Author: Lirazel (penny_lane_42)
Genre: romance, angst
Timeperiod: post-“Not Fade Away”
Warning: some Buffy/Other
Thanks to: My betas: angearia for perspective, encouragement, and some of the best bits of dialogue; and snickfic for squee, snark, clarity, and saying, “Um, I think this needs a shape. You know, an actual arc.” Y’all constantly save me from myself. Thanks as well to quinara for Latin-y type help with the title.
A/N: This is a prequel to Infinitas Infinitio Infinitus. It’s not necessary that you read that fic, though you might enjoy it after you’ve finished this one. :D
Summary: “She didn’t kiss him hello, and she doesn’t kiss him goodbye.” This is Buffy and this is Spike and they’ve never done anything the easy way.
She lets him kiss her. After all, that’s what they do, the way they say hello. It’s what they did when he came to her mother’s grave, when they met at the motel after she crawled out of her grave, when he showed up three days before the end of Sunnydale (and she still feels a pang of guilt over that last one--not because it shouldn’t have happened, but because it hurt him). Their hello kiss--no tongue--is familiar, like a well-worn memory, and, okay, so it does feel a bit different, but she’s too distracted by the big pressing question to notice just how or why.
When he pulls back, she gives him a brief smile and then says, “Spike.”
Angel blinks. “What?”
“Spike. Is he alive?”
He stares at her like she’s crazy, but she doesn’t care. From the moment she opened her door to find Angel standing--alone--on the doorstep in the light of the streetlamp, her stomach has been churning with panic. Where is he? In the few days between Andrew spilling that Spike was undead in L.A. and hearing that there’d been a huge battle, one which might not have any survivors at all, she'd been furious with Spike for not letting her know he was alive. Yet as soon as she heard that he might be dead--again--she felt nothing but fear, cold and nauseating. For one brief moments when she saw Angel, it had lessened, but then when she looked over his shoulder and didn’t see the familiar shock of bleached hair, it all came rushing back.
“Yes, he made it. But Buffy--”
The knots in her stomach loosen a bit at his words, but not enough. “Where is he?”
Now the “Are you insane?” look is joined by one of profound hurt. But she’s too hung up on her question to feel guilty.
“Buffy,” he repeats her name. Then he reaches out and takes her hand--his is unusually warm, she notes distantly--and places it over his heart.
His beating heart.
“Oh,” Buffy says.
It’s clear what he thinks will happen next: his expectant eyes tell her that he’s fantasized about this thousands of times and he’s never once doubted the way it will unfold. Except for Dawn, who won’t talk about it and whose eyes are troubled, everyone else in her life also seems to take it for granted that now Buffy and newly-human Angel will have the happily-ever-after they always dreamed of.
And if she’s honest with herself, she knows that she has dreamed of this, probably as many times as Angel has, if less and less as the years passed. She used to daydream about white dresses and trips to the beach and babies, and if she had to set those fancies aside as she grew up--as she dealt with hellgods and her mom’s death and raising her sister and paying a mortgage on Doublemeat Palace wages and training Potentials and then Slayers, not to mention dying and being resurrected--she always sort of thought she’d be able to pick up those dreams and dust them off whenever she needed them.
But she can’t, not quite. Not now. Not with his words echoing in all of her dreams.
No you don’t, but thanks for saying it.
She doesn’t know who those words make her most angry at: him, for not believing her, or herself, nor not giving him enough reason to.
The restaurant is one of London’s finest, and her dress is new and slinky, and Angel’s never looked so handsome. But she can’t help it: between the bisque and the fish, a question, most important of many, pops out.
“Why hasn’t he shown? He’s trying to annoy me, right? Draw it out, make a production out of it. He always was a drama queen.”
“Who, the maître d’ ? I can call him. Do you need--”
“No,” she interrupts impatiently. “Spike. He’s alive. Why isn’t he here?”
Angel manages to look frustrated, hurt and smug, all at the same time--well, his eyes do, anyways; his expression otherwise doesn’t really change. “Buffy, I’m human now. He’s still a vampire. Can you blame him for staying out of our way? He’s doing the mature thing for once.”
“Stupid vampire,” she mutters, low enough that Angel’s newly human ears can’t pick up the words. That doesn’t sound like Spike at all, her stubborn fighter. Except that it sort of does: the heartbreakingly sweet and selfless Spike who had gotten her through that final year in Sunnydale. The one she’d told she loved. The one who hadn’t believed her.
Her eyes burn a bit, and it isn’t because smoke from the candles are drifting into them. “And before? Before that?”
“I don’t know.” Angel’s sounding increasingly frustrated now. “He was a ghost for a while, and then there was Fred and--and then the Senior Partners and--”
“A what? A ghost?”
“Buffy.” Angel reaches across the table and takes her hand in his, wrapping it tight till she can feel the thrum of his blood moving through the vein in his thumb. He’s wrestled the frustration back and is looking at her with compassionate love. It doesn’t fill her with warmth the way she thinks it probably should. “I don’t know. No one knows but him. Why are you thinking about this now? This is our moment. I’ve--we’ve waited so long for this.”
There are five more courses after that, but Buffy doesn’t taste a thing.
Someone--Willow?--must have told him that she was packing, because he raps on her door right as she’s tossing her leather boots into her bag. She almost doesn’t tell him to come in, but she figures it’s better to do this now: she has an excuse to leave (planes wait for no one, except maybe the president), and it’ll only be worse if she waits till after.
“Are you going somewhere?” he asks, and she kind of wants to roll her eyes and shoot a bolt of sarcasm at him.
But she doesn’t. “I’m going to L.A.”
“L.A.,” he echoes. “Why? I just got here.”
And this time he really does look so puppy-eyed sad that she crosses the room to him and takes one of his hands in hers. “I know. But I can’t start--I can’t do this without seeing him first. Without knowing….” She trails off, unsure of how to finish her thought. What is it that she needs to know? Even she isn’t sure, and she doesn’t like the feeling: it’s far too close to free-falling.
“Buffy,” he says quietly, his lips barely moving, in a tone of incredulous melancholy. “Are you choosing him?”
“I’m not ‘choosing’ anyone,” she explains, hoping she doesn’t sound as impatient as she feels. She swings her bag over her shoulder and heads for the door. “But I have to talk to him. I have to.”
The flight is long, and she wishes she’d taken some Dramamine. That way she could be sleeping right now, instead of picturing, again and again, the look on Angel’s face when she left the room, the look on Spike’s when she left the hellmouth.
Willow has contacts in California, though when she had time to make them, Buffy doesn’t know. She doesn’t complain, though, not when Esther whips up the locator spell so quickly and efficiently, no questions asked. When the address turns out to be a dive off a backstreet somewhere, Buffy isn’t surprised, but her hands start to sweat, and she changes her outfit for the sixth time.
He’s nursing a glass of whiskey and scribbling something on a napkin when she walks into the bar. His hair is still that obnoxious shade of peroxide, and if his duster looks strangely less worn than she remembers it, it’s still black leather over black jeans and a black t-shirt and black stompy boots.
Yes, he looks the same, even to the weary slope of his shoulders she remembers from that last year in Sunnydale.
She takes the opportunity to watch him, to study the way his big hands grip the glass and the pen, the drumming of his foot against the bar, how pale his skin looks in the bad lighting and smoke-choked air. She’d forgotten how beautiful he is, and as she studies him, the knots finally unravel and warmth fills her till she feels like she’ll bubble over. And that’s when he tilts his head, sniffs the air, and--disbelief and wonder shining in his eyes--turns to face her.
She never kissed him to say hello, and she doesn’t think she’s ever kissed him goodbye, either. They used kisses to say a thousand other things--I hate myself; Let me disappear into you; I wantyouneedyouwantyou; Please stop loving me--but never as greeting or farewell.
So she doesn’t kiss him now, either. Instead, after a long, long moment of staring awe-struck and hungry-eyed at each other, her anger snaps, and this reunion, one she never let herself dream of, quickly becomes a nightmare.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
There are a lot of words, some she means and even more she doesn’t, and she can’t tell which of his are just anger and hurt and insecurity talking either. They stand in the alley outside the bar and shout at each other while bad Eighties tunes float out the open doorway.
She wishes she could say what she wants to say in a good way, really open up to him, but all the hurt and anger she’s been carrying rushes up and drives away that delicious warmth she’d felt as she looked at him earlier, and all of her words become demands and accusations, and he shoots back answers in kind.
“You just assumed! You just assumed that I was lying to you, you just assumed that I didn’t want to see you, you just assumed that I’d choose Angel. You didn’t even give me a chance to make up my own mind! I hate it when people do that, and you damn well know it!”
“Yeah? Well, maybe I was tired of doing all the chasing, Slayer, you ever think of that? Maybe I wanted you to come after me for once.”
“How could I do that if I didn’t know you were alive? Besides, I’m here now, aren’t I?”
Maybe things could have gotten better from there, but this is Buffy and this is Spike, and they’ve never done anything the easy way.
And in the end, his words are weary and quiet and bitter, and they make her so furious she can’t see straight.
“Just go back to Angel. He’s what you always wanted, what you were always holding out for. I was never your first choice--just the consolation prize when you couldn’t have what you really wanted. Well, now you can have him. Don’t play with me or make yourself feel better by acting like you might actually choose me for the long-haul. We both know that’s never gonna happen.” And then the sharpness enters his voice again, pride squares his shoulders, and he meets her gaze head-on. “What, you wanna keep me around for your convenience, right? Keep something on the side for when Angel and his ‘real boy’ parts can’t quite scratch that itch?”
She punches him then, though she’d sworn to herself that she wouldn’t resort to violence, had chanted over and over again on the flight over that she wouldn’t hit him.
Old habits die hard.
He shouts after her as she stalks away down the alley in the boots she’d picked so carefully, and she feels disgusted with herself that she dressed to please him.
“He’s the safe choice, yeah? What you wanted all along? Go with him, you don’t have to ask yourself what it is you really want now, who it is you really are now. Don’t have to admit to yourself that you’ve grown up and not into who you thought you’d be.”
Needless to say, his parting words don’t lessen her anger a bit. But if it had dimmed, maybe she would have heard the insecurity that bled through, insecurity as profound as her own.
Instead, anger roars loud in her ears and drowns out reason. No use trying to build anything new on the back of such pain, not with the kind of baggage they lug around.
She didn’t kiss him hello, and she doesn’t kiss him goodbye.
She goes back to London, burning with fury. Angel’s there waiting, and he greets her with a kiss.
And somehow she finds that it’s six months later, her anger has worn away entirely, and she’s with Angel. And it’s okay, really. Nothing like the endless angstfest that marked their relationship the first time around. It’s nice and calm and it’s like being with Riley, only Angel understands when she doesn’t want to talk about things and gets the whole Slayer thing, which is a definite upgrade.
He can’t fight as well as he could, and she thinks that’s going to cause some friction soon, but he’s got centuries of experience in the demon world that make for a worthy contribution to the Council of Slayers’ mission. And he’s easy to share the bed with: he doesn’t snore or hog all the sheets or kick. She hasn’t been in a relationship like this since Riley, and the romancing--the dates and the picnics and the weekend trips--is fun. She finds, to her surprise, that Angel really does have a sense of humor--she remembers him as being so grim and solemn--and that he’s easy to talk to, even if she can’t quite talk about the one thing she most wants to.
But he also sometimes startles her by doing or saying something that makes her think, I’m sharing my life with a stranger, and other times it does feel safe, and she wonders if Spike was right about everything.
He usually is. Stupid vampire.
One night Angel comes home to find her curled up in the middle of their bed, sobbing. He doesn’t say anything, just pulls her into his arms and rocks her while she weeps and wishes she could have bent her pride just a little.
It takes her two months to work up the courage to break up with Angel. It’s one of the hardest things she’s ever done--she’s never had much practice. Usually she’s the one getting left, and the one time she had to tell someone it was over, well, she wasn’t exactly in the best place. She still can’t remember that moment clearly, though she remembers the before--choosing her outfit so carefully, somehow wanting to communicate to him that she was doing this because it was right, not out of any desire to hurt him--and the after--walking out into the light of the sunrise and hoping that was symbolic.
She can’t stop thinking about that morning now, about the look on Spike’s face when she called him by his real name, as she haltingly tells Angel that she can’t give him what he wants. To her surprise, Angel doesn’t even argue.
“I guess nothing could measure up to how we’d built it up in our minds. I told myself ‘Someday. Someday,’ and I held onto that, but I forgot to take into account how much we’d both changed. And we have. So I’m going back to L.A. That‘s where I belong, and I can do good there, even if it‘s not in the same way it was before.”
She cries, a little, but he knows it’s more about another ending than it is about losing him in particular. His smile is sad and his kiss soft, and she watches him walk away again. This time, though, it isn’t the loss of him she mourns, but the loss of girlhood dreams.
“It’s hard getting what you thought you wanted and finding out you didn’t want it at all,” Dawn says over ice cream and badly-dubbed Korean martial arts films. Buffy wonders when they all grew up.
There are other guys, or at least other dates. Even a few she goes out with more than once, but no one who sticks. And she isn’t unhappy, exactly, because she really has reached the point where she doesn’t need A Man. She’s working on mending her relationships with Giles and Willow, and Xander visits from Africa and they spend lots of time reminiscing about the old days, and Dawn schedules lots of sister time between classes and her own university girl social life. And then there’s phone calls with Faith (and no, she’s not quite sure how that habit started, but it’s a lifeline all its own) and training the new girls, and it really is fulfilling. Fighting the fight is what she does, and it’s so much easier now that she’s not doing it all alone.
But while she doesn’t miss having A Man, she does miss him.
She misses their banter, fighting side by side, nights battling demons or evenings spent in companionable silence on her back porch, tearing up his crypt with the force of their passion, knowing his body was strong enough that no matter what part of herself she let loose, she couldn’t break him.
She wishes that he’d trusted her not to break his heart, that she’d lived up to that trust. If he gave it to her again, she’d treasure it precious and safe, knowing it was all the more beautiful in its fragility.
It’s almost a year after her brief visit to L.A. when she decides enough is enough. She has a few options: she can sit around and wait for him forever, she can give up on the idea of a relationship altogether, she can settle for someone else…
Or she can fight for him.
Buffy’s always been a fighter.
It’s not as simple as she’d hoped it would be. He’s dropped off the planet since their last encounter. She knows, because she has Willow try another locater spell that turns up a big fat zilchy nada and because she visits the States--ostensibly to check up on the Cleveland hellmouth (which was really just an excuse to spend some time with Faith), but in actuality so that she could hop over to L.A. for a few days and physically look for him, beating up demons, meeting up with Angel’s old contacts (he’s surprisingly gracious about helping her), and trying everything else she can think of to find him.
It doesn’t help: it’s clear he took off long ago, perhaps right after she did.
The world is a really big place, and even though she checks out some of his favorite places, ticking off locations from a list provided by Angel, she doesn’t find him in St. Petersburg or Vienna or New York or Rio.
It would be just like him to find a way to leave the planet just to spite her. She wouldn’t be surprised. But he shouldn’t be surprised, either, if even that doesn’t stop her. She’s every bit as stubborn as he is, and she intends to prove it.
After tearing up the useless list, though, there doesn’t really seem to be anything she can do--he’s a vampire: he’s had over a century to learn the art of disappearing when he needs to, and God knows he’s stubborn enough to not be found if he isn’t good and ready to be. But she can’t just leave it there, can’t just go on without knowing for sure that she’s tried everything.
So she does what she does best: when faced with options that aren’t good enough, she creates another one entirely.
She convinces Andrew to send out a message to all the Slayers they know of with a description of the vampire they’re to keep their eyes open for and a message to pass on should they see him. Willow does the same with every coven she can get in contact with, and Angel starts putting out feelers in the demon world. Then Buffy herself takes to the streets: she visits all kinds of demon bars, both in London and in any other city she visits, letting it be known that Buffy Summers is looking for William the Bloody, in hopes that one roving demon might talk to another who might run into Spike in a bar somewhere.
Never let it be said that Buffy isn’t capable of fighting for what she wants, even if it sometimes takes her some time to figure out what exactly that is.
And then she gets back to her life. She plunges back into her friendships and time with her sister, into training and teaching and Slaying. She’s done all she can do. It’s in his hands now.
But that doesn’t stop a part of her from waiting.
She finds herself staring out her bedroom window again and lets her forehead fall against the cool glass, looking out into the street below and wishing him to her. “This is me chasing you this time.” She snorts, pushes away from the window, and casts one last glance over her shoulder before heading to bed. “You sure haven’t made it easy for me, though, stupid vampire.”
He never has.
She’s climbing up the stairs at the South Ken Tube stop, trying to decide whether to indulge herself by stopping at the little bakery around the corner and picking up a cupcake before heading home, when she sees him standing by the bus stop. There are people pouring by, many dressed up for a night out, traffic flashing red and white lights in the street behind, a very London-y rain falling just outside, but he’s all she sees.
“What—what are you doing here?” They aren’t close enough, her voice not loud enough for a human to make out. But he’s a vampire--her vampire--and he hears.
She takes a few steps closer as Spike, abashed, looks around at the bustle of the city, then centers his attention back on her.
“Figured I’d come home.”
Later, she’ll be thankful that her pride didn’t kick in before she could run to him. He’s trembling a bit as she wraps her arms around him, and she never asks him if it’s from laughter or tears. It doesn’t matter. Not when he’s here.
Somehow they end up in her favorite Indian restaurant in Earl’s Court, all cool air and warm colors, sharing a thali and talking and talking and talking. And sometimes there isn’t any talking--sometimes there’s just silence and looking at each other, drinking each other in, and that feels just as good.
He kisses her as they walk back from the Tube to her mews apartment. He tastes like butter chicken, and the kiss doesn’t mean anything as simple as hello: this is Buffy and this is Spike, and they never do things the simple way.
When things are hard-won, her mom used to say, you appreciate them more.
If she could go back in time, her sixteen-year-old self would still roll her eyes when her mom passed down her Soup for the Soul wisdom, but instead of a blasé “whatever” she’d say, “duh.” Some truths are so obvious it shouldn’t take a decade for her to learn. At least it didn’t take her a century, right?
When she kisses him, it doesn’t mean hello and it never means goodbye, even if they’re being reunited or parting, as they sometimes will have to be. It means a thousand, a million other things--I love you; I missed you; You’re a jerk, but you’re my jerk; Shut up and quit being a bitch; I forgive you: please forgive me; Have a good day; I wantyouneedyouwantyou; I loveyouloveyouloveyou;--but never anything as simple as that.
This is Buffy and this is Spike, and their battle was hard-won.