The beautiful banner is by Vampkiss

Thank you to Slaymesoftly for beta'ing.

Why was it so difficult? She hesitated, her hand hovering uncertainly over the doorknob. Her heart hammered in her chest. Why was everything with them always so difficult?

Steeling herself, she opened the door and descended the stairs. The quiet rattle of the chains he insisted that he wear preceded the deep purr of his voice. “Slayer. To what do I owe the pleasure, love?”

She walked forward slowly, watching her feet and resolutely not looking at the enquiring blue eyes, until she stood only feet away from the narrow cot. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, knowing that he would hear her. Only then did she look up hesitantly to gauge his reaction.

He was sitting up, his back pressed against the wall, legs akimbo in the casual sprawl that was just so very Spike and she had to forcibly suppress the nostalgic smile that tugged at the corners of her lips. His head tilted enquiringly and a small confused frown creased his brow. “Sorry?” The frown deepened as he sat up, leaning forward and looking at her intently in that oh-so-disturbing way he had that made her feel like she was naked, or worse—transparent. Spike could see through her in a way that no one else could. “What you got to be sorry for, Slayer?”

“I know…” She hesitated, dropping her eyes once more to the safety of the floor before continuing, “I know that you don’t want me touching you. And I get that, after… everything.” She swallowed hard and raised her eyes once more to meet his puzzled gaze. “I… It’s just…” Her hands twitched at her side and she quickly fisted them, pressing them hard against her legs to keep from reaching for him. “Difficult,” she finished. “Tonight… what I did… I shouldn’t have. I’m sorry.”

She turned, escaping up the stairs before the tears she’d battled for half the night could betray her. Slamming the door behind her, unmindful of the sleeping bodies strewn around the house, she fled to the relative safety of her room and threw herself on her bed, her face buried in the pillow as she gave vent to her sorrow. Tonight in the cemetery when he’d shied away from her touch—tonight she’d realised that she had truly lost him.

~ ~ ~

A moment passed as Spike’s mind reeled from everything that had just occurred. In that moment the slayer was gone, up the stairs and away. The salt tang of her tears hung heavily on the air, urging him into action.

“Slayer! Buffy,” he called, leaping after her and cursing when his shoulders wrenched painfully as he reached the limit of the chain’s short range. “No!”

He struggled furiously, his vampiric features sliding to the fore as he growled his frustration at his self-inflicted captivity. After what seemed an eternity, the links that connected the heavy chain to the thick iron cuffs gave way under his ministrations and he flew up the stairs.

“Stupid Bloody bint,” he muttered to himself as he forced down the hope and anxiety that warred within him. Ignoring the gasp of surprise and the mumbled challenge from the bleary eyed potentials in the living room, he continued to the next level. He hesitated for a moment outside the slayer’s door before the sound of muffled sobs had him pushing open the door and locking it firmly behind him.

Buffy lifted her head, turning startled, red-rimmed eyes to meet his. “Wha…” Her gaze drifted to the remnants of the shackles. “Spike, you’re bleeding.” She sat up, reaching automatically for his hand before hesitating. Pulling back, her hand dropped and the concern on her face melted momentarily to make way for the same sorrowful, wounded expression he’d seen downstairs.

“I’m alright, love,” he assured her.

“No, you’re not. You’re hurt, again.” Concerned eyes held his gaze for a moment before dropping to stare at the hands now folded neatly in her lap. “Because of me, again,” she continued quietly.

“No, not because of you. Dammit, Buffy,” he growled in frustration, lifting a hand and running it through his hair. Only then did he notice the blood seeping out from beneath the cuffs. His eyes closed. He was tired. Tired to the core with the ache of over a hundred years of guilt. Tired of seeing his slayer looking so frail and broken. Tired of second guessing his every move. Tired of being a monster. And above all he was tired of trying to deny to himself that, despite knowing that he was the last thing she would ever need in her life, all he wanted was to take his slayer in his arms and lose himself in her.

“How could you think I don’t want you to touch me?” he asked quietly. His eyes snapped open, burning with icy intensity as he continued. “And how the bleedin’ hell could you ever think that you did anything wrong?”

He’d sworn to himself that he would never hurt her again, that he would simply be what she needed—another warrior in her endless battle—and nothing more. At the same time, he was protecting himself; knew she could never love him, never see more than a monster in a man’s body—the sum of all his misdeeds. He knew he couldn’t bear to put either of them through the heartache of the previous year again. Better to keep things simple, keep his distance, get on with the job at hand and never let himself forget what he’d done.

He sank to his knees, his shoulders slumping as the last vestige of the frustration and anger that had driven him dispelled. He lifted his head, turning pleading eyes to meet hers. “I hurt you… what I did… there’s no…” A ragged sob escaped him and he turned his face away eyes closing once more, unable to bear the pain and horror etched on her face. “Can’t ever hurt you again, love.”

Gentle arms encircled him as soft lips pressed gently against his neck and he opened his eyes in wonder.

“Shh. No, Spike. It’s not…” Buffy pulled back slightly and he ached with the loss. “We both did things,” she continued. “It wasn’t your fault.” She reached up, cupping his face gently and trailing her thumb in a slow soothing rhythm along his cheek. Just like that, with a few simple words, she’d absolved him and he swore he felt his heart lurch in his chest.

Her hand dropped, her arm wrapping around him once more as her head settled on his shoulder, her softly spoken words filling him with joy. “Can we try again, Spike? Clean slate?”

“You’re sure, pet?” The words slipped unbidden from his mouth and he swallowed hard; she’d thrown him a bone—more than a bone—and here he was giving her an out? The seconds dragged like hours as he waited, terrified of what her answer would be.

He felt her head nodding against him. “I’m more than sure,” she responded quietly. Releasing the breath he hadn’t realised he was holding, he finally allowed his arms to snake around her, holding her fast as he allowed her presence to wash over him.

“Buffy?” The too-brief moment of bliss was interrupted as the watcher’s voice was followed by a loud pounding on the door. “Are you alright?” The pounding continued and he reluctantly released his hold as Buffy unwound herself from his arms.

Unlocking the door and cracking it open a few inches, Buffy assured her troop of would-be rescuers that she was alright. “I’m fine, Giles.” A soft, serene smile transformed her face, chasing away the exhaustion and the worry that recently were an almost-permanent feature. “We’re both going to be just fine now.”

the end