rowena added. “We need to move before they find us.”
Buffy shot Spike a look of concern. “We need to think of the wounded. They’re not up for this yet.”
“We’re okay, B,” Faith said, nodding at Connor who sat in between her and Lara on the couch up against the wall. “Beauty of healing magic.”
“We should wait until nightfall,” Buffy insisted. “It’ll be harder for them to track us.”
“Are you not listening?” Kennedy snapped. “Willow’s not gonna make it that long. And it being dark outside isn’t gonna help because they’re using magic.”
“Ken, chill,” Faith urged.
“Yeah, because the tension in the room is skyrocketing to making-me-nauseous levels,” Xander said quietly, taking the hand towel from Dawn’s hand to dab at Willow’s forehead.
“I’m not gonna chill. I’m not gonna pretend everything’s okay. Just like I’m not gonna pretend that the only reason you,” Kennedy glared at Buffy, “don’t wanna leave is because your boyfriend has a serious sun allergy.”
“That’s not- that’s not it,” Buffy stammered. “You’re way out of line.”
“People are dying,” Breannah jumped in. “Our friends are dead. And I don’t wanna be next.”
“We need to leave,” Kennedy said. “Now.”
“Buffy, there is an urgency here that cannot ignored,” Giles said.
“I’m not ignoring it. There just has to be another way. We can’t let them separate us.”
“Do you even care?” Breannah asked. The accusation made the room fall silent. “It’s like you don’t even care.”
“Of course I care,” Buffy answered, an edge of hurt sneaking out. “I- I…”
“You were laughing when you came back a minute ago,” Breannah continued shakily. “Like this is a joke or something. How can you laugh when they’re dead?”
“I’m not- I- I don’t…”
Spike’s hand squeezed her shoulder as he stood tall next to her. “So the plan is to hightail out of here. Everybody goes but me. And I’ll catch up come nightfall. Good?” He eyed the room waiting for each gaze to drop in acquiescence before turning to Buffy.
Buffy shook her head, at a loss for words.
He nodded once, leaned in as if to share a secret, and with a soft loving smile, whispered, “It’ll be okay. I’ll be right behind you.”
“I can’t just leave you behind,” she whispered, tilting her head to the side to match his understanding angle. “Alone. It’s not… I can’t. I won’t.”
“He won’t be alone,” Connor said, standing up and walking to Spike’s side.
Spike rolled his eyes towards the ceiling. “God save me from your company, Junior.”
“Yeah, yeah. Just so you know, you’re gonna owe me for saving you from dying of loneliness. Add that to the list right under getting me plastered, then chained up and tortured. So you can take all that daylight time stuck inside to think of ways to repay me.” Connor clapped him on the shoulder. “I’ll even help if you get stuck and need some suggestions. I’ve been reading consumer reports on the Kindle. Oh, and you might as well show me how to count cards for my birthday trip back to Vegas. Which you’ll be taking me on. And funding.”
Catching sight of Connor’s mischievous grin, Spike groaned, “Can’t we just skip the torture and kill me now?”