Chapter 45: Belongings
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Warnings: Graphic violence, adult language, sexual situations, character death, rabbits.
Disclaimer: The characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer are owned by Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Fox studios and maybe various other entities that I am unaware of but totally respect and admire. This story is not meant to infringe upon anyone's rights, only to entertain.
The final chapter is below the cut. Thanks for reading.
Chapter 45: Belongings
Not breathing. She’s not breathing.
Xander Harris was doing the whole TV Thing, as best as he could remember it. He pumped her chest like he wanted to break through it, breathed giant breaths into her mouth like he was trying to make her pop.
The sky teemed down on them, cool and relentless. He kept piping in air, praying that the chill he felt was just from the rain. He hammered her heart with a fist.
“Please,” he whispered. “Please, God…”
If you asked him, years later (and if he was in the mood to talk about it, which he seldom was), Xander would omit this last part, the whole please part. And when the answer came (if it was actually an answer at all – he always made room for the Holy Question Mark and the Almighty If), when Willow Rosenberg’s eyes finally fluttered open, the last breath he gave her was not a breath at all, but a kiss chopped apart by a fit of sputtering, wheezing coughs.
When it passed, Willow cocked her head up at him in a weird, almost doggy sort of way. Her eyes flicked around every which way before finally settling back on him.
“Where are we?” she asked.
“Earth,” said Xander. He tried not to laugh, but he couldn’t help it. “England. London. Library.” He tossed a hand out, as if presenting fabulous prizes. “Roof.”
He asked her if she could stand, and she gave him what he would forever after think of as The Most Adorable Well-Let’s-Give-It-a-Try Look in History. Then he helped her up, both of them shivering a little, already soaked down to the bone, the clouds booming little empty threats of thunder at them.
Dawn had wandered out to the ledge again, and seemed to be gazing at the storm. Xander and Willow drifted towards her, hand in hand, and when they got there he saw that it wasn’t true, that Dawn’s eyes were closed and her lips were open, that she was letting the rainwater tumble onto her tongue. The girl was as hard to read as ever, but something about this scene whispered to Xander that she would be okay too, and maybe for the first time ever. When he put a hand on her shoulder, she zapped him with those infamous baby blues. They were somehow brilliant even under the sunless sky, like blazing sapphires set in steel.
As they all surveyed the campus together, Xander couldn’t help but laugh again. The place was a total disaster zone. Everywhere he looked, people seemed to be milling around in a zombie fog. Some were ex-Slayers retreating under the cover of awnings, the good ones and the bad ones all huddled together. Others were the straggled remnants of Frank Grange’s soldier boys, bumping into each other like bewildered ants and wondering, he imagined, if any of them would still have jobs in the morning.
Magic Eight Ball Says: Not freakin’ likely.
He handed Dawn a guarded look. This place was supposed to be her show after all – the big coming-out party for everyone’s favorite little teenage hostage. But all he could detect in her was a sort of bittersweet wistfulness, the kind you sometimes see in crowds when you tell a funny story about someone at their funeral. And when she whispered “It’s over,” he noticed the ends of her lips turn up, ever so slightly.
“What’s over?” Willow quietly asked. “What is all this?”
“What do you remember?” Xander asked.
She didn’t look at him. She just gently shook a cobweb in her head, her brow crumpled in a familiar way. “I remember a café. In the French Quarter. Some old guy sitting down.”
She looked a little frightened then, and it inspired Xander to tuck her closer under his arm, and press his lips to that crinkly, freckly brow. “It’s okay,” he told her. “I mean, I think it’s gonna be okay, now.”
While the three of them held each other, two figures suddenly popped into view down on the campus. They were different from everything else around them, sticking out like sore, blonde thumbs. They shot down the center of main campus thoroughfare at Olympic speeds. Xander didn’t know how they had gotten down there so fast, but it didn’t bother him. They were, after all, kinda Comic Book-y. Heck: for all he knew, maybe they flew.
He didn’t know where they were headed in such a hurry, but he wasn’t particularly worried about that either. So, he and his friends watched in silent concord as the pair rounded the bend towards the Student Commons, finally disappearing behind a droopy, waterlogged hedgerow.
Meh, he thought. Mostly okay.
As he thought this, he heard and felt a giant whipping, thumping sound. For a brief moment, Xander Harris thought that a lifetime of greasy diner food and brushes-with-death had finally caught up with him. But it wasn’t a heart attack that was coming for him.
It was, in fact, a helicopter.
Rupert Giles and Faith Lehane emerged from the mouth of the gymnasium with swords drawn, wary of what fresh horrors the world might thrust upon them.
The downpour was thick and relentless, like walking into an endless waterfall. They braved it, so to speak, Rupert homing in on the Library out of instinct and raw sensory data. There was something amiss about the place, even at a distance.
For one thing, he mused, I don’t recall planting a bloody tree up there.
They cut a line diagonally across the grass. Rupert regretted it instantly, his favorite pair of Church’s clomping and making sucking sounds down in the marshy mud, brown water leaking in over the uppers. Faith had no trouble whatsoever, of course, and kept turning back to him like an impatient hound. He wanted to tell her to just go on ahead, that he would catch up when he could, but he hesitated. Despite the fact that Stark’s barrier had evaporated, it occurred to him that the danger could still be far from over.
And a few moments later, this notion seemed absurd. It was the sight of the monsters that settled it; Kennedy’s erstwhile recruits from the demon community. There was a group of about ten of them near the foot of an Information Kiosk. Some sulked in small orbits there, occasionally pausing to bellow a low, mournful moan at the sky. Other sat in sullen piles, staring blindly forward. He suddenly realized that they were waiting for orders – for something or someone to give them a task to perform. Rupert realized he would have to dream some up, eventually; but for now the bastards could sit and stew, for all he cared. He gave them a wide berth, but not too bloody wide.
They arrived at the library a few muddy minutes later. As they mounted the steps, Rupert felt a shard of dread knife into one lung. There was a strong odor of decay in the air, and through a shattered clerestory window, he could make out the outlines of strange shapes. They were not, he surmised, bookshelves.
Faith waited for him at the top of the stairs, hand on hip. When he finally caught up, he held one finger (ridiculously, he’d later feel) to his lip, and gently nudged open the door.
“Holy shit,” Faith observed. “This joint reeks, yo.”
Rupert took it all in slowly, wagging his head from wing to bloody wing. Despite the somewhat blunt nature of Faith's assessment, he found that he must concur with it. The “joint reeked.” The reason for this was both bloody well obvious and impossible to comprehend.
It appeared that in his absence, something had transformed his library – that beautiful, elegant restoration of the Council’s accumulated wisdom, the centerpiece of four years of his own careful and diligent labors – into some sort of fallow nursery. Long columns of rotted vines stood guard over the splattered, putrefied corpses of their children. Bookshelves which once housed all manner of sage tomes and ancient, powerful magics now seemed to offer little more than the promise of new and exciting breeds of spore mold. All the expensive floors and panels, the rare imported moldings – every inch of the building’s interior had been transmogrified into landscapes of cracked rock, piles of dirt, withered brown topiary. Everywhere Rupert turned, a new moldering horror sagged down to mock him. There wasn’t a shred left unsullied. It was all just a great, big, buggering, stinking rancid mess.
Neither spoke for a long time. There didn’t seem much to say about it; whatever transpired here was surely over and done with. So, they just stood there in what used to be the grand well, quietly studying the tattered remnants of an old man’s dream.
“Lemme guess,” said Faith, finally. “You’re waiting for some mysterious, mystical force to turn everything back to normal. Like in whatchamacallit.” He shot her a numb look, his brain struggling to parse the girl’s words. “That Mickey Mouse flick,” she added.
“Well,” he started, checking himself to be sure. “Yes, precisely.”
They waited for a dozen more seconds, accompanied only by the patter of rain diving through the shattered roof.
“Guess not, huh?”
“Well, that sucks.” She reached out to touch a dilapidated flower, then thought better of it. “I mean, it’s not like I ever read any of this crap but…”
She trailed off. For once, it seemed Ms. Lehane was being genuinely sympathetic. Or, at least she was trying to be. And looking at her, Rupert suddenly wondered if that wasn’t really the same thing, after all. He tried to force a smile.
“I suppose I’ve been considering retirement for quite some time, now,” he said. “Perhaps this is a sign.” He paused to admire a line of card catalogs that had been turned to mossy knolls. “A big, rotten, stinking, blaring, neon bloody sign.”
Faith snorted at this – a tad cruelly, if you’d asked him. Everything the Slayer had ever done or said always seemed a tad cruel. So, when he turned to face her, he hadn’t the foggiest what to expect. It turned out to be a very wide and warm (and, yes, a sly and, yes, mischievous) grin.
“Gee. G-money. My little G-spot.” She glided towards him, rocking her hips defiantly. “Who you kiddin', man? You couldn’t quit the biz if you tried.”
Rupert frowned, his hand reaching into a jacket pocket for a certain item that was no longer there. He had traded them in for contacts, you see – thought those made him look younger. So, he merely shook his head instead, tried to wrap it around the immensity of the loss. “You couldn’t possibly understand,” he said, warding off tears. “The knowledge, contained in these books. It’s irreplaceable. Hundreds of years – thousands, in some cases. It’s all gone. It’s bloody Alexandria, all over again.”
Faith laughed at him, loud and long. She waited until his face had turned a suitable shade of red, then she looked him dead in the eyes with those gleaming onyx daggers of hers, the ones that somehow always seemed to slightly miss their mark.
“Chillax, brainiac” she said. “Maybe it’s just time you started writing your own…”
Twilight is upon me, he thought. And, soon, night must fall.
That is the way of things.
The way of the Force.
And then Andrew Wells opened his eyes.
And it was not beautiful. Nope. Not at all. Nope.
Red stars gleamed overhead, streaking past one by one as he slipped down some final length of road. The smell of sulfur filled his lungs, and Andrew Wells realized it was going to be All-Bad, All-the-Time, from here to eternity.
Laps in gym class.
Lots of loud yelling. Probably.
Then he thought of Kennedy, and the uber-radness of Melvin wolfing her down like an evil chicken McNugget, and he smiled again.
“Totally worth it,” he murmured.
The ground rumbled beneath him. The voice that came out of it was low and wry and musical. And familiar. “What are you whinin’ about now, dude?”
Andrew tried to sit up, squeaked in agony, and then decided to stop trying to sit up. “Melvin,” he gasped. “Is that you?”
“Look,” the Hellbeast griped, “if you’re gonna start asking stupid questions, again, I can arrange another trip down to Dreamyland...”
Andrew blinked slowly, turned his head to one side. “Where are we?”
“Well it ain’t Kansas, Toto. Pretty close to where I came in, I figure. A lotta this crap is startin’ to look familiar.”
“Oh. Okay,” said Andrew, only half getting it. “Uh, where are we going?”
“Up,” Melvin growled. “Gonna dump your dumb ass topside. I figure maybe all those long, bald monkeys up there with the stethoscopes and the fancy pants degrees can fix you. Or maybe they can’t. Either way, you stop being my problem.”
Andrew thought about it for a minute. “You mean, I’m not dead?”
“Uh-oh! I smell stupid… That’s strike two, dude.”
“Sorry.” Andrew considered looking down at his poor belly, and then thought better of it. He felt pretty cold, and pretty weak, but he realized it didn’t hurt so much if he didn’t fidget. He tried to change the subject. “So, uh, what are you gonna do? I mean, afterwards.”
“Dunno.” The hump of the demon’s back swelled, a great big sigh, and it caused Andrew to rise and fall atop a precarious, slimy wave. “Been thinking about heading out to Cali, actually. See what’s poppin’.”
“You mean L.A.? Like, Hollywood and stuff?”
“Oh, sure. Figure I could wait some tables, maybe check out a few open calls. I hear that’s how Clooney got his start. Nothing big, at first. Character roles, soaps, that sort of thing.”
“Uh, no, dillwad, not really,” he snarked. “Sheesh! You know for an all-powerful summoner you are hella-gullible, dude. Hold on a sec–”
As they passed under the white lip of a junction, Melvin swung his big tail up and gently lassoed Andrew with it. Then the demon was climbing up a large tube of steel, arms and legs picking along the walls like a spider.
“Anyway,” Melvin continued, “rumors get around, you know? Hell on Earth, the Risen Babylon, blah, blah, et cetera. From what I’ve heard, there’s a ton of work out there for a guy with my… uh, you know. My disability…”
Andrew was about to comment on this, but a chorus of tiny Andrews in his brain filibustered and vetoed and voted it down. Let sleeping dogs lie, they sang. And sleeping Hellbeasts, too.
Sooner or later, Melvin (or whoever he really was; Andrew never could quite pin that one down) would come around and groove to the downtown brown sound. After all, his heart seemed to be in the right place now – figuratively speaking, of course.
Sure, there would be lots of pitfalls and false starts and stumbles and managing-of-minuses ahead. But the important thing was that he seemed willing to give it a try, seemed ready to unlearn what he has learned. Andrew knew that whole deal pretty well.
A long and perilous journey, redemption is.
Willow kept drinking it all in. And – whoa, buddy! – that drink packed a mean buzz.
Something pretty crazy had just happened (which, hey, must be Tuesday), and, while she couldn’t escape the nagging suspicion that Willow Rosenberg had something to do with it, it was hard to figure out exactly what.
There were bits and pieces, but they were all fuzzy bits and blurry pieces. She decided it was sort of like waking up from a really long and confusing dream. You yawn. You take a shower. You brush your teeth. You sip your delicious cup of premo’ Jamaican Blend, mon. And for some reason that’s when you suddenly try to remember this OMG incredible, insane, blockbuster dream you had, but by then it’s all faded and gaptoothed, and the parts that are still there don’t make much sense anymore. Nothing fits. And you just know that if you try to explain the tiniest bit of it to someone else you’ll sound like a total psycho. So, you just finish your coffee instead, and you let it go.
Willow didn’t have any coffee, so she just let it go.
Xander was still hugging her and Dawn super close, like he was afraid they’d suddenly float away. Willow decided that this felt pretty good, and that the rain felt pretty good too.
Let’s focus on these things, shall we?
They probably could have stood there for a real long time like that – and, maybe they did, she wasn’t really counting – but then the black helicopter came whoop-whooping down out of the sky, its blades tossing sheets of water in wild arcs. It touched down a few yards from a big, sad treetop that was sticking through the roof. She felt Xander’s muscles tighten reflexively, but when the hatch slid open he let go and started drifting towards it, almost zombie-esque. And, with seemingly nothing better to do at the moment, Willow followed him.
When they got within a few feet, someone jumped out. He was a tall, bald guy in a dark grey suit. It took her a couple of seconds to recognize him as Charles Gunn. L.A. Gunn. Hi.
Then, another face poked through the hatch, a towel wrapped around it like a babushka, sunglassed eyes peering at the sky anxiously. And Willow recognized the heck out of this one, right away.
“Angel,” said Xander. “Uh, holy crap.”
The old vamp seemed a little out of it, somehow. He blinked up at the rain a couple of times and then wobbled out onto the copter’s foot, slow and easy. “Xander, Will,” he said. “Someone mind telling me what the hell happened here?”
“Things,” Xander said. “Stuff.” The rain had turned his hair into a black octopus, and it somehow made the face beneath it look ten years younger.
“Things and stuff?”
“More or less,” Xander nodded. “I mean – no offense, big guy, but you’re kinda late to the Christmas party this year. And I… I think I’m gonna be fresh outta ‘splainy for a while. Think we’re all gonna be.”
“How long is a while.”
“Oh, days. Weeks, maybe.”
Angel harrumphed at this one. He craned his head this way and that, still trying to look so cool, pretending everything wasn’t so screwed up and nuts and crazy. Willow could totally relate. “Fine,” he said. “Whatever. Just tell me this one thing.”
“Where is she?”
Xander got a strange look on his face, like someone trying to suffocate a big, jingly belly laugh.
After a few seconds of this he shrugged his shoulders and flung out his hands, palms up. Drank a gulp of rain.
Smiled a great, big, goofy smile.
Curiouser and curiouser, Willow thought.
Now, here’s the thing:
Jack Turtle wasn’t any kind of a softhearted romantic. He wasn’t sensitive or wistful or prone to flights of empathy. Jack was two things: He was Old and he was Hard. Not merely sturdy; not brittle, like glass. Hard. It had taken a Long, Long, Very Long time to get that way, and nothing was liable to crack open that hard shell of his without one Hell of a fight.
Nevertheless, he still tuned in from time to time. It wasn’t because he cared – at least, not in the way the crazies out here thought of “caring.” It was more like curiosity.
They always say that if you stick around long enough, you stop being curious. But what they don’t tell you is: if you’re around even longer than that (and, as if it bared mentioning again, the Turtle had been around for a very, very long time), then the whole process starts all over again. Things start to get real interesting, again – Lord and how!
So, here at the end – or at the beginning, or the middle, depending on your point-of-view – Old Jack tuned in again. This wasn’t difficult to do. He just closed his wrinkled eyelids and turned that little dial in the cavernous, creaky old house he’d gotten used to calling his “mind.”
And this is what he saw:
Two blondes (heh heh, sure they were) running up a road, so close that their elbows and knees kept knocking against each other. Some would argue they were stupid in some ways, and smart in others. But they were fast. On that topic, there could be no debate.
So they ran – fast – up and across and over, their details all lost in the downpour. The rain was steaming off the boy just a bit, his skin made warm by the sun that was trapped behind all those grey, pregnant storm clouds. He hardly needed to run so fast, of course. Jack knew that the old yellow ball was out of the game. She was hung low in the sky to begin with, and now she would retreat the other side of the world for a while, and hunt the boy some other day. Most stars were patient in this way; they, too, had been around for a very long time.
The girl ran fast for a different reason. The fire still burned inside her, of course. Despite what she thought, there was no putting it out, even if all the rain in Heaven and Hell tried. But that fire was different now. It didn’t scald her like before. She had been able to let the damn thing breathe for once – and that was really the trick with fire, when you came right down to it. She’d figure this part out, eventually. Master it. Like the rest of her friends, the Chosen One was a slow learner but a good one.
There was a little house she was aiming for. A cottage really, a place her sister had laid out for her as a sort of a peace offering. Now, it was just a shelter from the storm. It was walls and a bed and a box of Pop Tarts, and at the moment that seemed like two more things than she needed.
They reached the porch in tandem, stomping up the steps two at a time. The girl still had the key, but she didn’t need or use it. A kick and they were in, staggering giddy across the threshold, the girl whispering the words “Come in,” just in case. Up the stairs they went, holding hands now, not knowing how young they looked or how the world worked or why they were alive or how. Or caring, really.
So, up the stairs, and then on to mouths; that old, old Rule of Mouths no one out here ever quite seemed to understand. Theirs had already given up on the eating and the talking and the breathing, so the only job left for them was the sweetest of all. It was also The Nonsense Job – an eccentric labor that made old, hard-asses like Jack Turtle get curious from time to time. They kissed long and deep, tongues mapping old roads, bodies folding into arms.
Another innocent door came tumbling down (this pair didn’t have much love for doors), and then it was fast, fast, fast. Clothes were raked away by starving fingers (clothes weren’t tops in their book, either) and then they collapsed onto the bed, arms and legs tangling in a way that would be hard to untangle.
Now, when you come to be as old as Jack, “surprise” becomes such a rare feeling that when it happens it is itself a kind of surprise. Nevertheless, what happened next was surprising. As mentioned, they collapsed onto the mattress, with its twenty-year-old naval blue sheets and its ten-year-old springs, and when the whole contraption held up (they hadn’t always), the two of them thanked it by moving slow, slow, slow; their knotted legs and arms softening down there, gradually unwinding from a very long day of work. They became gentle, for some unknown reason – much gentler then a pair of busted doors and some torn cloth and all the broken miles of their lives would have suggested, anyway.
Bodies were doors too, so the girl and the boy in the bed got as close as they possibly could. This part was not at all surprising – this attempt at closeness – but it was still interesting to watch (in a purely scientific way). So, Jack watched them curl and bob into each other on those soft, invisible waves, lost in each other’s hearts, drifting farther and farther out to sea.
And when the girl closed her eyes, she thought ‘This will be easy.’ And even as she thought it, a part of her knew it wouldn’t always be. But it was easy in this moment, and the revelation filled her with a new appreciation for moments. So she kept moving, kept pressing her skin to his. She let the moments fly like birds that daydreamed of a far away home, because it was not love like a war, now. It was love like an anthem. Like a promise.
And when the boy closed his eyes, something else happened. Because they were still so close, each body a wrapping for the other’s gift, he began to feel the weight of himself against her. And though the boy was well and truly dead (in the local parlance, at least) he suddenly realized there was something peculiar going on behind the door of his chest. He got scared when he felt it, and his eyes shot open, wide and round. And when she felt him stiffen she opened her eyes too, and he noticed that those warm green lakes had something shining in them, all the way down at the bottom. So he dove deep, not even aware he was doing it, and began to swim towards this small, shining thing.
Now, this was pretty hard work – especially considering all that business going on South of the Border, those tangled legs and bobbing waves and such – so the girl helped him. She reached up with her trembling hands and gave to him the little lost treasure. And when the boy looked down, he saw that it was a piece of his soul. She had kept it safe, somehow.
And this part wasn’t magic at all. It was not a miracle, either (at least, not in the way that the folks out here understood such a thing). This was just the way that souls worked. When people you love die, you keep a little piece of them safe inside you, somehow. And that’s about as far as it could be explained, by Jack Turtle or by anyone else who ever had a name. It was a very old rule.
After this, the day slowly surrendered to the night, the sun rolling beneath the little patch of Earth they spun upon. They made love until their knees didn’t work, until every last inch and ounce was begging them to sleep. And even then they stayed tangled and knotted and folded up in each other, the smell of rain everywhere, no noise left except for the baritone of distant thunder and the beating of the girl’s valiant heart.
And after the last drop of strength had finally left them, they dreamed.
Spike opened his eyes.
Her face was still there. He allowed himself only one breath; as long and as deep and as useless as ever. The world felt like it was made out of the thinnest glass, and that the slightest movement might send the whole works crashing down to Hell.
Don’t talk. Don’t you dare say a bleedin’ word.
The sky outside the window was dark now, with only a handful of street lamps collecting in it now. The spark was still in him, but he tried not to think about it too much, on the off chance that this might somehow scare it away.
So, he lay there in her warm arms, trying to quiet himself and stay dull and pretend all of this was normal, that it all made perfect sense. And he tried to forget all about the little candle flickering down there in his chest, to leave well enough alone and not go bugshaggers again. And he even managed to squeeze that other little tidbit out of his mind – the needling scent of a certain bushy-headed wanker making the rounds down there on the grass, slowly but surely closing in.
He looked at the woman instead, and set his mind to work on the problem therein.
She was still asleep, and the mesmerizing song of her breath was like a wind howling at his black sail. He looked and looked, and no matter how hard he tried he just couldn’t sort it out. It wasn’t that Spike was stupid – he was, but he knew it wasn’t that. And it wasn’t that he didn’t deserve her. He didn’t, but it wasn’t that either.
It was just that the world was like a great, big jigsaw box, and for the longest time he’d felt like the extra piece, the one that would never quite fit into the picture no matter how much you jammed and squeezed and twisted. It had taken a sodding long time to accept this fate, but once he did so it became the first commandment of the Church of Spike: Thou shalt not belong.
And, besides, he didn’t deserve her, did he? Not her, nor this calm cool night, nor the little candle, nor any of it. The memory of them running through the rain was still fresh; of her leading him somewhere new, their feet sloshing apart puddles like mad children. It bothered him in a strange way. The image still didn’t seem fully real, and even if it was then it just presented a new set of problems, didn’t it? Because, he didn’t understand how it was made. Because, he didn’t know what had changed to make this moment possible. And if he didn’t know what changed, how could he make sure it stayed this way?
And all of these thoughts and more were racing around in Spike’s bewildered brain when she opened her eyes.
“Hi,” she said.
He didn’t say a thing back. He just kept looking at her; not terrified like he was back at Ethan’s, but totally baffled. A Math Class look.
She smiled. “What?”
"It's... nothing,” he said. But it was something. There even seemed to be a trace of worry mixed in his eyes, now. This struck Buffy Summers as kinda dumb. They won, after all.
“C’mon. What is it?”
He stroked her arm softly, pushed her hair sideways. “It’s just,” he said, “I mean, I still can’t believe it. It’s really you.”
“And this is news?”
He started shaking his head, eyes floating far away. “How did we get here?”
“I dragged you here, remember?” She traced a finger up one sharp, dark eyebrow. “Kidnapped you, really. You put up a hell of a fight. It was totally violent.”
She kissed him lightly on the lips. It occurred to her that she had no idea how long they’d been lying there. Their bodies were dry now, and the weird seam of her heat and his cool had blended to create a strange layer of insulation, like a blanket made of cold fur. Only a single sheet covered them, and though it was dry too, it still had that special smell that rain always seems to leave behind in cotton.
He sat up a bit, leaning against the headboard. “It’s getting late,” he murmured.
She shrugged. “You got somewhere to be?”
“Well, I just mean, it was a bloody close shave out there. Surprised they ain’t paid us a visit yet.”
“Maybe they’re all sleeping,” she said. “After all, we’re not as young as we used to be, and these apocalypses can take a lot out of you." Still doesn’t sound right, she mused.
His features darkened slightly. “Ain’t talking about them, luv.”
She stared at him for a horrified second, then crammed her face down into her pillow, her muffled voice mushing up out of it. “Ugh!” she cried. “Don’t tell me. You can smell him, right?”
“Think maybe he’s come to collect me. Him and that wanker Gunn.”
She spit out the pillow, sat up and crossed her arms. “Collect you?”
“Yeah, well. Caused them more than a few headaches, I s’pose, what with my extracurriculars of late.” He gusted air into his chest, blew it out hard. "‘Sides, that berg’s probably been fallin’ to pieces without yours truly around. Hell on Earth, and whatnot.”
She sat there for a long moment, pretending to weigh this. “Well,” she sighed, “they can’t have you.”
“Think they might beg to differ.”
“I’ll just tell ‘em I’m not done playing with you yet.”
This drew an eyebrow. “Yeah, and when that plan fails outright?”
She put on her best Serious Buffy Face. “Then I’ll beat them up,” she said. “I’m a superhero, you know.”
Instead of laughing, he shot her another weird, moon look, more bewildered than ever.
“What?” she asked again.
“I,” he started, eyes narrow, shaking his head again, “I don’t have any words.”
Buffy slid sideways into what could’ve been a Ride Em’ Cowgirl position if she wasnt already so saddle-sore from all those Happy Trails (okay, any additional entendres you want to jam in there, Buff?). She rested her palms flat on his shoulders and let him look at her. She wanted him to take a good, hard look this time.
“I have some,” she said.
He didn’t move at all, didn’t flinch one muscle. She whispered to him the things that her heart had been screaming forever: that she had love inside her; that she was selfish with it, and terrified of it; that it had almost destroyed her, keeping it all inside like that; that there were broken parts of her she didn’t understand and that she was afraid of; that she was trying to be brave but she needed help just like anybody else; that when she was a girl, the world was cold and closed and she often felt like she didn’t belong to it; that she never really felt like she fit.
She told him all this, and he quietly listened. And when she told him the last thing – the L thing – he didn’t push her away this time. He just let her say it and let her do it.
The room became very quiet again for a while.
Then he said: “I used to think that I’d never feel anything real. I was dead for a long time, and I didn't have any friends. No real ones, anyway. And I’m one hundred and fifty seven years old, but I never grew up. So I sort of just drifted along in this fog, and everybody else there was like a shadow and so I figured I must be a shadow too. An' I’d have these things that were almost like feelings, but I thought they were just more lies. Figured I was like the people on the telly, the ones who pretend to feel things for money.
“And now, there’s all this feeling, everywhere. So much that I keep thinkin’ my heart will break, or explode, or something. And I get this idea sometimes that I don’t know who I really am, or what I’m really like, and it scares the hell out of me. And I remember sometimes I would look at you, looking at me, an’ I’d think to myself, ‘What is it she’s lookin’ at that way? What did this thing ever do to deserve such a look?’ But now that we’re here, and everything is so quiet, all I can think about is how good I feel, and I think that scares me more than anything else, because I’m afraid I’ll never want it to stop. Because, somewhere along the way, I got this idea jammed in my head that love isn’t supposed to feel good, right? It's like, how could it be love if it feels so good?
“But whatever it is, I can’t seem to stop it. I hold you and it feels like I’m going to burst open, like my skin can’t hold it all inside because I love you so much. And in some way, I think… I think I even love all the rest of them too. Think I love Dawn and Will and Xander and Faith and Andrew. Sod it, I think I even love Watcher – an' don’t tell him ‘cuz then I’ll have to bite him. But I do. I can feel them all. It’s like you made my heart so big that I needed more places to put it, or needed to put more people inside of it, or something.
"And when I woke up just now, feeling this way, I realized how bad I’ve wanted it, all this long time. I kept thinking that it’s this good, good feeling and I kept wondering… can it possibly be right? Feeling like this? How can it be?”
When he was done, he took a couple of bashful breaths, a tear beading in each eye. She waited again, not moving. A minute passed.
“Please say something,” he whispered.
Buffy blinked a couple of times. Cocked her head. “Ding,” she said.
Spike shot her a look of fearful awe, as though she’d suddenly lost her mind. “Ding?” he repeated, blue eyes darting now, once again so utterly, adorably, deliciously baffled.
“What the bloody hell does ding mean?”