“Buffy!” The raspy voice of the injured principal called to the Slayer as she stepped out of his garage into the chilly night air. “Buffy…wait…”
Buffy felt no inclination to wait.
Principal Wood had been beaten and bitten and left helpless on the floor of the garage, clearly in need of help. He had been attacked by a vampire, and that was usually the sort of situation where Buffy was more than willing to jump in and help…but not this time.
The vampire in question was Spike…and Wood had just tried to kill him.
At the moment, Buffy was far more concerned with Spike’s well-being than with Wood’s.
She made her way quickly across town toward her own house, the only place she could think of where Spike would definitely eventually show up. Of course, he probably felt the need to do the guy thing and go off alone for a while to brood or seethe or whatever he needed to do to deal with his anger.
Or maybe that was more a souled vampire thing.
Buffy couldn’t be sure.
When she arrived home, she half-heartedly went down to the basement, not really expecting Spike to be there; but to her surprise, he was seated on the narrow bed he used, carefully going about tending to the many injuries he had sustained in the course of the battle with Wood. A near empty mug of warm blood sat on the nightstand beside him, and as she watched, he pressed a damp cloth against a rather severe burn on the side of his face, releasing a soft hiss of pain at the contact.
He looked up at her calmly as she slowly descended the stairs.
“Principal make it all the way home all right?” he asked flatly, before reconsidering the question and adding, “All…thirty feet of the way?”
“Don’t know,” Buffy replied, her expression solemn as she came to stand beside him, her eyes fastened on the blackened spot on his face that he was attempting to soothe. “Don’t really care, either.”
He looked up at her in surprise, though he did not speak for a few moments. Finally he remarked mildly, “Huh. Bit of a surprise, that.”
Buffy couldn’t tell whether it was the faint note of skepticism in his voice, indicating that he did not quite believe her, or the uncharacteristically calm way in which he accepted the idea that she might not care about Wood’s attempt to kill him, that she found so infuriating. All she knew was that she suddenly felt the impulse to smack the calm right out of him.
*God, Buffy, what is *wrong* with you?* She looked away, a grimace of self-disgust twisting her features. *He’s sitting here all worked over and suffering, and you’re thinking of hitting him again, just because he’s showing signs of *not* being painfully obsessed with you…which was exactly what you wanted last year, before…everything. You have seriously got a…*
“So…something I can help you with, Slayer?”
*Slayer? He hasn’t called me that in so long…so we’re back to that again…*
“No,” Buffy snapped, though she didn’t really mean to. “Nothing at all. Just wanted to make sure you were all right.” She paused before muttering, “Don’t know what I was thinking,” as she turned and headed back toward the stairs.
She was halfway up them when she heard his voice, low and heavy with resignation.
She stopped without turning to look at him, not saying a word as she waited for him to go on.
“Sorry,” Spike sighed, though his voice still sounded distant and resigned. “I’m just not in the best of moods at the moment. Just been attacked and bloody nearly killed. Tends to put a bloke in a poor state of mind.”
“Well, there’s no reason to take it out on me.”
“’Cept for the fact it was your soddin’ new boyfriend who did the attacking,” Spike supplied the non-existent reason, his jaw clenched as he carefully wiped dried blood from his mouth. “There’s that.”
“My…he is *not* my…Spike, how can you possibly think that I knew anything about that?” Buffy demanded, outrage in her voice. “It’s not my fault that he had some kind of vendetta…”
“No,” Spike cut her off harshly. “It’s mine. Nothing to do with you at all, actually. So if you don’t mind, Slayer…I’d really rather have a bit of time to myself right now, yeah? Sleep well.”
Stung by his blatant dismissal, Buffy nearly physically flinched, but her pride made her suppress the reaction before he could see it. A part of her was outraged that he seemed to be making this her fault, and was so thoroughly refusing her concern, her attempt at helping him.
Another, wiser part of her quietly acknowledged that Spike had every right to a bit of space from her…no matter how much it hurt to think that he wanted it.
Silently, she turned and walked up the stairs to the privacy of her own bedroom.
The quiet knock on her bedroom door nearly an hour later was no surprise to her. She was lucky to have her own room at all, really, given the overcrowded state of her house at the moment; and even at the end of the day when she managed to retreat to her room for a little much-needed solitude, it seemed that someone still knocked on her door every ten minutes or so, until the entire household became ready to settle down for the night.
What *was* a surprise to her was who was knocking on her door.
She blinked at him, startled into silence. She really had not expected to see him again that night; yet, there he stood, his head bowed slightly, one hand nervously holding the other arm, which appeared to be badly injured. His wide blue eyes sought her gaze uncertainly, and she could see the apology on his expressive face long before he stated it aloud.
“Can I…can I come in, love? Can I talk to you?” he asked softly, glancing self-consciously back down the stairs before meeting her eyes again.
“Of course,” she replied, shaking herself out of her shock enough to back away from the door and allow him to enter, closing the door quietly behind him to give them some modicum of privacy.
When Spike did not say anything else immediately, Buffy slowly crossed the room to her bed, sitting down awkwardly on the edge, her arms crossed over her chest in a subconsciously defensive gesture. She waited for a few moments, her eyes focused on the floor, rather than on the nervous vampire standing before her, shifting his weight from one foot to the other as he tried to work up the nerve to say what he had come to say.
“I-I’m sorry, Buffy.”
The Slayer’s green eyes shot up to lock with his, startled at the admission…one she really did not feel was necessary, given what Spike had been through that night.
Spike shrugged slightly, drawing in a deep breath and letting it out shakily, his weight still shifting rapidly from side to side. Buffy frowned as she looked again at his injured arm, hanging limply at his side. She noticed with a rising sense of alarm that he appeared to be shaking, and his unnecessary breath was shallow and ragged.
“Wasn’t your fault, Buffy. Had nothing to do with you, and you came as soon as you knew. So…shouldn’t have taken it out on you, love. Didn’t rightly mean to. It’s just…sometimes…sometimes I…”
Spike’s voice trailed off, and he lowered his head, his eyes closed for a moment, his breath harsh as he visibly struggled to steady himself, before meeting her troubled eyes again. Self-conscious when he saw the awareness in her gaze, Spike turned slightly away, toward the door.
“Anyway…just wanted to…to say that…so…I’ll just be…going now…”
As he spoke, the vampire took a step toward the door…and his left leg nearly went out under him. Before he could collapse to the floor, Buffy was at his side, her arms around him as she helped to steady him, giving him a fierce look of disapproval, though he kept his eyes carefully averted.
“How the heck did you even get up here at all, Spike?”
He did not respond, his eyes downcast. “I’m fine,” he insisted stubbornly. “ ‘S not that bad…”
“Yeah…you can barely walk, barely even stand, but it’s ‘not that bad’.”
Buffy firmly turned them back away from the door, leading the injured vampire across the room to her bed. Against his weak protests, she helped him to sit down, and then lie back on the bed, his head resting on her pillow.
“I didn’t want to…to be any trouble, Buffy…”
“Then you shouldn’t have dragged yourself all the way up a flight of stairs in the condition you’re in just to say something that didn’t need to be said anyway,” Buffy retorted, a bit more sharply than she intended.
Spike flinched slightly, looking away, and Buffy felt guilty again.
*Why does everything we say to each other always have to hurt?*
“It’s all right,” she assured him, her voice softer. “Just…just lie down, okay? Let me help you, Spike…”
“Would you just stop being so stubborn?” Buffy snapped impatiently, rising and heading for the bathroom for supplies. “Why can’t you just relax and let me take care of you for a change?”
Spike did not respond as she left the room, closing the door behind her. He weakly tried to rise, before realizing that his trip up the stairs had exhausted him a bit more than he had thought. Defeated, he lay back again, staring at the ceiling and swallowing hard as the answer to her question resounded in his mind with devastating finality.
*Because I don’t deserve it…not from you…never again…*
Buffy carefully rebandaged the wound on Spike’s leg, which his unnecessary exertions had torn open again, with a tenderness and concern that obviously made him more than a little uncomfortable…but she did not really care.
He deserved at least that much from her, after…after everything.
When she had finished, she laid the supplies aside, and Spike automatically moved as if to rise from the bed.
“Unh-uh,” she said firmly, one strong but gentle hand on his shoulder pushing him back against the headboard. “You’re not going anywhere, Mister.”
“Uh…actually, I’m bloody well exhausted, Buffy,” Spike argued with a nervous, uncertain laugh. “Just want to go to bed, love…”
“I know,” Buffy cut him off softly. “And I want you to. Here.”
Spike’s eyes widened in surprise at her words, and he simply stared at her in silence for a long moment. Finally, he shook his head slowly, objecting softly, “Buffy…love, no…”
“Please, Spike, get your mind out of the gutter,” Buffy scoffed, a bit more emphatically than was necessary with a dismissive wave of her hand. “I’m not talking about anything like that. I’m just saying, there’s no way in the world that you’re going back down those stairs tonight -- not in this condition. It’s better if you just rest here for the night.”
“I’m not going to take your bed, Buffy…”
Buffy hesitated just a moment, considering the dilemma, before finally making a decision. Drawing in a deep breath, she faced the vampire with a firm, unyielding expression on her face, determined to do what she could for him, whether he wanted to accept it or not.
She was a big girl; she could handle it.
“You don’t have to,” Buffy assured him. “It’s a big bed, Spike. We’re both grown ups. We can share without…we can share. Just for tonight. By tomorrow, you’ll be feeling much better, I’m sure, and you’ll be able to make it down the stairs. But for now, just…just stay, all right?”
Spike opened his mouth to refuse again, but the quiet note of vulnerability in her voice made him pause. Something in her expression told him that if he rejected this offer of genuine compassion, it would hurt her…and that was something he was determined never to do again, if it was within his power to prevent it.
“All right, Buffy,” he relented softly at last, leaning back against the pillows, admitting silently to himself that the comfort of her bed *was* far preferable to his tiny cot in the basement. “Just for tonight.”
Author's Chapter Notes:
Thanks to the lovely and talented Tamakin for her beta work on this piece :)