This is a short early S6 ficlet, from the era when Spike and Buffy were tentative friends.
Word Count: 734
Standard disclaimer: The characters aren't mine, just the story.
Summary: Buffy was fine. In the "I'm fine, Mulder" sense.
Feedback: Yes, please.
Buffy was fine.
She’d told everyone she was fine, and she was.
She went along for weeks, being resolutely, obdurately, desperately fine.
Until the day she went to take a shower and saw the large, ugly clot of hair on the cover of the shower drain.
Like she always might have done, she grimaced and tore off a piece of toilet paper to fish the squashed spider blob of brown and red hair out of the tub.
Dawn was visibly distraught to find the Slayer curled on the bathroom floor sobbing. When she asked what was wrong, Buffy could only hold up the tissue-plucked blob and shake.
"I’m sorry! I’ll pick my hair out of the drain. I’ll come through right after every shower and pick everybody’s out. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Buffy -- "
"It’s not -- ," Buffy got out, before falling again to tears.
Dawn dropped to her knees and flung her arms about her sister.
After long minutes, snuffling, wiping at her face with nerveless hands, she mumbled, "There were no hairy drain covers in heaven."
Dawn froze, and Buffy realized her mistake.
"Heaven?" It was barely a breath.
She floundered, urgently seeking a compassionate lie of the sort she'd always told Dawn.
Heaven was a day spa. Heaven was a hotel. Heaven was a hallucination she’d had after Willow cast another spell on her.
But she'd apparently left behind the ability to breeze away ugly truths when she'd sailed off that tower. Awful realization had settled on Dawn before Buffy had come up with even those implausible covers. Dawn's face was a tragedy.
Buffy felt a bubble of panic form. She couldn't stand to see that look on her little sister's face. She'd done everything in her power to keep it from there. And now she'd put it there herself with one stupid, thoughtless --
"Oh, Buffy." Dawn enfolded her again.
Dawn was taller than her now. Buffy could almost feel like a child in her arms. This time she wept with slightly guilty relief -- another living soul knew her secret.
Outside to feel air on her face -- not all sensations were bad, not any longer -- she saw a plume of smoke rising from near Spike’s skulking tree.
She could ignore him.
Spike couldn’t abide her crying, or making certain variants of panic-face. But if she just wanted to sit on the stoop to think, or not think, sometimes he’d keep her company while keeping his distance. On those occasions, his dark form appeared merely part of a misshapen tree trunk; the only evidence of his vigils, his artificially visible exhalations as they rose through branches, drifted away, and dissipated.
He took it as the invitation it was, and shouldered off his tree to join her on the stoop, snuffing his cigarette on the way.
"You heard?" He wouldn't bring it up if she didn't. This latest embodiment of Spike wouldn't push her when she was so close to the edge. But tonight she wanted to confess.
He nodded. "You told the bit."
Buffy nodded guiltily.
Then waited for the recrimination.
There was a long, thoughtful pause. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see him drawing on his cheeks like he still had a cigarette between his lips. When he spoke, it wasn't what she expected.
"Hurt her more not to know, I suspect."
Buffy took a deep breath. It felt like the first one in months. Almost dizzy with the relief of a burden set aside, she sank to sit on the porch. Spike joined her, and they sat for a time in companionable silence.
After awhile she realized something, and the tiniest crooked smile appeared on her face.
Of course her ever-vigilant companion noticed. "What?"
"You're around when I'm not miserable." It was true.
She didn't look at him, not wanting to see the delight he'd be struggling to hide.
She wasn't happy. She'd lost heaven. If she let herself think about that, or all the responsibilities they'd dumped back on her since, she'd probably break down again. But for the first time since she'd returned, she was able to sit quietly and not feel like she was still dead or drowning. It was thanks to Dawn. And --
'Did I ever thank you?' "Nothing."