After Willow left, Buffy thought about getting undressed and ready for bed properly, but she was cozy enough in her quiet room, in her little ball of despair, and so she stayed as she was for a while just enjoying the quiet. Seemed no one wanted to share with the Big Bad Slayer tonight, and that was fine by her. Sleep didn't come, though. She'd trained herself in high school to manage on very little rest, and it was paying dividends now that she had a job with an actual daytime schedule, but when she did have the opportunity for an earlier-than-usual night? No dice.
And it wasn't like she had an apocalypse with an unbeatable foe bearing down on her thoughts like a Mack truck. Oh, wait.
An hour or so of brooding over it was about all she could take, however, especially in the empty room, which somehow felt weirder the longer she was in there. She got up and did her rounds, turning off lights and trying not to stomp on anyone's pinkies, and then made a cup of tea as quietly as she could and took it out onto the back porch.
Spike was there, of course.
"Chamomile," he observed as she came to sit beside him on the steps. He didn't say, Joyce's favorite – he didn't need to. That was the good thing about old... what were they? Friends? It seemed a small word for a long history.
"About earlier," she started, but Spike waved her off with the hand holding the cigarette between strong, familiar fingers.
"Needed to be said," he told her mildly, and that was close enough to Willow's words that she actually looked at him for the first time since coming back through the portal, and realized he was wearing his duster. A small frisson of something shivered through her.
He caught her looking, or maybe her reaction, and raised an eyebrow. "Not regretting it now, are we, pet?"
She bit her lip and looked down. "No," she said honestly. "It's just..."
But how to finish that sentence?
It's just that I really didn't want to push you back into the violence you were trying to leave behind, but there was no other option.
It's just there are a lot of memories coming to the surface right now.
It's just you always looked incredibly sexy in that coat.
The corner of his mouth turned up in a small, wry smile that looked somehow nostalgic in the low light. "Yeah," he seemed to agree, as though he'd heard her thoughts out loud, and blew a long, lazy plume of smoke into the yard. "Do have something of my own to say, though, Slayer."
Buffy cupped the tea in both hands and brought it up to her nose, still too hot to drink but comforting nonetheless. "And you're waiting for permission?" she asked after a moment. "This is new."
Spike chuckled, that dark, warm, rumbling sound that was inextricably linked in her mind to Persian rugs and the scent of earth and stone, but he finished his cigarette and flicked it away before speaking again.
"Red, Anya, me, we can all take the sharp side of your tongue," he said. "Some of us are more used to it than others, but we're all grownups. The girls..."
Buffy sighed, already tired of this argument. "They have to be prepared," she said. "Molly-coddling won't help them stay alive."
"Funny," Spike said, "but that's not how I remember it two years ago. How old was the niblet then? Fifteen? Same age as..." He didn't say Chloe's name, but it was something else that spoke itself. "You wouldn't even let her make with the research back then, as I recall, and believe me I got to hear all about it. You didn't even tell her what was going on until you had to. Seems like the textbook definition of molly-coddling."
Buffy scowled into her mug. "What are you saying?"
"I'm saying," he said, in that same, low, inexorable tone, "that I once knew a girl who wanted to die, and she seems to have forgotten what a struggle it was every day, just going through the motions, let alone having the person who was supposed to protect her saying she was weak."
Buffy snorted. She didn't quite have enough energy for all-out incredulity, but the sentiment was there. "No, I had that too." Spike was frowning when she looked at him, an expression of earnest confusion and sympathy that was strikingly familiar and yet had been a long time absent. She tried to remember – hadn't he known about Giles? Maybe not. She'd spent so much time hiding things in those days it was hard to keep track now. "Look, it's nice that you're looking out for the girls, Spike, but—"
"It's not about them, Buffy. Not them." She saw it in his eyes, and thought, Oh. "You're the slayer – the best one the world's ever known. You'll do what you have to, to get through this, and you will get through this. But Buffy, just make sure you can recognize yourself on the other side."
For a moment, Buffy teetered on the brink of tears, of breaking down, of letting him share the burden for a little while. Not... not how he used to, with the sex and the bad, bad... but before that, in the way where they would just sit together and he would somehow give her comfort. She went right up to that edge and took a good, long look, and when the moment was over, she realized that if she let herself fall tonight she wouldn't survive the drop.
Instead, she told him about her trip through the portal and the vision of the Turok-Han army, because she would have to tell everyone eventually, but for now this really was the only load she could give him to shoulder.
The good thing about old... whatever they were, though – when this was all over, if she really didn't recognize herself anymore, he'd be there to help mend the cracks and put back any broken bits. When this was all over, he'd be there. It was the only comforting thought she could muster that night.