Chapter 4: If You Knew
Spike looked through the windshield at the passing streets of Sunnydale, forcing himself not to gaze yearningly at Buffy. The only way he could manage it was not to look at her at all, but he was still intensely aware of every movement, every breath, her powerful little heartbeat, her glorious scent. He rolled the window down.
He felt as over-sensitive and confused as a teenager, something he hadn't endured in well over a century - and he could do without it now, thanks very much, he thought. He wondered if he should say something to reassure her, and noticed his knee jigging nervously. Stop it, stop it, stop it, prat, he told himself sternly. Why inflict your bloody feelings on her? She's got enough trouble. After a few blocks went by in silence (but for an occasional snort from their cargo) he shot a furtive glance at her; she had a tight grip on the steering wheel and wore a thoughtful frown, obviously worrying about Xander.
"Will you help me get him upstairs when we get home?" she asked suddenly.
What did she think he was going to do, dump him on the porch? He'd come this far, hadn't he? He felt a twinge of resentment, but instantly followed by regret.
"'Course," he said. "Don't want the Bit to see him, do we?"
"She knows he's been upset, but this - " He could see her hesitate for a moment; then she clearly decided to take advantage of his expertise, so to speak. "Spike -- do you think he's done this before? Got drunk enough to pass out in the street like that?"
"Tell you the truth, lo-, I mean Slayer, no. Not in that part of town, anyway. Vamps would be snacking on him in a minute, wouldn't they? It's a natural hunting ground -- full of cognitively impaired humans."
She threw him a sharp glance; she hadn't thought of that, apparently. She didn't seem to have noticed his slip; must mind his words a bit better. "Come to think of it, why didn't they? Did you trip over him right after he passed out, or something?"
He cursed himself for elaborating -- well, lying -- when he'd called her.
"Matter of fact, Slayer, there was a pair of gits getting ready for a bite, but I, uh, got rid of 'em."
She seemed taken aback at that, for some reason. "So you rescued Xander, who you don't even like, from a night in the gutter AND vampires?"
"Well, they didn't exactly give me much trouble," he said dismissively, looking out the window again. "And I couldn't just leave 'im there, could I?"
Xander never opened his eyes or uttered a word as they manhandled him out of the car and into the house. Buffy watched Spike hoist him over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes -- a large sack of potatoes - and couldn't help being struck by how vigorous Spike was, compared to the lifeless bulk he carried; oh, Xander was breathing all right and everything, but he was literally -- and willfully -- dead to the world. Whereas since he came back from wherever he'd been, Spike seemed more alive than ever. How weird was that?
"I told Dawn not to wait up for me," she said, unlocking the front door and going on into the hallway. He paused doubtfully on the threshold. Oh, darn, she thought, growing flustered; I forgot he might think -- .
"You can come in -- there's no -- I didn't -- " she stammered ungracefully.
"Oh," he said in an uncertain tone. "I would have thought you -- "
"Oh. Right, then," he said, and entered the house unimpeded.
Feeling oddly nervous, she turned away and started up the stairs. "It shouldn't be any problem getting him up to Willow's -- to the big room."
"You don't have to worry about, uh, him heaving his guts up, either," he said, following her. After a flash of annoyance, she decided he meant that to be reassuring. Well, in a disgusting sort of way it was.
"He's already past that point, if you know what I mean," he continued, telling her rather more about Xander's unpleasant evening than she wanted to know, "Though from this perspective, you'd think he never ate a carrot in his life."
"He's not exactly the picture of health right now," she agreed reluctantly. He grunted and readjusted Xander's weight.
She pushed open the door to her mother's room. It looked forlorn; Tara's things were gone, the stained curtains and carpet had been removed, and those of Willow's belongings she hadn't taken to England were packed away. Spike dropped his burden on the bed, not ungently, and Buffy stood back and watched stock still with surprise as he slid Xander's shoes off, eased him out of his jacket and, after a moment's thought, unfastened his shirtsleeve buttons, without any prompting. He was simply trying to make him as comfortable as possible; this was unsettling in ways she preferred not to examine just now.
"This been happening a lot, Slayer?" he said, his face concerned. "'Cause it's not good; Mrs. C was right."
"I guess you'd know," she said rather bitterly. Then she thought, what's wrong with me? Why do I have to keep saying things like that?
"That's right, I would, but then I don't really need a liver," he said equably. There was no answer to that.
She led him downstairs and tried to think of something inoffensive to say to show her appreciation. (Neither "take me now" nor "who are you and what have you done with Spike?" seemed to strike the right note.) Not that he cared. He didn't seem to care at all what she said anymore, however unpleasant, but she was resolved to honestly try not to be such a -- well, a bitch. Although so far it wasn't going that well.
"Thanks for taking Xander to Mrs. Caprescu; she's just as nice as Clem," she said. "I'm really in her debt."
"Yeah, they're good people. Or, well, you know what I mean," he said, with a smile.
Buffy decided to go for it. Standing on the bottom step, leaning on the newel post, she said politely, "Spike, would you like to stay for some coffee or something?"
In the old days, he would have greeted such a suggestion with sarcasm, blatant innuendo, and desperate eagerness. She could picture the way he would have leaned toward her, and the hungry look in his blue eyes, even as he answered her with a wisecrack. Now he just looked harassed, running a hand through his already disordered hair.
"Oh -- well, Slayer, I've got to be off, as a matter of fact. I left somebody waiting, and I've got some things to take care of." He still never looked at her, damn him. "Let me know if there's anything I can do, right?"
And he was out the door, just like that; she heard him start to run as he reached the end of the walk, as if he couldn't wait to get wherever he was going.
Well, maybe the somebody waiting was a nice friendly girl demon or vamp or something. She could hardly grudge him that, could she? It was really none of her business, was it? He had a right to go have some fun; he could party all night if he wanted to. It had nothing to do with her. And it had nothing to do with the sudden wave of depression that washed over her or the prick of tears in her eyes. She'd just had a long, frustrating day, that's all.
Coffee wouldn't help, either, she decided. What she really needed was a good night's sleep. Mom was right; Anya was right - things would look better in the morning. She locked the door, and was just heading up to her bedroom when she heard a scream from upstairs.
It was Dawn.
"YOU think I cannot understand. Ah, but I do...
I have been wrung with anger and compassion for you.
I wonder if you'd loathe my pity, if you knew.
But you shall know. I've carried in my heart too long
This secret burden. Has not silence wrought your wrong-
Brought you to dumb and wintry middle-age, with grey
Unfruitful withering?-Ah, the pitiless things I say..."