Spike was sitting next to Joyce on the couch in the den, his hand cradling hers. A comfortable silence reigned. "You guys eat something, and then we'll go, okay?" Joyce suggested, as if their destination were the grocery store or the hairdresser.
They nodded obediently and went into the kitchen. Dawn got out the cereal bowls. "I'll eat in a second. I just need to make one quick phone call," Buffy said.
Joyce rested as best she could in the inclined hospital bed, gauze pads taped to the insides of her elbows. Her left arm dangled off the bed, and Spike's thumb and forefinger kept a gentle grip on her pinky. As she'd asked, he'd seen the girls off to school and patrol, but then he drove back to the hospital to stay by her side. He seemed to know when she needed speech, when she needed silence. And he'd been so self-effacing that even when visiting hours were over, no one asked him to leave.
Unbidden, thoughts of her ex-husband entered her mind. Hank had been nothing but trouble when she was in the hospital. He was bad enough when she was in labor, but when she'd had the appendicitis scare - about six months before he left her - he'd been a downright nuisance. He had yelled at the doctors, paced the hallways, and ignored his daughters' fear. Even when her life had seemed to hang in the balance, he hadn't been looking at her, holding her hand, whispering tenderly to her; he'd been shouting at the top of his lungs that when the doctors had killed her, he would sue.
She shook her head slightly to rid herself of painful memories, and Spike broke the silence of his vigil. "Need anything, Joyce?" he asked.
"No. I was just thinking what an extraordinarily restful person you are to have here by my side." He smiled shyly, his expression at odds with his bad boy hair and clothes. "Buffy's very lucky to have you - to have someone so in love with her that he'd do all this for her."
He leaned forward, swallowing hard. "It's not Buffy. I mean - yes, I love her. But I'm not sitting here with you because of her, or even for her. I - I love you too. I'd love you even if you weren't her mum. Granted, I probably wouldn't have met you if you weren't, but still . . ."
He trailed off when she smiled and answered "I love you too, Spike. And not just because you take such good care of my girls."
When Joyce's eyes began to close that night, and Dr. Isaacs finally suggested that they go, Spike led the way to his car.
"So we can't see her until tomorrow?" Dawn asked plaintively, her voice high and lonely as they walked through the parking lot.
"Your mum'll be out until then," Spike affirmed. "But you can see her as soon as the surgery's over, Jujube."
Buffy squeezed her sister's hand. They reached the car, and Spike unlocked the passenger door. Buffy climbed in, and turned to see Dawn following her, so she slid into the middle of the bench-seat. When Spike got in next to her, her richness called to him. She smelled like rain. His hands gripped the steering wheel tightly as he drove them home.
"Spike," Dawn began, "as soon as Angel leaves, you're moving back in, right?"
Spike was silent for a moment. His greatest fear was that Joyce wouldn't make it through tomorrow, and he'd have to move back, if only to act as a second guardian for Dawn. He didn't want to consider the possibility; he didn't want that to be the way he came back. "Course, Niblet," he finally answered. "Who else is going to keep you on the straight and narrow?"
He met her eyes as he stopped at a red light, startled to see her tears; she'd figured out his silent thoughts. Buffy sat quietly between them with downcast eyes. When they pulled into the driveway, Spike put the car into park but left the motor running. "I'll pick you both up from the magic shop at three tomorrow so you can see your mum," he reminded them.
Dawn tucked a folded piece of paper into his hand and leaned across Buffy. "Thanks, Spike," she said, hugging him awkwardly. He turned his head to kiss her downy cheek. She opened the door and stepped out of the car, and Buffy slid towards the exit.
She looked over her shoulder and saw that his lips had been dampened by her sister's tears. She touched the shapely hand resting on the gearshift to get his attention. "Thanks, Spike," Buffy said before her lips found his cool cheek.
Buffy went straight into the kitchen, Dawn on her heels. She checked the machine, surprised that their dad hadn't yet called back. She turned to her sister and said, "I've got to go patrol. Who do you want over here to stay with you? Xander? Willow?"
"Giles," Dawn answered.
Buffy called her watcher, then dialed the number Cordelia had given her that afternoon. It was Angel's cell. "Angel," Buffy said when he came on the line, "my study group just left. As soon as Giles gets here to watch Dawn, I can patrol. Meet you at the little graveyard in half an hour?"
Spike spread his thickest blankets neatly over the top of the tomb and climbed up. He'd patrolled briefly but found nothing, so he'd decided to go back to his crypt and try his best to relax. He saw that Willow's tube of posters had rolled off the tomb so he bent down to retrieve it. He unfurled the stack again, this time really looking at the images. She'd found old-fashioned maps of all the cities he'd ever lived in, or at least been known in. //This must have taken her days of going through Watchers' Diaries and the like.// When he recalled some of the gory details that were surely recorded in such journals, his pleased smile faded. //Unless . . .// Unless Willow's gift was an oblique way of saying she understood that his past was truly past, that what counted with her was the present. //That would be lovely.//
He rolled the posters up again and slid them back into the tube. He'd only pin them up once he was back home. He sighed when he remembered the Niblet's wistful question, and recalling her face reminded him of the paper she'd slipped into his hand. He reached into his duster pocket and pulled it out, shedding the coat. At the top of the page, in red ink and deliberately dashing handwriting, were the words "Congratulations! First prize!" Beneath it, in blue, was Dawn's familiar hand, small and loopy. He read the poem a few times, understanding its meaning even as he noted the admirable metrical rhythm she'd achieved once she hit her stride. Spike breathed in sharply; her love for him was right there on the page, and it warmed him up inside. He found a pen and scrawled, "Ta, Rapunzel" across the bottom before folding the sheet back up and putting it on top of his coat. He paced around the crypt a few times, too restless to sleep, despite the fact that his time in the Summers house had transformed him back into a diurnal creature.
On his third go-round, he saw Tara's gift out of the corner of his eye. He picked it up and sat down heavily on the tomb, anxious exhaustion abruptly getting the better of him. With delicate fingers he traced the beloved visages. Mourning for his lost family, praying for his new one, he sank slowly to his side and drew his knees up towards his chest, falling asleep with the frame clutched tightly in his hand.
Buffy climbed into her room through the window for old times' sake and found herself missing Spike. Patrol with Angel had been quiet; in truth, it had been mind-numbingly boring. Angel didn't like to chat while he was patrolling; Spike had told her the best dirty joke the last time they'd patrolled together. In a way, Angel's determined silence had been a blessing, as it meant she didn't have to lie about where she'd been all evening, her mother's health, or her fears for the coming day.
She went downstairs and saw Dawn nodding off in front of the TV and Giles reading a mystery novel. Buffy realized in a flash that Dawn had wanted Giles with her simply because he wouldn't force her into conversation, when all she wanted was space to think about her mother. //She's growing up so fast// Buffy thought, half-admiring, half-resentful of the circumstances that had pushed her sister so far. "Thanks for staying, Giles," she said, walking into the den and turning off the television.
"Of course. When - tomorrow?"
"Spike's getting us at three," she answered around the lump in her throat.
"Then I'll see you tomorrow, Buffy," he said, squeezing her shoulder as he headed for the door.
Buffy climbed into bed, clutching Mr. Gordo for comfort, until Dawn crept in and asked if she could stay. "Do you think it'll be okay, Buffy?" Dawn asked as she slid under the covers.
Buffy stroked her sister's hair tenderly before promising, "Yes." She could feel Dawn's body relax gradually, as the single word somehow allayed her fears.
Dawn snuggled comfortably into Buffy's side, on the edge of sleep, and whispered, "I just hope Spike's car is big enough for all of us."
"Mmm," Buffy absently agreed. "Dawn, what was it you called him? In that poem you wrote?"
"'A walking eclipse of a man'?" Dawn answered wearily.
"Yeah, that's it. That's really good, you know?" Buffy kissed her sister's forehead and felt her slide into sleep.
//Eclipse. That's it.// She remembered the dream she'd had days ago - lifetimes ago - in which she'd sung "Total Eclipse of the Heart" in a dingy karaoke bar. //And Spike was there.// The dreams she'd had and couldn't forget began to flash in front of her mind's eye, at last incredibly obvious. A tiny Audrey II smoking in her front yard. //Spike.// The golden-eyed wolf whose black fur had become supple leather. //Spike.// Her fellow musical traveler in the deep dark woods. //Spike.// A crazed grin spread across Buffy's face as she lay next to her sister in the dark. //Is Spike animal, vegetable, or mineral?// She'd dreamt of him in so many guises that it was a little bewildering. But what did it all mean? //I'll figure it out - after tomorrow// she promised herself as she succumbed to sleep.
At noon, Anya rang up purchases with none of her normal good cheer. Giles saw the customers out and then locked the door and hung the "Closed Due to Family Emergency" sign in the front window. They settled down in silence to await the arrival of the troops. Buffy and Dawn were the last to let themselves into the shop. They all sat without speaking or looking at each other until the sound of Spike's horn broke the silence. They walked out into the heat of the autumn afternoon and piled into the DeSoto, inwardly thankful for the black paint on the windows that kept them from seeing the outside world.
//They look like zombies.// Dr. Isaacs surveyed the eight people huddled anxiously in the waiting room. When he cleared his throat, eight pairs of eyes locked on his. He shuffled nervously; public speaking had never been his forte. "Ah . . ." he began, unsure whom to address - her daughters, the responsible-looking older man, or the leather-clad man who'd sat by her side all day yesterday. "Ah . . ." he said again, and Buffy felt her stomach sinking as if she were being whisked upwards by a demonic elevator. She suddenly wished she had a stake in her hand. Dr. Isaacs met Spike's gaze and began to speak. "The operation. It seems to have been a complete success. We have to keep her here for a few days, of course, but Joyce will be as good as new very soon." He smiled awkwardly at the suddenly beaming group. It was only then that Buffy began to sob.
Tears poured out of her as her frame shook with each harsh, hitching breath. Her arms stretched out blindly for comfort. Spike wanted desperately to hold her close to him but held himself back. //What you want isn't what she needs.// It was Dr. Isaacs who reached out to hold Buffy's trembling hand. "Come on," he said, helping her to her feet, "you can all see her for yourselves."
Giles sat in his apartment, playing the old records that Joyce liked best. Xander asked Anya to marry him. Willow held her lover as Tara spoke of the domestic abuse and breast cancer that had taken her mother's life. Dawn wrote frantically in her diary, the words coming in torrents. Spike lay flat on his back on a patch of soft grass, staring up at the sky with wide eyes. Buffy sat on the pommel horse in her training room and let herself think. Joyce slept a dreamless sleep.
The crypt door slid open slowly as Buffy pushed it, and she found herself facing Spike, pulling on a black t-shirt, his hair not yet slicked back. He looked like he was preparing to patrol; he had a stake tucked into his back pocket, and a few more lay on top of his duster, draped over the chair. At the sight of him, readying himself for a fight that wasn't really his, she found the courage to say what she had never before been brave enough to utter. "Spike . . ." she began, "you don't . . . you don't have to patrol tonight. I asked Angel to take care of it for this one night." She didn't want to look up at him to see how he took that statement, but she found she couldn't look away from his face. "I know you heard the prophecy, and I understand that I have to . . ." she trailed off, cursing the fate that once would have been so welcome. "But that's not what my heart is telling me is right. I want to be with you, Spike. And it's not about rebellion, about going against the stupid Powers That Be and their prophecies. It's not about wanting to hurt Angel - I realized I don't really care what he thinks anymore. It's not about gratitude for what you've done for my mom. It's about love, Spike. I love you." He kept an iron grip on his tongue, not allowing himself to interrupt her. He felt like he'd been broken into thousands of pieces, each with a mind of its own, yet each clamoring confusedly for her, for the girl he'd loved for so long. He thought he'd die as she moved towards him, whispering, "Do you still love me, Spike?"
He held very still as she came to him, unable to believe in the truth of the moment. She stopped in front of him, looking up at him, waiting until he finally met her eyes. She leaned in and kissed the still pulse-point of his throat, the tip of her tongue darting out for a glancing taste. She kissed along the underside of his jaw, at last reaching his mouth. He felt her tongue tracing the outline of his lower lip, and she kissed his mouth open while he moved his hands to her back, gathering her to him. Their kiss was fantastically tender, each holding back not in fear but from a desire to cherish. His arms tightened around her, and she fastened hers around his neck in response, letting her fingertips roam freely through the baby curls just above his nape. He swung her around with a cry of delight, spinning madly with her, holding her waist until she wrapped her legs around him, and he dropped his hands to keep her there. His hands clasped underneath her, he walked over to the tomb he'd made into a bed, and let her perch on the side. Their eyes stayed locked as they undressed each other. She made quick work of his clothes, but he took it more slowly, murmuring, "Salom, and the seven veils." When he was finally done, he held her face between his palms, kissed the tip of her nose, and whispered hoarsely, "Top or bottom, love?"
"Bottom," she answered, knowing that if he was going to take things so deliciously, achingly slow, she'd need something to brace herself against, to keep from melting into him and losing herself utterly.
Her head hit the pillow like a sunburst, dark golden hair flying in all directions, and she kept her hold on him so that they were skin-to-skin along the entire length of her body. He swallowed at the sensation of a warm and loving body beneath his, and she shifted so that his strong legs lay between hers. She crossed her ankles across his back, and flushed at the rightness she felt. Angel and Riley were both so broad that she'd usually been splayed wide open beneath them, feeling like a frog pinned to a dissection tray. But Spike's slim length, his lovely litheness, fit her perfectly. He could hear her heartbeat accelerate as she crossed her ankles, and he turned his head to see. The sight of her rosy feet and slender ankles moved him inexplicably, and he finally resumed kissing her.
He was moving so slowly, so voluptuously, as if they had all the time in the world to discover each other, but he was doing so many things to her at once that she still felt she might explode from his next caress. Soon she was producing a constant hum, dazedly moving her hands and mouth on his body as he was doing to her. Her senses were on overload. She caught a glimpse of a black-painted fingernail as it scraped gently across her breast; she heard him murmuring his love for her continuously; she tasted the strong smooth skin of his throat; she smelled arousal in the air; she felt his mouth on her everywhere. He never let up. His ears were filled with the sound of her humming, broken only by moans; he saw the rich honey of her hair; he felt her skin warming his with continual contact and excitement; he smelled how much she wanted him; he tasted the proof at last, lapping her up like a man dying of thirst. He worked his way back up her body and pushed into her, smiling as she opened herself up ever more, accommodating his long, luxurious strokes. He didn't lose control until the very end, and then he unleashed his full power, knowing she would meet it halfway.
He held her lovingly as she trembled through her third orgasm. He nuzzled her collarbone as she quieted and propped himself up on one elbow, frowning suddenly as she opened her eyes. "Spike? What is it?" she asked quickly, fearfully.
"Nothin', pet. I just got a shock. I think I saw my reflection in your eyes."
"Well, feel free to look. You've earned it."
That got her a grin. "Nah, love, I'd rather look at you any day."
She was just letting a slow smile spread across her face when he suddenly dove at her neck. "What are you doing?" she asked lazily, feeling a delicious lassitude overtaking her.
"Never noticed before, but you've got these tiny birthmarks all over. One in your eyebrow, one above your lips, one on your throat . . ." As he spoke, he placed a tiny openmouthed kiss over each point he mentioned.
She knew she should speak before she lost the ability. He found the one on the bottom of her right foot, tickling her with the tip of his tongue. "Yes, but what are you doing?"
"Clearly, love, I'm playing 'Connect the Dots,'" he answered, waiting with an arched eyebrow and a wicked grin for her to point out where else a birthmark lay . . . or where else she wanted to be kissed. His mouth was at her navel when he saw her face crumple. "Buffy, love, what's the matter? Did I hurt you? Shall I stop?"
"No, never," she responded quickly, continuing brokenly as he waited. "It's just that . . . I've never had this before. The whole deal. You slay with me, you play with me, you make sure I see the worst of you, you love my family. And you let me love you."
Her tears streamed down her face, and he kissed away every last one, waiting until they had subsided before answering her. "You're my equal, the one who has all the same bits and pieces as me, put together in much the same way. And you let me love you too." He watched as a smile began to show on her face, kissed her sweetly on the mouth, and added, mock-gruffly, "'You slay with me, you play with me'? There's only room in this bed for one bad poet, love. Quit while you're ahead."
"Are you sure you want me to stop now?" she asked, rolling them over so that he lay prone beneath her. "I was all set to try something new."
"Give it all you've got, love," he grinned up at her, and then all he could see was her, as she bent down for another kiss.
Some time later, it was Buffy who propped herself up on one elbow to look down at her lover's face. The tip of her index finger moved languorously over the marvelous architecture of his cheekbones, the strong jut of his shark-fin nose, all of the thousand and one lovely kissable spots she saw when she looked at him.
"Oh, no!" she said suddenly, "I did this all wrong!"
"On the contrary, love, it doesn't get any better than this," he grinned, knowing from her tone she was being funny.
She continued as if he hadn't spoken. "I can't believe I slept with you before we went out even once - we don't even have a song!" she pretended to sulk.
"Actually, I've got one in mind, Slayer," he confessed, reaching up a hand to thread through her hair.
"Really?" she asked, a grin stealing across her face. She wiggled the tip of his nose with her own. "Oh, look who's the born romantic."
He smiled up at her. "I'll play it for you sometime."
A little while later, Buffy lay flat on her back with Spike, lying on his right side, flush against her. His left forearm lay between her breasts, and his fingertips smoothed over her collarbone. They lay there in silence, breathing each other in. He reached down with his right hand to clasp her left. Something about the contact jolted Buffy into laughter, free and delighted.
"What is it, love?" he asked, moved by her obvious joy.
"This. We're holding hands. It's so . . . normal. People do it all the time." Her eyes drifted down. "Not usually when they're naked, of course, but still - we can hold hands." She turned her head to face him, clearly intending what she said to be a promise. "And I want to walk into the shop tomorrow holding your hand, Spike." She didn't say anything for a moment, then grinned mischievously. "It'll be fun to see their faces when they realize what's going on."
He let her savor the scenes playing in her head for a few minutes before bursting her bubble. "Actually, Buffy . . ." he cleared his throat, "they already know. About me, anyway."
"What? Who knows?"
"Giles figured out that I was in love with you. He told Willow and Xander, who told Tara and Anya. And I told your mum myself. And my guess is that the Jellybean's got a bead on me. Sorry to ruin your surprise, love."
"They all knew?" Buffy gaped. "Why am I always the last to figure this stuff out?"
"Oh, you knew. You just didn't know you knew."
Her pouty face became solemn. "I know now. And I'll always remember, Spike," she swore as she pulled him into another kiss.
Buffy shifted so that her position mirrored Spike's, and they faced each other, heads on the same pillow, her right leg draped over his left hip. There were no words as they stayed close and let their happiness cordon them off into a separate serene world. After a little while, Buffy spoke. "Not that I want to kill the mood, but I'm freezing."
Spike broke his contemplative silence with a spurt of laughter. "Can't have that, can we, love?" He got to his feet and headed for the trunk that held the extra bedding. He was surprised to find her right behind him.
When he arched his eyebrow at her, she said, "Oh, you're not getting rid of me that easily, love." She did her best to mimic his accent on the last word. He grinned and pulled a soft quilt from the trunk, looping it around her and using it to pull her close. She came willingly into his arms. She looked up and saw his lovely face, half shrouded in shadow, half dimly luminous in the pale, diffuse light. "What's that light?" she asked, and he pointed to the small opening time had worn in one corner of the crypt's masonry.
"It's the stars, love." He took her by the hand and led her back to the tomb. He lay down, and she stretched out on top of his lissome form and drew the quilt over them both.
//It's entirely possible I'll be a morning person from now on// Buffy thought. Spike kept stealing kisses as she tried to get dressed and be ready to meet her friends at the shop. She had just pulled her shirt on when he came up behind her and lifted her hair to kiss the nape of her neck. When she bent down to slip on her shoes, he was crouched in front of her, capturing her mouth in unmistakable invitation. "We can't right now," she gasped out, but she let him see the fire in her eyes.
They were at the door when she turned and kissed him fiercely. "Mmm," he sighed into her mouth. "Wait - my duster," he said, lifting his head just enough to speak.
"It's been like a million degrees out, Spike," she said. "You don't need the coat." She reached behind her with one hand and slid the door open even as her other hand brought his mouth back to hers. She backed out of the crypt, clutching at his t-shirt as he turned to grab the duster. It was the fact that he was bent slightly backward, curved like a bow, that saved him; if he'd stepped outside with her, he would have been burned to dust by the bright sunlight that spilled over the cemetery.
Continue: Part 10/15