Today is a good day because I have apparently finished my rarewomen assignment on time (to my utter shock) AND I've got this for y'all:
A new chapter of my Buffyverse San Francisco story/travelogue just in time for seasonal_spuffy! Will wonders never cease?
Title: Fire in the Soul (4/?)
Word count: 3370
Pairing: Spike/Buffy, but also quite a bit of Dru, though not in this chapter.
A/N: Thanks for the quickie beta by MiAmor. Some photos contained herein are copyrighted as noted. NOT comics compliant.
Summary: A few years after Sunnydale’s spectacular demise, Buffy and her crew are getting on with their lives in San Francisco. A not entirely unwelcome blast from her past (Spike! It's Spike!) blows into town, but he’s brought more than the generally allowable amount of baggage with him.
Chapter 1 on LJ / Chapter 1 on DW — In which a "chance" encounter leads to strong language and less-than-adult behavior. Also: animal magnetism.
Chapter 2a on LJ / Chapter 2a on DW — In which Dawn makes her feelings known and Buffy tries not to.
Chapter 2bc on LJ / Chapter 2bc on DW— In which Buffy gets on with her Sunday, which naturally ends up being weird.
Chapter 3 on LJ / Chapter 3 on DW — In which Buffy checks in with Giles and has another bizarre vampire meet up.
Chapter 4 on LJ / Chapter 4 on DW — In which Buffy possibly overthinks things before she and Spike try that new-fangled “communication” thing.
Spike wanted to talk. Buffy was terrified.
Oh god. Was he going to give her the “I’ll always treasure what we had” speech? And what had they had, anyway?
First, they’d had that years-long “fight to the death” stage of their relationship. Which hadn’t lasted all that long, when she really thought about it. They’d fought at Back-to-School Night, the wannabe-vamp club, and the evil church, but after that he’d come to her with his wacky truce idea. Then he kidnapped Xander and Willow, then another truce. Then the sunlit fight at UC Sunnydale, truce; the Adam debacle, truce; attacking her after his faux-chippectomy, truce. It was hard not to see a pattern.
But after all that, something changed. She didn’t want to examine it too closely. Something that had come to seem like a natural law: Spike revolves around Buffy. Now it was just another discarded scientific theory. A quaint notion. She needed to let it go, and get with the new knowledge. Only, it was so hard to think that everything he’d given her, done for her, sacrificed for her was just the result of a fleeting obsession, like she always used to say, but hadn’t really believed for a long time. Not since Glory, if she was honest.
She groaned when the alarm went off. Tuesday was the beginning of her regularly scheduled work week. She stood under the shower for longer than was strictly necessary, then sipped the day’s first cup of coffee while she gazed out her kitchen window at the view. Mostly, the view consisted of the backs of the apartment buildings behind her own, but there was a small gap that allowed a sliver of a glimpse of the bay and Alcatraz Island if she stood just to the right of the sink. The air was sparkling clear, which meant a sunny spring day colder than the coldest day of winter in Sunnydale. Yippee. It looked like a day for layers, like every other day in San Francisco.
She made it to the office before the eleven o’clock conference call, but the only new reports were about a swarm of low intensity earthquakes and Drusilla’s “coming very soon” comment of dubious value. Giles had followed a promising lead on a prophecy, but it turned out to be a description of the eruption of Santorini centuries earlier. He refused to concede that the current portents were just too vague, and said he had a few other things he planned to investigate.
She spent the next couple of hours working out the following week’s patrol routes and training exercises with the other squad leaders. Many of the girls’ guardians had requested that they be excused for family trips during the various Spring Break weeks — and why couldn’t the private, public, and parochial schools get their acts together, anyway? — so it took some extra juggling to make it all work. After that, she grabbed a smoothie and took a walk down the Embarcadero to clear her head before classes started.
Without the clutter of Slayer administration to distract her, it was impossible not to think about Spike. He’d been weirdly helpful and friendly the night before. That was good, she supposed. It was nice that he came without a chip on his shoulder. He was acting like he was on vacation, unconcerned and sort of relaxed, without his trademark intensity.
Or, if he did still have that intensity, it wasn’t directed at her any more. He seemed plenty concerned about Drusilla, rushing to her side over just a little scratch or two, escorting her home. He was giving Buffy all sorts of space, which she knew should be a relief, but just made her feel off-balance. She obviously wasn’t his priority, even if he was trying to be helpful to her. It made her wonder if she’d always misunderstood the nature of their relationship.
She sat under the giant sculpture of the bow and arrow by the waterfront and looked out over the bay, slowly tearing her empty cup into a spiral strip of plastic. Maybe the soul had changed more things than she’d known. Maybe she was so used to his devotion that she had just assumed it was still there that last year in Sunnydale. Maybe he’d shifted his focus to fighting the good fight, and away from her, and she’d been so focused on the battle that she hadn’t noticed the difference. Maybe he was more like Angel than she’d realized.
There wasn’t any point in trying to anticipate what he wanted to say. She’d just roll with what came tonight, the way she always did when it came to her personal life. It’s not like she had any control over other people’s feelings. She could only try to be in control of her own. With a sigh, she gathered up the remains of her cup and headed back to the office.
Fortunately, her classes kept her mind occupied all through the afternoon. Her little guys in the middle school class were always so squirrelly and distracted that it took all her concentration to keep them on task. Kick, punch, sweep. Jump, backward roll, block. The intermediate bladed weapons class was even more demanding, though it was sort of gratifying to get them all oohing and aahing when she ran through the demo at the beginning of class. Her advanced class was working on group tactical maneuvers, and she was pleased at their ingenuity, at least on paper. When they did a run-through in the training room, it sort of fell apart due to Ashley’s temporal/spatial confusion. The poor kid had some kind of mental block.
“Okay, you’re standing in the middle of the face of a big clock. You’re facing the twelve, right?”
Ashley just shook her head. Buffy suspected the digital age was to blame.
“I can help her with it,” Pilar said. Both Ashley and Buffy gave her grateful looks.
“All right, that’s it for today. There’s no patrol tonight, so make sure you’re all caught up with homework.” After a chorus of groans, Buffy was free for the night.
She stopped by the House of Nanking for takeout. It was full dark by the time she got out of there. She didn’t know how far Spike would have to come, though given his confrontational relationship with sunlight she was pretty sure that he would be waiting for her. She hurried up the hill, but slowed to a casual stride once she turned onto her block. Since she was looking, she saw him the moment he detached himself from the shadows and sauntered over to meet her at the front steps.
“Hey.” She started up the stairs. “I got Chinese.” She handed him the bag while she dug her key out of her satchel.
“That’s probably the Five-Spice Heavenly Delight.” She pushed the door open and held it for him. “Do you need an invite?”
“Not for the building, no.” He stepped into the foyer and waited while she got her mail.
“Seems like a design flaw to me. I mean, if a vamp can get in and ambush you in the laundry room, that’s a lame kind of protection.”
“Think the magic pre-dates laundry rooms, Slayer. Nowadays, the bleach odor will do the work of keeping monsters out of your fine washables.” He grinned a grin that made Buffy feel self-conscious. All this smelling talk was so Spike, but she didn’t know how to answer him. She was out of practice.
“Um. I’m up on the third floor. No elevator, but that’s not a problem, is it?”
His expression said you’re ridiculous, but his mouth said, “Lead the way.”
Buffy headed up the stairs with as much dignity as she could muster. It was tricky when she was convinced that he was watching her butt the whole three flights up.
She unlocked the door and ushered him in.
“Please come in, Spike.”
“Kind of you, pet.” He looked around. She didn’t feel too nervous about her place, at least. It was a cozy mid-level bachelorette pad. She had a few knickknacks from her brief travels on display and lots of photos on the walls, mostly of her friends and of Dawn, all taken in the last few years. The furniture was serviceable if a little plain Jane. She moved the magazines to a basket by the door and arranged the take out cartons on the coffee table.
“Is it okay if we just eat here? There’s a table in the kitchen, but this is nicer, if you don’t mind sitting on the floor.”
He seemed to be trying not to laugh at her, though it might be her imagination.
“I’m sure we’ll manage.”
“Oh! I forgot!” She hurried into the kitchen, calling over her shoulder, “What kind of blood do you want? I’ve got pig, cow, and lamb.”
“You got me blood?” asked Spike from right behind her. If she turned around, they’d be toe to toe. She refrained.
“Well, yeah. You’re here for dinner, aren’t you?” she shot over her shoulder.
He smiled and shook his head in wonder.
“’Spose I am. Cow’ll do me fine.”
She pointed at the cupboard before diving into the fridge.
“Make yourself useful and get some plates out, please” she said primly. “Chopsticks are in the bag, but if you’d feel more comfortable with a fork, they’re in that drawer over there.” She waved vaguely in the direction of the drawer with one hand, moving things around in the fridge with the other. She gathered up the carton of blood and grabbed a couple of beers while she was it.
“Tsing Tao?” she asked, holding the bottles aloft.
He nodded absently, absorbed with his assigned domestic task. Buffy got his mug of blood ready for the microwave. She popped the tops off the beer bottles and followed him back into the living room, handing him a beer once he had his hands free.
“Cheers,” he said, clinking his bottle to hers.
They each took a swig, making direct eye contact for perhaps the first time that night.
Buffy decided to quit acting like she was on the defensive. She was the Slayer! It was her apartment! If they were going to talk, there were a few things she’d like to talk about.
“Thanks for coming,” she said. “You were right. I do have a lot of questions.”
That was better. Take charge, Buffy.
Just as he opened his mouth to reply, the microwave dinged. She sighed, put down her beer and went to fetch his blood.
He was seated on the floor by the coffee table, digging through the take out bag when she got back. She put the mug on a coaster in front of him just as he triumphantly drew out a packet of chili oil. He poured it into the blood and stirred it with a chopstick.
“Really?” she said, sitting across from him.
“You know I like things spicy,” he said, taking a sip and smacking his lips with satisfaction. “Ta, love.”
Buffy rolled her eyes and scooped some chow fun onto her plate.
“You know what I like? I like to know what’s going on.”
“Have at, then. That’s what I’m here for,” he said, loading up his plate.
“Well, what’s the deal with Dru’s shiny new soul? Where did it come from? Is it going to stick?”
“Ah, just the easy questions, I see. How much time do you have, Slayer?”
“I’ve got all night.” He arched his eyebrow. Maybe that hadn’t come out right. Too bad. He could take everything as a double entendre if he wanted — she didn’t have to rise to the bait. When she just looked at him, he sighed.
“Wasn’t a curse, exactly. Some chaos mage came along with a plan to discombobulate the Slayers by playing a shell game with them. Vampires.” He held one hand out, palm facing up. “Souls.” He held up his other palm in front of him. “Button, button, who’s got the button?” Spike made a series of complicated motions in the air with his hands. “Picked the wrong vampires to play with, though. Didn’t get the results he wanted. Not hardly.”
He searched through the cartons, clearly seeking a distraction from his thoughts. She felt more questions bubbling up, and tried to pick the most important one.
“So, it’s not going away if she’s, um, happy?”
He paused, a potsticker held by his chopsticks in mid-air. “Dru might be closer to happy now than she’s been her whole unlife. Soul’s not going anywhere. I made damn sure of that.” He popped the potsticker into his mouth and bit down with finality.
Buffy wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or not. She didn’t really want to know the details of how he’d ensured the stability of the soul or just how happy Dru was these days. It would be so much simpler if the problem of Dru could be reduced to dust. But even she had to admit that Dru on the wagon was better than the drinking-freely version. If a vampire was off the sauce and wanted to help, Buffy’s historical approach was to let them. This instance rankled more than ever before, though.
“I guess I’ll take your word for it. So, how come she’s all with the sense-having now?”
“What, did you think getting a soul would send her off her trolley? Doesn’t work that way for everybody. Angelus kept it together, useless as he was. Now that Dru can see the point of things she’s not nearly as confused. Was just me that lost the plot, Slayer.”
“You did okay,” she murmured.
“I was a mess. A pathetic tosser.”
“You knew enough to come to me for help.”
“Should never have darkened your door in that state. Was just too far gone to know how to do anything else.”
“I guess you figured out some alternatives, after Sunnydale.”
He blinked at her.
“I mean, you know, you were able to work with another team, and, and to make your own way. Without me. Which you should totally be free to do. It’s just… I thought we were friends or, or colleagues, at least. But you never even let me know you were alive!”
Buffy clamped her mouth shut, but the words had already escaped. She’d wanted so much to play this cool. To not let him know how hurt she was. To let him live his unlife however he chose, without implying he owed her anything.
Spike nodded slowly, and seemed about to reply. Buffy cut him off.
“Never mind, Spike. You don’t have to explain anything to me. You’re more than entitled to do what you want. I’m just glad I have a chance to tell you how happy I am that you’re not dust. Okay?”
“No, pet, you’re right. You deserved to know…I should have…” He struggled to find the words, but finally shrugged. “I don’t know why, Buffy. Told myself all kinds of drivel about how you’d be better off, happier, without me to mess up your life. Convinced myself I’d just be more of a burden than a help to you. Wasn’t fair to you.”
“Stupid vampires with souls,” she muttered. “How come they always come to the conclusion that the best thing for me is to stay away?”
He considered this.
“Dunno. It made perfect sense when I had a soul. Now it’s gone, does seem a bit silly, leaving you to fight on your own. Big Slayer like you can make up her own mind, right?”
She stared. Had she heard right?
“You lost your soul?”
He stared right back. “Well, yeah. Thought you knew. Dru’s got it now.”
“Drusilla has your soul.”
He started to look annoyed. “As I said.”
She was feeling the beginning stir of panic in her chest. “Can you get it back?”
“Are you barking?”
“Did you just call me a bitch?”
“No! Just wouldn’t think the Slayer would want a soulless Dru running unfettered.”
“If ‘fettered’ means ‘staked’, then no, the Slayer wouldn’t want her un-whatever-it-is.”
He took a breath. “Look,” he said in a reasonable tone. “It’s simple. Dru needs a soul to keep her from her old, bad ways. I’ve learned to be a bit more flexible. She needs it more than I do. If she didn’t have it, you’d have to kill her.”
“Yeah, and don’t think I wouldn’t enjoy it, buster.”
He surged to his feet. “You really are a bitch, Summers. Normally, that doesn’t bother me. But why would you want to kill Dru, when she’s trying to help you? My lack of a soul must be interfering with my understanding here,” he added, sarcastically.
Buffy leapt to her feet as well. “She’s Drusilla, that’s why! I don’t trust her. She killed Kendra. A Slayer! Under my watch!”
Spike seemed to relax as the sense of this argument sunk in.
“I’ve killed Slayers too, Buffy. But I’ve changed. And Drusilla has, too. If you can’t trust her, can you at least trust me?”
Could she? She’d invited him in. That was possibly a mistake, but even knowing he was soulless and chipless, he still just felt like Spike. She decided to put aside the trust question for later and tried another tack.
“She hurt you. How can you be okay with this?” grumbled Buffy.
“Ah, pet. I’m a forgiving sort when it comes to the women I’ve loved. Much as I carry on, I’d still rather they walked the earth.”
“You offered to kill her for me once.”
“I did. I’d do it again if I had to, to keep you safe. You’ve got to know that, Slayer.” Buffy shook her head. “It’s just…if there’s a way, such a simple way, to not have to end her, I have to try.”
He started to pace. Her living rom was so small that he soon abandoned the attempt.
“I know you’ve had to kill the one you love. Bloody hell, you died rather than let Dawn be killed.”
He turned to look at her, and there was that look — the one filled with adoration. She never thought she’d see it again.
“You’re amazing,” he said. He dropped his head. “Guess I’m just not as strong as you.”
She wanted to tell him that he was equally amazing. She wanted to touch his arm and offer comfort. It wasn’t her place, though. She tried to convey her feelings in her words and her gentle tone.
“Spike, I get it. I do.” She took a deep breath. “Nobody wants to kill their lover. I don’t blame you.”
“My love… What are you talking about?”
“I’m just saying that I understand…”
“Drusilla is not my lover,” he interrupted. “Haven’t been between her thighs since before I ever clapped eyes on you.”
Buffy scoffed. “Yeah, right. Three whole days.”
“No,” he said, slowly and clearly. “Not since the first time. Back in Sunnydale, behind the Bronze.”
This was news to Buffy.
“But, you didn’t love me then. You just wanted to fight me.”
“’Course I didn’t love you. Had nothing to do with you, not at first. But Dru was ill back then. When she got better, dear old Angelus came to stay, and he saw to her.” He clenched his jaw with the memory. Buffy wasn’t too thrilled either.
“Now, she’s like a child, more than ever. Wouldn’t mistreat her that way. What kind of a monster do you think I am?”
Buffy felt her head swimming as she listened to these revelations. He stared intently into her eyes, daring her to accuse him of telling anything but the naked truth.
All at once, she saw him crumble. It was as if she could see the images playing through his head: a stark white bathroom, a crying girl on the floor.
She certainly hadn’t been thinking of that, not at all. Not in years. He jerked back from her, eyes wide, just like that night.
“Right. Forgot. You know exactly what kind of monster I am. I’ll just see myself out.”
But he was already gone.
Continued in Chapter 5 — In which Spike and Buffy lick their respective wounds after a communication breakdown.
1. "Cupid's Span" by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, 2003. Photo copyright ryelk 2010.
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