Notes: Inspired by the song “Burn It Down” by Halfway to Hazard.

Disclaimer:  Joss is god.  Not mine, no money, and so on and so forth.

Framed in Dust

After all the times she’d been abandoned by those who loved her, Buffy knew she should have been used to being left behind.  But that never made it any easier.

Heavy drapes were drawn over most of the windows, and the few that didn’t have curtains had the blinds closed.  The house was as dark as she could make it during the day, and it still couldn’t even come close to comparing to how she felt inside.

She’d hardly turned the lights on in weeks, because she couldn’t bear to see the memories.  They were all around her, the good finally outweighing the bad, and she just couldn’t.

It didn’t seem to matter, though, because even though the lights were off and the sun going down, she could still see everything whenever she closed her eyes.  She could still see him.  Shouting at her, teasing her, fighting with her, loving her.  And as hopeless as she sometimes let herself know it might be, she couldn’t stop herself from calling out to him, trying to maintain her connection with him, trying to bring him back to her.  Spike…

There were deep divots in the thick carpet where the sofa had been.  From where she sat upon the floor, Buffy could reach out and run her fingers through one, and she did so, almost absently, as she stared into the darkened kitchen.  Enough light filtered through the kitchen blinds to glint off the faucet, the bare countertop…

The bright overhead light was on, and it made his hair glow.  A delicious smell wafted through the air.  From where she leaned in the doorway, she watched him, wearing a tiny, happy smile.  Spike stood at the stove, stirring something in a pan, singing softly along with the song on the radio.  Something alerted him to her presence, and he grinned at her over his shoulder.  “Come taste this for me, love,” he said, and lifted up the spoon.  “Make sure I’ve got it spiced just right…”

With a ragged breath, Buffy turned away, staring blindly at the blank walls.  Her hand clenched into a fist against the carpet as she fought for control over the grief, rough nails snagging on the fibers.

After only a moment, she realized that she could still see the faint outlines of where pictures had hung on the walls.  They had left their imprint on the wall in the form of dusty frames and unfaded paint.  And even if they hadn’t, she thought, lips twitching in a ghost of a smile, I would still know where each picture was.  That big space there is Dawnie’s graduation picture from college… and the one next to it is her wedding portrait…and…

The photo that leapt into her mind was not the next one on the wall, and she couldn’t hold back the sob that consumed her at the thought of it.  But it, too, had been taken at her sister’s wedding – one of the many candid shots Dawn had ordered the photographer to take without Buffy’s knowledge, starring her and Spike.  It had been the one that Dawn had slipped into the stack of proofs that Buffy had been browsing with her.  Upon seeing it, Buffy had instantly stopped talking and picked it up with trembling fingers. 

Off in a dark corner with no one else around, they were dancing – Spike clad in his best royal blue shirt and black trousers, Buffy in the emerald and cream bridesmaid dress Dawn had selected.  Foreheads touching, bodies pressed intimately together, smiling at each other as if they were communicating in some secret lovers’ language… she had fallen in love with it immediately.

“Mmm.” Pulling her closer against him, Spike settled deeper into the sofa cushions, nuzzling her hair as he did so.  “Whatcha lookin’ at, pet?”

Buffy turned away from her contemplation of the wall behind the television and grinned at him.  “An empty space,” she replied, and rested her head against his shoulder.

He groaned softly and laid his head on the back of the sofa.  “You’re just not gonna let it go, are you?”

“Nope.” She laughed softly.  “You can’t imagine how funny it was when you threw a tantrum about it.”

“I did not!” His lower lip jutted out in a pout.

Temptation won out and she ran one finger over his lip.  “Like I would leave a picture like that out for just anyone to see,” she scolded gently.  “That was a ‘just us’ moment.”

Eyes dancing, he nipped at her.  “How ‘bout this?  This a ‘just us’ moment, love?” he purred, and laved his tongue over her fingertip.

She gasped at the sensation, as she always did.  “Oh, yeah,” she breathed, then pulled her finger away, covering his mouth with hers…

She covered her mouth with one hand, the other still digging into the carpet.  The sobs shook her entire body as she tried to keep them locked inside, and her tears scalded her cheeks.  Realizing that this was one battle she wasn’t going to win, she surrendered, hiding her face against her knees as she wept.

“I miss you, Spike,” she whispered through her tears.  “I need you… I need you to come back soon…”

And that was what kept her here, what locked her into this perpetual state of sorrow.  When are you coming back?

Because he’d come back before.

She’d grieved for Spike after Sunnydale, even though he’d denied that she loved him, grieved for what she’d done and what they might have had.  And he’d come back.  Not to her, because he’d gotten caught up in his own doubts and Angel’s version of the yearly apocalypse.  Then he’d died again.

When she’d heard about his second death, she tried to tell herself that he couldn’t come back, that there was no pretty trinket to capture his essence, or whatever the amulet Angel had given her had done in Sunnydale.  But even so, hope had kindled, a tiny little flicker of a flame, and when Spike had shown up at her apartment 127 days later, haggard and much too thin, she hadn’t been shocked as much as relieved.

It had already been well over 147 days – 166 today, in fact – and she was still waiting.

How many times do I have to lose you before you can stay with me for good?

Whenever she tried to sleep, she relived it again and again in her nightmares: the vamp wasn’t old, wasn’t a great fighter, but somehow, he’d managed to grab Spike’s stake and twist it around so that that it had entered his own chest.  She always woke up crying, reaching out to reassure herself he was still there…

But he wasn’t.

If I can just make it through one more day – just one more day without him – he’ll come back.  The Powers will see how much I need him and they’ll send him back.  They have to.

The sound of the front door opening invaded her despair, and she raised her head, her heart beating faster.

“Buffy?”

Dawn’s soft call dashed her hopes once more, and she was hard pressed to stifle another sob.

Her sister’s light footsteps made but little noise on the thick pile of the carpet.  Buffy knew, however, when she stopped in the entryway to the living room by the gusty sigh.  “I knew you’d be here.”

A rustle of clothing warned her.  “Don’t… don’t turn on the light,” she ordered, unsurprised at how creaky and rusty her voice sounded.

“Buffy…” Exasperation filled her sister’s tone.  “You shouldn’t be here.”

“Where else would I be?” Buffy asked, wiping her cheeks.  “Where else would he know to look for me?”

This time, when Dawn said her name, it was edged with deep sorrow.  “Oh, Buffy…” She knelt down and reached out to stroke Buffy’s hair, as Buffy had done to comfort her so many times.  “Buffy, Spike’s not coming back… not this time.”

Buffy jerked away from her touch, outraged.  “You don’t get to say that,” she retorted, teeth gritted.  “You don’t.

“You agreed that he would find you no matter where you were!  That’s why we packed everything up!”

“I changed my mind!” Then, as soon as it had come, the anger fled.  “I have to be here, Dawn,” she said, and felt her eyes brim once more.  “I can’t have him think…” Can’t have him think I gave up.  Can’t have him think I abandoned him.  Can’t have him think I don’t love him…

With another sigh, Dawn swung around to sit next to her, sliding one arm around her shoulders and pulling her close.  “Buffy, how long were you and Spike together?”

Puzzled at the sudden question, Buffy let Dawn pull her head to rest on her shoulder.  “Fourteen years, six months and…”

“And in all that time,” Dawn interrupted, “in all those fourteen and a half years, you never showed him how much you cared?”

Those brimming tears spilled over.  “I tried…”

“You think he never believed you when you told him you loved him?”

“He… he said he did.”

Dawn’s long fingers stroked her hair.  “You succeeded,” she said quietly.  “And he believed you.  God, it was in your eyes every time you looked at him, and every time he looked back.  You don’t have anything to prove, not to him, not to anyone.  Not even to you.”

Buffy closed her eyes.  “It’s not about proving anything, Dawnie.”

“Then what is it about?  ‘Cause I’m not getting it, Buffy.”

“It’s about belief.”

“What, if you believe hard enough, the fairies will bring him back?” Sarcasm dripped from her every word.  “I don’t think it works that way.”

Buffy pulled away, glaring at her.  “It’s about believing he will come back.  It doesn’t matter how he gets here… just that he does.”

Dawn thumped her head against the wall.  “So, if you believe Spike’s coming back, what’s with all the tears and sitting in the dark?”

“Dawn…”

“No, Buffy, tell me.  If he’s coming back, why are you still acting like a grieving widow?  Shouldn’t you be looking forward to…”

“Because what if I’m wrong?” she cried, her voice breaking.

Dawn’s mouth fell open at her sister’s raw agony.

“What if you’re right and I’m wrong and… and he really isn’t coming back?  What if the Powers want him to stay… to stay dust this time?”  Buffy shot a tear-filled look at Dawn, before crossing her arms to clutch at her own shoulders.  “Do you think I’m so stupid that I haven’t considered that?  Do you think I don’t think about that every day?  That he’s really gone, to Heaven or to… that I’ll have to spend the rest of my life without him…” She took a deep shuddering breath and lowered her gaze to the carpet.  “No, Dawn, I haven’t got any reason to cry, not at all.”

After a long moment, she wiped her face and looked at her sister again, and even in the dim light, she could see the guilt plain on Dawn’s face, and the tears standing in her eyes.  “Buffy…”

“Go home, Dawn,” Buffy ordered quietly.  “Go home to Robbie and Jacob.  I’m staying here tonight.”

“Tonight, huh?” Dawn brushed at her cheeks and then gave her a crooked grin.  “Should I even pretend that you’ll come home with me tomorrow?”

Buffy returned her smile and sniffled.  “You can always try to talk me out of it again.”

She rolled her eyes.  “Yeah, I could, if I thought you’d listen.  You are so stubborn.”

“I am not!” she protested automatically.  Then she saw Dawn’s smug expression, and gave a huff of breathy laughter.  “You’re more stubborn than I am.”

“I doubt it.  I didn’t call the moving company when you went with Robbie earlier.  All the boxes are still in the garage.”

Buffy grabbed Dawn and hugged her tightly.  “Thank you.”

“I just want you to be all right, Buffy,” Dawn said, her words muffled into Buffy’s neck.  “To be happy…”

“I know, Dawnie, I know.”  She ran a hand through her sister’s hair, then kissed her temple.  “And I will be.  Promise.”

After a moment of closeness, Dawn slowly pulled away.  “I’m coming over tomorrow.”

Buffy smiled faintly.  “I’m counting on it.  Bring Chinese.  You threw away all the food.”

“You’re still going to have to listen, you know.”

“I know.  But you won’t change my mind this time.”

Dawn sighed and climbed to her feet.  “You’ll call if you need me, right?”

“I’ll be…” Catching sight of Dawn’s rendition of resolve face, Buffy stopped, then said, “If I need you, I will.”

“You better.”  At the doorway into the front hall, she paused.  “’Night, Buffy.  Love you.”

“Love you, too.  ‘Night.”

The door snicked shut behind her, and Buffy settled herself against the wall again, searching for the strength to go through the boxes they’d packed away.

“Is this… the last one?”

Spike smirked down at her and kissed her bare shoulder.  “All but one…” he leered.

“Eew, Spike!” She blushed and wrinkled her nose at him.

“Shouldn’t have gotten all this plush carpet, then, love.  Makes me wanna christen each room.” He thrust his hips forward, grinding his cock against her.  “Nice, innit?”

Arousal started to coil through her so-recently sated body once more.  “Mmm… very nice…” She reached up to comb her fingers through his delightfully mussed hair, then drew him down for a kiss.

When at last she had to break away for air, she gasped out, “But do you know how much Dawn would freak if she ever found out we had sex in her room?”

He nibbled his way down her throat.  “Who says she’ll find out?”

She gasped and arched into him. “P-point…”

She chuckled a little, and pushed herself to her feet.  I’ll just grab a few boxes tonight, she told herself, heading for the door into the garage.  Just the essentials.  Then tomorrow…

Behind her, there was a thunderclap and a bright flash of light…

***
October 18, 2007
© randi (K. Shepard), 2007