Title: The Habit of Breathing
Rating: PG, max
Setting: Season 6, sometime after Older and Far Away.
Disclaimer: Theirs, not mine. No money changed hands and no bunnies were harmed in the writing of this fic.
Summary: Buffy's ambivalent — it must be Tuesday. Or Thursday. Or some other day of the week.
Comments: This is nominally a sequel to a very silly story I wrote some time ago, "The Rabbit Rescue Mission," but there's no need to read that one first. The only connecting element between the two is that Dawn now has a pet bunny. Feedback would be oh so welcome!
Buffy was in Spike’s crypt. In Spike’s bed. Holding Spike.
He was more or less asleep, and she was only half awake. His skin was cool to her touch, his breath cool against her neck. It should have been creepy.
Buffy remembered her mother saying that her attitude toward relationships had been twisted forever by seeing certain Woody Allen movies at an impressionable age. She supposed that if just seeing a movie or two had affected her mother that much, there was no way she herself was going to escape the effect of her first love being a vampire. Never mind her second love. No, wait, she hadn’t meant that thought.
Mom had never seemed that bothered by the whole Woody Allen thing, though.
Spike was stirring. She should get up, she should leave, she should patrol, she should go home and see what Dawn was eating for dinner. (In fact, Dawn was eating Totino’s Pizza Rolls for dinner. Oven-baked, not microwaved, because even teenagers have standards.)
She kissed Spike. He kissed back.
All that other stuff could wait.
Eventually, they patrolled.
“We should have done this earlier,” Buffy said. “I should be home with Dawn.”
“Shoulda, woulda, coulda,” Spike answered. “You’re not trying to tell me you didn’t enjoy this evening?”
“Enjoying it isn’t the point,” Buffy snapped. “I have responsibilities. I have to take Mom’s place. I can’t just run around enjoying myself.”
“Buffy…” Spike’s voice was gentle now. “Your Mum was one of a kind, and so’re you. No point you trying to be her.”
Buffy wheeled toward him, furious. “I can’t handle it, right? That’s what you all think.” And you’re probably all right, said the little voice in the back of her head.
“That’s not what I meant, and you know it.” Spike managed to sound more angry than hurt.
Buffy turned and walked toward the middle of the cemetery, away from him. “Just shut the fuck up and help me kill something.”
Buffy got home around two. Dawn was asleep on the couch. Her pet bunny was loose on the living room floor, and there was a little pile of rabbit pellets near the door.
Buffy considered waking Dawn and making her clean up the pile. Instead she threw a blanket over her and swept up the bunny droppings herself. Then she scooped up the rabbit and sat down in an armchair with it.
“So what’s your story, Buster?” she asked it softly, so as not to wake Dawn. “You were a rescue bunny. Was it some terrible trauma that made you so hard to litter-train? Or are you just a slob?” She dozed a little in the chair, stroking the rabbit. It wasn’t so bad, sitting there with Dawn and the bunny, half asleep. She remembered her mother saying that she’d sat up late at night with Buffy, when Buffy was a baby and wouldn’t sleep. Mom had said that she was always exhausted back then, but still, there was nothing sweeter than having a baby fall asleep in her lap.
Dawn had slept twelve hours a night, her mom had said.
Somewhere in the house a board creaked, and Buffy thought it must be Mom coming downstairs to send them up to bed. Then she realized it wasn’t, and it hurt so badly she could scarcely breathe.
The next night, Buffy patrolled the one of Sunnydale’s twelve cemeteries where her mother was buried. Spike had begged off joining her, claiming he had an important poker game.
She knew it was silly. She knew her mom wasn’t there. And she rarely found vamps here anyway, as this was one of the oldest cemeteries in Sunnydale, with little space for new graves. Still, she found herself here at least three nights a week. It didn’t make her feel better, but it didn’t make her feel worse, either.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a flash of movement. Finally, she thought, something she could fight. And right by her mother’s headstone, too. God help her, if anything in this town was desecrating her mom’s grave, she would torture it till morning and then leave it in the sun to fry. Assuming it was fryable. She strode toward it.
On the ground by headstone was a bunch of flowers, the kind her mother had often kept in a vase in the kitchen — what had she called them, Himalayan poppies? Guatemalan daisies? A wisp of smoke curled into the air from behind a nearby cypress.
“Did you lose your stake early, Spike?” she called toward the smoke.
He stepped out from behind the tree. “”Course not, Slayer, got it right here,” he said, pulling a sharpened stick out of his duster pocket.
“No, I meant your poker — oh, never mind.” Pathetic. Even Spike didn’t get her quips anymore.
He walked toward her, blowing the smoke right at her face. “Got your little joke, Slayer,” he said. “Was tryin’ to make one of my own. Waste of breath, obviously.”
“Why do you breathe, anyway, Spike? You don’t need to. And why are you leaving flowers on my mother’s grave?” She turned away as she spoke, partly to avoid the cigarette smoke, partly so he wouldn’t see the moisture that gathered in her eyes as she said the last few words.
“Habit, I suppose. The habit of breathing. The habit of grieving. It’s all pointless, of course, but then so’s everything when you come right down to it. Doesn’t stop anyone doing it. Hardly anyone.” He stubbed out the cigarette on a nearby headstone — not Joyce's — and tossed it away. “Your mum once told me she liked Peruvian lilies because she could pick them up cheap when she did the shopping, and she thought they were just as pretty as the fancy ones. So I bought her some. Just a thing to do when there’s nothing worth doing.”
She stood, silent. All her instincts had deserted her. Should she put her arms around him and sob, or say something sarcastic and mean, or walk away? She just stood there.
He tilted his head to look at her, then crossed the distance between them. He didn’t try to touch her, though, just reached into his duster pocket and handed her another stake.
“C’mon, Slayer. Let’s go kill something.”
Later, as they shared a last angry kiss before sunrise, she remembered what love felt like, just for a moment. She was so tempted to rest her head on his shoulder, just for a moment. But she knew that if she did, she’d never make it home in time to get Dawn ready for school. She might never go home at all. So she pushed Spike, hard, and ran. She heard him sigh — almost heard him shaking his head and rolling his eyes — as she ran away from him.
As she walked through her front door, she felt something soft and cool in her jacket pocket. She pulled it out and looked. A flower, one of the Peruvian lilies from her mother's bouquet. It should have been crushed in her pocket, but it was nearly intact.
Before she went upstairs to wake Dawn, she put it in a glass of water by the kitchen sink.