Spike stood in the middle of Faith’s apartment and watched the woman before him, her face running the gauntlet of emotions – fear, embarrassment, bitterness, calm. She settled on this, on this calm and controlled look that he’d seen so many times before. The look that said she was preparing for battle, preparing to fight. Spike didn’t want to fight. He just wanted to talk. For Buffy, that was one and the same.
He cleared his throat and stuffed his hands in his pockets, unsure how to start. This conversation had been a long time coming and now it was here he was uncertain of what to say. She was a tricky one, this girl. He knew that saying the wrong thing would cause her to hoist her defences up even higher and he wouldn’t have a chance to say what he needed to say, to hear what he needed to hear. He had to be careful. She was like defusing a bomb. It had to be a delicate and careful process with a hint of danger involved.
In the past he might have started by saying something designed to annoy or enrage her. He’d got a litter wiser since then and realised making a Slayer angry was not good for his health. Even if it did tend to lead to great sex. With Buffy, anyway. She was interesting like that.
In any case Buffy robbed him of deciding what to say first because it was she who spoke.
“You want to talk, Spike,” she folded her arms. “Talk.”
Spike almost smiled. She was so defensive. He’d never met a girl so unwilling to talk about how she felt. He’d never tell her but he kind of liked it. It was refreshing and excruciating and frustrating all at the same time. She’d always been a bit of an enigma. Had a persona usually reserved for skulking in the shadow Angel-types, men wearing dark clothes and darker expressions. And here she was – this girl with blonde hair and girly clothes and tiny fists and so much courage. She was brave and afraid at the same time. Spike loved that.
“I do want to talk. But mostly I want you to talk,” Spike said, taking a step closer but no more. “You close yourself off. I know this. But it’s just me and you now. So, it’s time you said something. Anything. About what’s going on in that head of yours.”
Buffy looked at him, hazel eyes locked on his. She still had that expression on her face. The expression that said she was thinking very carefully about what she said next. Didn’t want to give too much away. She sighed lightly and looked away over her shoulder to the view outside the grimy window. Spike waited. He would wait until she was ready. It’s what he did.
She let her folded arms fall down by her sides and walked towards and around him. Spike didn’t follow her with his eyes, remained facing the windows. He could hear her pacing barefoot behind him in the kitchen area.
“You don’t want to know what I’m thinking,” she said finally, so soft he nearly didn’t catch it.
“Buffy,” Spike closed his eyes in annoyance. “I do. I always want to know.”
“Even if it’s not what you want to hear?”
“You don’t know what I want to hear.”
“Sure I do,” she replied, voice close. “You want me to say that I want you to save me.”
Spike scowled and did turn to face her then. She was only a couple of steps away from him. She didn’t look angry. She looked impassive. As though they were discussing the weather. It made him pause.
He shook his head slowly. “You really think that?”
“I think you want me to need you.” Buffy shrugged, going for casual but he saw it for what it was. That she was afraid and trying not to show it.
“That’s not true.”
“You don’t want me to say I need your help?”
Spike gritted his teeth. “I do want you to admit you need help. It doesn’t have to be mine, Buffy.”
She tilted her head and regarded him as he’d done to her so many times. Her eyes were sad and he looked into them deeply. Buffy looked down to avoid his gaze. She seemed at a loss for what to say. He waited.
“I could…” she clenched and unclenched her fist, studying the floor. “I could never ask.”
Spike frowned. “Of course you can. Buffy, these people love you. Willow, Xander, even Faith in a way…”
“But not you.” She looked up, locking eyes.
“No,” The Slayer held up a hand. “I don’t know why I said that. That’s so not the point. The point is they’ve grown up. They’re different. I stayed being the same useless person. They’re not the people I used to know. They’ve lived great lives. I’ve never gotten out of Sunnydale!”
Spike threw his hands up. “You think that matters?”
“It does matter, Spike!”
“No it bloody doesn’t!” He replied, yelling back. “So, they’ve gotten married, moved houses, and got jobs - so what? They’re still the same people. They still care about you and want to help you. But they need to know you want that help, Buffy. ’Cos if you keep this up they will leave. You’ll have no one.”
Buffy gestured open-armed at the room around her. “Maybe that’s better. It’d sure be simpler. I’m a Slayer, Spike. I’m supposed to be alone.”
“Well, that’s bollocks.”
“Well, thanks.” She huffed and turned her back on him.
Spike felt like kicking her, instead he counted to ten before speaking. “The reason you’ve survived this long, the reason you’re so strong, so unbeatable is because you surround yourself with good people. Willow and Xander are good people. Dawn and Giles were good people.”
“And they died,” she said quietly.
“Everyone dies, Buffy,” he replied. “They certainly didn’t die because of you.”
Her shoulder line turned rigid. “I wasn’t here. I could’ve changed it.”
“No. You couldn’t.” Spike took another step towards her. “They died and that’s a terrible thing, worse because you weren’t here, but you’re in no way to blame. It’s alright to miss them, you should miss them. I miss Dawn and I don’t have anyone to talk to about her.”
Buffy didn’t reply and didn’t turn around, standing stock-still facing an empty wall. Spike didn’t know if touching her was a good idea but then he’d always had a stubborn streak of stupidity, so he reached out and placed his palm on her shoulder blade. When she didn’t immediately pull away Spike took it as a good sign.
“She was young,” Buffy said almost inaudibly. “Way too young.”
Spike nodded. “When you’ve lived a hundred years that tends to be true of most.”
Her shoulders dropped beneath his touch and Spike could see, could actually see, the weight this girl carried upon them each day. It was too much, far too much for one person.
“I don’t mean to seem ungrateful,” Buffy said, switching topics without warning and making it hard for him to adjust. “I’m not. I’m really not. It’s just somewhere along the line…I stopped being the girl who shared with her friends. I became the girl who protects her friends. From everything. Even me.”
He studied the way her hair curled around her ear. “They don’t need protecting from you.”
“That’s a matter of opinion,” she stepped away from his reach and turned to face him. “I hurt people.”
“You help people.”
Buffy smiled sadly and the sight of it nearly cracked his heart in two. “I killed that little girl’s father. He might’ve been a vampire but he was still her dad. In…in another world, another life, that could have been you. I could have taken you away from Mya.”
“No, Buffy. You can’t think like that.”
“But I do think like that, Spike,” she shrugged, looked down and kicked her feet against the floor. “I don’t know how you can side with me. You’re a vampire and you want vampire rights. I killed an innocent one.”
“There’s no such thing as an innocent vampire, love,” he reached out and grabbed her arms. “Just like there’s no such thing as an innocent human. And you were just doing your job. You’d no idea things had changed. You believed he was goin’ to hurt that girl so you reacted to stop that. That’s what makes you a hero.”
“I’m not!” She snapped breaking out of his hold, angrily. “I’m not a goddamn hero, Spike. How can you, of all people, say that?”
Spike let his hands drop. “’Cos I see it every day.”
“Yeah, because the way I treated you was so heroic.”
“Even heroes aren’t perfect, Buffy.” He smiled.
She let out a sound of intense annoyance. “You. Don’t. Get. It.”
“Oh, I get it. I know more than you think,” Spike replied, face serious again. “I know that you think because you’re moody, selfish, sarcastic, self-righteous –”
Buffy scowled. “This going somewhere?”
“– and cold, that you’re not a hero. But none of those things matter. Like I said, heroes aren’t perfect. They’re all incredibly flawed soppy gits. What makes you one is that you don’t want to be a hero, but you still are.”
“No part of that made sense,” she replied.
“You’re a good person. As a bad person, I can tell.”
Buffy sighed. “You’re not a bad person, Spike.”
“We could have this argument all night.”
“We were always good at that,” she ran a hand anxiously through her hair. “I’m good at being difficult.”
Spike nodded. “Don’t I know it.”
“I think they’ll see that. The people in the court. Heaton. He’ll see it. He’ll see what everyone sees when they look at me, Spike; a stupid blonde girl with too much attitude.” She walked slowly over to the kitchen, leaned wearily on a counter. “He’ll see all those things you said I am. All the bad things and none of the good. I won’t win.”
He leaned on the other side of the counter, face-to-face with her and she didn’t shrink back, just watched him tiredly, eyes blinking slowly. She may have been a mere girl at twenty two years of age but behind her eyes she had grown old, her spirit had weathered so many storms.
“You won’t win if you do this alone,” he conceded. “If you pretend like you don’t care whether you live or die. You’ll lose, then.”
Buffy flexed and released her hands, looking at them. “I’ve gotten kind of used to doing things by myself.”
“That a good thing?”
“I guess not, Dr. Phil.”
He tilted his head. “I bet if I was Texan you’d listen to me.”
“Nyah, I wouldn’t count on it, besides Dr. Phil is from Oklahoma.” One corner of her mouth lifted in a vague impression of a smile. “Tell me honestly; even if I do everything you say…do I have a chance of winning this case?”
Spike rested his chin on his hand. “Yes, I think so. If you do everything I say. Let’s start with a striptease.”
“That was one time,” Buffy growled but it was playful.
“We’ll see,” Spike smiled. “But you can win this. You have to at least try.”
She gathered herself for a moment. “I can do that.”
Spike nodded. They remained like that for a long while, silent and resting, watching each other. Spike didn’t think he’d ever get tired of watching Buffy. If she did try, if she did work with her lawyer and her friends and him then he had to believe they could win the trial. The alternative was too horrible to contemplate and so he didn’t.
It was Buffy who moved first – but not away from him. She reached out her hand to brush a strand of his hair behind his ear. He’d stopped gelling his hair a while back, content to let it get as messy as it wanted. Besides, Mya had told him he was clinging to misguided youth by using hair products. He hated to tell her that as a vampire he’d be forever young. Although, he didn’t feel it a lot of the time.
Buffy’s fingers were warm against his face. He’d missed the touch of a woman, missed it more than he realised. It wasn’t even a sexually charged gesture, just a simple, almost casual, touch. But it had been so long for him.
“What do you want me to do?” She spoke softly, warm breath on his face.
The direct question surprised him but not in an entirely bad way. He had several things running through his mind to answer the question. Buffy waited and he could hear her heart beating steadily. He must have taken too long to formulate a response because the Slayer’s face frowned and she clicked her fingers in front of his face sharply.
“Hello, Spike? I’m talking about the court case.”
Now he felt like an idiot. If he could blush he was sure he’d be flaring up good and proper at that moment. He cleared his throat and nodded a bit too rapidly. Buffy watched him with confusion and mild curiosity, as though she was perhaps beginning to realise what track his mind had actually been on. So, naturally, he had to say something quick to distract her.
“Strategy! Yeah, uh, we need to talk to Norman. About that. Strategy.”
She gave him one last look of interest before switching back to her usual placid expression. “Okay. I’ll call him in the morning.”
“Good. Christ, I wonder what’s taking Faith so long,” he stood up straight and rubbed the back of his neck, still embarrassed. “If she’s turned Mya into an old drunk, I’ll stake her.”
Buffy remained leaning on the kitchen counter. “If I recall correctly, Faith’s favourite activities to do with teenage girls is to take them to a really seedy club and dance a lot.”
“Well, that’s fine for you two, more than fine, but not my girl!”
“Relax,” Buffy smiled. “I’m sure Mya is dancing with the nice boys. And girls.”
Spike glared at her. “She’ll be doing nothing with anyone, nice or not, till she’s at least thirty. Possibly forty.”
“Whoa, get a grip, controlling father! The girl is hot. She’ll be dating in no time and you can’t stop her,” she pointed at him. “Trust me. I know.”
He folded his arms tightly. “Let’s just hope she has better taste in men than you, then.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” she grinned at him. “I think I did okay.”
Spike didn’t know what to say to that and so he instead walked to the apartment door, pulled it open and looked out into the hall. There was no one in sight. He closed the door and turned back to her. She had moved back to the ‘dining area’ and sat back on the floor by the crate. Spike walked over and sat next to her, at a polite distance.
She eyed him from the corner of her eye. “You’re a good dad.”
“I’m the best. I have a mug that says so,” he replied, wryly.
“I mean it. I wish my dad had been more like you,” Buffy tapped her fingers against the crate.
“Oh god,” Spike sighed. “Please don’t start to think of me as a father figure. That’s too depressing.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Yes, thanks.”
Buffy laughed. “Just throwing that in there.”
“It’s good that we’re close enough to share incest jokes, really.” Spike’s eyebrows rose and he rubbed the bridge of his nose.
When Buffy said nothing more he turned to look at her, surprised to find she was staring straight at him. When she didn’t look away or say anything Spike laughed nervously. She didn’t laugh.
He turned away. “What a day –”
“It is good,” Buffy interrupted.
Spike arched an eyebrow. “The day?”
“That we are close,” she amended. “I never thought…of all the people in my life, I never thought it’d be you.”
“What would be me?” He asked, his mouth suddenly dry.
Buffy shrugged slowly, looking down at nothing. “The one I count on.”
Spike’s breath left him in one long exhalation. It wasn’t like he needed to breathe but at that moment he felt like he was suffocating. He had no idea how to react. Buffy looked up and must have seen something on his face because she smiled reassuringly and he knew she didn’t expect him to say or do anything.
He loved her.
But he didn’t say it.
“Are you all done in there?” Faith suddenly called from outside the door.
Buffy replied. “We’re done.”
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