Measure the Year
Rating: PG-13 (mild swearing)
Summary: A post-Chosen story in two parts.
Part Two - 197 Days
Buffy rolled onto her side, clutching one edge of the sheet as she moved. She squinted across the room at the blue light. “Spike?”
He looked up from the laptop. “Go back to sleep. It’s still early.”
Buffy climbed out of bed. “What are you doing?” Her feet sunk into the plush carpet as she moved across the suite. She leaned over his shoulder, one hand against his arm as she settled beside him, her bare foot next to his hip. She poked his leg with her toe.
Spike closed the screen, set the laptop aside and pulled her onto his lap. “What time’s your flight?”
“Eleven.” She relaxed against his chest. “You sure you won’t come?”
Spike nodded, fingers tracing patterns on her bare arm. “Not yet. What about you? Want to stay for the Halloween spectacle?"
Buffy tucked her chin, "not much for crowds these days."
“Fair enough.” He leaned forward, arms still wrapped around her body, and pulled a piece of paper from the coffee table. Spike stared at the list, "not much of a grand tour, is it?"
Buffy snatched the list away, "forget it."
She shifted, one leg thrown over his lap, knees pressed against the sofa cushions. His hands went to her waist, fingers spread wide over her hips. "You will come eventually, right?"
Spike kissed her neck gently. "Yeah."
He traced the outside of her arm, fingers dipping into the crease of her elbow before sliding down to brush the curve of her breast. She wrapped her fingers around his left hand, eyes solemn. "Okay."
The blinking cursor reminded Dawn of a tapping foot. She stared at the screen. Where to start? Should she lead with a question, some problem only he could answer (ignoring the obvious internet message boards or extensive library resources at her disposal)? Or keep it superficial?
She was glad he was back. Back and sleeping with Buffy. As much as two people on different continents could be sleeping together. Same song, different album. Buffy’s last message came from Munich, ten words and an awkward self-portrait. Dawn had stared at the picture until her eyes burned.
Buffy didn’t understand. She never did when he was involved.
Dawn hadn't said goodbye at the airport, assuming he would take the first step. Three weeks later and not one text message.
He couldn’t email her. Dawn had changed her primary address twice, each one more anonymous than the next. The magic of free accounts: no commitment, no questions. His address was clichéd, as expected. Buffy rarely used email, also as expected; her sister preferred to text, thumbs flying over the keyboard, sending messages littered with stray punctuation.
The draft had been idle for eight days. Blank subject line. Four word message. “Planning to visit soon?” Her heart was pounding quickly as she typed her first name, all lowercase and clicked send before she could change her mind.
It was enough.
Something was ringing. Buffy rolled onto her side, left hand searching across her bedside table for the phone. She grabbed it without opening her eyes, rolled onto her back, muttered something into the receiver. Only four people had her number.
She sat straight up. “Spike?” Without turning on a light, she squinted at the clock. Three forty-seven. “What’s wrong?”
“I hate LA.”
Buffy relaxed, waited for him to lead the conversation. He mumbled something unintelligible and Buffy licked her lips. “Are you drunk?”
“What time is it?” She bent her knees, pressed her feet into the mattress and braced herself against the headboard.
“Tuesday. Fuck. Dunno. Where are you?”
“Amsterdam,” she replied, twisting the edge of the sheet between two fingers.
He let out a bitter sound. “Don’t tempt me.”
“Then stop calling me in the middle of the night.”
Spike was silent.
“Where are you?”
Buffy caught her lip between her teeth. His life, his decisions. It still pissed her off when he didn’t listen to her.
“What’s next on your list?”
She hadn’t stayed anywhere longer than a week since leaving LA. After a three day trip to see Giles, she’d been on a flight to Copenhagen, armed with a mobile and corporate card connected to the Council’s account.
“Stockholm.” She waited.
“Take a picture for me.”
“Why don’t you get on a plane?” Anger bubbled up, blotting her loneliness.
“You know I can’t do that.”
“Fine.” She disconnected the call, dropped the phone onto the comforter. Buffy flopped onto her side, her back to the phone, knees drawn towards her chest. A text message came through, the dinging sound loud in the quiet room. She reached down, pulled the phone towards her, read his message. “And then?”
She dropped it facedown onto the bed. Buffy clenched her eyes shut but couldn’t ignore the unanswered message, taunting her. She retrieved the phone, heartbeat thundering in her ears. “Pick a city,” she typed back.
Buffy fell back to sleep and didn’t read his answer until morning. City of Angels.
His cellphone chirped, two new messages. "You missed Christmas." Spike tightened his grip around the phone. As if he'd forgotten. He gripped his beer bottle by the neck, tipped it back. She'd settled in, made London more of a home than it had ever been for him.
"She misses you." He stared at the words. Impossible. "I'm on break until Wednesday." Two drinks later, another message. "She leaves for Vienna on Sunday."
Spike tapped out a quick reply, tossed his phone onto the bar. "Sorry bit. Maybe next year."
He poured another shot into his glass, chased it with the beer. She couldn't depend on him; he'd break her heart.
Buffy made her way through the crowds blocking the sidewalk, purse hitting her hip with each step. She clenched her hands inside her coat pocket, cursing the cold. Her coat wasn't meant for these temperatures but it was better than small talk round seven with the motley collection of watchers staying with Giles. Her phone buzzed in her purse and Buffy fumbled in her bag with a shaking hand. His name on the display almost made up for not answering her texts the night before. “Spike?”
“Buffy.” She could barely hear him. “I’m sorry.” Covering her free ear with her hand, she’d made her way down the path, eyes burning.
“Spike? What's wrong? Talk to me.”
“Oh sweetheart I could. I would. If I had the time.” He was drunk, she could hear it with every slurred syllable.
“Where are you?”
“At the end. End of all things.”
“All what things?” She sidestepped a stroller, heels of her boots clicking on the pavement.
“Civilized things. Love and beauty.” More words streamed into her ear: apologies, what could have been poetry, accusations.
“Spike you’re not making sense.”
“I should've come."
She nodded twice. "Yeah, Dawn misses you."
"What are you wearing?”
She let out a harsh bark of laughter. “It snowed yesterday. Don't be an idiot."
"Running out of time, aren't I?”
"What are you talking about?"
"World's gone upside down. I can't stay here."
“Then don't," she snapped. "Come here." She tensed, last week’s spectacular fight still fresh in her mind. Same arguments, different city. She’d been drunk and he was stubborn, accusations and demands flowing freely.
“No,” he growled into the phone. "Drop it Slayer."
"Fine. Forget it." She stomped along the sidewalk, the hand holding the phone nearly numb from clenching so hard. Silence on the other end of the line - he'd either passed out or taken another drink.
Buffy turned blindly down a side street, stopped beside a coffee shop. "What about me?" She hated how lonely and vulnerable her voice sounded, resented the conversations they didn’t have.
He swore, one word traveling across cell towers.
She resumed walking, phone still against her cheek, warming her cheek, waiting for him to catch up. Three blocks later, his voice rumbled in her ear.
Dawn’s phone began to ring as she climbed off the bus. She lifted it to her ear without checking the display. “Hello?”
“Spike?” Dawn pressed the phone tight against her ear. He never called; they exchange nonsense emails and brief texts, avoiding each other for days when things begin to feel familiar. "Why are you calling me?"
Silence answered her; Dawn lifted the phone away from her ear, but it was still connected. No dropped call on her end.
His voice came through the speaker, slightly muffled, strangely nasal. “You’re right. I shouldn’t have called.”
“No, it’s fine. Really.” She crossed the street quickly, feet moving without destination. Dread filled her stomach, made her tremble; something awful must have transpired to push him towards her.
"Spike? What happened?"
“What?” Dawn stopped moving in the middle of the sidewalk, oblivious to the crowd breaking around her. “How? What happened?”
“Doesn’t matter.” His voice reminded her of the summer they never talk about, drunk tinged with melancholy.
“Are you okay?”
“She was a good one, you know? Deserved more.”
Dawn wrapped her free arm around her torso. “Yeah.” Her own voice is rough, throat tight with unshed tears. “I know.” Her tears fell freely as he babbled, nonsense words she didn’t try to decipher.
He paused, whether for compusure or necessity, and she wiped her cheeks with her free hand. Dawn exhaled, breath raspy. “I’m glad you called.”
Buffy’s phone buzzed from inside her coat. She wrapped her sleeve around her exposed hand against the wind. “Hello?”
“B? It’s me.”
Buffy stepped away from the entrance to the museum, turned left to get away from the crowd. “What happened?”
“Nothing. Mission over.” The connection was terrible; Faith sounded like she was in the bottom of a tunnel.
“Oh.” Buffy sank down onto a bench, weak with relief. “Where are you?”
“On my way to do some damage control. Angel said hello.”
Buffy crossed one leg over the other, swallowed hard over the lump in her throat. “How’s Wesley?”
“Looks like hell,” Faith replied.
“Anyone say anything about the big secret mission?”
“Nah. Bunch of bullshit if you ask me. What’s the point of a world full of Slayers if you shut us out?”
“Maybe they’re worried we’ll bring the wrong ones.” Buffy let out a harsh bark of laughter. “Did you see Spike?”
“Not yet. This blue chick is something else.”
The square was picture-perfect, late afternoon sunlight casting patterns on the ground. Buffy tightened her hand into a fist; he should be here. “Faith, I have to go.”
“No. I mean -.” Buffy covered her eyes with her left hand and looked up at the flags billowing in the breeze. Venice was beautiful, a labyrinth of intertwined streets she couldn’t bring herself to explore.
Buffy ended the call. There was too much to see alone.
"I'm going to be late."
Buffy shifted the phone to her other shoulder, closing the curtains and blocking out the city beneath her window. She sank down on the bed, phone against her ear. "What happened?"
"Angel got in a bit of a skirmish."
"Surprise. Where are you now?"
“With Faith.” It wasn’t a question.
“She found me not an hour after I landed. Slayer on a mission. Nearly brought her whole squadron down on me.”
“Crashing on her couch.”
“Bet she's thrilled.”
Spike swore. “Don’t play jealous.”
"Why not," she fired back.
"Leave it Buffy."
"Fine." She was bored, too much time spent by herself; places that had sounded romantic in her imagination were lonely. In Barcelona she'd walked silently, preoccupied by their latest argument, speaking only when necessary. The catacombs of Paris had made her cry; she left twenty hours after her flight had arrived.
She clenched the phone tightly. "When did you and Dawn become best friends again?" Her sister had mentioned Spike in every conversation for the last week, quoting his opinions on university programs and holiday destinations.
Spike had passed annoyed three seques earlier. "We're not. We talk." When Buffy didn't comment, he continued. "Email. Text. That's all."
"Oh. Okay." She tapped her against the coverlet. "So what's the big bad?"
"Don't know. Didn't ask for details."
Buffy tucked her free hand into her pocket. “Alright. Spike?”
He let out a harsh bark of laughter. “Can’t promise anything.”
Buffy climbed the steps from the Underground station, bag slapping her hip with each movement. Her phone buzzed twice. She pulled it out; four missed calls, two texts and a voicemail, all from Dawn. A text message came through as she stared at the screen. 'WHERE are you?"
Buffy typed out a reply, keys clicking beneath her thumbs as she walked towards the crosswalk. "What's wrong?"
“Where are you?”
“On my way home. Where are you?”
"At your place."
Buffy frowned. "Are you okay?"
It buzzed again. "I'm FINE."
Buffy rolled her eyes. "Ok," she typed back, "be there in 10." She slipped the phone back inside her bag without waiting for Dawn's answer.
She zigzagged through the joggers and tourists, making it home in less than five minutes. Home, for the moment, was a third floor flat in a brick building that faced offices and nondescript storefronts.
Buffy came to stop on the corner; beneath the streetlights she could make out a figure sitting on her front steps. She walked slowly, fingers twitching as she approached. Buffy stopped in front of him, gripped one of the fence posts, her voice rough. “You’re late.”
He stood up slowly, stretching out his legs, coat swirling around his ankles. Spike turned towards her, his face catching the yellow light, and her hand covered her mouth. The right side of his face was marred with red gashes.
Spike took a step forward. "Couldn't be helped. Bit of a scuffle."
Buffy tilted her head, cataloging his injuries despite the twilight. There was a bandage on his left hand, a bulky shape mid-thigh beneath his jeans. “With what, a weed whacker?”
Her phone buzzed, demanding attention. "Dawn," she offered, tapping out a response. Buffy tucked her phone in her pocket, looked up at Spike, "so why the big production number?"
He shrugged, "wasn't thinking too much."
Buffy smirked, "obviously." She gestured towards Spike's face, "some of those look pretty deep."
"I’m fine," he responded.
Buffy looked up the stairs towards her front door. “Fine.” She wouldn’t chase him. "What's happening in LA?"
His hands brushed the outside of his legs. "I should've guessed. You're worried about him!"
Buffy’s hand connected with Spike’s uninjured cheek. Spike reached out and caught Buffy’s wrist before she could move away. He wrapped his fingers around her arm gently, his thumb pressed against her pulse point.
He released her, his hands raised in surrender. "Buffy-"
Weeks stretched thin between them, too long if she was honest, days that blended together in a blur of boredom.
"Hello," Spike replied, his eyes going from her forehead to her hips.
Buffy stepped forward, her hand ghosting over the side of his face. "You look like hell."
"You should see the other guy." Spike leaned into her palm.
He had imagined the entire scene differently: continuation from their time in LA. Less talking, much less clothing, considerably more shouting.
She frowned. “You’re an idiot.” He quirked an eyebrow in agreement. Buffy crossed her arms over her chest, "come on.”
"You're taking me sightseeing?"
"Patrol. You have a better idea?”
Words crashed against his closed lips like water rushing against a dam. Spike touched her ponytail, strands of hair slipping across his fingers like ribbon.
She shook her head briskly, "let's go. Before I change my mind."
Spike followed. They waited on the sidewalk for the light to turn. She looked past him, checking on-coming traffic. The light changed and they stepped into the street.
“I usually start by the park." She stepped in front of him so a harried woman with a stroller could enter the crosswalk. On the sidewalk, they turned left, Spike closest to the road.
“So how long's this stopover?” Buffy's question was nearly swallowed by the noisy acceleration of a passing bus.
Spike stopped in the middle of the sidewalk. “Fuck Buffy, I thought we were past this.”
“Past what?” She stepped forward, her toes pressed against his, her breath hot.
He’s tired of the same scene, words on endless loop. Spike kissed her before she could say anything else. Buffy tangled her hands in his hair, tugging him closer. He tasted like cinnamon. She slipped her hands beneath his coat, palms spread across his chest.
Spike bent forward, pressing their foreheads together. Buffy pushed her hands against his biceps, palms slippery against the leather. He said her name, drawing out the last syllable with a frown.
“Do you-“ She shook her head, stopping mid-question. “Never mind," she said, unable to meet his eyes, "you've got your own mission." Her shoulders jerked, "I get it.”
Spike's tired enough to be agreeable. "We could use a Slayer."
“Are you asking?” Her eyes are impossibly wide, forehead unmarred by blood, but her expression is the same. One part disbelief, one part determination, with a glimmer of something he won’t name.
“Depends.” She tipped her head to the side, impatient. “Would you believe me this time?”
He laughed, catching her off-guard, “yeah.”
Her smile blossomed until she’s positively grinning. “Okay.”
Buffy stepped closer to him, the buttons of her coat pressed against his lapel, her cheeks flushed as his right hand slid along the outside of her hip, one hand twisting his shirt in her hand. "And Spike? Next time you think of calling Faith instead of me, I'll leave you on your own."
He's never loved her more than in this ridiculous moment. Spike kissed her quickly and grabbed her right hand tightly. “Fair enough. Let's go be heroes."
An hour later, dressed for battle, Buffy and Spike crossed the airfield towards the waiting jet.