Title: Begin Again
Summary: Spike works hard to win a place back in Buffy's good graces. Post-Not Fade Away.
Word Count: 1550
Author's Note: This fic is a birthday present for bobthemole - happy birthday, sweetie! I hope you like it.
Spike tugged at his too-tight tie, glaring at the sign in the frou-frou restaurant lobby that insisted on formal wear. He caught the maitre d’ staring at him again for the fourth time in the past fifteen minutes. The guy was giving him that look – the one that spoke epically long volumes of fear, mistrust and suspicion with a touch of desperate curiosity. Bloke was probably wondering if he was going to start trouble. Funny that. Guess a swank, tailored navy-blue suit was only so good at hiding the demon within. ‘Course, him flashing fang the first time he’d caught the snooty bastard staring probably hadn’t helped matters.
What could he say? He was bored. And when he got bored, provoking entertaining reactions in strangers… Well, just ‘cause he had a soul didn’t mean he couldn’t still have a laugh.
“Are you done glaring at the host?” Buffy said from behind him. “Because if you keep doing that we’re never gonna get a table. And I’m starved.”
“About time you showed up,” he said, whirling around to greet her, lips already curving into a smile. His mouth clunked open at the sight of her. She wore a gold sheath dress, goddess-style cut with only one strap that left her right shoulder bare. Her bronze skin glowed. Black kohl rimmed her eyes. Her hair was drawn up into a messy bun. Long gold earrings dangled down to brush temptingly against her bare neck. She looked… “Wow.”
The corner of her mouth quirked. “That the best you got?”
“Give us a sec.”
“Men never can seem to keep up with me,” she mused. Then with a laugh, “So, I’m guessing stimulating conversation isn’t on the menu tonight?”
“No, love,” he countered. “Just the usual. You tease, provoke and stir me up into a lather of frustrated, desperate insanity for you. Then you call it a night and laugh as you walk away. God, whoever invented the concept of ‘getting to know each other’ should be shot.”
She sighed and tilted her head to the side – not the sexy ‘I understand you and see you, the real you’ head tilt, but the ‘I’m annoyed with you and think you’re an idiot’ head tilt accompanied by an eye roll of disgust and pursed lips. “Well, anytime you get tired of it, feel free to leave. No one’s making you suffer my presence. It’s your choice. Stay or go. I don’t care. But I have a reservation here because they have this killer tiramisu that’s the closest thing to heaven I’ve found here in Italy. So you can call it quits,” she nodded towards the door, “or you can join me for an evening out. A date,” she said pointedly, walking past him to speak to the maitre d’.
He turned and followed her, cursing the situation he found himself trapped in. He’d come to Rome a few months after thumbing it to Wolfram & Hart’s Senior Partners alongside Angel. They’d survived the battle – barely – and the near brush with the Apocalypse made him realize that he didn’t want to die – again – without seeing Buffy one last time. Without finding out if what they’d had in those final days before the Hellmouth imploded was something more than cold comfort, more than two people leaning on each other because they had no one else. She’d been less than thrilled to find him standing at her door. And by less than thrilled, he meant downright pissed.
The tirade that followed was long and still made him shudder when he thought of it. She’d dressed him down for ordering Andrew to keep his return to the unliving a secret (newsflash: Andrew hadn’t kept his secret), and the argument had spiralled into a list of complaints about his bad behavior (“I don’t even like smokers! And you’re always cursing in front of Dawn – that’s a bad influence for her. She’s all impressionable and a vampire’s a bad role model anyways.”) and then angry demands to know why he didn’t tell her he was back from the dust (“I’ve been through that. I would’ve understood. I could’ve helped you. Why wouldn’t you let me? I thought we’d moved past that to something… more.”)
He’d let her vent. He’d had plenty of reasonable excuses – he had his own life to live, he wasn’t at her beck and call, he didn’t owe her an explanation for wanting to move on and figure himself out – but the truth was he’d been scared. And since he didn’t feel like admitting she made him so terrified that he’d needed an ocean between them to keep him feeling secure, he’d clammed up. The silent treatment had only goaded her into kicking him out of her apartment. Thankfully, the dozen red roses he sent every day for the next two weeks had warmed her to the idea of seeing him again.
They’d met at a restaurant. Shared a meal. No buffalo wings on the menu, unfortunately – but she’d let him sit down and break bread with her. It was a start. Small talk, catching up on the little things, family and friends and work-related stories. At the end of the evening, he’d leaned in to kiss her. She’d turned away, letting his lips graze her cheek as she murmured goodnight and closed the door in his face.
So he’d tried again on another night. Different restaurant. Same story. Then he’d tried again. And again. And again.
After a month of failed attempts, he now found himself staring at the nape of her neck as they were led to the table by the maitre de ponce. He waited until they were alone and she was inspecting the wine list.
“Are you ever gonna stop punishing me?” he asked in a soft voice.
She licked her lips. “Punishing you? I’m sorry if spending time with me is such a trial for you. I didn’t realize I was so… so… what? Boring? Annoying?”
He squeezed his eyes shut, reining in his temper before sending her a hard look. “It’s not that. And boring? You’re the opposite of boring. It’s…” He sighed, continuing in a whisper, “Buffy, are you ever gonna let me be close to you again?”
She frowned. “It’s not that easy. You can’t just expect me to- to just… It’s not that easy.”
He reached across the table to take her hand, firming his grip when she tried to pull away. “It’s only as hard or as easy you want it to be. If all you need is time, if eventually we’ll get to that place again, then I can wait. But if we’re never gonna-”
“This is about sex, isn’t it?” she said, bitterness turning her voice sour. “You’re all frustrated because I haven’t jumped your bones since you got back.”
“Hey. Look at me. This – us – it’s more than that. And you know better than anyone that sex doesn’t mean bollocks when it comes to intimacy. And dammit, if you tell anyone that I’m here begging you to be emotionally intimate with me…”
“What?” She laughed. “What are you gonna do?”
“I’ll tell them it’s a lie. That I’ve never begged you for anything. Not now. I’m too busy waiting for you to give me a sign that I get to make a move. Make demands. Or even beg. I’ve got my foot in the door, but it doesn’t mean a damned thing when you’re hiding your heart on the other side.”
She bit her lip, staring at their joined hands on the table. Squeezing his hand, she whispered, “I missed you. When you were gone, I… I missed you.” Her eyes shimmered in the candlelight from the gathering unshed tears.
“I missed you, too,” he whispered back, tracing the inner curve of her wrist with his index finger. “But I’m here now.” He paused, capturing her gaze in his own. “Will you be with me?”
She gave him a wobbly smile. “Yeah. That sounds… nice.”
“Nice is a good place to start. And we’ll work on making it better, yeah?”
He sighed in relief. “Now that we’ve got that settled…” He reached up and yanked his tie off. “I hate wearing these. Can we go eat somewhere that doesn’t have a poncey dress code? Know any good hellholes with a good lager on tap? Any cafés in Italy discovered the bloomin’ onion yet?”
“Not that I know of,” she said with a laugh.
He stood and held his hand out to her. “Wanna go find out?”
“Yeah.” She gifted him with a full-blown smile, the kind of smile he’d only ever seen in pictures from her past. “I do.”
He threaded his fingers with her own, even leaning into her a bit when he felt weak in the knees. That smile – if she kept looking at him like that…
A man could only take so much torture.
No, that was wrong. A man could take all manner of torture for a smile like that from the woman he loved. Truth to tell – he didn’t mind working for the reward. All the time spent only made him feel like he’d truly earned it.
He’d earned her smile. He held her hand in his own.
It bloody well was a good place to start.