He heard her coming up behind him in the dark, footfalls soft on the soft grass. But it wasn't until she'd slipped her warm little hand into his, squeezing hard, that he heard her voice. The sound of it, tone and pitch and timbre unchanged, made the bubble of sorrow in him swell.
"I'm so sorry. I always meant to be here when the time came."
"How is he? Patrick?"
She didn't answer. Her hand tightened on his. "The funeral go all right? Was the turn-out?"
"How is he, Buffy? Should you have left him?"
"Patrick passed away on Tuesday. We buried him yesterday."
"Oh God. Buffy"
"Nothing less would've kept me from coming to you. Nothing. Oh Spike, I'm so sorry!"
She swayed. He could smell her gathering tears, but they were still a little while off, a squall forming on the horizon.
"How're Bill and Joycey and the others?"
"How would they be? Grieving. Joyce said it's like losing an arm. Bill is angry at me for leaving from the wake. He said I always put the demon thing ahead of. I reminded him his uncles aren't a demon thing."
"You should have"
"What? I should have stayed with my children and grandchildren instead of coming to you? They're together, the whole family is there, but you ...."
"Wasn't exactly alone," he lied.
"I missed Xander's last days! My best friend. The last one, from before .... Had to say goodbye on the phone. I missed the funeral."
I let you down, Spike heard. And loved her for, even as he disputed it.
"Nothin' you could do about that, pet. You were there for your son."
"I needed to be. But I needed to be here too. Why must it be this way?"
"Dunno. Sometimes everythin' is hard. All happens at once. Must be terrible, buryin' a child. He was too young."
And blah blah blah. Had to say these things, platitudes, though they both disdained them. Was still something surreal, like the disorientation at the tail end of a powerful spell, in realizing the triplets were 66, and now one of them was dead.
"How are you?"
"Dunno yet. Knew this would come but ... never been through it before, have I?"
Loss of a human being he loved. Whose life was linked in with his in every possible way, whose bed he shared for over sixty years. A loss not for a hundred and forty seven days, but for good.
Again she squeezed his hand. Hers was so warm, dainty, smooth. She was the same age as Xander, who had cleared ninety before the cancer ate him, and yet she was still twenty-odd.
Came back wrong.
The night breeze was soft, fragrant of hibiscus, and the ocean far below. This was a beautiful cemetery, a good place to be. Spike breathed in the scent of flowering trees, of turned earth. He could still smell, over the fresh moving aromas of the outdoors, Harris's body, broken from within for years and now dead. Reminding him that he was displaced, turned loose. No longer tethered to a frail old man. Released to resume what he'd all but forgotten, the unlife of a beautiful creature eternally youthful, eternally strong. Eternally on the outside of the human society he dwelt alongside.
At his side, Buffy began to cry. Not noisily, but like a woman exhausted by too many frustrations and insults piled up on top of each other.
"I never thought it would be like this." She twisted her hand from his.
Spike stood beside her, not touching, breathing in the night, breathing in Harris, remembering all kinds of things, some he'd want to tell to her, some he could never formulate into words. Buffy didn't say anything else, didn't touch him, but she stayed for two hours. Two hours standing a sort of vigil by the fresh grave, longer than she'd have stood here had she made it to the funeral.
It was her week for cemeteries.
Buffy peered into her tea cup. Almost five months elapsed, a different place. The back of a noisy all-night caff in London, the windows steamed up as the cold rain drove down outside. They were both hunched on small hard chairs, their coats and hair dripping. She'd been fighting recently. Left arm in a sling. A bad battle she hadn't called him in for. Not really sure why, but cautious of pressing the question.
"I wonder if I should have had children. The trips made me so happy when they were small, but I wasn't the kind of mother they needed. They've never forgiven me for what happened to their father. For being this strange thing that I am."
Spike wondered if she'd be relieved finally, when Joyce and Bill were dead too. Unable to reproach her any more. What an unworthy thought. Of course she wouldn't be.
She'd only said this much because he'd been pushing at her for the last ten minutes. Wanting to break through the shiny surface, the rote answer of I'm fine.
Always was a bastard to you, rubbin' your nose in what you didn't want to know.
Setting her spoon down with a clatter, Buffy fixed him with a challenging glance. "What about you? How are you coping?"
"I'm lonely," he admitted. Stupid to say. Lonely was pretty much the description, wasn't it, of being a vamp? Some romantical humans even called them that: The Lonely Ones. Oh yeah. "But find plenty at the Council to keep me busy. Long as I work, I'm all right."
"Who're you teamed with now? Greta, still?"
"You didn't hear? Greta's gone, pet. Been helpin' to train up new one. Girl called Daisy, from Johannesberg. She's only eleven. Got a doll she drags around with her everywhere, like Dru used to. S'a bit odd."
Buffy pinched the bridge of her nose. "Odd? Whyever would anything having to do with the slayers be odd?"
There were only seven now. One, as the head of the Council ruefully said, for each continentthough of course they had no one stationed at the poles. Of the vast swarm of potentials all called at once in '03, none reached their fortieth birthdays; most were killed before twenty-five. When they were dead, it turned out that there was no second wave. The deaths of just six of the slayersFaith and five othersresulted in the calling of new girls. No one had ever been able to determine why. Nor what it was exactly that accounted for Buffy's freakish longevity, her failure to age.
"So, Daisy. Don't let her take that doll on patrol. And don't take her virginity. Okay? That's all I ask." The watery smile she tacked on to the end assured him she was joking; sometimes it was hard to tell.
"Never dreamed of doin' either." He doubted he'd ever see another slayer that way.
Buffy signaled the waitress. Another pot of tea, another sausage roll. "My treat," she said.
The big room was crowded and hot and filled with chatter and the clinking of glassware. Spike moved slowly through all this eating-drinking-jabbering-laughing flesh and blood of Angel and Buffy, and their dear ones or their last-minute dates or their not-yet discarded empty marriages, as if passed hand to hand. Reuniting here, being introduced there, and sometimes being pointedly ignored. Careering children ran against him; some he swung up to inspect, question, hurl into the air amidst happy cries; others he drew his hands away from without touching.
She was on the terrace, far from the buffet and the melting ice swan. Strapless floral dress, shoulders gleaming under a neat up-do, arms crossed, champagne bubbling untasted in one hand. Gazing out at the lawn swagged in fairy lights. Her arm looked fine now, but of course it would, six months later. Anyone's would.
"Hey, you came. I didn't think you would."
"Was nice of 'em to ask me. The O'Connor clan haven't seen me in quite a while. Havin' a nice time, pet?"
"The groom's twenty-two-year-old cousin just hit on me. I told him I was the great-grandma, and he looked sort of ill and said 'shit, that's you? No way!' and melted away." Buffy sniffed. "I guess I need to work on my patter."
"Want to dance?"
She turned now to look at him for the first time. "My my."
"Never get tired of it, do you? Seein' me in evenin' clothes. How I devastate."
"Well, I can still count the number of times on my fingers. Sure, let's dance."
He forgot how slipping and small she was. In his mind she took up so much space. She laid her cheek on his chest as they glided in amongst the other couples.
"How's Daisy doing?"
"You really don't keep up, do you, Slayer?"
Buffy turned her head away. "I really don't."
He knew there were only so many ways she could hang onto her mental health, such as it was. Following the fates of the other slayers too closely wasn't one of them.
"New one's called Lovleena. Oh, an' there was another called, three months back, after Erin kicked. Georgie. But I've got less to do with her."
Buffy sighed. "Do you ever think about retiring?"
"How exactly would I do that?"
"Sunlight would probably be the easiest way. Sometimes I wish that would work for me. There's something kindaI mean, whoosh and then it's over. Hardly any mess. Nothing left to trouble anyone."
"Promise me if you decide to retire, you'll ring me up first."
"Spike, don't be sentimental."
He stopped in the middle of all the swaying others. Gripped her tight. "Slayer. Promise."
He didn't go to their funerals. That was just his policy, he explained. Nothing personal.
Each one felt like a failure.
He wanted to keep these girls safe.
But if he did that, he'd prevent them from doing their jobs.
Still, why was it always the slayer who got killed? Why didn't he ever manage to catch the mortal blow?
"I'm in Reykjavik. Have you ever been in Reykjavik?"
"Oh," he said, cradling the phone against his shoulder as he typed up his notes, "not for years'n'years."
"Why don't you come for a long weekend? It's velvety dark here. We could swim. If Polly or Molly or Dolly can spare you."
Her hair was incredibly bright and soft. It seemed to illuminate the entire airport terminal. When he got close to her, he knew, why it was so shiny, and why her eyes were all foggy and moist. He put an arm around her as she led him out towards her car.
"What about it?" he murmured, as they exited the car park.
"I didn't even know his name. I have an appointment, insix hours, actually. I was hoping you'd come with me."
"Hold your hand?"
"If you would."
She drove fast, on the road all lit up with yellow light, towards the city that sat like a spread of painted toys on the lava rock.
"It's so stupid. It's so stupid, to be ninety-something and still fertile. Especially when"
The tiny car, with the windows shut tight against the cold, was filled with the fecund aroma of her. Her young-old body busily reinstating itself, maintaining its terrible strength. Even as it busily built the new one inside. Just a clot of cells, but it smelled like someone else, to him.
"I'll marry you, if you want to go on with it."
Buffy's laugh was a bark. "Marry me! Oh lord, I'm never doing that again."
"No, I mean ... I'll"
"I know what you mean. Poor Spike. Sweet." Without taking her eyes from the road, she put a hand up to pat his cheek.
Poor Spike. That what you really think of me?
"How've you been?" she asked.
"You know. Been in Iceland long?"
"Just a couple of weeks. This happened in Spain. I think."
"Buffy, are you"
"You didn't want me to retire, remember?"
"Hey! Don't go makin' me responsible fornot when you" He stopped. When was the last time they'd demanded anything of each other?
Maybe that was the problem.
Buffy tossed away the instruction sheet, that explained about resting, and nutrition, and when she could expect to menstruate again, resume regular exercise, and sex.
"I'm fine. I'm already fine."
Spike wanted to hear just a little more satisfaction in her tone than was there.
They went swimming at the Blue Lagoon.
"You look amazing in this light. The mist." Smiling, she tousled his wet hair. "I can't believe you still do the platinum thing after all this time."
"Like a bit of continuity in my unlife."
"I'm not knocking it." She dove, was suddenly pushing his knees sharply apart, kicking through. Came up behind him, splashing, laughing.
Later he watched her eat a meal. Her appetite was good.
He asked after the newlyweds. Asked after everyone. Generations there were now, all from those triplets, who'd lost their Da at seventeen. Bad age for it. Buffy knew that. It had happened to her. She always brought that up, reminded herself, reminded him, not that he needed reminding, when she talked about Bill and Joyce, and Patrick who was dead but somehow still managed to be part of the circle of dissatisfaction that encased her. Buffy at the top of a pyramid of familial dis-ease.
Much later she was drunk, and they sat outside on a heated terrace at the top of the hotel, overlooking the city, the only people there, so no reason to modulate their voices, no reason not to laugh out loud. He wasn't sure how she came to be sitting on his lap, but he knew she welcomed it when his fingers migrated from her knee up the inside of her leg. Past the top of her stocking to the shock of warm bare flesh. No panties. She parted her thighs a little more, head turned to look out over the glittering town, hair whipping up in the breeze even as the heater over their heads radiated an indoor warmth.
When his fingers reached her cunny, she sighed, sank against him. One arm around his shoulders; he wore her like a stole. She was wet and fragrant. Caressed the slick pebble of her clit, until she grasped his chin and brought her mouth against his.
She tasted the same. He wasn't sure he could've said that he remembered her taste, the feel of her, but it all came back. No change, no change. Seemed incredible.
But of course it was changed, because time did touch them. In a unique way, of course, but still.
He wrenched his hand away, his mouth. Hands firmly on her waist, standing her up.
"Don't want to diddle you 'neath your skirt in a semi-public place while you face the other way. You want me, look at me an' say so."
Buffy smoothed her skirt, and for a long moment, didn't look at anything. Spike had to repress a powerful urge to pop his fingers into his mouth, to lick every last succulent drop of her into himself. Knew that if she walked away, he'd do it, and hate himself.
He started to get to his feet. Buffy stepped back.
Then she slipped an arm around his. "You're right. Come to my room."
When they got there, when he was stretched out on the bed and she was just slowly beginning to undress for him, she looked him in the eye. "Have I been keeping you waiting, Spike?"
"Not me so much as yourself, maybe."
That slowed her; she went pensive. He got up, took her in his arms. It felt familiar, though such a long time gone, being naked with her while she had her clothes on.
"Think you'd better come back to London with me, Slayer. Think we'd better club in together from now on."
When she looked up at him her face was hard, and pale, and yet there was such girlish uncertainty in her eyes, that she tried to conceal and couldn't. "Isn't it going to feel like its only because we're all each other has left?"
"No, pet. Can feel like we've finally come to our time."
She stared at his body, blinking. Went down on her knees, looking up the length of him, touching his thighs, his belly, like he was a marble statue she'd traveled overseas to see.
"I do like a compliment," he said.
"No, I meanyou." Tears sprang to her eyes. "Even though we've been meeting all along, it took seeing you like this. I'm sorry, I know this sounds crazy It's all right here in youeverything that's gone. It's like seeing Sunnydale again. It's like seeing my mom." She was silent for a moment, then a giggle crackled out of her. She put a hand on his engorging cock. "Okay, not exactly like seeing my mom."
"Spike! Oh GodSpike. Yes. Oh yes. Oh. Spike. Spike."
I didn't even know his name, she'd said.
"We never did it this way," she said.
"Thought we did it all the ways. Least twice."
"Yes. But I meant"
"I know what you mean, sweet."
"Sometimes I used to wish I'd slept with Xander."
"Did you? Why's that, love?"
"Well, you'd been with all of us. Xander and Angel and me. You knew us all that way. And that struck me as ... a piece of luck for you. Something I thought you treasured up. So, during those years when we all ... our good years, you know."
"The best, they were, yeah."
"... I used to think sometimes that I wanted that connection too. I didn't want to have an affair with Xander. Angel was enough for memore than enough. And I would never have tried to seduce him away from you. Do you understand? I just wanted to know what making love to him would've been like. I wanted to have done it. Without, you know, actually doing it."
Spike chuckled. "I think I know what you mean."
"Do you think about him still? A lot, I mean?"
"Think of him plenty. Miss him. Still talk to him a bit, never could break the habit. Never expected to have a love like that."
"It doesn't come to everybody, that's for sure."
"We could retire for a bit," he said, when her head was pillowed on his shoulder. "I don't mean in the firey way. I mean, if you'd like to take a break from chasin' the next apocalypse. Could get ourselves a house somewhere an' pretend to be regular people for a decade or so. Cultivate our garden. Take in a foster child or some homeless puppies. Recoup."
"Really? I mean, you'd really like"
"Would you? Seems to me you've fought plenty an' deserve a time out if you like it. The mission'll still be waiting when we're ready for it."
"What about Dolly or Molly or Lolly?"
"Slayers've been gettin' along without me for centuries."
"Can I sleep on it?"
"Sure, pet. Long as you sleep in my arms."
"That's where I am," she said, and yawned.
"Good thing we're light sleepers!"
"Bloody hell! Where are the weapons?"
"I don't have any!"
"Didn't I tell you once you've always got to have your weapon readydemons never stop comin'!" Spike grabbed the thing by one powerful armthere were manyand hauled it back just before it could close its jaws over Buffy's head, tumbling under it in the process. She hit it in the facethere were a few of those toowith the desk chair. Which broke like a toy on the demon's carapace.
Spike got an arm around it and tried to break its spine. Instead it felt like it was going to crush his.
"Where did this come from!" Buffy cried.
"Iamasign!" the creature intoned. It's voice made the floor shake. "Heed me!"
She smashed another chair on it. "Spike, get out of the way!"
"Uh, little crushed here, Slayer."
"Do I have to do everything?"
"HEED ME!" the creature boomed.
"First I'm gonna kill you."
"I AM BUT THE LEAST OF THEM ALL! HEED!"
"Huh. So modest. Usually they say, I'm the Biggest, I'm the Baddest" She drove a lamp into one of its mouths. This confused it sufficiently for Spike to make good on snapping its spine.
She helped him to his feet. "Retire, you said. Tend our garden, you said."
"Was just a suggestion."
"Guess it would bore us to tears, at that."
"Ya think?" Buffy prodded the beast with her toe. "No rest for the weary. What are we going to do with this? Can't leave it for the chambermaid."
"Not without leavin' a big tip."
"I don't have that much cash."
"Sweetheart, I'm sorry. I know it's been weeks. But no, I can't even tell you where I am. And I really have to keep this short."
"No, of course I want to be part of our family! I'm the founding member! And I'm returning your call, aren't I? It's just that"
"I know. Sweetheart, I know. It's not how I'd want it. No, it isn't. Don't say that!"
Buffy looked like she wanted to drop the phone on the ground and step on it. Spike took a drag on his cigarette and let it fall. The rain lashed down all around the stone lean-to, and dripped through the holey roof. Beneath his feet, vibrating subtly through the Scottish loam, he sensed, rather than felt, something he didn't like. They were too exposed here.
"Better get movin', kitten."
"Hold on." She held the phone down away from her mouth. Whispered. "You hear something?"
"Rumblin's, yeah. They're nearer than we thought. They may have scented us."
"Shit." Bringing the phone back up. "Sweetheart, I really have to go now. When this is over I'llyes of course it'll be over. Well I don't know when. When it is."
Buffy stowed the phone in her trenchcoat pocket, picked up her axe, and stepped out into the vast night.
"Better ditch the mobile. Could be helpin' 'em somehow, you carryin' that."
The rain in her face dashed the tears away before they could fall.
Spike took her hand, and they ran.
The clanking woke them. Buffy was halfway up, a half-bitten cry escaping her lips, when he caught her arm, drew her back.
"There'sdon't you hear!"
"S'just the radiator." Her heart raced in her chest. Spike pressed a kiss to her breastbone. "Always makes that noise. 'Spect it'll be warmin' up in here a bit soon. Ancient digs with ancient plumbing." He pulled the quilt up over her. "Go back to sleep. We killed all the naughty beasties, yeah? Danger's past, world's safe again for now, an' you're home with your man."
She let him settle her, spooning. "Have you ... have you lived here long?"
"Not long. Couple of years."
"It's very ... Gilesy. A Gilesy kind of flat."
"Took it over from another watcher who went to his great reward. Most of this stuff was his. Suits me, though."
"But the bed is narrow. And ... saggy. It's not a very sensual bed, is it?"
"Old Reed wasn't a very sensual fellow, I suppose. Hairy ears."
"But you are."
"Guess I haven't been much, last few years."
"Really?" She sounded sad, and agitated. "I don't like thinking of you being all cups of tea and lukewarm blood and single beds and cold dusty rooms and slayers that die before they'd be cruciamentum age, not that we do that archaic thing anymore. Do we?"
"We do not. Was abolished long ago."
She touched him under the quilt. "You feel so cold. Are you cold, Spike? I hate for you to be cold!"
"Never mind, kitten. It's only because I'm dead."
He wanted her to laugh, but to his surprise, she began to sob. He turned her to face him, kissed the hot salt drops from her eyes.
"We're not, we're not, that's what's so scary!"
"We're all right."
"It's not knowing if it'll ever be over."
"Sweet, am I boring you?"
She went quiet then, her breathing lengthening out. Answered the question with her hand, and her mouth on his, and when he filled her grip to overflowing, sighed as she parted her thighs and pulled him on top.
"Have our bad quarter hours," Spike said, moving on her slowly, intent on drawing this out, his immersion in the delicious heat and sopping depths of her, intent on making her forget her fright. "But have our good ones too, yeah? Like this. My cock in your sweet cunny. Lovin' you, every bit of your sweet body, your dear self. Buffy. My good girl. My pretty love. Who keeps me warm, an' always interested, yeah? You know that's how it is with me, don't you? My pearl."
She held his head and rode her hips up into his, and said his name, over and over, while the radiator clanked and groaned, and outside the London traffic began to stir, the London sun to rise.
Return to Herself's Fic.