Uncomfortably Numb by Cryptwarmer [PG]
Story Notes:

Disclaimer. All recognizable characters, places and plots are the property of Joss and Mutant Enemy. This fic is for entertainment only, no copyright infringement intended. 

 

The kiss at the end of Tabula Rasa is my favorite kiss ever in the whole world. Have always mused about what was going on in Buffy's mind and how she ended up in Spikes arms shortly after turning him away. 

1. Uncomfortably Numb by Cryptwarmer

Uncomfortably Numb by Cryptwarmer
Tabula Rasa, End scene

Buffy, Spike, Band, People in the Bronze, Woman at bar


The Slayer felt slayed. Slashed and shredded. Chopped and diced. Ironic that the only place she could be alone was the crowded Bronze. It felt more than ironic, it felt sarcastic, like life was sneering at her, “Poor little slayer. Gone so wrong that the closest she can get to heaven is The Bronze.”

Her friends were exhausted by the events of the day; they wouldn't show up here. She was sure of it. Damn her Slayer strength that kept her body from tiring, even when her heart had given out. Damn the nightmares that wouldn't let her sleep. Damn the fear of sleeping knowing when she woke up in the morning she'd still be in the Hellmouth, not in heaven.

Her friends had not been willing to let her go, but the world had moved on. She recognized only a few faces at the Bronze. A new school year had started, new faces, new couples. The band tonight was a crowd favorite. There was a cover charge, but the bouncer had let her in for free. He knew her. She'd helped break up enough fights and toss out enough thugs, read 'vampires', to earn her a free ride. He gave her a nod, and as much of a smile as he dared. He didn't want the locals to think he was going soft.

She had a few dollars in her pocket, Slayers rarely carried a purse. Going up to the bar would mean interaction. It would carry the possibility that the bartender might recognize her, and there would be talking.
“Hey, haven't seen you around for a while, what you been up to?” No, she wasn't ready for that. Couldn't handle any more lies today, couldn't handle the truth either.

She sat at a table that put a post between her and the band. Less likely to be bothered here. Less likely still, since one of the chairs had been pulled away to serve another table. The third chair was backed up to a post, not enough room to sit. A few abandoned drinks sat on the table, their owners probably off dancing, or snogging in a corner. The drinks would keep the waitress away. Buffy wouldn't even have to speak, she could nod at the half filled glasses to give the impression she was already covered.

Faces had changed at the Bronze, but the atmosphere hadn't. Still the same feel to it; Still a good way to either be with people, or escape from people, via booze, dancing, music, or a corner table.

Buffy looked at her hands, reddened from the fight, her skin was already fading to flesh tone. Her knuckles were losing the bruises right before her eyes. All that remained were a few splinters from staking vamps. She could bother with them, or not. Overnight her body would push them out. In the morning she'd brush them off her sheet into a cupped hand and watch as they fell into the trash can, the only remnants of a night of patrol duty.

She picked at a splinter now. It gave her something to do. It kept her head down, and puckered her face into a mask of concentration sending a silent signal that she wasn't interested, in anything, in anyone.

Good God, this night. This year. This life. So much had changed, yet so much hadn't. She was still surrounded by friends who didn't really “get” it, but got brownie points for trying. She still had the responsibilities of the Slayer. Shouldn't that have been passed on to another lucky candidate while she was...wherever it was that she had been? It had seemed like heaven, but maybe it was only suspended animation. A “dirt nap”. A holding pattern until she was summoned once again by people who were too afraid, or too selfish, to do without her.

She was changed. They'd summoned her, but she felt like something was left behind, and something else had hitched a ride from a different dimension. She and the gang had supposedly dealt with that, but Buffy was sure there was still something under her skin as well as something deep inside her that hadn't yet shown its true face. She could feel it.

After the big song and dance routine; her friends finding out her big secret, she had expected the “something” to be gone. It wasn’t.

They'd been through everything together, so many huge, unbelievable, life threatening things. How could a few revelations test the bonds of friendship? How could the truth be more dangerous than demons and evil itself?

Yes, blah blah blah, Willow had done an awful thing in using magic to make them all forget. Bad Willow! Bad, bad Willow, a person shouldn't do that to their friends. Blah blah blah. But she meant well. After all the road to the Hellmouth was paved with good intentions.

Willow had put them all under a spell. Was it awful that Buffy had loved being put under, free from the weight of having to take care of them. Joan the Superhero, instead of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

It had been fun to have a sister that felt like a sister, with no mangled history of her being the key. For a few delicious hours Buffy had been fighting crime, not some unspeakable evil. She had forgotten unspeakable evil existed. In the fight, there had been that rush of discovery of her power, it was exhilarating.

Then it ended, and she was in Hell again, on the ground, being kicked and beaten. The whole of it flooding back to her, crushing her, the way that being summoned from the dead had left her beaten and sad. So, so, sad. So, so, alone. Lying on the ground, being kicked something inside had screamed, “Yes. Kill me now. Send me back. Get me out of here... Please.”

Yet she couldn't run away, couldn't just lay there. There was her Slayer instinct, and there was Spike, damn him, fighting at her side, not realizing that in that very moment he had been proven right. The Slayer death wish, she'd tasted it, craved it. How could he have known?

Had he ever wished himself gone again, only to be betrayed by his own instinct to survive? Hanging on, in spite of himself, because he feared what lay ahead? Where did a vampire go after being dusted? Surely not heaven. As bad as existence on earth could be it had to be better than a real hell, right?

Buffy wondered, if that vamp had finished the job, kicked the life right out of her, would she return to safe, warm place she'd been pulled from? There was no guarantee. She'd ended up there as a result of a sacrifice, born of love and duty. If she had given up tonight, in cowardice, and selfishness where would she go? There was no guarantee, ever.


She knew she was changed, if not by her “death”, certainly by her resurrection. Had her friends been changed, by her death, by her resurrection; or just by time, and experience? Maybe it had nothing to do with her. Maybe she didn't need to take the blame or responsibility for them. Maybe they should live their own damn lives.

“People don't change, Buffy.” Her mother used to say, but Buffy no longer believed it. People DID change. Once upon a time she hadn't been “The Slayer”. Once upon a not so long ago, Dawn hadn't even existed. Willow used to be interested in men. Anya had been a demon. Poor Amy had changed into a rat for crying out loud.

Only the bad guys never changed. Evil was the one thing she could count on. It was relentless, and always the same, destructive, insatiably hungry, and never weakening. The thing she fought hardest against, and hated the most was the one thing she could count on.

But yes, people changed, her mother, once so alive and strong, had changed. She was gone.

Buffy had been able to save the world, but she hadn't been able to save her own mother. One person. How was that fair? How was any of it fair?

“Life isn't bliss, life is just this, it's living....you have to go on living...”

Bars of music and bits of song from the recent musical delirium still played with her mind. Sometimes she found herself humming to an upbeat tune, sometimes she felt lines and verses clanging in her head, or squirming through her brain. Words, words, words, and bars of music, secrets revealed, and truth outed.

Buffy closed her eyes, and tried to tune into the music around her, the band, the soulful voice of the singer. This was the soundtrack of tonight. This was all she wanted to hear and feel and lose herself in. Looking at the stage, and at the dance floor was too distracting. She needed to just let herself hear, and feel, or not feel; let the sound move through her and heal that something in her that Slayer strength couldn't force out of her, the way it did the splinters.


But Slayer instinct never got turned off. She could feel him approach, sense “vampire”, but also sense that it was Spike. Spike, not Randy Giles, her ridiculous sidekick from earlier tonight. Spike. She could never escape vampires, she could never escape him.

She had no banter left in her. She had nothing left in her. If she needed to bounce vampires out of the Bronze, she could. She would. It was what she did. But she couldn't seem to bounce this one vampire out of her life, not even for one blessed night.

He came up beside her, not a word. That was a relief. But there he was just the same. Ignore him and maybe he'll go away, and if that doesn't work...Was he here to tell her of some evil out there? That she needed to get off this stool, and go back out into the night to pulverize a bad guy.

If only looks could kill, or slay. You couldn't kill a vampire, they were already dead. Maybe that was why they were so angry, they'd been pulled back too.

A word, any word, would only encourage him. She looked at him, barely turned and looked at him, blankly. Any expression on her face would likewise encourage him to talk, to hang around, to taunt her, or worst of all, be tender to her. A thousand angry uber vamps were nothing compared to the unsettling nearness of a vampire who was trying to be a man.

She turned back to her table, to her hands, to the plastic cups of melting ice, willing him away. Poof. Like the creature of the night he was, he disappeared. What a relief, what a...what the hell? This wasn't like him, to find her alone and not try to start something just to get a rise out of her. Maybe her Slayer self had pushed him away, the way her Slayer strength was even now pushing out the splinters; there were two already on the table before her. She picked one up and examined it, then poof, in the darkness it fell from her fingers and was gone. Just like that. Just...like...that.

She didn't have to turn around, she only had to look up, and shift her eyes slightly, to see that Spike hadn't left, he had only left her. He was at the bar, motioning to the bartender.

She wondered if the bouncer had let Spike in free because he knew him, or because feared him? Truth was that lately Spike had helped end more bar fights than he started.

Spike's pale hand rose, a bill between his fingers. A woman approached, young and pretty. Smiling, she pushed Spike's hand down, and said something to the bar tender. A smile spread over Spike's face. She dropped a bill on the bar and kept her hand lightly on his arm, flirting

Buffy watched it as if it were a show on TV. Sound turned down in the quiet of the night.

The bartender put a shot in front of Spike and a drink in front of the lady, who slid up on the bar stool. Spike likewise slid onto a bar stool, and they were talking.

What did a vamp talk about to a human woman? What was there to say? Small talk? He couldn't reveal anything of who he really was, and did he really care about anything this woman could say? Work, classes she was taking... anything?

What if this night turned out in his favor and the girl wanted to leave with him? What then? He couldn't take her back to his crypt. He couldn't take her to an alley and bite her and drain her of her twenty something blood. And if they went to her place, what would she think of his cool skin, his vampire strength?

How could he sleep with her without crushing and bruising her in the heat of the moment? Vampire strength was real and shocking, once their emotions were aroused there was little that could stop it other than a stake to the chest.

Maybe that was how he ended up with women like Drusilla and Harmony. What else was there for him? What else was there for her?

Sex with Riley had been wonderful. He was warm, loving and smelled good. When they'd first gotten together, he was strong, artificially strong. That was a turn on, because in sex you weren't supposed to have to hold back, not much anyway. She hadn't had to hold back, not much anyway.

But she had held back, how could she not? Riley felt it. How could he not? Then he'd lost the extraordinary strength, and she had to hold back even more. She had to leave their bed in the middle of the night to go dust vamps. How sick was that?

She loved the sex with Riley, but it didn't satisfy her, something was missing. She didn't feel the total relief of satisfaction until she'd beaten the crap out of, and dusted a vampire or two. Three, if it was a good night.

Then it was back to Riley's warm bed and arms, his yummy scent, and sweet words. Back to holding back, because Riley, as much as he loved her, couldn't handle her, couldn't handle her truth.

Sometimes, in the night, as she lay awake beside Riley, in that syrupy state between sleep and wake, her mind would drift and her worlds collide. She'd feel herself fighting, the raised heartbeat, the heat, the adrenaline. Then she'd be straddling a vamp, stake in hand, him moving beneath her...but warm.... strong, stronger than Riley…Buffy on top, having the upper hand, the control… In the cemetery, but somehow in her bed too...The vamp making sounds...that a man makes, but also growling, the way vampires do. They had clothes on, but somehow clothes off as well. Everything at once...the fight, the passion, the living, the dead, the cold dark night and the warm smooth sheets.

Thinking about it, she'd turn to Riley, lost in sleep. She'd bump up against him, nibble at his shoulder, give him a little shake. But he was a deep sleeper, the sleep of the dead, and there she was in her state of inner turmoil. That's when she'd dress, and slip out into the night, and hunt.

Riley was gone now. But the liminal fantasies were not. Still they came, rousing her just when she had finally been slipping into sleep. She was unsure if it was sex she was craving, or closeness, or the kill.

She knew she craved a strong body, and craved not having to hold back. She craved the blissful minutes that sex brought, when she forgot it all, and just felt. Felt her body, felt her love and anger.

She craved the escape that let her feel her strength, for her own ends. Not merely strong so she could save others from bad guys, but for the pleasure it could bring her.

It wasn't going to happen. That weight inside her fell deeper than the pit of her stomach. It was now low in her gut. It wasn't going to happen. Slayerhood and relationships didn't mix. She couldn't drag some unsuspecting individual into her insane world. There weren't good demons. No good bad guys.

Maybe it was a blessing Slayers died young rather than go through life lonely and frustrated, a string of shattered relationships behind them. A blessing she wasn’t allowed.

The idea that she would never feel strong arms around her other than arms trying to break her neck was beyond sad. It was unbearable.

Riley had been as close a mix of raw strength and goodness as she would ever find on this earth. And she couldn't make it work. He couldn't make it work. The both of them together couldn't make it work. If that much real love couldn't bridge the gap, nothing ever would.

The best she would ever do was to have a man to fight beside, to feel the rhythm of their combined strength, the way they moved together, and then go home to her own lonely bed.

Movement called her back to the moment. The woman at the bar was playing with the cherry in her drink, holding it by the stem, bobbing it up and down. She was still wearing a flirty smile, leaning towards Spike, talking. He had looked a little hollow when he'd approached Buffy earlier, but now she saw him smile, lines crinkling the corners of his blue, blue eyes. He had laugh lines. Something seemed incredibly wrong about that.

When was the last time she laughed? Or her friends laughed? Things were so God damned serious. She wasn't sure she remembered how to smile, or what her own smile looked like. There was nothing but worry and tension, and careful words and walking on tip toe around each other.

She'd seen Anya laugh. Maybe it was a demon thing, a dark thing, to be able to find something to smile about even in the tension and worry, anger and pain. How dare Anya find so much comfort in counting out the register. How dare Spike smile and laugh with some woman at the bar, when there was so much sadness, so much uncertainty.

The woman motioned to the dance floor, and a different sort of smile passed over Spike’s face as he refused her. The woman said something to him. Buffy guessed she was trying to encourage him, thinking his refusal was some silly guy thing. Not having a clue who she was dealing with. What he really was.

Spike shook his head, but gently, letting her down gently, freeing his arm from her hand that still rested on it.

The woman's face fell. She'd bought him a drink, the least he could do was dance with her. Spike nodded towards the dance floor, then at a man down the bar who might welcome her flirtations. He pulled out a bill and laid it on the bar. He'd cover his own drink seeing as he'd disappointed her.

Did he hate to dance, or was it self preservation? It was one thing to dismiss the cool hand of a man sitting at the bar, but it would be hard for him to conceal his cold body pressed against someone on the dance floor. Sunnydale was rife with rumors of vamps and other undead, cold blooded things. He wouldn't care to draw that sort of attention to himself in the Bronze, when he was just kicking back for the evening.

“Mind if I grab this?” came a voice beside her. A man put his hand on the remaining chair at her table.

Buffy shook her head and gave him a weak smile. Ah, so she could smile, maybe only as much as the Buffybot on the last draw of her battery, but a smile just the same. Polite, and meaningless, but it was a comfort to know her face had not entirely forgotten how.

She looked back towards the bar, Spike was gone. The woman was now a few stools over talking to another man. Buffy was sorry the little scene was over. It had been fascinating to watch another woman treat Spike as if he was just a guy in a bar. An attractive guy in a bar. A desirable guy in a bar.

The woman wasn't a vampire. Buffy would have been able to tell if she was. She would either have sensed it outright, or recognized the vampire approach to another vampire. It never involved small talk. Usually it involved something filthy whispered in an ear, and a more than playful grope. Vampires were less with the flirting and more with the other word beginning with F.

She was glad the woman would never know she'd been turned down by a vampire. How insulting was it if even a cold, blood sucking demon didn't want to get it on with you, or even bother to bite and kill you?

If Spike didn't have the chip in his head, that girl would at least have died knowing she was desired. Well, wasn't that a morbid thought? On that disgusting note Buffy decided it was time to leave. Spike was gone, so she wouldn't have to deal with him. Hopefully by the time she got home her friends and Dawn would be asleep. An entire evening with not one word spoken meant no lies had been told. Not a single one.

Buffy stood up, stretched, and sighed. Her muscles were relaxing now that the fighting was over for the night. By the time she got home, barring another encounter with bad guys, they should be loose enough to sleep. Loose enough that they wouldn't serve as a tense reminder that she was the Slayer, and that the Slayer could never rest.

“I'm just going through the motions...” A snippet of song trickled through her brain. “I can't even see, if this is really me...”

She didn't look to the right or the left as she moved through the crowd. The bodies touching her as she bumped past didn't bother her, as long as she didn't have to say a word.

“Slayer,” a voice to her left said.

The word bit into her brain. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Spike's head dip. It was just a passing acknowledgment, a casual goodbye. No response other than a hint of a glance required. No snappy retort, no comment about the lady at the bar. She could forge right ahead, past the bar, to the door.

She wondered, how he could be so cool and collected after the crazy events of the day, the ridiculous idea that he was Giles son! A vampire who fought vamps. She couldn't help but smile remembering him in that tweed suit, and the childish delight he'd expressed when he realized he could fight.

The barest twitch at the corner of his mouth, showed that he had caught her hint of a smile at the thoughts in her head. It was annoying to be able to sense his every expression. Slayer's curse. She would rather not know the subtlest moods of every vampire within slaying distance.

Spike said nothing, content to have caught her attention, even if only for a fraction of a second.

He didn't move towards her. He had his lighter in his hand; he was considering if he was going to light up in the club, which was forbidden, or be a good little vampire and step outside. His eye flitted to the woman at the bar, he frowned slightly and slipped his lighter into his pocket.

Buffy stopped in front of him.

“Don't worry, not going to light up and set the alarms off, too good a band to interrupt the huddled masses from having their bit of fun.”

She stood there looking at him. People trying to push past her, she stepped towards him. He stepped back, as if shoved by her stare.

“Don't need to stare me down with your Slayer's eyes, I just came in for a drink is all, I'll be on my way.”

There were those lines again, at the corners of his eyes, but this time with worry, not laughter. He wasn't smiling. He wasn't even breathing. He was holding very still. Very, very still....knowing how keen her sensibilities were, not wanting to give himself away.

He wasn't up for a fight, not even a verbal one. She'd kicked him down earlier tonight, running away after the vamp fight, and the night before when he'd approached her about their kiss. He didn't fancy giving her another chance. He really had just come here for a drink.

Hypersensitivity went both ways. He'd been able to tell when he'd first approached her that she was in a bad way. Even without vamp sense, it was clear this was a woman who wanted to be alone. She'd once said that she felt like she could be alone with him so he'd given it a go. He could smell pain on her, not the sweaty pain of fisticuffs, but the defeated pain of surrender.

Buffy could get ugly when she was upset, or crossed. He'd been the convenient target of her anger before. He didn't care to be tonight. He felt in his pocket for his smokes, this would be a good time to take his exit.

He gave her a polite little nod and went to move past her, into the crowd, to fade away into the night.

He felt her hand on his arm. Why couldn't she ever make things easy?
“Get away.” she'd say, “I loathe you.” then the next minute showing up at his crypt, needing him for something or other. Why didn't she just leave him be?

He could feel the heat of her grip even through his coat sleeve.

It was too late at night for Dawn to need a babysitter and surely the Scoobies were all safe home tucked in their beds. If she wanted a drink he had a tenner he could give her. He wouldn't be expecting anything in return.

He clenched his teeth, and firmed his jaw, so he couldn't say anything stupid, and if she did take a swing at him at least he'd be ready for it. He turned towards her.

“I...” he began to speak, not sure what he'd say but figuring some ready excuse would come forth if he started talking.

Buffy shook her head. She put one finger to her lips making the “shhh” signal. She put one hand on his chest.

This wasn't bloody fair. He had stilled his breathing, but her touch made him draw a breath. Curse it...so much for his poker face. You don't love me, you can't love, you're an evil thing, so she said, if she believed that why was she here testing him, in the dark. Huddled under a stair, far away from her REAL friends, who REALLY cared for her.

Oh no. No you don't. His brain flared. He could smell it on her, her wanting something from him, like the woman at the bar. He fumbled in his pocket for that tenner.

She stepped back, further into the dark. Now he could make his getaway, there would be a few precious safe inches between them, yet somehow, her hand on his chest, drew him forward. He knew it was his own damned foolery did it. She wasn't holding him, but she was touching him, which was just the same. He couldn't resist her touch, couldn't willingly turn away from it, and damn her she knew it.

“What...” he parted his lips to speak.

“Shhh” she made the sound now, lips pursed, of course they would be. Then her finger dropped from her lips and ...oh bloody hell no...slipped down, over his chest, and stopped. Her face changed, not tender, but curious, brow creased, her breathing shallow. She stared at his chest. He drew back a millimeter. Slayer's stare. It was reflex. Her eyes moved up his chest, to his neck, to his face, to his eyes.

It was dark, that's why her eyes looked that way, so dark, deep, empty, then suddenly full, shot with gold.

He drew another millimeter back. Slayer's eyes. Looking into his head, into his...Both of her hands were on his chest, then up to his neck, but not to break it, or strangle him, to pull him closer, down towards her.

The universal signal for “kiss me” but who kisses the Slayer but a fool looking to get his head broke...and his heart? She kissed him before, but only under a sodden spell. Only when her head was wonky.

She hadn't been drinking, he would have smelled it on her. There was no unexpected music swelling round them, just the band, singing some bloody sad song.

“Slayer...” Maybe she needed him to remind her what she was, before she did anything that would result in him getting a beating a few minutes from now.

But she did it again. “Shhh” with her damned pursed lips, her hands were on him, she was reaching up.

“Buffy..” He said it, and the word left his lips just barely parted, perfect for a kiss.

His hands flew out of his pockets, grasped her arms, pulled her closer, just as she was pulling him closer. So much strength in their arms, holding each other...then so much strength in their kiss.

Something went off in his brain, but it wasn't the chip. He wanted to lose himself in this kiss, in her. He couldn't escape the thought, that when she wanted something, needed something...she came to him. She stepped out of her cozy warm house, away from the suffocating embrace of her friends, and she came to him. She. Came. To. Him.

Then every thought slid out of his mind. There was only senses now, smell, touch, taste, feel, and seeing, her...here...so close. His thoughts were melting replaced by flickering: man/vampire, vampire/man, man/vampire...both at once...and feeling the same in her, Slayer/Buffy, Buffy/Slayer....woman, woman, woman...damn.

What now, with no rising or falling music to tell him when to stop? With no chip to fire. With no way to willingly part himself from her, until she pushed him away.
Yes, just as she started it. She would stop it; she would push him away. But for now, she needed this as much as he did. Man/vampire, vampire/man...Buffy, Buffy...woman.

The Slayer had been put to bed for the night. She was just a woman in his arms. And she was alive.
Chapter End Notes:

Thanks for reading. I love reviews and hearing what you think. Hope I did justice to these wonderful characters and this emotion packed episode and scene. 

Mood music...Michelle Branch....Goodbye to You. 

 



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