DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Sting’s, “You Still Touch
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Xander has explained all he knows to the gang, and Buffy has shown up at William’s door…
With the benefit of Xander’s explanations, Buffy saw Spike in a brand new light. Some of that was literal, of course. The soft incandescence of the hall illuminated the planes of his face more clearly than the harsher streetlamps, making him seem younger than he’d been out in the rain. More innocent, which wasn’t anything she would’ve ever considered about his vampire persona.
There was something else, too. Without any hesitation, Buffy realized she would’ve known this wasn’t completely Spike even without Xander’s explanation. It surprised Buffy that it wasn’t as obvious to everyone who wasn’t her.
When he gave no answer to her request for entry, standing in the doorway with his knuckles white around the knob, she rushed to fill the void, uncomfortable with his quiet scrutiny from beneath the furrowed brows.
“I know what you’re thinking,” she said, her fingers fidgeting with the hem of her top. “Xander filled me in, and it makes sense, really. Kind of. I mean, it does if you’re you, and I’m me, and you’re not one hundred percent clear on what happened in the Hellmouth like I am. But I don’t want you to think that I’m here to hurt you, because I’m not. I couldn’t. Not after everything, not after what you did, what you were. I couldn’t before, even, though it probably didn’t look like that to you.” She paused, flustered. “If you could actually remember what had happened to you before, that is.”
His lips parted, but though he took a breath to speak, it was a long moment before he did so. “You…are not entirely…what I expected,” he managed to stammer out.
“That’s good, right? Because Xander said you expected me to kill you.”
He flinched at the stark wording. “Xander…does not always hear what is actually said.” His tongue darted out to lick his dry lips. “He’s been most kind, but…I bring him pain.”
“No,” Buffy said softly, shaking her head. “You just remind him of the pain that he already has. It’s not your fault.”
They lapsed into silence again, but Spike made no move to let her enter. She was beginning to regret coming to his room instead of going to her own or even Judd’s.
“Why did you…” he started, and then stopped, his eyes ducking as he chose not to finish the question.
“Why did I what?” she prompted.
His voice was hushed. “You called me…William.”
“That’s your name.” She would’ve called him that even if Xander hadn’t made the distinction clear to them downstairs.
“Yes, but…” Absently, he began playing with the doorknob, turning it and then letting it spring back to a neutral position, over and over again. “You did not know me as such.”
“No,” Buffy admitted. “But that’s just a name. It’s not who you are.”
His gaze lifted at that, and for the first time, she saw a flicker of something light in the blue-grey of his eyes. “Does the rose still smell as sweet, though?” he murmured. Her confusion must have shown in her face, because he smiled ruefully, shaking his head. “My apologies. I’m just…taken aback that you’re even here.”
She couldn’t help but smile at him. “That makes two of us, then.”
Down the hallway, a door opened and an elderly woman emerged, not giving the two any notice until she passed behind Buffy and nodded to them in greeting. Spike colored at the curious glance she passed between them, but held his tongue until the other guest had disappeared around the corner.
“Why are you here?” he blurted. “Xander gave me no indication that you…you would be…I’d thought I’d made my fears perfectly clear to him.”
Inwardly, Buffy winced at being lumped as one of his fears, but did her best to keep composed. “I just wanted to make sure you were all right,” she lied, and gestured toward his damp clothing. “It doesn’t look like he gave you the chance to change.”
Looking down at his shirt, Spike plucked at the wrinkled fabric as if he wasn’t aware that he’d been so disheveled. “You were there,” he whispered, but she got the distinct feeling that he didn’t really mean for her to hear it. “I should’ve…”
“It was an accident.” For whatever reason, she felt the need to clarify. “Willow called to let me know that Xander was coming to town, and I couldn’t not come because hey, it’s Xander, but we had no idea he was bringing you, too.”
Blue eyes peered at her through sooty lashes. “Would you have stayed away had you known?”
The color slithered up her neck, into her cheeks. “Well, no, but---.”
Suddenly, the air was too thick. It was a question she only half knew the answer to, and the half she did have at her fingertips, Buffy was convinced wouldn’t satisfy Spike’s need to know.
“Do you remember me at all?” she asked instead.
The fear she’d seen in his eyes returned, but it was fainter this time, more quickly hidden from her close inspection. Wordlessly, he shook his head, and the small bastion of hope Buffy had been closeting away, in spite of Xander’s explanations to the contrary, disappeared.
“If you did,” she continued, refusing the desire to fall apart in front of him, “you’d know that I don’t give up on my friends. Especially when they’re in trouble.”
“We were.” She dared to take a small step forward. “I don’t see any reason why we still can’t be.”
“Your relationship with him was complicated.”
“As it is now.”
“Not exactly the same, but hopefully the fact that the last time we saw you, you were saving the world, means we might all be able to move on. Let go of the past.”
His head tilted in question. “I…what?”
“Didn’t anybody tell you?” Giving him her brightest smile, Buffy took yet another step, closing the distance between them so much that she could feel the heat coming off his slim frame. “You got the big heroic death. Saved the world and everything.” Carefully, she reached out and touched his arm. “I never got the chance to say thank you for that.”
His muscles twitched beneath her touch, but instead of pulling away, Spike hesitantly lifted his hand to glide his fingers over the back of hers. “They’re smaller than in my dreams,” he observed.
“I get that a lot.”
He glanced up at her, the corner of his mouth lifting in amusement. “You get many men confessing to dreaming of you?” he said.
The fact that he was teasing her took Buffy by surprise. He surprised her even further when he took her hand in his, turning it over to see the palm.
His sharp intake of breath made her look down in time to witness the ghosting of his fingertips over her scar. It was weird feeling the heat of his skin against hers, but what was even more unsettling was watching him hold her hand still while he placed his other alongside it.
She knew those hands, had felt them on every inch of her body, both lovingly and in battle. She could’ve described them to anybody who might’ve asked. The callus he had on his left hand from all the writing he’d thought he’d hidden from her. The small circular scar near his wrist from a childhood bout of chicken pox.
The scars she saw now were new.
The inner lines of his fingers were leathered in dead white skin, smooth along the middle while puckered around the edges. They continued down to ring his palm, as if whatever had burned him had been shielded from the most vulnerable part of his hand, leaving the center pink and untouched.
This was the result of the flames that had ignited when they’d clasped hands in the Hellmouth. She realized that which was unscarred, was the part her palm had protected.
“Does it hurt?” Buffy asked, concerned, but when she reached automatically to take his hand in hers in order to more closely examine it, Spike yanked away from her.
“How is it you have the same?” he asked. His voice was hoarse with disbelief, and he was already backing into the room, gaining an increasing measure of space between them with every step.
“Because I was there,” she said gently.
“And yet…you lived.”
“Because of you. You…you gave me my life.”
“At the expense of my own?”
He was still retreating, and her words seemed to be having little effect in calming him. “Why did you not try to save me?” Spike asked.
“What?” The question shocked her to the core. “You don’t think---.”
“I don’t know,” he said, suddenly vehement, his eyes blazing just as they had during any one of their numerous fights when he’d been alive. “I’ve spent the past three years of my life wondering how I could come to be. Questioning, every day, how I could even exist. Hanif was very clear about the creature I had been, how…evil...” The word stumbled from his tongue, making him grimace in distaste. “…I was, what atrocities I’d committed. And yet, here you are, telling me that I was a hero? That I saved both you and the world? How can that be, when apparently I wasn’t even worthy enough to be saved?”
“There wasn’t time,” she tried to argue.
“No, because the world was crashing down around our ears, wasn’t it?” His lips pressed together into a thin line. “Those are not dreams I am having, are they? They’re memories of some fashion. Memories of…my death.”
She could only nod. Xander had detailed what little he knew of the nightmares; it had been abundantly clear just what they were really about.
Spike had gone pale, his breathing heavy, his movements agitated. He was looking everywhere but at her, long hands running through his unruly hair and mussing it even further. “These were not the answers I wanted to find,” he kept saying. “I merely wished to understand…you weren’t supposed…you shouldn’t even be. I shouldn’t be. I’m but a ghost, a shadow of this monster who---.”
“No!” The single word was a sharp crack whipped through the air. “You’re not a monster! Would I be here if you were?”
He finally looked at her at that. “I don’t understand why you’re here at all,” he said bleakly.
It was the last straw. Buffy’s heart wept for the broken shell of a man standing before her, but it screamed for the frustration in his failure to see just how deeply she needed him. What was the point in his coming back if he was only half there?
For the second time that night, Buffy turned on her heel and ran.
Without even bothering to pretend to watch the guys by the dartboard this time, Dawn watched Xander down his third pint of Guinness, studying the lines of his face as he drank, memorizing the new shadows in case she didn’t get this opportunity again. They’d said very little to each other since showing up at the teeming pub, partially because of the deafening crowd, partially because she was sure neither of them really knew what to say. It didn’t, however, keep her from noticing all the things that had and hadn’t changed about Xander since he’d gone to Africa.
“Why do you still have the eyepatch?” she asked suddenly.
“Because I still don’t have an eye,” he answered back with a grin.
“I thought Willow said she could fix that.”
His smile faded, and Xander turned away from her to point out his empty glass to the bartender. “Did I hear that you were the one who stopped the last apocalypse?” he said casually. “Something about screaming the demon’s ears off?”
“It was Buffy’s idea,” she said, “and you’re being all evasive.”
He waited until there was a fresh pint in front of him. “I’m not evasive,” Xander said, taking a sip. “I’m downright ignoring that particular topic of conversation.”
“Why? I’d think it would be great to get your eyesight back.”
He shifted his gaze just enough to regard her heavily. “You would, wouldn’t you?” he said, his attention reverting to his drink. “It’s not that simple, Dawn.”
It seemed that simple to her, but as she watched him drink his beer, more slowly this time, as if he needed to savor it, Dawn realized that a little bit of sexy stubble and a few tightly corded muscles didn’t change who Xander was on the inside. Buried beneath the smooth veneer beat the nervous heart of a teenaged boy accustomed to having the rug yanked out from beneath his feet. He was still falling, though perhaps now in slow motion, from the reeling blow of Anya’s death.
Shifting her weight to face forward, she asked, “Why’d you bring him back?”
“Who? Spike? Why wouldn’t I bring him back?”
“Because you hate him.”
“I don’t hate him. I don’t like him very much, but I can say that about a lot of Buffy’s ex-boyfriends.”
“You can try using that explanation on the others,” she said, “but this is me, Xander. Remember me? It wasn’t that long ago you thought it was pretty darn important to shatter every last illusion I had about Spike.”
Xander laughed, a harsh, dry bark that sounded like it came straight from the Egyptian desert. “Fat lot of good that did,” he muttered. “He’s only back in our lives a couple days, and already the world is revolving around him again.”
There was more he wasn’t saying, more beneath every word, and Dawn asked the question before her nerve failed her.
“You’re going to go back to Africa, aren’t you? You were never going to stick around. You’re just going to drop the Spike and run?”
He sipped at his beer before replying. “That was the plan.”
“Because Africa’s home now.”
“I don’t believe that,” she said, her hair swinging from how vehemently she shook her head. “It can’t be that great, unless you’ve…what? Got a girl in every safari?”
“Sometimes two,” he joked, though the lack of mirth in his voice told her that it was likely more often zero.
Reaching out, Dawn curled her hand around the one that was starting to lift the pint glass to his lips again. “We’re not in Africa,” she said.
He visibly flinched, and carefully pulled away from her grasp. She didn’t know why she was so surprised by his behavior; this was exactly how many of their phone conversations went, just with visual cues now. A little bit of casual chitchat and joking laughter, but as soon as something serious came up, or any mention of the gang or the past, Xander rushed to get off the line.
Dawn hated it when he did that. It hurt even more to see it in person.
“So, did Buffy start having some kind of height requirement for boyfriends that I don’t know about?” Xander said suddenly, his tone loud and gregarious again. “Because I think this one’s got Riley beat by a good six inches.”
“It’s the chicken legs. They’re deceptive.” She poked him in the side. “Why do you keep changing the subject?”
He shrugged. “Because you keep bringing up things I don’t want to talk about,” he admitted nonchalantly.
Well, at least he was being honest about it. “So, what can we talk about?”
“You know, since talking is what got me to London in the first place, what say we pass on that and go straight to the drinking, OK?” He grinned, feigning new awareness of the glass in his hand. “Oh, wait. We’re already doing that.”
This was going nowhere fast. Somewhere in the background, music began to play, a slow rock ballad she didn’t recognize, and Dawn glanced back to see the group of young women clustered around the jukebox, doing their best not to appear as if they were watching the guys at the dartboard nearby.
“C’mon,” she said, hopping off her stool.
Xander stumbled slightly, trying to return his glass to the bar as she pulled at his arm. “What’re we doing?” he asked.
“You don’t want to talk, and I don’t want to see you drink any more. So, we’re going to dance instead.”
“Dawn---,” he started, trying unsuccessfully to break free from her hold.
“Nope,” she said firmly. She didn’t look back. She didn’t want to see the reluctance she heard in his voice mirrored on his face. “This one, you’re not getting out of.”
She took pleasure that he didn’t resist her any further when they reached a spot near the jukebox, allowing her to step into his personal space, press her body to his, loop her long arms around his neck. His body was harder than she remembered, more angular, and, where in the past she hadn’t quite reached his shoulder, now she could comfortably set her chin on it if she wanted, breathe in his warm scent. His hands were stiff where they rested on her hips, but as the music pulsed around and between them, Xander began to relax, the space he’d been keeping from her gradually closing. It was as if he was finally giving himself permission to let someone else in.
Dawn couldn’t help but wonder how long it had been for him to do so.
“I’m glad you came to London,” she murmured, nestling her cheek against his shoulder.
For a moment, he stiffened again, though this time, he didn’t move away. “You’re just glad to see Spike,” Xander said warily.
“No.” She tightened her arms around his neck and felt a pounding against her chest. Was it his heart or hers? “Not just Spike.”
She didn’t bother to knock. Maybe, in the old days, when Travers had been in charge, Buffy would’ve been intimidated enough to play the proper Slayer role when she was on his turf, but those days were long gone, as was that particular girl. Now, she was too riled to take note of niceties, and stormed with a rain-slicked ferocity into the study she knew Willow and Giles favored.
“What’s wrong?” Willow asked instantly, setting aside the thick book that had been resting on her lap.
“Have you found anything yet?” Buffy demanded.
Giles and Willow exchanged a quick look, saying more with the single gesture than if they’d shared a ten minute conversation. For a moment, Buffy felt a pang of jealousy at the closeness that had developed between the two of them, an intimacy that had once been hers back in the day. It was to be expected, she figured. Ever since Willow’s post-apocalyptic recovery, the relationship between her and Giles had been ever-shifting, closer and closer, until now…
She shoved the jealous feelings away. This wasn’t the time or place for that. Now it was about Spike.
“It’s still early,” Giles said gently. “Without knowing more of the particulars, we’re flying in the dark here.”
“We do have a particular,” she said. “The amulet. We start there.”
“But we don’t know---.”
“You’re right. We don’t.” Perching on the arm of the couch, Buffy gazed at them with what she hoped was unfazed determination. She’d thought about this during the entire walk to the offices---which, granted, was just around the corner, but it was the thought that counted---and she was convinced this was their only course of action if they wanted to find out what had really happened to Spike. She had to give him the answers he so desperately wanted. She had to.
“Someone else does, though,” she said, and braced herself for the reaction she knew would come. “We have to talk to Angel.”
To be continued in Chapter 9: The Blood Runs So Red to My Face…