The groceries were put away in a very precise arrangement by Buffy. Every time Spike tried to help, she corrected what he had done. He eventually walked around to sit on one of the stools at the breakfast bar. Understanding was beginning to dawn on him as he watched her. It was control. The situation when they had checked out had thrown Buffy’s world off kilter and she needed to put it back the only way she knew how.
The cruelty of strangers was something that was common place. To have it lavished on Buffy was unfair. She had the check card for her account. She knew it would pay for her purchases. She just didn’t know how to work the machine that processed it. The jerks behind them in line were quite willing to make a joke about a dumb blonde and the cashier’s loud sigh had only humiliated the girl. Thankfully, she did know her pin number and with Spike’s patience, Buffy had gotten through the process.
But she hadn’t spoken a word since then.
And Spike didn’t know what to say to her that wasn’t a useless platitude. So, he kept silent until she was ready to say something to him.
“Steak, salad, scalloped potatoes?” Buffy asked, turning to him after she had put the last of the frozen foods away.
“Sounds good to me,” Spike said. “I’ve got a grill on the patio that I can do the steaks on if you want.”
She nodded and began to pull things out of the refrigerator for their dinner. It was back to silence as they did an awkward dance around each other as they prepared the meal. Spike took responsibility for marinating and grilling the steaks while Buffy made the sides.
He watched her from his command post on the patio as she read the directions on the box of potatoes and put them together. She was very careful not to make any mistakes and he sighed in relief when the pan slid into the oven without incident.
“Do you want to eat at the table?” Buffy asked, coming to stand just at the doorway without stepping outside.
“Nah, I usually eat at the coffee table and watch TV,” Spike said, taking the last drag of his cigarette before putting it out. He shrugged. “If you want to eat at the table we can or…”
“In front of the couch is fine.”
Buffy turned around and wandered back into the kitchen to start the salad. It didn’t take them long to get everything prepared. They loaded up their plates and took seats beside each other on the floor with their backs against the couch.
If he had taken a moment to think about it, Spike would have decided for them to sit at the table. No, he had to think that sitting in front of the television would be more comfortable. How could it be? Buffy was right beside him. Her knee kept brushing against his when either of them moved. She was so close that his body tingled in awareness of her and he felt dirty every time it did.
“I talked to your mom today,” Spike said, hoping to distract his wandering thoughts with reminders of who Buffy was. “She was the one who sent me to the hotel to look for you. And I called and told her that you would be staying here.”
“Okay,” Buffy said, her eyes glued to the television.
“She said she was going to call and talk to you.”
Guilt flashed across her face as she turned her eyes down to her plate. She pushed it away.
“Did she call, Buffy?”
Buffy nodded. “I don’t want to talk to her. She keeps telling me I’m making a mistake.”
“She’s worried about you,” Spike said. “She wants you to come home.”
“How did you find my parent’s number in the first place?”
“Deduction,” Spike said, smiling at her diversion from his question. He took a bite of his steak. Deliberately letting her squirm for a moment before he answered. “When the original home number in the file didn’t work, I called the company your father works for. They told me he was transferred to the branch office in Sunnydale. And my connections got me the number.”
“I’m an adult,” Buffy said. “It wasn’t right to tell her where I was.”
“I needed to talk to her.”
“You’re treating me like they do.”
“Are you going to eat that?” Spike asked, waving his fork at her barely touched steak. “If you’re not then I am.”
Buffy stuck her fork in the middle of the meat. “Don’t talk to my mother again.”
“No, I don’t want her interfering in this.”
He had to admit that she did have a point.
She was a legal adult with the right to choose who she wanted to associate with. If she didn’t want to talk to her mother then why should he interfere?
So, he said the only thing he could say, “Okay.”
“Here,” Buffy said, after she had cut a small portion of her steak off and laid the larger piece on his plate. “I won’t eat it all.”
They returned to eating in the increasingly comfortable silence between them. Buffy kept her eyes glued to some sitcom that he could care less about. Everybody on it kept making really bad jokes that made no sense and even Buffy wasn’t laughing at them. Finally a commercial came on and Spike decided to broach the subject of why she was with him.
“I brought home copies of all the files concerning your case and the trial,” Spike said, pointing to his briefcase with his fork. “Maybe see if there’s anything that was missed or something you’ll be able to see as not being right.”
“Okay, I’ll try,” Buffy whispered. “I don’t remember a lot of what happened.”
Taking a long drink of his soda, Spike tried to figure out how to approach this. No matter which way his mind tried to go, it kept coming back to the same question. If she didn’t remember then how could she be so sure there was someone else?
“How much is a lot?”
“I remember the afternoon it happened, being taken…him taking me into the building, forcing me to take my clothes off and chaining me up,” Buffy said, her eyes closed and her hands clenched in her lap. “I remember him touching me, the pain…and from there it drifts in and out, bits and pieces that I can’t put in order or tell you which came first or last.”
His hand covered hers and squeezed. His thumb caressed the softness of her fingers in a gentle sweep back and forth until he felt some of the tension leave her.
“Don’t force yourself,” Spike whispered. “All we really need is anything you can tell me about her.”
Buffy nodded. She blinked rapidly and he could see the tears she was fighting back. He wanted to pull her to him and rock away her pain but knew he couldn’t. Four years hadn’t blocked it out for either of them. And giving in to his body’s ever increasing demands would only hurt her. He just hoped the next week flew by.
“It’s all flashes,” Buffy said, pulling her hands away from him. “I was in the dark a lot and I remember the light first. He brought a lantern and his one arm was back. I thought he was going to hit me but then I heard her.” She stopped, retreating to a corner of the couch. He turned so he could look at her. “She was bitching because he had brought her to a hell hole.” Buffy looked down at him with a trace of a smile. “She was right about that.”
“What else?” Spike urged, hoping that her memories would keep flowing so it would give them something.
“It’s gone,” Buffy said, shaking her head. “Screams, blood on the floor,” she held her hands out. “There was blood on me. That’s it.”
“Okay,” he said, patting her leg. “It’s enough. Do you think you could describe her enough for someone to do a sketch?”
Buffy scrunched up her face and stared off into space. “There’s like a flash before everything goes blank. Brunette, pretty…”
“Let it come to you,” Spike said. “Don’t force it. If you do your mind will make up details for you. It’s down inside of you. Let it come naturally. That’s enough for now…let’s finish dinner.”
Spike returned to his own meal and turned his attention to the television. He was relieved when Buffy slid down to sit beside him again. Witness details were often influenced by what they wanted to see, what they were prejudiced by and the power of suggestion. And people were often convicted by eyewitness accounts that weren’t even accurate. So, to let the conversation drop was the best decision. If Buffy didn’t concentrate on it then when she least expected it the face she was trying to remember would pop into her mind. Then they would have the information they needed.
Dinner was cleaned up. Buffy was still watching television. She was sitting there on his couch, wrapped up in his blanket and all he wanted was to hold her. A part of him wanted to talk to someone. Someone who could explain these feelings and emotions that weren’t letting him alone, but he didn’t really want to open that can of worms. So, he sat on his patio, smoking cigarette after cigarette. His hand almost shook with the adrenaline that was rampaging through his body.
Spike watched the smoke curl from the end of the cigarette, the red of the cherry, and the ash that was slowly forming. Feeling watched, he broke his concentration and looked up to see Buffy staring at him. Her eyes not breaking from his, brave in her contemplation of him. He could see the fright, the bravado, the curiosity of her gaze and it made him angry.
His life was finally the way he wanted it. What right did she have to come to him? But he knew why. He just didn’t want to admit it. They were the only two besides him who understood the depth of his hell. Both survived the tormented mind of another being. To cling to one another was only natural in the scheme of things.
It made him wonder what had happened to the other girl.
If she was alive, if she existed at all, then she was a member of their exclusive club. She was a part of them.
And he understood why Buffy had to find her. Why she couldn’t go on without setting things right. The other girl was their sister in the pain, their family, and she had the right to stand with them. To be counted.
“Are you all right?” Buffy asked, standing in the open doorway.
He hadn’t even registered the fact she had come to him even though he was still staring at her. He nodded, turning away to stub out his cigarette.
“Yeah,” Spike said, clearing his throat of the sudden hoarseness. “I was thinking about going to the fitness room and working out. You want to come?”
“They have a treadmill?”
Buffy nodded and backed away. He waited until she grabbed the stuff she wanted from the bedroom before reentering the apartment. Heading for the bedroom, he heard the distinctive clicks of the bathroom doors. It helped to put him back in his place as he changed from jeans to knee length navy blue cotton shorts. He grabbed his sneakers and headed back out to the living room.
Buffy was ready in sweats and t-shirt with a portable disc player in her hand. Good, she wouldn’t want to carry on a conversation while they were there. He needed to burn off the nervous energy and having her chatter would only distract him from his purpose. Oh, who was he kidding? She never chattered. Her words were few and far between, carefully chosen to discourage conversation. He should rejoice but it only made him feel alone.
The walk across the complex was tense as Buffy kept looking around. There were people everywhere, going from their cars to the apartments or just hanging out on their patios. He questioned the sanity of this. She could go into shock from moving too fast. It was too much stimuli for someone who was used to wandering around a house and never venturing outside. He was ready to turn back when her small hand curled around his.
“It’s all right,” Spike said. “I know most of these people.”
“I know,” Buffy whispered, but she didn’t loosen her grip.
Thankfully the workout room was empty this time of night. It was just the two of them and Buffy seemed relieved that it was a keyed entry. No one could get in unless they were a resident of the community. She let go of him and headed for the treadmill in the corner. He turned toward the weights. A punching bag was what he needed but he wasn’t sure how she’d react to see him taking his aggressions out so he settled for getting a good burn. After setting the weight that he wanted, he checked on her before lying on the bench. Buffy was doing a slow jog, her eyes closed, lost in her music somewhere.
He tried to forget about her as he moved through his routine. He tried to get lost in the feel of his muscles screaming at him, at the sweat that was soon pouring down his body. It felt good and when he felt the quiver of weakness that told him he was pushing it, he finally stopped. He was drenched and reached down to wipe his face with his t-shirt. Sitting on the edge of the bench again, he looked up to see how Buffy was doing and everything in his life changed again.
She was staring at him again. This time only one thing burned in those emerald depths…hunger…for him.
His body shook under the purest flame he had ever seen.
And in that instant, he knew they would have sex. God, help him, it was probably wrong for a thousand different reasons but the decision was already made.
It might make him a pervert.
It might make him a savior.
But whatever the reason was…whatever the outcome was…when she came to him and he had no doubt she would, he wouldn’t turn her away.
To be continued…