Title: "The Last Time"
Author: Mala
E-mail: malisita@yahoo.com
Spoilers: post-"Into the Woods", pre-"Crush." Rating/Classification: 'R', B/S, angst, fluff, language.
Disclaimer: Grr aargh. Lyrics are from "Stupid Thing" by Nickel.
Summary: It's the last time he'll call. He swears. Okay, fine, he's calling because *she* needs him to. Not because he needs *her*.
Dedication: For Lynn and Chelle...my cheerleaders and muses.

I did a stupid thing last night
I called you
A moment of weakness
No, not a moment
More like three months of weakness

He hit the 'redial' button on the small cell phone. The third time in as many minutes.

"Hello? Hello?!" Her voice was puzzled at first...and then the silence drove her to irritation. "Hello?!? Who's there? This isn't funny!"

He relished the sound of the phone being slammed into it's cradle, the sound of the dialtone, almost as much as he did her vocal transformation from polite to pissed-off.

It was a sickness.

He knew it.

It was an obsession.

He embraced it.

Lurking in the shadows of her house, her life, her heart.

Calling her phone, her bluff, her darkness.

Had it only been a few months since he had given in? Only a few months since he'd pitched headfirst into loving her? It felt like centuries. It felt like he had always been this weak, this beaten, this singularly fascinated by the way her hair fell and the way her glossy lips parted.

He knew it had been almost three years since that first night...since he'd first watched her dance and kill with the same reckless abandon. But he'd been stupid then. Infinitely MORE stupid than he was now for not recognizing the ache in his chest as something more than the desire to kill another Slayer. Buffy could never be just "another Slayer."

She was the only one.

The definition of the word.

The definition of so many other words, too.

Beauty...danger...passion...humanity...warmth...breath...light.

And she always picked up the phone on the first ring.

It was never her sister. Never her mum.

It was always her.

Maybe she hoped he was her soldier boy calling to patch up...calling to tell her he was still alive and kicking-like.

But Spike preferred to think otherwise.

He preferred to think that she knew it was him.

That she knew it.

And she embraced it.

I'm one step away from crashing to my knees
One step away from spilling my guts to you

He dropped down onto the back porch, tucking the cell into an inner pocket as he reached for a fag and twirled it between his fingers.

Was it time?

That was the question he always asked himself.

Perhaps he'd been asking it all along.

Was it time to tell her the truth?

Was it time to lay himself bare for her, strip himself naked, and let out the words he wasn't even sure he could speak out loud?

God, he was so close...just outside her careful little existence...close enough to smell her perfume, to watch her eyes fill with shock, to await the flurry of kicks and punches that would accompany her derision and disbelief. Would she push him down again? Would she remind him that he was beneath her, too base for her touch?

When it came down to it...would he care what she said, what she did? Or would he accept her stake with the same hunger with which he would accept her kiss?

I did a stupid thing last night
I called you
I'm doing all right
No, don't feel sorry for me
Really I'm all right

It was never him. She always raced towards the phone...picked it up hoping to hear him breathing, to hear him stammer that he missed her, that he was sorry, that he was miserable with out her, that the mosquitoes in South America were as big as birds and worse than vamps.

And it was never him.

It would never be him.

She knew that. Really she did.

Riley wasn't going to call.

He was finished with her. He was done. He was over it.

And Buffy couldn't figure out if that was what actually hurt the most. If that was what the empty space inside her chest was for. Because, aside from the shock of it, there was nothing. A literal nothing.

She hadn't cried.

Not once.

There had just been anger. At herself for being so clueless...for feeling so secure...at Riley for not having any faith in her and her emotions...and she'd even been angry at Spike.

She was still angry, in fact.

Probably because he was still around.

Damn Spike. Damn his games. Had it been a thrill for him? Running to her and tattling on her unfaithful, bite-junkie boyfriend...breaking up her perfect little world? A way for him to begin snipping away at her ties to life...cutting the threads that made her determined to live?

Maybe that had been his plan all along?

Maybe he thought he could finally get her alone now?

That he could have his ' real good day'?

"Bring it on," she whispered, staring down at the phone.

Willing it to ring again.

But the telephone remained silent. And she could hear the sound of Dawn's modem connecting, signaling that there would be no more calls tonight...no more long silences with no breath on the other end of the line.

I'm one step away from crashing to my knees
One step away from spilling my guts to you

She dropped onto her bed, pushing a stake out of the way and letting it roll to the floor. She watched it's rapid progress across her carpet with almost too much interest. How many times had a stake been pointed at Spike's chest, only to drop to the floor seconds later? How many times had he tossed her one to help her with a kill?

Their whole dance was based on an exchange of stakes that never quite met the right target and barbs that always did. No matter how many times she urged him to "bring it on"...he never brought it all the way home. And neither did she.

She couldn't bring on his death.

Just like she couldn't stop answering the phone.

God, he was so close...just outside her carefully ordered world...close enough to play with her life, to watch her eyes fill with shock, to revel in the pain he caused...to egg her into fights...to insist theirs was a deeper, darker connection than anything else she'd known. And she found herself wondering, more and more, if he was right. If there was something so dark, so primal inside her, that someone like Riley couldn't survive it.

That only a vampire could.

That only Spike could.

She stared at the stake as it clattered against the wall.

When it came down to it...if she found herself pressed up against him, with that very stake in hand...would she kill him, or would she kiss him?

She was terrified either way.

You see, there's this huge chunk of me missing
It's gone, and I can't feel it
I can't feel it, I can't feel it

It was hours later when he dialed again. This time punching each number with manual reverence. It was after midnight...Dawn's light was off and he knew there wouldn't be a busy signal from her netsurfing.

Just the ringing...and then the Slayer's anger...and the dialtone.

One more time before he headed back to the crypt. One more round of the game was all he wanted.

The last thing he expected was what he got.

"Spike...you're going to wake up my mother," Buffy said before the first ring had even finished. "And don't even TRY to pretend this isn't you."

He nearly dropped the phone, but managed to keep a grip on the thin device. "Uh...sorry?" he offered with a stammer.

"You are. Very sorry. What do you want?"

"You. Er...I mean...ewes. Sheep's blood. I hit the wrong bloody number on speed dial. How are you, anyway?" he semi-recovered, casually, leaning against the porch railing.

"Well, there's this huge chunk of me missing...and I can't feel him. His name is Riley, remember? How do you think I am? How do you want me to be? Miserable? Crushed? Weak?"

"No! Never!" The answer was out before he could stop it. And no hasty cover would change it. "That's not you, Slayer."

"And how do you know what I am, Spike?" she demanded.

"How do I know...? Cor', Slayer...I know you because I see you. Because I feel your art in my head every day. I know you better than you know yourself. You're moping because it's expected. Not because you want to. You're better than that. You were made to be resilient, to heal quickly and live to fight another day. Not to miss a lad who could never do you right."

"Oh...and I bet you could 'do me right', huh, Spike? Could we dance all night now??" she spat, tone brimming with hostility...with denial.

He cradled the phone against his ear, moving up to the top step and back down again. "We could. I won't deny it. Unlike you. What d'you miss most about him, Pet? The fact that he was always at your beck and call? The fact that he was your overgrown teddy? Dependable. Steady. Predictable. A slow dance where you never had to move?"

He heard a clatter on the other end of the line. Like something being thrown. Hard. "Shut up, Spike! Just shut up and stop calling me! Stop calling me...stop following me...stop meddling in my life!"

And he heard the phone being moved...could sense it heading towards the cradle. "Don't hang up!" he said, quickly. "I didn't call to fight with you."

"Then why did you call?"

To hear your voice. But he couldn't say it. Not now. "It was a wrong number," he reminded with a half-hearted grumble.

Her voice gentled. "Spike? Why did you call me?"

His groin tightened...oh, hell. She'd gone from pissed-off to...to something else...something elusive, feminine. Almost...knowing. "I called because..." he broke off, swearing softly. "Bloody hell, Slayer...just because...all right?"

He wondered if she was smiling...if she had any expression at all. If she even cared. But when she finally spoke, there was no trace of anger. No trace of anything except the heady natural sweetness of her voice. "Next time, don't call so late."

Next time?

I did a stupid thing last night
I called you
It's the last time
And maybe tomorrow night will be the last time

As she hung up cordless receiver, she leaned against the kitchen door and caught up on a multitude of missed breaths. Her pajamas suddenly felt too tight, too confining and her skin felt like a live wire...sparking and vibrating with energy.

And then she peered out at the creature on the porch.

He was pacing...muttering to himself as he glared at the tiny black cellphone in his hand. His barrage of words was slightly muted through the glass and wood, but still audible. "Next time? What the fuck does that mean, 'next time'?"

She didn't know why she'd come downstairs as they'd talked.

Why she'd known he was just outside.

And she didn't know why she was just staring at him now instead of going out and kicking his ass halfway up the street.

But it was oddly comforting to watch him rant to himself.

Riley had never talked to himself. Always remained...circumspect. A big, deep, word for a big, deep boyfriend. So deep they'd drowned...hadn't they? But Spike had no secrets. He was an open book...the sum total of the cliche. He spilled all with his voice and his words and his eyes. With the things he did. Stalk her. Annoy her. Watch her back. With the things he didn't do. Kill her. Betray her. Hurt her.

The vampire was...consistent. Not "dependable". Not like State Farm, as Xander might say. But he had a pattern. A series of lines he crossed and lines he didn't. They were things she'd come to expect from him...things she almost...counted on. Like clockwork. She knew he would be irritating for weeks at a time. Knew he would make a half-hearted attempt to kill her. And knew he would do something strangely sweet to make up for it.

There was no such thing as Spike being out of character...because the weirdest traits possible were all ready a part of who he was. Rest assured, if she had spent most of her and Riley's relationship punching him in the face, he wouldn't be taking time out every day to call her.

Not that he was calling anyway.

Her stomach clenched and she looked out the corner pane in the door. The back porch still had it's occupant. He'd tucked the presumably stolen cell back into his jacket and was now just sitting on the top step, staring up at the sky. She didn't have to wonder if there would be a next time. If he would call again tomorrow.

She could count on it.

Her hand fluttered towards the doorknob, grasping the cool, curved, surface of it like a lifeline.

She could count on him.

I'm one step away from crashing to my knees
One step away from crashing to my knees

Even before kitchen door swung open, he'd known she was there. Just a few steps behind him. Her heartbeat jumping like rapid machine gun fire. And now, her presence was even stronger. He wondered if her hair was up...if she wore her pink pajamas or her peach ones...if the baby powder smell that wafted from her skin was her soap or her lotion. Would she close the distance between them? Probably. Did she have a stake in her hand? He didn't know.

"Slayer?"

He let the one word hang in the air...daring to hope...to hope for what?

One step away from spilling my guts to you
One step away from spilling my guts to you

"Spike?" she began, tentatively, as she crossed the threshold.

Their whole dance was based on an exchange of stakes that never quite met the right target and barbs that always did. No matter how many times she urged him to "bring it on"...he never brought it all the way home. And neither did she.

"Why are you always here?" she asked, the soles of her bare feet tightening on the cool porch floor. She watched his shoulders slump. Watched his head tilt down as he stopped contemplating the stars and started to contemplate her question instead.

It was a stupid thing. Unbelievably stupid and reckless and insane.

"Bring it on," she whispered to herself as she moved forward. As she dropped to her knees beside him.

One step away from crashing to my knees
One step away from crashing to my knees

It was a sickness.

He knew it.

It was an obsession.

He embraced it.

Lurking in the shadows of her house, her life, her heart.

He raised his head and stared directly into the bottomless pools of her dark eyes, knowing he was doomed...fated...to do this.

It was a stupid thing. Unbelievably stupid and reckless and insane. "This is where I belong," he said, simply.

It was time.

The last time.

One step away from spilling my guts to you
One step away from spilling my guts to you

He laid himself bare for her, stripped himself naked, and began to shape the words he, now, knew he could speak out loud.

"Buffy...I--"

And her open hand cupped his face. No stakes. No crosses. Nothing but the warmth of her palm. "I all ready know," she admitted, soft voice betraying her certainty, her acceptance of the inevitable. Of the darkness.

She knew it.

She embraced it.

Embraced him.

He finished the phrase against her glossy lips, against her desperate tongue. "I love you."

--the end--

December 2000.



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