Haunted

Haunted

The dream is washing over her: liquid, warm, scented. With a small moan she arches toward it, keenly aware that as she does it moves away from her, always just beyond her reach. Now she is upright, moving toward the sound of…breath, she thinks, but isn't sure. The floor beneath her bare feet is firm, polished, cool to the touch. She sweeps her eyes left to right looking for a familiar landmark but recognizes nothing, sees nothing.

Then: a door. She hesitates, wonders what might be on the other side. Her hand reaches out for the knob, recoils slightly at its moist surface, and turns, pushes and then she is on the other side.

The room is throbbing with life, sound, smell. She looks down quickly to see if she is dressed appropriately. Surely she is not here in her pyjamas. But it is worse than she expected, she's naked. No one seems to notice her as she walks through the crowds, as they part in front of her like she is blessed or cursed. She tries to find a face she knows: Xander, Willow, Cordelia, but she is alone. Alone in a room throbbing with people.

Then. At the bar, back and shoulders curved toward a drink clasped in long, strong, graceful fingers- she has the barest, most compelling memory of those fingers sifting through her hair- she sees him, knows him. She moves with purpose, afraid he is a mirage. Closer, closer, almost touching and then he turns and levels his clear, direct, devastating gaze on her.

Her mouth opens to speak, but he shakes his head imperceptibly. She feels the beginning of a protest rise and die in her throat. His eyes wander down the long, naked length of her and then he stands, shrugging off his black coat and wrapping it around her shoulders. The buzz of the people in the room fades until there is silence, just silence and them.

She looks up into his eyes, sees warmth, disappointment, understanding. He is leading her across the dance floor, through a door, which should lead into the alley, but instead, leads back to her bedroom. Her bed is crumpled looking, slept-in, warm. He removes the jacket from her shoulders and helps her crawl into the bed, pulls the covers snugly up under her chin, uses those fingers to brush lightly across her lower lip, dragging a knuckle up the slope of her cheek.

"Whatever happens," he whispers without moving his mouth, "I'll always be with you."

She tries to lift her arms up, wants desperately to touch his face, weave her fingers through his thick hair, pull him close for a kiss, but her arms seem to be trapped by the weight of the blankets, drowning in a sea of thick molasses.

He lingers, but only briefly, and in the second it takes for her to blink he is gone and it is…

Day.

***

Buffy wakes up hot. Too many blankets, too little air, and the tiny, sharp edges of a dream she can't quite remember. She blinks. Her throat is dry and her eyes feel full of grit. She rolls to the side, reaching for the glass of water that sits on her bedside table. Something isn't right. Sitting up, she realizes that she is naked. She never goes to bed naked, never. Had she been that out of it after patrol last night, after torturing herself and her body with Spike that she had come home and stripped and gotten into bed? She couldn't imagine it. Her robe is in a crumpled heap on the floor and she pulls it on, swinging her legs over the bed. She rolls her head around on a stiff neck and then rolls forward, stretching out the muscles in her thighs and calves and back. It is from this vantage point that she can see that her feet are dirty. Filthy, walking all night on dirt, or pavement, dirty.

Buffy stands and moves to the window, peers between the slats of the blind, wondering if she's woken up in some sort of weird, topsy-turvey alternate universe. No, there comes the paperboy. There goes the paper, not quite on the step, more like into the shrubs where she knows, if she ever bothers to retrieve them, she will find about a dozen more. Slam! That's Dawn making her bleary-eyed entrance into the world. The shriek of the water as it travels up the pipes and into the shower-head. The unmistakable sound of drawers opening and closing in the room where Willow sleeps at least half as fitfully as Buffy. Buffy knows, listens to Willow's restlessness as she stares wide-eyed at the ceiling tracing imagined cracks, half remembered muscles, the curve of a cautious smile. The house creaks and moans around her, Dawn mutters in her sleep, Willow lies awake. Buffy knows.

A quiet knock on the door startles Buffy from her reverie.

Willow's red head peeks around the corner. "You're awake."

"Mmmm," Buffy replies.

"Plans for the day would include…" Willow asks.

Buffy thinks about this. Plans. Should she have plans? Her days have consisted mostly of packing nutritious lunches for Dawn, moving the bills from one corner of her desk to the other, turning Spike's zippo over and over in her hand and pushing thoughts of Angel away.

"No plans," Buffy says. "You?"

"Me, no not me. I have no plans. Well, I plan not to do any magic," Willow says glumly.

Buffy smiles at her friend. "We're a pair," she remarks. The shower grinds off and short moments later Dawn emerges from the bathroom in a cloud of steam.

"Do you wanna go next," Buffy asks Willow.

"No, actually, no," Willow says moving closer to Buffy, eyes narrowed and curious.

"What?" Buffy asks.

"Nothing," Willow says. "It's just that the scar…the Scar."

Buffy's hand flies to the scar on her neck, the only remaining physical reminder, save those which flow through her veins, of Angel. "What?" she whispers.

"Well, look." Willow positions Buffy in front of the mirror on her door and moves Buffy's protective hand away. "It's getting more, well… remember how it was fading? You could barely notice it. Now, it looks almost new."

Buffy can feel the pinpricks of tears crowd into her eyes. Willow is right and Buffy already knew, had noticed it almost immediately after her first shower (and the ten more that followed) after that first time with Spike. Angry. The scar had looked angry. Spike had certainly not been gentle with her that first time, had certainly marked her in his own way…but he had not sunk his teeth into her flesh. Even Spike would know better than to trespass there.

"Weird," Willow says with a small shrug.

"Yeah," Buffy replies, touching fingers to the tender spot on her neck.

Willow shoots her friend one last, side-ways glance and leaves the room, leaves Buffy standing in front of the mirror, fingers pressed to her neck, impossibly moved by Angel's mark.

***

Night.

The graveyard is silent. The moon glances off the chipped tops of tombstones, marking a clear path for Buffy and her thoughts. Buffy prays for a vampire, a drunk, a demon of any description to distract her from the thoughts rolling through her head like so much over-packed baggage. There's no escape. There's also nothing to kill.

Then: the smell of cigarette smoke, and from the corner of her eye, a blonde head lolling against the door of a mauseleum.

"Shit," she mutters.

"Not happy to see me, then, pet?" Spike asks, flicking the cigarette expertly to land close enough to Buffy's feet that she's able to stamp it out without moving more than an inch.

"Always happy to see you," Buffy says, sarcastically.

"Well, parts of you are happy. I can smell you from here," Spike says with a nasty leer.

Buffy drops her eyes. He's right. Of course, he's right. She can't explain it, doesn't even want to try, but her body floods with warmth whenever he comes within two feet (or as tonight might prove- twenty) of her. No point in denying it to him, or herself for that matter. Pointless anyway. Spike has already crossed the distance between them, invaded her space with his lean, coiled strength and hungry eyes.

"Out looking for a little action, were you, pet?" he asks, his voice a low menacing whisper.

"Not the kind of action you've obviously got on your mind," she says, reaching down to run her hand along the rigid tent of denim between them. "But it'll do," she says.

Spike chuckles low in his throat. He doesn't give a shit what her reasons are for allowing him the extreme pleasure of emptying his dead seed into her night after night. Couldn't care less that she never bothers to say his name, or kiss him with anything that might be mistaken for tenderness. It is enough that she lays beneath, astride, beside him: a golden goddess, a sacrifice.

He leans into her, breathes in the scent of her, moves his hand up through the golden hair which so delights him. Buffy holds her own breath, waiting for the cold mouth to tilt and descend and despite its coldness leave her own lips feeling burned.

The kiss, when it comes, is different: soft, tentative, gentle. There's no stabbing tongue, no nipping teeth. Buffy feels the tremor of recognition travel up her spine. She rests her hands on his hard chest and shoves. Angel's face swims in front of her.

"What the hell?" Spike says.

"What do you think you're doing?" Buffy asks, wiping an angry hand across her mouth, resisting the urge to spit the taste of him onto the ground.

"Kissing you, at least I thought I was kissing you."

"Yes, kissing me, except since when do you kiss me like that?" Buffy asks.

"What are you on about?" Spike says.

"It wasn't you. That's all. It wasn't you," she says.

Spike shakes his head; unsuccessfully wills his raging erection to fold in on itself. Almost asks if she's okay and then decides that he doesn't give a toss and moves towards her, predatory. When he kisses her this time there is no trace of hesitation, warmth, comfort. It is all take. And Buffy gives all she has left and of that there is precious little.

***

Exhausted, sore from being twisted into impossible shapes by her insatiable lover, Buffy pours herself into the shower and into her pyjamas and into her bed without much thought. She is asleep even before she knows that it is sleep that she craves. And the dream is waiting on the other side.

***

He is regarding her with stern appraisal.

"You're thin," he says. "Too thin."

He walks closer and the smell, the clean, unadorned smell of him nearly knocks her over.

"Are you getting enough to eat? Are you sleeping okay?" He sounds like Giles. Or her mother.

She tries to nod her head, but finds that she cannot move; she is rooted to the spot by his unwavering gaze.

"And Spike. What of Spike?" he asks.

What of Spike? And how does he know? And how can she possibly explain that Spike is nothing. Nothing to her. He takes her body. He chews her up and spits her out like she is a particularly tasty, but ultimately disposable, bit of bubblegum. He doesn't even consider the possibility that cruelty is a two-way street and she is happily walking on the other side. Okay, maybe not happily. But everyone deals with pain in their own way. This, lame as it might seem, is hers.

He is not waiting for an answer. He is peeling off his burgandy silk shirt, baring his flawless chest, beautiful arms. This, surely, is torture. But she welcomes it, wills him closer. And he does move toward her, prowling, hovering just out of reach.

"It doesn't matter, Buffy," he says. "No matter what you do, no matter whom you do it with. It doesn't matter." He reaches out and takes her hand and places it on his chest and there it is: thumpthump thumpthump thumpthump.

Buffy's eyes rush to his face and she can see her own face reflected in his eyes.

"Angel…" the word comes out in a gasp.

Angel's own broad hand covers hers. He leans close, his breath tickling her ear. "When the time comes, and love, it is coming, we'll have a clean slate."

He pulls back. Buffy feels the cool air rush to fill in the gap where the solid wall of his chest had been only seconds before.

And in the dream Buffy begins to cry.

***

The tears wake her up. She doesn't know why she's crying, for a moment doesn't even know where she is. Then it comes back to her in a rush. Angel. Angel. Angel.

The only answer she'd ever really needed and still she'd managed to miss it. She could lie to her friends. She could lie to Spike. All of that was easy, even if it wasn't exactly painless. But she couldn't lie to herself.

Even though it was a conversation that they'd never had, Buffy knew with sudden certainty that someday Angel would be rewarded with his mortality. Ironic, that death could be considered a reward. She knew in the same way that she knew that despite what it might seem, she had the upper hand with Spike. Even a blind man could see that he loved her. She knew like she knew that Oz would return one day and throw Willow a massive curve ball. Like she knew that her mother was resting in peace. Like she knew Giles would come back and she would have the strength and decency to tell him he'd been right for leaving. Like she knew that Dawn was only safe temporarily and that someone named Connor played a large part in her future. The only thing she didn't know was how she knew all this, but she did know it, bone deep.

Buffy's eyes fell to the window sill almost as if she expected Angel to crawl into her room at any moment. It was the first time she'd thought of him in a very long time without feeling as though her heart might explode. It was the first time since her death that she felt like destiny might have something even greater in store for her than heaven. It was the first time she felt anything other than haunted.

What was she? She was just a girl…suddenly and inexplicably alone. Just a girl filled with hope for the future. She felt the stress of the past few weeks, the horrible sacrifices she'd made of body and soul, slip away like so much blood from an open wound.

Could he feel her like she now felt him? It had been a long, long time since she'd known with unwavering certainty that he was there, waiting in the shadows, watching her. But as surely as she knew the sound of her own beating heart, she now heard Angel's own, rushing to keep up.

The End

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