| "Spike, we have to talk."
He drank in the sight of her, water in the desert of his solitude. Beat me up, tie me down, use me and abuse me, savage my body and my heart - just as long as you never leave me. He forcibly restrained his heart's wild flight. A veteran of decades of games of chance - kitten poker and others much more deadly - he knew his face betrayed no sign of his turmoil. You may have gone all poofter-sensitive, but you've still got some pride, mate - bags of it, in fact. And she doesn't need someone to cosset her at every turn, much as you'd like to.
Spike leaned back onto the lid of one of the sarcophagi and drew his legs up under him to sit comfortably cross-legged there. "So? Talk." He drew deeply on his cigarette and exhaled a careless stream of smoke while he waited for her to speak.
Buffy was taken aback by his casual demeanor. She'd expected - well to be honest, she'd expected him to begin pleading his case to sleep with him again almost immediately. The dichotomy with actual events left her off balance and she began defensively. "What you tried to do to me was wrong."
Shame burned. Of course it was, love. Utterly and horribly wrong. I knew that even before I left here. "I'm sorry, love." You can't possibly know how sorry. "But I can't undo what I did, only try to make up for it in future. If you'll give me the chance."
Dawn was right. This in itself was a revelation fit to make her head spin. If he feels real remorse, then his love... How much more is there to Spike that I never bothered to notice when I had him neatly classified as evil-soulless-thing? "I believe you... William. And I'm not really here about you, but rather for me."
Deep breath, now. I'm not used to playing the villain of the piece. "I'm sorry too. I was wrong. The way I treated you last year, it was-" She paused, uncertain how to continue.
Much as he still loved her, Spike felt the need to get some of his own back - even if it hurt. "You treated me like dirt, Slayer."
Interesting thing about a soul: it in no way diminished his ability to tell unpleasant truths, it just sometimes made him feel sorry about it afterwards. In that sense, it was a much less effective discipline than the chip, which at least had offered instant correction that stopped the undesirable behavior before it started. It hadn't, in fact, turned him back into nancy-boy William again at all. More than a century of evil - and he would atone, he couldn't help himself on that score - had left its mark. He was far harder and more world-wary than the effeminate ponce he had once been.
Buffy recoiled, stung by the harshness in his tone. I probably deserved that. She cleared her throat. "Um. Mind if I--?" She gestured at the other stone tomb.
"Suit yourself," he replied, and she sat gingerly on the rough stone, fidgeting to find a comfortable position.
"You... were the only one who wasn't demanding something from me when I was brought back. Because of that, you were the only one that I could stand to be around. And then when we..." she stopped again.
"Shagged? Screwed?" Spike offered helpfully, if somewhat maliciously.
"The first time we made love," Buffy continued firmly, "was the first time I really felt alive again. But suddenly nothing was black and white for me anymore. You were supposed to represent everything I should be opposed to - so how could you make me feel so good?" She looked away, suddenly unwilling or unable to meet his eyes. "I didn't need any more ambiguity in my life, so I tried hard to believe that you weren't any good and were just something I did for myself, something-"
"Something convenient. I remember."
"I'm sorry," she said again. "It's an explanation, not an excuse."
"Didn't stop you from coming back to make me your personal sex toy," he retorted hotly. "Any time you felt an itch."
Buffy blushed and cast her eyes down to where her fingers twisted together in her lap. "I know. You cared about me - you loved me - and all I could think about was how mortified I would be if any of my friends found out."
"Obviously I was never on the list of 'friends of Buffy'," he replied hollowly, all anger drained from his voice.
"No," she acknowledged softly. "And you should have been. You've done at least as much for Dawn and me as any of my friends have. I said I wouldn't forget - but I did."
More than a year ago, he had been sitting where she was now, battered and bleeding. He had thought she was the Buffybot returned to him - until she kissed him. The hope that had begun to burn in him at that tenderness had been almost more painful than his wounds. And her death so soon after had nearly destroyed him.
Harris had been right. Getting her back was the single most joyful moment of his existence, made all the more poignant when the rest of the year had gone straight to hell.
Buffy watched the memories and emotions play over his expressive face in the shadows. So much pain. How much of it is my fault? "I do... care about you, William."
"Yeh? You got a funny way of showing it," he replied, angry again as the events of the past year flooded his mind again. "Trying to pound my head through the pavement."
"You were the one who tried to make me believe I came back wrong so that I would be with you," she snapped defensively. "Then Tara told me I hadn't really changed, and I knew it couldn't go on. Don't you see? If I believed there was something wrong with me, it was so much easier than the alternative - that you, with no soul, could love me-" Her eyes were haunted.
"Ah, here it comes." He flung down his cigarette furiously in a shower of sparks and lunged to his feet to pace about the crypt. "Always has to come back to him, doesn't it? Let me be perfectly clear - Angelus never gave a damn about anything but Angelus. Not me, not Dru, and not even you. That you can sit there and still try to tell me that Angel and Angelus are two different people - that he wasn't responsible for the things he did when he lost his soul - and then in the same breath you blame me for not living up to your standards-" He returned to the tomb opposite her and leaned over it, planting both hands deliberately on the cold stone. "I'll take a lot from you, Slayer. You know that. But even I have my limits."
He abruptly pounded both fists together on the lid of the sarcophagus until the stone cracked and his hands were raw and bloody, and she drew back, startled. "I love you, and I would never leave you - but if he so much as raised a soulful brow in your direction, you'd be off without a backward glance, wouldn't you?"
"I'm sorry," she said yet again. "About everything I've done. I care about you... and I do have feelings for you. But I can't - I don't love you."
"Why were you wearing my coat?" he asked, apropos of nothing, then shook his head wearily, not waiting for an answer. "Go home." He turned away.
She was taken by surprise. "What?"
"You heard me. Go. Home."
"I accept your apology, Slayer. Isn't that what you wanted? There isn't anything else you need from me, is there." It wasn't a question.
Spike kept his back turned until he heard the crypt door open and close behind her. He collapsed slowly to the floor, sliding down the coarse stone of the tomb until he could sit back against it, cradling his injured hands in his lap and surrendering to the hot tears that spilled from his eyes.
"I love you," he said again to the empty air of the crypt. God help me. I still love you.
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