She thinks of him sometimes. She thinks of all the ways he has hurt her and healed her, loved her and abused her. She remembers the way his eyes never wavered when she told him that she didn’t love him.
There has to be a way to know that I’ve done the right thing, she thinks. There has to be a way to know that at least. But, of course, there never is.
She had stabbed Faith.
She had stabbed Angel.
Now, poised over him, she longs to trace the hard-edged curve of his cheek, the little dip you could rest your knuckles in. Instead, her fingers rub against the smooth wood, testing the sharp end.
Then, his eyes open, immediately finding and focusing on her face. She thinks he will say something.
What are you doing?
But that’s not what he does. He remains silent and lets her see that he is not afraid of ending his long, long life if only she will be the one to end it. He waits and she thinks she can see his life flashing across the dark blue of his eyes: a movie in reverse.
William, foppish blonde hair tumbling over a smooth brow, wineglass cupped in one hand, book pressed tightly against his narrow chest in the other.
Spike. The man she tries her best not to love, but whom she can’t help but love just a little bit.
She thinks she can read his thoughts.
Buffy. Buffy. Buffy. Killmekillmekillme.
She raises the stake and closes her eyes, depending on her intuition and her luck to drive the weapon through the wall of muscle and bone, into his dead heart.
Open your eyes.
She hesitates and feels his hand, rough and strong, on her wrist. It feels like slow motion as he guides her hand down to his chest and at the very second when the point comes in contact with his flesh she calls out.
He pushes her from him, and she falls hard. “You can’t bleedin’ do it, can you?” he asks, his voice quiet and disappointed. “Shit.”
Buffy rights herself and shuts her eyes, unwilling to look at him and see what she knows will be written all over his face. Coward. Bitch. Whore. And then behind the insults, the tenderness. Then, he’ll reach for her and she won’t back away. She’ll stay as still and silent as she can while he strokes her. More silent still when she comes.
The house is too full. Giles had gone off to collect assorted pre-slayers. Still, there’s Dawn. Willow. Xander and Anya, who seem to be drifting back toward each other out of necessity or boredom. Andrew, finally untied from the chair, is clean and spouting Star Trek facts to anybody who will listen. Too many people expecting too much from her.
She can’t sleep, but she goes to her room so that she can be alone, so she won’t have to meet those expectant eyes. Her room isn’t the refuge it once was. It’s changed. Or she has.
She sits on her bed. She waits for the exhaustion that covers her like a dirty layer of skin to claim her, to knock her over and out. But, no, it’s not going to be that easy. Nothing ever is.
A tapping at the door.
She says nothing, knows they won’t go away.
“I’m here,” she says.
The door opens and Willow’s smooth red hair peeks in between the door and the frame.
Buffy can’t talk to her. Can’t tell her all the things she wants to say to her.
I don’t trust you anymore.
I’m still fucking Spike.
I miss my mom.
Xander didn’t tell me you were trying to restore Angel’s soul.
“Hi,” she says.
“Hi,” Willow says. “I’m sorry. Alone time is a rare commodity around here, I know.”
Buffy doesn’t reply. What Willow says is true.
“It’s just that…” Willow pauses, licking her lips nervously. “Giles got a call from Wesley.”
Buffy feels her spine stiffen.
“He’s okay,” Willow says, not wasting any time assuring Buffy that he is okay. “I mean, he was hurt, but he’s okay.” Willow throws her glance across the room and tries to gauge Buffy’s reaction to this news, but Buffy remains motionless. “Buffy?”
She nods. “Thanks, Willow.”
“Are you…” She wants to ask if Buffy is okay, but she knows it’s a stupid question. Buffy hasn’t been okay for a long, long time.
There is a moment when Buffy knows that her past transgressions will hold her back. Before the First Evil came, before he tore at her dressing gown in the bathroom, she let Spike do any number of unnamable things to her in alleys and crypts and even here in this very bed.
What she appreciated the most about Spike was his willingness to hurt her in the name of love. It softens her heart toward him.
Someone once told her that there are always two sides to any story and somewhere in the middle is the truth.
Her truth. Her truth is opaque. Her truth is all about spinning plates and not letting the home team down. Her truth is about having something just for her. She thinks back to when Angel returned from hell and remembers how she’d kept him secret from the others. He was just hers. Her truth.
It was the same with Spike. Her dirty little secret: His cold flesh married to her warm skin. But hers and the most honest thing she’s done since they’d brought her back.
She knew how it would all play out. Now here she was, alone in her room, worrying about Angel and worrying about Spike and worrying about keeping her friends alive. They’d faced the Big Bad before, but somehow this felt different. Like punishment. Like someone knew she no longer felt worthy.
She glanced at the phone and for a moment considered the consequences of calling him. Since they’d met after she’d come back from the dead, they hadn’t spoken or seen each other. It had been a mutual decision, one that had made her neither happy nor unhappy. It just was what it was.
Buffy rested her hand on the receiver.
He can’t save you.
He can’t even save himself.
Buffy retracted her hand as if the phone was scalding hot.
Spike watched from the shadows outside Buffy’s bedroom window. He’d hardly ever used this method to gain access to her house, but he couldn’t face the others, whom he’d seen huddled over cups of something steamy in the dining room.
Now as he watched, he could feel the shivering air around him. He wasn’t alone.
You bloody ponce.
Look at her.
I am looking at her, mate. That’s all I do is bloody look at her.
And then, a new voice.
My Spike’s gone all soft. All soft like muck.
Spike closed his eyes against the sound of Drusilla’s voice, cool breath against his ear.
She’ll only kill you in the end, you know.
One can only hope.
I can read her thoughts. Do you want me to tell you what she’s thinking about, my love?
She’s thinking about him. She’s always thinking about him.
Spike ground his teeth together and remained silent.
It’s not like you to play second fiddle, Spike. Or are you just a beaten-down dog, now? Kicked once too often and now you’re just gonna lay there in your own shit and piss.
Spike lifted his leg over the window ledge, pouring himself into Buffy’s room like spilled ink.
Buffy regarded him with wary surprise.
“We were looking for you.”
“Are you okay?” she asked.
He nodded again, just a downward tip of the chin.
Buffy pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around her folded limbs.
“Do you know that there are over two hundred bones in the human body?” he asked suddenly.
Buffy blinked once as if her eyes were very dry.
“There are limitless ways to break those bones. The littlest bones, sometimes they hurt the most when you break them.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Ask Giles how it felt when Angel broke his fingers, snapped them in two like he was making a wish with the turkey bone.”
Spike closed his eyes as if remembering something particularly pleasant.
When he opened his eyes, Buffy was standing in front of him, holding a stake.
“Do it,” he hissed.
She shook her head.
He reached out a hand and traced a finger along her jaw. “Sooner or later you’ll have to, pet.”
She doesn’t love you, Spike. She’ll turn you against me. She has a black heart.
Not now, Dru.
Buffy trapped Spike’s hand in her own. “You have to fight, Spike. You have to fight it.”
“Why? What for? What have I got to live for?” He stepped back toward the window.
“Spike,” she said, as he lifted a leg over the ledge.
He hesitated, kept his eyes turned away.
“I need to be able to believe in you,” she whispered.
But he was already gone.
The night was eerily calm. The moon seemed to follow them as Buffy, Willow and Xander entered Restfield Cemetery, its milky glow lighting a path that both trailed them and lit their way. A bruise blossomed along Buffy’s right cheek, the spoils of last night’s labour.
“Where is everyone?” Willow murmured.
“Well, isn’t this the season the vamps usually head south to their condos?” Xander quipped without enthusiasm.
“Quiet,” Buffy said, stopping. “There’s something following us.”
“Something or someone?” Willow asked.
“Someone, I’d say,” Xander said, pointing to a figure emerging from the grove of trees further up the path.
Willow squinted her eyes and peered through the darkness.
Buffy started forward, motioning with her hand that Xander and Willow stay where they were. She met Angel further down the path, where he had stopped to wait for her.
“Buffy,” he said.
“I don’t understand,” she said.
“I know. I know you don’t. I came to help you.”
“You can’t help me,” Buffy said. She stepped forward, reaching up a hand to touch him.
“Don’t touch you?”
He smiled, his lips pulling into a crooked grin that nearly split her heart in two.
“If you touch me, I might not be able to leave,” he said.
She pulled her hand back, tucked it into her jacket pocket, the residual tingle from being so close to him crawling up her arm.
“I just,” she started and then stopped abruptly. “I thought you were hurt.”
Angel turned his head away revealing the angry but considerably faded scar on the side of his neck. “I was.”
“What did it?”
“We’re working on it,” he said.
She nodded. “We are too. I mean, they are,” she tossed her had back towards Willow and Xander who remained in the spot Buffy had left them, their heads pitched together.
I wouldn’t have killed you if I’d known, she thought.
Buffy looked back at Angel, startled. Had she said something? Her world was precariously tilted.
“Why did you come?”
Angel motioned to a bench at the curve in the path and they moved toward it.
“I think about you…” he started, sliding infinitesimally closer to Buffy on the bench.
“Angel,” she said, his name a breathless whisper.
“…all the time.”
His hands traveled across the mere inches that separated them, and slid smoothly over her rigid fingers.
“I can’t…we can’t….”
Buffy was mesmerized by Angel’s fingers; by their slow precise ascent up her bare arm, and the trail of screaming nerve-endings they left in their wake. Long, strong, fingers pressing into her flesh and leaving her gasping for air.
He leaned forward and pressed his mouth against her temple. Buffy leaned into his lips.
“Angel,” she said. “Why did you come?”
“I didn’t,” he whispered close to her ear.
And when she turned to look at him, he dissolved into dust before her eyes.
She stood up, took a step away from the bench and heard Willow scream, “Buffy!”
Strong hands whirled her around.
Spike’s hands: she’d know their punishing pressure anywhere.
“Did you see him?”
“Angel. He was here. Did you…” Buffy stopped. “Where did Willow and Xander go?” Buffy looked around Spike’s shoulder and down the path from where Willow had screamed only seconds before.
“Buffy. You were here by yourself,” Spike said, bending down so he could look her in the face.
“Hit me,” she said.
“Bloody hell,” Spike replied.
“Do it. Hit me.”
“You know I can’t,” he said bitterly.
“That’s not true. You can hit me,” she said, stepping back and drawing back her arm to launch a fist at Spike’s placid face. Her knuckles connected with his cheek, splitting the thin skin and sending a mist of blood across her face.
“Hit me, damn you,” she repeated. She jabbed at his face again and again and still Spike didn’t move, didn’t duck, didn’t raise his own hands against her.
She made my dear boy go all away and she’ll do the same to you if you let her.
Not now, Dru.
“Who are you talking to?”
Willow was standing, limp-armed, in front of Buffy on the path that cut through the Restfield Cemetery, dividing it in a pie-shaped wedge.
“You told me to wait back there and I did, but you were…I came because I could hear you talking to someone.”
Buffy’s eyes whipped around the graveyard. She lifted her hand, examining her knuckles by the light of the moon. Unmarked.
Willow looked at her curiously. “Buffy?”
“Nothing. I mean, it’s okay. We should go.”
Buffy moved down the path, her eyes darting from side to side, waiting for another apparition to leap from the darkness but all was deathly quiet.
“I’m telling you, Giles, whatever this thing is, it’s in my head,” she said, clutching the telephone close to her ear and whispering urgently into the mouthpiece.
“You’ve had dreams before, Buffy. Was this like them?” Giles’ voice crackled across the phone wires and Buffy was suddenly hit with a deep feeling of remorse. He was too far away. Something bad was going to happen.
“Yes. No. I don’t know,” she said. “When are you coming home?”
Static interrupted his response. “What?”
Another reply, again the crackling interference.
“Giles, I can’t hear you. Call me back,” Buffy said.
The sun was coming up. Dropping the receiver into its cradle, Buffy walked over to the window and looked out into the promising day. The sky was blurred pink and gold, and in the distance Buffy could see the crescent of the sun pushing itself up over the lip of the horizon. She wished she could take this as a sign, but there was a measure of futility in the sun’s attempt: Set. Rise. Set. Rise. Buffy choked back a sob and wondered how she would manage to make it through another day, knowing that when the sunset, she’d be right back at the beginning, fighting a fight she no longer understood.
She had questions and there seemed to be no answers for them.
We let you go, but that doesn’t mean you’re free.
For pity’s sake, I’m not going to kill her.
Spike hunched his shoulders forward, curving his spine against the rough wool blanket. It scratched against him, an uncomfortable reminder of the comforts he was no longer privy to, but he was loathe to cast it off.
I’m disappointed in you, Spike. You said I was the only one you loved.
I did love you, Dru, until I didn’t anymore. I guess I like my girls a little saner, after all.
But don’t you see that she’ll never love you?
It doesn’t matter.
Perhaps. We’ll see.
And then another voice.
Hello, Spike. Long time.
Not bloody long enough. What do you want?
I want what everyone wants, for this to be done. Don’t you want to rule the world, Spike?
You mean, don’t I want to let you rule the world? That’s the question you’re really asking, isn’t it?
And here I was thinking that you didn’t understand me.
Angelus squatted down, peering into Spike’s face.
In this instance it may surprise you to know that I’m willing to take a back seat.
How incredibly selfless of you.
Thanks. I thought so. But we have a little problem, Spike. You know what it is.
If you want her dead, do it yourself, you wanker.
I don’t need your permission, of course, but I’m glad that we’re on the same page.
Spike pulled the tattered edges of the blanket up around his ears and closed his eyes. When he opened them, he was alone.
They met by the Winslow family tomb. For a long time it had been a favourite spot of theirs: private, hidden, a bench placed in front of the grave marker where family members might have sat to have conversations with their departed loved ones. Sometimes that’s all they had done, just sat, staring at the names engraved on the granite in front of them, neither talking nor touching. That had been in the early days. She had just disclosed to him that she hadn’t been in hell, and they had yet to consummate their relationship. She had felt a kinship with him, and he hadn’t demanded anything from her, so they’d meet and they’d sit and it was good.
After. After it was different.
Tonight she went hoping to find him and there he was, long legs splayed in front, a bottle of Jack Daniels nestled against his crotch. The cigarette he was holding was burnt down almost to the filter and, fearing for his fingers, Buffy removed it and pressed it against the tombstone before sitting next to him.
“It’s getting worse, isn’t it?”
“Define worse, pet?”
“Well, yeah, if that’s what you’re talking about.”
“I want to help you, Spike, but I don’t know how.”
He turned to look at her and she was surprised to see that he looked exhausted. She thought that vampires could manage on very little sleep, but Spike looked as though he hadn’t had any rest for days.
“You can’t help me,” he said quietly.
“Maybe that’s true, but we won’t know if you don’t let me try.”
He rewarded her with a crooked smile.
“These guys fight dirty,” he announced after a long moment of silence.
“I know,” she said, thinking about her meeting with Angel in this very cemetery.
“Yes, maybe you do,” he agreed. He reached out a hand and touched her thigh, high up.
Buffy felt her skin prickle and she willed herself to stay on the seat next to him.
“When it comes down to it, Buffy, you have to be prepared to kill me. Promise me that you won’t let me hurt you or the others.”
Buffy rested her hand on top of his and nodded.
“You can’t show me any mercy,” he continued, slipping his hand out from underneath hers and wrapping his fingers around the neck of the bottle. He took a long drink and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “I don’t deserve it. Not from you.”
The wind slipped through the trees and for a moment they were quiet.
“The Winslows’ve seen a lot, then,” Spike said suddenly, motioning toward the headstone.
“They have,” Buffy replied, her cheeks colouring as she remembered Spike pressing her back against the curved edges of the stone, then hooking her legs under his arms and balancing her on top. She was at the perfect height for him then, and he’d taken advantage of that over and over until she couldn’t breathe.
“Spike,” she said.
Buffy looked over at him, the harsh line of his cheek and the firm set of his jaw glowing alabaster in the night. He was a puzzle, that much was true.
“I never told you…”
Spike pressed a finger against his lips and whispered, “Shhhh.”
“No, I want to,” Buffy said.
“It doesn’t matter anymore,” Spike replied. “I wouldn’t change a thing.” He stood up, made to move away and then paused, “That’s enough for me.” Then, he was gone, sucked into the shadows; swallowed whole by the night.
“Do you think you should call him?” Willow asked, her eyes glittering nervously in the pale glow of the kitchen at dusk.
Buffy shook her head. “And tell him what? I need him to come rescue me?”
“That’s not what I meant, Buffy. You know that’s not what I meant.”
Buffly slumped into a chair and nodded. “I know, Willow, I’m sorry.” She rubbed her eyes and stood back up. “I’m just…”
“Tired. You’re exhausted, we can all see that, Buffy.”
“Why don’t you let Xander and Anya and me patrol tonight and you get some rest?”
“It’s too dangerous, Willow. I can’t let you go out there alone.”
“We won’t take any chances and we’ll stick together. I can do a spell, something to give us extra protection,” Willow said. “You need to rest, Buffy. You can’t do it all anymore. Let us help.”
“Alright,” Buffy said quietly. The truth was she doubted if she could have taken a step that wasn’t in the general direction of the tub and her bed.
“Good. Good,” said Willow.
Something woke her, though she couldn’t say afterwards what it was. Not a sound, not a light, just a feeling that she wasn’t alone. Through slitted eyes she surveyed the room and there he was, sitting on the window ledge watching her with intense concentration.
Buffy felt her heart leap forward and she almost sat up until she remembered her last encounter with Angel. So she kept her eyes closed and she concentrated on breathing slowly, feigning sleep.
He didn’t move. His face, half in shadow, was blank. He was so still that Buffy was almost lulled into sleep again; her mind half thinking he was just an apparition, or this was just a dream. Then he said: “I know you’re awake, Buffy.”
She opened her eyes, but remained silent.
“You look tired.”
She said nothing.
He pushed off from the window ledge and floated toward her. She watched him come, half expecting him to pass right through her and was almost surprised when he sat on the bed and it shifted under his weight.
“Is this a dream?”
Angel smiled. “Are you prone to dreaming about me?”
“Sometimes,” Buffy said, looking at his fingers, splayed open on the covers of her bed.
“What kind of dreams?”
Buffy felt the sudden rush of blood to her cheeks and knew that Angel could see the colour, despite the darkness.
“Why did you come? I thought you were hurt. I thought things were bad in LA.”
Angel was silent. “Are you alright?”
No. No, I’m not alright, Buffy thought. “I’m okay,” she said.
“You weren’t out patrolling and I was worried,” Angel said leaning closer.
“Willow and Xander and Anya went. I was tired,” Buffy replied. “How did you know that I wasn’t out patrolling?”
“No more talk,” Angel said, shrugging off his leather duster and stretching out beside her. He slid his hand across Buffy’s stomach and around the curve of her waist and pulled her closer.
For a breathtaking moment, Buffy thought he was going to bite her, but instead his lips pressed against hers with such sweet pressure she thought she’d cry. And they were his lips, soft, firm, cunning lips that teased her own into submission. The smell of him almost made her come.
His knuckles traced the bone of her jaw, slid down the slope of her neck, over her collarbone, down over the top of her tank top, past the swell of her trembling breast, nudging its way over each rib, before resting at her hip.
He lifted his thick eyelashes and pinned her against her pillow with those eyes, his eyes, endless mahogany eyes flecked with gold.
“What are you doing here?”
He traced the curve of her lower lip with his thumb and smiled his trademark smile, a gesture so slight only Buffy would have realized it was a smile at all.
“We were going to meet, remember, at Restfield. You didn’t come and so I came here. Are you sure you’re not sick, Buffy?” he replied.
Buffy shook her head. “I’m not sick,” she whispered. Something was wrong, but she couldn’t quite reach out and touch the wrongness; it was somewhere out of reach. She lifted her chin and willed Angel to drop his mouth against hers once more, to feel the weight of those lips on hers, to be drugged by their smooth touch, by his tongue reaching into her mouth.
She felt him shift closer, felt his fingers flutter over the exposed skin along the scoop of her top before tiptoeing down her bare arms.
“Kiss me,” she urged.
“Are you sure you want that?”
She reached leaden arms up and slid her fingers into the crisp hair at the back of his neck, drawing him forward.
“Buffy?” he said.
“Haven’t we waited long enough?”
He rested his hand between her breasts, over her heart and felt the vibration of its steady rhythm through his fingertips.
“You know we can’t,” he said.
“I know,” she said, and felt the familiar sting of tears in her eyes.
It was Spike sitting next to her on the bed when she slid down the slippery slope of her dream into wakefulness. Spike’s smooth cheek turned toward her, his eyes narrowed with concern and suspicion.
“Yeah, luv,” he said. “You alright, then?”
Buffy reached up a hand to smooth back her hair. Her head throbbed, deep behind her eyes. “What time is it?” she said, squinting at the numbers on the alarm.
“It’s early,” Spike said. “About five I think.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Well, I…” Spike stood suddenly. “I heard you call out. I was worried.”
“Did you come through the window?”
“What?” Spike asked.
“I just…I had this dream.”
Spiked nodded, but remained silent. He knew exactly what she was talking about. She was talking about Angel. She was talking about how her mind had convinced her that it was Angel sitting on the window ledge watching her breathe the easy breath of sleep. How easy it was for her to see Angel looking down at her, feel his fingers on her skin, his lips against hers. The deception was so simple, so simple.
I knew she’d never be faithful.
Spike cocked his head to one side.
“I’m sorry, Spike.”
“It’s alright, luv,” he said, sincerely. Carefully, he brushed his fingers against her temple, smoothing her hair and feeling the jittery jump of her pulse.
She’s playing you.
“I’m afraid, Spike.”
You should be, my dear.
“It’s alright, pet. I’ve got your back.”
“I’m worried about her,” Willow said, over a cup of coffee in the Summers’ kitchen. “She just seems, I don’t know, out of it.”
“She’s tired, Will, that’s all.”
“No, Xander, I think saying she’s tired isn’t saying enough. She’s tired, yeah, we’re all tired. I’m not hallucinating. Are you hallucinating?”
“Qualify hallucinating. Is that like fantasizing?”
Willow paused before punching Xander’s upper arm.
“Be serious, Xander.”
Xander nodded. “Okay.”
“Be serious about what?” Dawn said, drifting into the room with an armload of books.
“Nothing,” Willow said.
“I think we should tell her,” Xander said, looking pointedly at Willow. “I think we need to include Dawnie in what goes on around here.”
“Yes. I think I need to be included. Inclusion is a buzzword these days,” Dawn said.
“We’re worried about Buffy,” Willow said.
“Oh my God. I am so glad you are worried,” Dawn said, setting the precariously piled books on the counter and joining the others at the table. “She’s been acting weird. I mean, weirder. Than normal.”
“What have you noticed?” Willow said, leaning forward.
“Nothing,” Dawn said, shrugging.
“Then why do you say she’s been acting weirder than normal?” Willow asked.
“Spider senses are tingly,” Dawn explained.
“Whose? Yours or hers?”
“Mine,” Dawn said.
“Great,” Xander said. “We’ve got a tingly spider but no evidence.”
“I have evidence,” Spike said from the door.
“Where in the hell did you come from?” Xander said.
Spike nodded his head up toward the ceiling.
“I’m not going to pretend that I’ve been playing with a full deck these last few weeks,” Spike said. “But I’m worried about her, too.”
“Yeah, one fry short of a happy meal pretty much sums you up,” Xander said under his breath.
“Like I said, I’m not one hundred percent,” Spike retorted. “But the Slayer’s really not well. She’s seeing things.”
“And you’re not?”
“Look, Harris, I’m not trying to start something here, I just want to pass on what I know and go downstairs and get some shut eye,” Spike said evenly.
Xander waved a hand in submission.
“What sort of things?” Willow asked.
“Oh,” Willow and Dawn said together.
“In her room just now,” Spike started before being swiftly interrupted by Xander.
“You were in Buffy’s room? Buffy’s room is off-limits!”
“Keep your shirt on,” Spike said, stepping further into the shadows as the sun shifted in the kitchen. “I heard her call out. I went into her room and she was having a moment.”
“A moment?” said Willow. She paused. “Oh, a moment.”
“But the First can’t touch anything, not really,” said Willow.
“I thought about that. But maybe because we’re dead, but sort of alive, it can use us in a way that it can’t use others,” Spike said.
“That makes sense, sort of,” Dawn said. “In a squicky sort of way.”
“We need a plan,” said Xander.
“Do you think?” Spike said, crossing his arms in front of his chest.
“Look. You haven’t exactly been the poster boy for mental health, Spike,” said Xander.
“I don’t disagree,” Spike replied quietly.
“We need Giles,” Dawn said.
“We don’t have Giles, so we’re just going to have to think of a way to help Buffy on our own,” Willow said.
“Help me do what?” Buffy said, appearing behind Spike in the doorway.
For a moment, no one said anything.
“Fight evil,” Dawn said, with a face-splitting grin.
Buffy didn’t smile back. “Okay, what’s going on?”
“We’re worried about you,” Willow said, pushing back from the table. “We’re worried that the First may be playing on your weaknesses.”
“What do you mean?” Buffy said defensively.
“Showing you things, things you might want to see, things that aren’t real,” Spike said, without turning to look at Buffy.
“That’s not true,” she said.
“You saw Angel upstairs, didn’t you?” Dawn asked.
Buffy lowered her eyes and sighed. “You told,” she said to Spike’s stiff back.
He turned slowly to look at her and nodded. “I told.”
“They’ll use him against you, Buffy,” Willow said. “I know I don’t need to tell you that, but I’m just sayin’.”
“I just want this to be over,” Buffy said, lifting her head. “I’m so tired.”
“I know, luv,” Spike whispered.
I can see into her mind, Spike. Do you want me to tell you what I see?
Spike ignored Dru’s insidious voice, concentrating instead on Buffy’s pale face, worried eyes.
Dru’s voice hissed against Spike’s ear. She wants you to put her down, down like a rabid pet. She wants you to end her misery. She’s so miserable, my darling. If you love her, you’ll help her.
“I have to get some sleep,” Spike said, moving back from Buffy. “I’m gonna go downstairs for a while.”
Dawn opened the door leading to the basement and without another word, Spike disappeared into the darkness below.
She went to him, without thinking of the consequences. The cot was pushed against a wall, away from any direct light and he lay there, a shadow against the rumpled wool blanket. He didn’t stir as she moved across the cement floor, and she was struck by how he had changed.
She remembered the first time she’d seen him, all cocky, swaggering walk and curled Billy Idol lip. Had she known, even then, that she’d take him to her bed? Maybe not consciously but, deep down, his darkness had called to her in the same way as Angel’s light had beckoned.
Buffy knelt beside the cot and drifted her fingers over his slack jaw. His skin was smooth and cool, and Buffy was reminded of how it had felt to lie beside him, their legs entwined like the tangled roots of a tree.
“Spike,” she said, close to his ear.
His lashes fluttered and then he lifted one eyelid, his blue blue eye focusing immediately on her face.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“What’s wrong with me?” she asked.
He closed his eyes and emitted a low groan. When he opened his eyes again, Buffy was crying. “There’s nothing wrong with you, Slayer.”
“That’s not true,” Buffy said. “Bad things are drawn to me.”
Spike rolled over onto his side and reached out a hand to wipe away her tears. “Bad things aren’t drawn to you, Buffy. Bad things are drawn to the Hellmouth.”
“You were drawn to me,” she argued.
“Indeed I was, but that hardly proves your point,” Spike said.
Buffy’s fingers fluttered at the top button of her blouse, popping it free. “I need…”
Spike sat up, and reached out to stop Buffy’s hands. “Not like this, pet,” he said.
“Since when have you been all about the moral ground?” she asked bitterly.
Spike smiled, tapping his chest. “Soul, now, remember? I can sometimes choose to take the high road, even when other bits of me would rather go in another direction.” He sat back, leaning against the wall. “Besides, Buffy, it’s not me you really want.”
“What do you mean?”
“Look, luv, I’m not the person you should be having an intimate discussion about Peaches with. I’m not that high and mighty, yet,” Spike said with a small smile. “If it’s meaningless sex you’re after, you’ll have to go elsewhere. I can’t do that with you anymore.”
Buffy stood and fumbled with the button on her shirt.
“You’re vulnerable, Buffy. And right now, under the circumstances, I’m the last person you should be trusting.”
“I’m not sure I can trust anyone,” Buffy said quietly.
“Trust yourself,” Spike replied.
She couldn’t remember exactly where she had put the claddagh for safekeeping. She rooted through the drawer in her bedside table, in the jewelry box she’d received for her eleventh birthday, the ballerina now headless but still spinning happily to “When You Wish Upon A Star,” and in the box she kept pushed to the back of the shelf in the closet.
Frustrated and close to tears, Buffy slumped on the bed before remembering her weapons’ trunk. It had seemed like an odd place to put the ring at the time and yet, somehow, it had seemed fitting. She had a sudden memory of Angel giving her the ring back, weeks after she had said her goodbye and placed it on the floor of the mansion. She’d had no way of knowing that this simple act, this attempt to let him go, was the very thing that would bring him back to her.
One day, just before the others had found out he was back, Buffy had visited him at the mansion. They’d fallen into a routine of working out together, Angel carefully explaining the ancient art of Tai Chi. Buffy found that the slow, rounded movements of the martial art helped to center her conflicted feelings about Angel’s sudden reappearance in her life and her increasingly complicated feelings about keeping him a secret from her friends.
Buffy’s mind had drifted along with the movements her body now knew well enough to perform by rote. Moments passed before she realized that Angel was no longer a participant in the exercise. He was instead standing to the side, watching her with an intensity that was palpable.
She stopped. “What?”
“You’re beautiful,” he’d said, moving closer to her. Reaching out, he’d taken her hand and slipped the claddagh back on her finger, kissing her knuckles before releasing her. “You dropped this.”
Buffy lifted the lid on the hope chest cum weapons repository and lifted out the top tray, which held non-vampire related items. In the cavity below were assorted stakes, knives, a cross bow and stray arrows, a few bottles of holy water and a small ring box. Buffy reached for the box and lifted it out.
Returning to her bed, Buffy sat for a long moment before opening the box. There it was: crown, hands, heart.
Wear it with the heart pointing toward you, like this. It means you belong to somebody.
She slipped the ring on and held out her hand to admire it. It was a beautiful piece of jewelry and a reminder of another life. Not this life. A souvenir.
There has to be a way to know that I’m doing the right thing, Buffy thought.
But there never was.
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