Part five of a seven part trilogy
A sheaf of papers in hand, she hunts in the midday sun. Hunts people, hunts humans, hunts for the hideout of three little boys turned murderers. She’s saved Jonathan. More than once. And now a girl is dead.
This isn’t her job. Jurisdiction. The question of why the boy who once proudly presented her with her Class Protector award would now be complicit in the murder and murder-cover-up of a young woman is not hers to answer. But she’s asking herself anyway. Whether Katrina’s death is her fault, for failing to take her arch nemesis-es seriously. Whether she should have gone ahead with her plan to confess her responsibility for it.
((She turned back into the alleyway, and Spike was still lying where she’d left him, beaten so badly it made her stomach churn. She picked him up, fighting the urge to vomit out her insides, to spew more of the toxicity she’s composed of out onto the blood-splattered concrete.
Halfway back to the crypt he’d roused enough to mumble brokenly into her ear, “You came back.” She wished he sounded angry, or even afraid. Not grateful.
She couldn’t say she’d always intended to. Couldn’t apologise. “Yes,” she whispered.
“It wasn’t your fault,” he slurred.
It was. His blood was on her bruised fists, and the hand dangling limp over her shoulder stabbed accusation with every unmarred knuckle of it. She said nothing.
“You were only… trying to help her,” he added.
She missed a step, stumbled and almost dropped him, earning herself a grunt of pain that would probably have been a shriek were he not so… hurt. Her lungs couldn’t even manage that much, compressed as they suddenly were.
Blankness reigned for a while.
There was swift, shallow panting beside her ear, Spike breathing through the pain of it all. The sound dragged her back.
“I know,” she told him, very gently. “It’s okay, Spike.” It wasn’t, nothing was, ever could be again, but he trusted her lies and relaxed towards unconsciousness again.))
The police hold no powers of absolution for her failings. No one does. She shakes herself, and checks the next address.
In one reality, Anya and Dawn sit with her while Willow and Xander attempt to capture a demon. With Tara.
((“We’re gonna need more muscle,” Xander announces, double-checking the tranq gun. “Someone to throw at it while we wait for this to kick in.”
Willow nods, sharp, decisive, having swiftly taken charge again with Buffy… she’s not sure what she is.
“Go over there now,” Willow orders, glancing at the window. “It’s getting dark.”
Xander grimaces and holsters the gun, and comprehension of who and where they’re talking about slowly seeps in.
“He’s… not there,” she says in a very small voice.
No one takes any notice.
“Spike’s not there,” she says, louder, almost shrill. Not there not there not there-
Faces stare at her, waiting for more words.
“He’s gone away,” she admits softly. “I’ll do it.” She tries to stand up to do so, but then she’s not there either.
When she next blinks into their strange little demon-hunting world, Tara’s been summoned to lend the strength they need, and she’s being babysat by Anya and Dawn.))
It was nice of her, she thinks, to arrange things so that Willow and Tara can have their happy ending too. It’s always easier to say goodbye to fictional friends when the story closes in a good place.
Dawn’s a problem though. Buffy studies her across the coffee table, her not-real mystical key of a sister. It’s her, she suspects, who keeps yanking her back here now. She needs to be taken care of, somehow. Why didn’t she leave with Spike?
Anya goes to check the front door again, check the hall phone again, anxious for something to do while her manfolk is out facing danger.
Dawn leans forward and asks in a low, heated tone, “Where’s Spike gone, Buffy?”
She doesn’t know how to answer that, so she closes her eyes and wills herself away too. Go away, go away, go a-way…
There’s peace in off-white rooms, hope in the faces of her parents there. Tranquillity on offer if she can hold on without tranquillisers. Her mother holds her hand, and tells her everything will be okay.
Then her friends rip that from her too.
Sleeping’s impossible; did it ever exist? Sunlight blazes down hour after hour, scorching, blistering, burning, waiting, inviting, offering its fiery death to any unclean thing that steps too close to its brilliance. From the shelter of bridges and the hollows under bushes he watches it emerge to bathe the earth, swallowing up shadow as it comes, hotter and hotter until the air simmers over the asphalt. Behind him, around him, hiding in this place it cannot quite touch with him are his dreadful retinue, whispering, hissing their screams and sobs as he holds them down here until dusk.
He doesn’t dare look at them. Learnt that lesson early. Eyes open, fixed to the road ahead, waiting, only waiting. Darkness will fall again and he will be able to continue his onwards march, closer and closer to the only fiery creature of death who has claim to him.
Heatwave shimmer and the white light of midday are the emptiest, the hardest to hold onto himself through. Strangers luring him to forget. He grits his teeth and rubs at raw eyes, scratches at skin feebly to ground himself. Finally shadows begin to slide back, creeping, inching by slow degrees as the sun falls. It’s in the last slivers of that deadly light she’s closest, and no, he was wrong; these are the hardest. Beams of rich, pure gold that would taste like boiling champagne while they devour his tongue. He rubs at the burn one hand, red raised lines where he tried once to touch them, and remembers again that she’s closer here in angry skin.
Then the thing is gone again, and he can crawl out on stiffened limbs to look for her in golden wisps of sunset cloud.
The ghosts come with him, bleeding out of him, gaining strength as insomnia becomes a hallucinogen. Nightmare would be preferable to this waking horror show, but every attempt to sink into one is interrupted by those damn screams. His throat hurts from the serration of them, and soon, he thinks, hopes, fears, soon it’ll be dry enough to let him snatch a few minutes rest.
Death is on his heels, staining the road with his sin at every step, trying to glue him to it beside the rigid corpse of an unlucky hare. He strokes the creature’s velvet-soft ears and bids it a regretful goodbye. Places to be. Someone to see. Sorry, little bugger.
The shadow-shade of its leaping form joins the rest for a while, and he stops and looks over his shoulder at it in bemusement. Must be a different one. An idle swerve of the car one night, eyelights reflecting at him from the roadside and him deciding to put them out, just because. Can’t even remember, but it feels like the sort of thing he’d do. He’s a killer, non-discriminatory. Hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of bodies behind him without so much as faces to their vague forms, all a mass of choking screams, rush and crunch and silky hair and fluttering hearts. Individuals no more. But that girl’s near the front of them again now, the one whose name he can never quite catch as she hisses it, lost and gone. Short dark hair, luscious hips, a face he does remember; chosen, plucked from the crowd at the Bronze precisely, damned by the slayer’s name on her lips, damned by association. Damned by his hands roping her up for Dru, by the order given to turn the chit once she’d fed. Distraction for the slayer, all she was. Knock her off her game with a familiar face to slay.
Oh fuck- He’s done it again, let himself look. Look at these shadows of people he’s slaughtered like so many cattle and god does he get it now; why he can’t be, why she can’t afford to let him be one.
There’s been talk about her, behind her back. She becomes aware of this when she walks into the magic box one evening and everyone’s sitting at the table, and the table is tensely silent. She asks herself if she cares, and decides she does not. Maybe they’ve realised their mistake at last; maybe they’re discussing how to send her back. She asks herself if she’d care if they were, and that question’s much harder to answer on the spot.
The answer comes later, much later, in dust blowing on the breeze. There’s satisfaction in doing her job – this job, the unpaid one – even with all of the twisting and turning and tangling-in-knots she’s been doing lately over the technicalities of the ethics of it. Because when she’s actually doing it, when it’s her hands and a vampire’s fangs, heart beating fast in her chest and voice effortless, everything else melts away. Thinking stops and feeling takes over (if she could just find enough vampires to slay, perhaps she wouldn’t miss the escape of a certain one so much). And how slaying feels is right. Necessary. Brutal and bruising and bloody, and necessary. And she’s built to take the bruises. She’s not like other girls. But someone has to be different, to keep them safe.
Job satisfaction. It’s a reason not to quit.
Besides. She promised she’d be careful. For how long, Spike?
He felt right when she was doing him too. At that she barks a deranged little laughing-sound that dies in a sigh, then sits down on the nearest flat tombstone and covers her face with her hands. Being with him had felt right, and wrong, and everything in between. Being with him had felt. And not like other vampires. Different enough to keep her safe.
God, she misses him. Misses him with an ache that ebbs and flows but never eases. Misses the old them, before everything got so messed up; misses his warm chuckling laughter, and their comfortable silences, and the way he always had a smile cocked and loaded just for her. Misses how things were before she got so scared. Before he did. Misses the times when she would forget everything was so messed up, when rough sex would mingle with snippets of laughter and all of it felt like living.
She could have put a stop to it at any moment before he did, and maybe things would have been okay. Put a stop to the affair; told him why she’d started it, exactly what she was trying to use it for, why it wasn’t working anymore. Told him how sorry she is. Or, put a stop to the lies, to the deceit, to the hole she’d dug herself into until it trapped her. Confessed. What she’d been doing with Spike, and what she’d done to him. What he can be, and what she can. Spat out all of her crimes, and asked her friends to judge her for them. Asked him to.
But now it’s too late. He’s not here, and nothing is okay.
“We’ve been w-worried about you,” Tara stammers. She must have drawn the short straw at the magic box the other night, been handed the ‘low-key intervention’ script that no one wanted the responsibility of. She shakes her head to discard it, then amends, “I’m worried about you, Buffy. If you’re struggling with what happened, with the glarghk guhl… the demon, or if there’s something else going on… If you need someone to talk to. I’m listening.”
She is. Soft doe eyes and that lopsided smile that radiates tenderness. Buffy has to look away. There’s no judgement here, no punishment, only gentle empathy. She could spill it all out here in the Doublemeat staffroom, and Tara would try to understand.
You people pull me out and drag me back then ask me to assuage your consciences when I look whiplashed- Spike used to rest his cool fingers on the back of my neck and the feeling would ease, and I hated him for it- We once fucked like rabid hyenas on the back porch while you were all eating dinner inside, and I liked it, got off on it, thrilled to it- There’s a vicious streak in me, cruel and merciless and vile, that doesn’t want to care that he feels it when I scathe him with my tongue while he makes love to me, or maybe it really does and enjoys that too- I want to make love to him, just once, but I’m scared I won’t be able to, and just as scared that I will- I think that bad case of sunburn you mentioned has cauterized my nerves and is slowly turning them to ashes- Sometimes I think I could murder all of you and shack up in a vampire nest, just to make things black and white again- He lets me hurt him as a proxy for myself, and we both know it, but he doesn’t know the blade’s double-sided- Sometimes I think I should offer to fuck them all before I stake them, and where does whoring sit next to execution?- He thinks he can save me by dragging me under, and I let him because saving myself is too hard- He was saving me, every day, but I didn’t want him to- What it was costing him was killing me- It’s all so hard on my own-
He’s gone, Tara, and I don’t know when he’s ever coming back or if he should, and it’s all my fault.
But she knows how it would go. Like last time.
((“Do you love him?” Tara asks.
She can’t answer that, even to herself. Both options are wrong. Two opposing walls, squashing down on her.
“I-It’s okay if you do. He’s done a lot of good, and- and he does love you,” Tara says, and it sounds so light in her voice. Simple. “A-and Buffy, it’s okay if you don’t. You’re going through a really hard time, and you’re…”
“What?” she gasps. “Using him?” She is, oh how she is, whatever she does or doesn’t feel. Is it worse to be using someone if you love them? It’s worse, so very much worse when they love you. “What’s okay about that?” she asks, demands, begging the lash of truth from someone else’s lips.
Tara, sweet, kind, principled Tara, lets her down. “It’s not that simple.”
“It is!” she begs. “It’s wrong. I’m wrong. Tell me that I’m wrong, please…”
She falls apart into sobs, but Tara only strokes her head soothingly.))
Tara’s openness is an outstretched palm, inviting her to lay all her cards out where she can see them. Guiding her eyes to the truths she already holds. She doesn’t need to tell her anything.
Buffy nods. “I know. It was, um, a head spinner. The glar-ghoul. But it’s fading. Really. I’ll get over it.”
Tara smiles again, lips together this time. She’s heard the fob off and respects it, but sympathy rolls off her all the same.
I could horrify you, sweet Tara. God, what is wrong with her? It’s the tortured animal rotting in her chest, thrashing about blindly as it dies. “You can pass that on,” she tells her, shuffling in her plastic seat. “Buffy’s on the mend. No lasting insanity.” She wants to laugh, cackle, sob. The smile she’s slapped on stings a little. “I might take a night off this week,” she adds chirpily. “Catch up on sleep.” Let them think they’ve done something, then they’ll leave her alone.
Tara nods, gathers herself to go. Shakes her head awkwardly in apology. “They’re worried because they care, Buffy. They just don’t know how to help.”
“I know,” she murmurs. She doesn’t know either. “But I’m doing okay.”
“H-have you heard from him?” Tara asks softly. They’re beyond the pass that on now and into private confidences. Tara’s kept her word, kept her secret, is a deep well they can all pour into without fear. Buffy’s glad she’s back on the team, straddling the edge though she is. Perhaps she can draw out what’s going on with the newlyweds, because Buffy doesn’t have room enough to poke into it. Or maybe she just doesn’t really care.
“No,” she whispers.
More sympathetic smiles. “I c-could do a locating spell, if-“
“No!” Yes. No. Please. Don’t. “No,” she repeats, less desperately. “It’s okay.” Limbo is preferable to wrong answers. She lives her life in limbo. Or… inhabits it there.
“Okay,” Tara repeats.
Buffy leaves work early and hurries home to Dawn, guilt managing a weak thrash of its own.
He retraces his steps, but his footprints only get deeper. There’s no rewinding them up from the earth. Everything’s a circle and he’s stuck in a loop: Walking. Running. Walking. Crawling to a halt to stare down at himself in astonishment; what the fuck is he doing, going back there? He’s the weapon of her destruction, the blade she impales herself on. Once more he’s on his way to Sunnydale to bag himself a slayer, and the third time unlucky death is sure to stick. Best thing he could do for her would be to stay away.
((Buffy watches Angel get in his car and leave, and he watches her pack her rare vulnerability back away. The sky’s lightening swiftly now, sunrise’s approach raising the hairs on the back of his neck, but as long as she stands near the shadows he can keep watching over her.
Angel’s engine has long since faded into the distance by the time she turns to him, eyes a blanker mask than any in Dru’s dolls. “It’s the best thing for both of us,” she murmurs, Angel’s words on repeat, then shakes her head. “What are you doing here, Spike?”
He sighs, looks at the ground to avoid the pull of a mother’s grave behind them. “Walking home, I reckon.”
She nods dully, and starts walking. There’s no acknowledgement when he slinks up beside her, but she sticks to the shady side of the streets the whole way.
Outside the house, she stops and turns her face to him. Something flickers on it briefly; the smallest twitch of a shrug, perhaps. Something that says he’s not what she needed, but she’s glad he was there anyway.))
Could be argued the best thing for her would have been to leave her in her grave. But he didn’t get a say on that one, so he doesn’t need to ask himself whether it’s true.
Neither did she.
Whatever he does is going to be wrong – made wrong by the him doing it, if not already so – and he can’t make head nor tail of any of it, however many times he stumbles to a halt to have this debate. Only fact that ever rises to the surface is that she told him what she wanted, and whether it’s for the best or worst… it’s about time someone gave her that power back.
So he gets up and puts one foot in front of the other again, walking. Until the ghostly shades of too-faded memories come howling back at his heels, grabbing, grasping, all of his own making and unshakeable, screaming their endless why?, and he runs again, runs from them, runs from himself, runs towards the only safety there can be, behind her fists or below her stake, he doesn’t care anymore, and yeah, it’s unfair, these demons of his own design riding shotgun back to her door, but God it’s too much all too much and panic overtakes rational thought again.
Originally posted at https://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/718094.html