Part III: Loss
She was kneeling on the grass in a cemetery, and Buffy knew whose tombstone was in front of her before she read the words. She was herself, but different now.
She was the Buffy who hadn’t jumped, the Slayer who hadn’t been able to save her sister.
She reached out a hand to trace the letters one at a time. Buffy wondered who had chosen the epitaph, because it read simply, “Dawn Summers. Beloved daughter, sister, friend.” She would have found something else to say, something more profound.
Or she would have, if she hadn’t been weighed down by a grief so heavy she wasn’t sure she could stand.
“Come on, luv, I’ll walk you home.”
“I need to patrol.”
“I can do it. You should go home and get some sleep. It’s been days.”
“How would you know?”
“Do you really want to know the answer to that?”
She felt his strong hand touch her shoulder hesitantly. The touch reminded her of the night they’d sat on her porch, after he’d told her of his past in the Bronze. “You can’t stay here forever, luv.”
“I know.” After a moment, she allowed him to help her rise. Spike was right; she couldn’t spend another night at the gravesite. “But I should patrol.”
He sighed. “Take a night off, Buffy. You deserve it.”
It was only because she was almost too tired to stand that she started for home. Spike fell into step beside her, but she didn’t have the energy to protest. In truth, she appreciated the company.
They walked in silence; words seemed superfluous. After all, words wouldn’t bring her sister back.
Spike walked her right up to the front door. “Why don’t you let me take patrol for you tomorrow night, Slayer? Or for as long as you want.”
“Everybody’s treating me like I’m fragile,” Buffy said. “I’m still the Slayer.”
“We know you are, pet, but it’s natural to take some time to grieve.” He ducked his head, staring at the toes of his boots. “Just—let me know, yeah?”
“If you could patrol for a couple of days, that would be nice.” The thought of being able to abdicate responsibility for a while was too tempting to pass up.
He smiled at her, a hint of shyness in his expression. “Whatever you need, luv.”
Buffy knew she could take his words at face value.
Somehow, she managed to sleep that night, her exhaustion finally catching up to her. Buffy had spent the last two weeks keeping busy, trying not to think about the fact that Dawn was dead, gone forever. Trying to block out all memories of watching her younger sister jump from the tower.
It should have been her, but Dawn had been too fast, too insistent. Buffy had hesitated a moment too long.
In the end, it had been Dawn who had been the bravest of the Summers girls.
She slept late that first day, the silence of the house a heavy weight on her chest. It was easier to roll over, pull the pillow over her head, and go back to sleep. There had been no dreams that night, and it gave her hope that sleep might provide a respite from grief after all.
Without patrol, there was no reason to get out of bed. Her friends were largely leaving her alone; they had no idea what to say to offer comfort. They had all failed Dawn; Buffy wasn’t alone in that, even though her profound grief had isolated her.
When her mom had died, Buffy had at least had Dawn. They had been in it together. Now, she had no one.
On the second day, Willow came to see her, to try to cajole her out of bed and into eating. “I can’t,” she replied.
“Buffy, we’re worried about you,” Willow said softly. “You need to get up, do something. Dawn wouldn’t want this.”
“I’ll try.” It was the only promise she could make, and she resented the implication that she was failing Dawn. Didn’t Willow understand that she’d already failed, that there was nothing she could do to make up for it?
On the third day, Buffy rose because Spike would be expecting her for patrol, and her friends wouldn’t leave her alone for much longer. When Dawn had been taken, and she’d retreated inside herself, Willow had come and dragged her back out again. This was no different, except that there was no escape, not even inside her head.
They didn’t understand, and so they would keep pushing until she was back to normal. Or at least the pretense of normal.
“We don’t have to do this,” Spike said as they set out from the house. “If you need more time—”
“They’re going to start asking questions soon,” Buffy replied softly. “I don’t have a choice.”
“There’s always a choice,” he shot back. “Tell them to sod off if they try to interfere. They’re not the ones who—” Spike stopped himself before he completed the sentence.
“They’re not the ones who lost their mom and their sister?”
“Don’t worry about me,” Buffy said. “I’m used to going on when the going gets tough. The Slayer is always alone, right?”
“You’re not alone, Buffy,” Spike insisted.
“Maybe,” she said dubiously.
Patrolling with Spike was the only time she felt relatively normal, the only time her grief seemed to ebb. He didn’t try to make conversation, or press her to talk about her feelings, or tell her that everything was going to be okay. The most he ever did was to tell her to do whatever the hell made her feel better.
Buffy appreciated that.
“You need to think about what you’re going to do with your life,” Giles told her about halfway through the summer. “I know it’s difficult, but—”
“What am I supposed to do, Giles?” Buffy asked. “We both know that I’m not going to survive many more apocalypses. There’s no point in going to school.”
“Dawn should be the one going to school this fall,” she whispered. “If I hadn’t failed her—”
“You did the best you could, Buffy,” he insisted. “Once the portal was opened, there wasn’t any other choice.”
Buffy looked him straight in the eyes. “Yes, there was. I should have been the one to jump.”
He looked away, his expression grim. “The world needs the Slayer.”
“I don’t know if I care about the world anymore,” Buffy said bluntly, walking away from him and going up to her room, slamming the door behind her. She still hadn’t forgiven Giles for telling her that she might have to kill Dawn.
If he hadn’t made the suggestion, maybe she wouldn’t have hesitated before jumping. Maybe Dawn would still be alive. It might be wrong to blame him, but she couldn’t quite help it.
The others had also told her that she needed to move on and make plans for the future, although they used different words. Willow told her that Dawn had been incredibly brave; Xander made lame jokes about anything and everything in an attempt to get her to laugh. Tara was gently understanding, much as she’d been after Joyce’s death, and Anya was awkward and uncharacteristically silent.
She wanted to be grateful that they were trying; Buffy knew they were doing the best they knew how. It didn’t help her feel better, though, so it was easier to avoid their company.
Buffy didn’t think that the fog of her grief would ever lift, and there were nights when she wondered what would happen if she just stopped fighting. If Spike hadn’t been there, she probably would have, but Buffy didn’t want him to see her quitting. She wondered if he knew, or if he suspected.
When he showed up at her door, a few nights after Giles had confronted her about her apathy, Buffy had her answer.
“Let’s go, Slayer. We’ll skip patrol tonight.” He sounded determined, and Buffy knew he had something planned. The worry radiated off him.
“I’m fine, Spike.” The last thing she needed was for him to start treating her as though she was fragile.
“No, you’re not,” he said bluntly. “You’re angry, an’ you’re grievin’, but that’s not the point. Let’s go.”
“Where are we going?” she asked, not much caring.
His grip was gentle, but firm, when he grasped her arm. “A place I know of.”
“This isn’t a date, is it?” she asked suspiciously, not knowing whether she wanted it to be or not.
Spike snorted. “Please, Slayer. I think I learned my lesson last time. What you need is somethin’ to take your mind off matters, an’ I’ve got just the thing.”
Buffy frowned, her curiosity piqued. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt excitement at the prospect of a mystery. “What kind of thing? Spike—”
“Do you trust me?”
“Yes.” She said it without hesitation, and knew it was true.
His face softened, and his blue eyes lit up. “Alright, then. It’s a surprise.”
Spike drove. Buffy noticed that he’d cleaned his car, and her suspicions as to whether or not this was supposed to be a date were rekindled. She decided that it was one of those things she didn’t care about. Since Spike was the only person she could stand to be around right now, she was hardly going to revoke his invitation.
Although, when she realized they had parked outside the demon bar along the highway, Buffy seriously considered it. “What the hell are we doing here?”
He gave her an oddly satisfied smile. “We’re here so you can take out your anger on a few unsuspecting demons.”
“I patrol every night, Spike,” Buffy snapped. “I don’t think I need a fight to feel better.”
“This isn’t you goin’ out an’ doing your duty, Buffy,” he replied, his tone low and sincere. “This is about takin’ the fight to them.” The look he gave her was intense, riveting her, forcing her to actually hear what he was saying. “Demons took your sister, Slayer. It wasn’t your fault; it was theirs. This is about payback.”
Spike’s argument seemed to light a fire nearly extinguished by grief, and his words made a certain kind of sense. Maybe killing a bunch of demons wouldn’t bring her sister back—but it might make her feel a little better.
He smiled as he realized that his arguments had hit home. “Here.” He handed her a stake and a long dagger.
“What are you bringing?”
“I’ve got an ax,” he replied, reaching into the back seat. “You ready?”
She followed him into the bar, but only because Spike knew the layout and she didn’t. If they were going to take out as many as possible, they would have to do it right. At least, that was the reason that Spike gave her. Buffy had a feeling that he wanted to protect her, but if his plan would result in more dead demons, she’d follow his lead.
He barged through the front doors of the bar with a flourish that made Buffy envious. She thought it might be the coat, because nothing else would explain it.
When she stepped up next to him, silence soon fell over the bar and its patrons.
“Listen up,” Spike called. “I think you lot know the Slayer. We’re here to clean house, so if you don’t want to fight, now’s the time to leave.”
There was a long silence when no one inside the bar moved, then a large, slime-covered demon stepped out of the crowd. “We’re not frightened of the Slayer and her pet vampire,” it replied in a muffled hiss.
Buffy saw a few demons begin to inch their way to the door, not wanting to draw attention to their retreat, but not wanting to stay either. She decided to let them go; she and Spike had enough to keep them busy.
She looked over at Spike. “Hear that? He’s not afraid of me.”
Spike smirked, his expression positively evil. “Guess we’ll just have to teach him a lesson about what the Slayer’s capable of.”
They both leapt into action, Buffy feeling secure in the knowledge that Spike was by her side, her muscles singing with the exertion. She ducked a blow aimed at her head and gutted another demon with one slice of her knife, whirling low to the ground to hamstring a second that was about to hit Spike from behind.
Spike vaulted over her head to get to a demon who was about to deliver a blow to the back of her neck. His momentum took them both to the ground where he snapped its neck.
Buffy lost herself in the battle, moving on instinct alone, meting out death to all who got in her way. She knew nothing other than the feel of the wooden stake in her hand, the taste of ash on her lips, and the sounds of fists and feet hitting flesh.
They’d nearly emptied out the bar when she heard Spike’s harsh shout behind her and turned, not quite in time to avoid the heavy fist that slammed into her temple. When she regained consciousness, she was in the passenger seat of Spike’s car.
“You got hit. He’s dead.”
“How’s your head?”
“It hurts, but I’ll live.”
“You want to go home?”
“Not really,” Buffy replied.
He nodded. “Right, then.”
She put her throbbing head back against the seat and let him drive, idly wondering what it would be like to leave Sunnydale behind her. She’d tried it before; Buffy had tried not to be the Slayer after she’d sent Angel to hell. She knew that wasn’t possible, but the idea was still tempting.
Maybe she didn’t want to leave being the Slayer behind, but she wouldn’t mind leaving her grief and her failure, if it were possible.
She already knew that it wasn’t.
“Here we are.”
Spike had pulled up outside a roadside diner Buffy didn’t recognize. She had no idea where they were, but she that didn’t matter. When she asked, it was more out of habit than a real desire to know. “Where’s here?”
“About halfway to Los Angeles,” he replied. “Up to you whether or not we turn around after we eat.”
Buffy gave him a look. “Are you suggesting we run away together?”
He raised an eyebrow. “Hey, I’m just the driver, pet.”
She shook her head. “No, you’re not.” Looking through the paint-smeared windshield to the diner, she realized that she was hungry for the first time in days. “Is this place any good?”
“Let’s find out,” he suggested.
They sat across from one another at one of the scarred, gray Formica tables away from the window, to avoid having to explain Spike’s lack of reflection. Buffy wondered how she looked; after their fight in the bar, she couldn’t be pretty, but their waitress hadn’t batted an eyelash. The older woman had simply brought their menus and told them to wave her over when they were ready.
“I don’t have any cash on me,” Buffy admitted softly.
“Not to worry, Summers. I’ve got it covered. Least I can do after…” Spike trailed off, and Buffy saw the grief in his eyes—really saw it for the first time, and knew it went as deep as hers.
“You miss her,” she observed.
He nodded shortly. “I promised I’d keep her safe for you, an’ I didn’t. Every time I close my eyes, I see some way I could have changed things, been smarter, or faster, or stronger.”
“I know.” She did; she knew what he saw every night because she saw the same thing played out in her own head. “What’s your favorite?”
“Where I rip Doc limb from limb, instead of just runnin’ him through,” Spike admitted. “I should have known the bastard would be harder to kill.” He hesitated for just a moment before asking, “What about you?”
“Where I’m the one who jumps instead of Dawn.” It was a confession she couldn’t have made to anyone else because no one else would have understood, not the way Spike did.
He swallowed. “Yeah. I figured that.”
“I wasn’t fast enough,” Buffy admitted. “I stood there, and I knew that one of us was going to die, and I hesitated.”
“Maybe.” She could give herself that much grace, at least. “But Dawn didn’t, and I’m the Slayer.”
“You’re also human.” His voice was so gentle, and his eyes—Buffy could get lost in his eyes.
“Tonight was good,” she admitted.
“It was what I needed.” She looked at her ragged nails thoughtfully. It had been a while since taking care of her appearance had been important. “We could have lost.”
“There’s nothing like facing death to make you feel alive.” The steadiness of Spike’s words spoke of personal knowledge, and Buffy suddenly understood that he had a death wish, just like the Slayers he’d hunted and killed. He risked it all to feel alive, just as she had tonight, and somehow he had understood. A vampire understood what it meant to be the Slayer better than her Watcher, better than her friends.
It struck her then, the incongruity of the situation. She was sitting in a diner, miles from home, with a vampire who had once made it his life’s mission to kill girls like her, and he was commiserating with her over her sister’s death.
He was grieving, just as she was, and if Spike could grieve, didn’t that have to mean that he could love?
And if he could love—
She shied away from that thought, but she relaxed a bit more. It was bizarre, but for the first time since Dawn had died, she didn’t feel quite so alone.
“Would you tell me something?” Buffy asked.
“Whatever you want,” he promised rashly.
“What were you really like when you were human?”
The surprise on his face told her that Spike hadn’t expected that question, and he chuckled ruefully. “Walked right into that one, didn’t I?”
“I take it you weren’t really a bad ass then?”
He hesitated, then said, “This doesn’t go anywhere, right?”
Buffy met his eyes and nodded. “This is just between you and me.”
Somehow, she thought, it always had been.
Buffy laid her head down on the cloth-covered table and gave into her tears. She could still feel the heavy grief that losing Dawn had brought, even though she knew that her sister was safe with Janice, or safe at home.
Her sister had been a burden, until she’d known what losing her would mean.
“Here,” Casamir said gently, handing her a handkerchief.
Buffy wiped her face, blowing her nose noisily into the soft cloth. “I’m sorry.”
“Sometimes what might have happened is more frightening that what has happened.”
“You can say that again,” Buffy muttered. “I thought that being brought back was the worst thing that could happen to me, but—” She broke off. Maybe she’d needed to come back, and maybe she’d needed to die.
But that didn’t tell her what she should do with her future.
Spike awoke to Red’s raised voice. “Spike is in your bed?”
“He stayed with me last night, and he was tired,” Dawn shot back. “Besides, the sun was up, so it wasn’t like he could go back to his crypt.”
“You could have let him sleep on the couch,” Willow replied.
“He wouldn’t have needed to stay if you or Buffy had actually come home.” Spike could just picture Dawn’s face as she said that, the stubborn tilt of her chin and accompanying hair toss.
“I got held up.” Spike could hear the defensiveness in her tone. “Amy and I—”
“Amy?” Dawn asked. “You de-ratted her?”
“Yeah, and it was a good thing,” Willow insisted. “I’ve been trying to get her back for a long time.”
“And then you went out all night?”
“I needed to blow off some steam.”
“Fine. When are you going to look for Buffy?” Dawn asked. “Spike can’t do it until after dark.”
“I’m sure she’s fine, Dawnie,” Willow said, trying to placate the teen. “I have to go by the Magic Box to get supplies for a locator spell anyway. I’ll let everyone else know that we need to look for her, and we’ll find her in no time.”
“I guess I’ll stay here just in case she comes home then.”
Spike heard the front door close and sighed. It sounded as though Red had decided he had no business being around Dawn or anyone else who qualified as civilized company. Dawn thundered up the stairs, and her bedroom door eased open slowly. “Spike?”
“I’m awake, Bit.” He sat up slowly. “Guess Red didn’t take too kindly to me bein’ here.”
“She’s being stupid,” Dawn announced. “It’s like she doesn’t even care that Buffy’s missing.”
“She’s too caught up in her own world to see past the end of her nose.” He folded his hands behind his head. “I’ll go look for Buffy as soon as the sun goes down. Maybe you ought to call the good witch to stay with you tonight. Don’t know what we’ll run into.”
Dawn sat down on the bed. “Yeah, okay. You will find her, right?”
“Of course I will,” he promised recklessly. Spike knew he had to find her; there was no other option.
“I should let you sleep,” she said.
Spike shrugged. “I’m awake now. You want to watch a movie?”
She tucked her hair behind her ear. “Yeah.”
At least he could get through to one of the Summers girls.
It was the last question, and probably the most important one, because it had to do with her future, rather than some nonexistent past.
Casamir stopped her hand. “Are you ready for this answer?”
Buffy met his eyes. “Do you know something I don’t?”
“The future is open, but only if you’re willing to change course.”
She nodded slowly. “I’m ready.”
He pulled back, and Buffy dropped the last slip of paper on the coals, breathing in the now-familiar aromatic smoke.
The hardest question she’d ever asked glowed red in the dim light.
“What if I date Spike?”
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/177154.html