My most grovelly apologies for the delay; my beta rabid1st insisted on improving this chapter, for which I am most grateful. I’d like to thank itmustbetuesday for permitting me to post late, and especially the lovely missmurchison for graciously allowing me to post on her day. Thanks also to fitofpique, head f*** over at wrisomifu, and everyone who commented on Chapter 1, for their encouragement.
A couple of things I forgot to mention yesterday, as I was struggling to post. Aside from the obvious, this is an AU in that AI remained AI; they didn’t join Wolfram & Hart. Also, this fic should carry a schmoop warning.
I posted the first part right before the big crash yesterday. It’s here, if you missed it. And now the conclusion of the Fic that Broke Livejournal.
The Spotlight, Chapter 2
Standard disclaimer: The characters aren’t mine, just the story.
Distribution: Do not post elsewhere without permission. Ask, I may say yes.
Feedback: I’d love it.
~ five days later ~
There was to be no avoiding her next interview.
Part of him wanted to. To find some urgent mission elsewhere, or just stay in his room for the evening, appearances and imperturbable facades be damned. Hide away until the furore died down and he could go back to pretending Buffy Summers didn’t exist.
He couldn’t. Ever since she’d shocked the Scoobies and the world and spoken his name, he’d been helpless to resist her. And now she was doing a one-on-one, soft-focus-lens, comfy-chair interview that promised to be mostly about him. He couldn’t not watch. He wasn’t anywhere near that strong.
Besides, he’d probably blown the whole stoic and manly act last time when he’d gawped, dewy-eyed and adoring as a young bride, at her image onscreen. He doubted the others would even pretend to credit his indifference this time, which had been all he’d really hoped for in the first place. So he’d just have to take their pity and amusement as it came. Unlike some, he knew he couldn’t find ‘blank’ in his repertoire of facial expressions if his life depended on it.
~ a news magazine set, twenty minutes to air time ~
She hadn’t meant to speak out like that. She hadn’t planned on it. But Willow had been talking about the Slayers closing the Hellmouth. She wasn’t sure who had first said it like that, taken the elements ‘the Slayers fought the vampires’ and ‘the Hellmouth was destroyed’ and smooshed them into one event. Surely it hadn’t been her or Willow or Giles. But it was an elision so seamless and nonsensical that it had been simply accepted. It had become the official truth. As if it followed, that they had been beating the stuffing out of oodles of nasty vampires, when all of sudden their concentrated girl power had brought a mountain tumbling down with a supersonic Warrior Princess Yell. Or in fountainous arcs of pastels, like they were the spiritual inheritors of the Power Puff Girls.
Really, she’d been provoked. She was incapable of letting people around her bullshit indefinitely; sooner or later, she would call them on it. Giles really should have known better.
Everyone had been looking at her. She’d put her oar in, it was time to paddle her way out. Or maybe it was time to capsize the boat. Buffy’d set her chin and said, “They’ve left someone out. We’ve left someone out.”
Luckily or unluckily, she wasn’t sure, it had been very near the end of the news program’s time slot. She suspected, from the scrambling and gesticulating that had ensued in her peripheral vision, that the news director had skipped at least one thirty second commercial to keep her on air. Even then she only had time for the most basic sketch of the facts. ‘Vampire with a soul. Named Spike. Wore the gaudy necklace. Saved the world.’ She didn’t have to answer any hard questions, or any questions at all, before it was over.
Of course, the test getting postponed just meant she had more homework and studying to do first. And nothing happened without a meeting these days. Maybe that had always been the case. It just made her twitchy that they now spent most of their strategy time deciding how to lie. Subterfuge and deceptions to preserve her secret identity had felt different. Giles tried to tell her they were doing the same thing they always had, managing information to keep everyone safer. She wasn’t so sure. Maybe it was the scale. Maybe it was that in the old days, Giles never would have referred to it as “managing information.”
Giles had been adamant that she not reveal that Spike had gotten his soul on purpose. She had grudgingly agreed. It would give the public ideas about vampires that weren’t just romantic, but dangerous.
Xander had muttered something about how if she said Spike had gone to get a soul, she should say why. She’d coldly warned him not to even think about it. Reminded them that they all had secrets too, and she knew where all the bodies were buried, and how they got there.
It wasn’t that she didn’t trust them — well, ok, it was that she didn’t trust them. She loved them, but she knew them. She knew each of them was capable of betraying her in the most hurtful possible way if they convinced themselves it for her own good. She didn’t want them getting ideas. Like how they could score their own hour-long prime time interview if they talked about some of her less-than-shining moments, and hey, maybe they could take Spike’s newfound hero status down a peg or two as well.
But he had died a hero, and they were allowed to talk about their dead lovers. Anya’s past as Anyanka had been another no-go zone, but Xander had talked about losing his former fiancee in the final battle just when they’d gotten back together. (And gotten the resulting pile of fan mail, everything from pre-teens gushing at him to middle-aged women offering to be his Mrs. Robinson, all of which he enjoyed far too much.) Tara’s name had come up, too, and Willow was working up to laying claim to the ‘girlfriend’ label. (As she’d said to Buffy, she was out, but there was out, and then there was out.)
It was only fair that she got to talk about Spike. And the live hour-long solo interview gig? Right now, so not seeing where that was a bonus.
A crew member called sixty seconds to air time. Buffy straightened in her seat. Although it was hard to think of a demon she wouldn’t rather be facing right now, instead of these bright lights and this soft-spoken inquisitor, this was her trial. She wasn’t about to fail. And by fail she didn’t mean fail Giles or the Scoobies, even if they had loaded her up with instructions and exhortations beforehand.
This wasn’t about them anymore.
~ the Hyperion ~
Suspended between longing and dread as he waited for the program to begin, Spike found his mind drifting back to three years before. He’d just come back from the dead, in Angel’s hotel lobby of all places, infused with a heartbeat and non-discretionary breath, moist and tottery as a newborn foal. The Angel Investigations team had been surprised, to say the least. Wesley had talked feverishly of prophecies and vampire physiology. Fred had chimed in about running tests. Angel had been devastated, he now knew, but had tried to hide it.
Spike had been insensible to all of it. All he’d wanted to know was what had passed between Angel and Buffy during their last meeting in Sunnydale. He’d made Angel tell him word-for-word as near as he could, of basking and cookies, fat grandchildren and “in her heart.” When he’d gotten the full account, he’d shut himself in Angel’s office for several hours.
When he’d emerged, he’d said only, “She doesn’t love me.”
He’d believed that then, and ever since. It was what he expected to hear tonight.
And sure enough, once Buffy had told the aggressively empathetic interviewer a little more about him, praised him for his self-sacrifice in the last battle, the topic inevitably came up. And not subtly.
“It sounds like you loved him.”
Spike nearly winced.
The camera zoomed in to get a close-up of Buffy’s face as her eyes shimmered and her gaze dropped.
They didn’t, they couldn’t know, what they were asking her. Or why even if it were true, she could never admit it.
“I did.” Buffy raised her eyes to the camera again. “I do.”
Spike stared back at her in wonder. He had seen that look on her face before. In the caverns beneath Sunnydale.
“I told him, but I don’t think he knew,” she confessed softly. And then her expression crumpled a little. “I miss him.”
Spike stood. Buffy had quickly composed herself and was speaking again. Each word registered like a drop of rain upon his arid heart, but there was only one thought in his mind. “I have to go to her.”
“What?” More than one voice asked.
“We have to get there. Now.”
The rest of the AI crew stood as well. A stern Angel made a barrier of himself between the settee and the exit. “Have you noticed that she’s at a network studio? We’d never make it past security. Get control of yourself, William.”
On the television, Buffy scrubbed her sleeve at a tear that had trickled down her cheek. Spike turned frantic eyes on his elder. “I’m hurting her,” Spike whispered desperately. “Angel, please.”
A long look passed between them, and Angel nodded. Spike never said ‘please’ to him.
Spike glanced around, ready to implore the others.
Wesley was shrugging on his coat. “Call our lawyer, won’t you?” he requested of Fred. She leaned over the counter and started flipping through the Rolodex.
Gunn was already at the door. “I don’t know why you superhero types always take so long to move your asses.”
~ the studio ~
Despite her pre-interview jitters, she thought it was going ok. She’d evaded the question of how Spike had regained his soul by saying he’d never said exactly, which was technically true. At the follow-up question of how she’d known he really had a soul, her mouth had twisted wryly, and she’d said that him draping himself over a cross had been a clue. She hadn’t wanted to linger on his post-soul struggles, though, or get into his pre-soul villainy, so she’d moved right along to the director’s cut version of the big battle.
She’d gotten a little worked up in the telling; he’d have probably said soppy. But she was setting the record straight, now, and she was the only one who’d seen him, touched him then. She was the only one who knew the source of the light strobing the cave hadn’t been the amulet. It had been him.
She ached. Kinda stings.
Then the interviewer wanted to know whether she’d loved Spike.
Buffy took a moment to consider her answer. She would be willing to hide the truth, if there was a good reason to, but she couldn’t see one.
She wondered why “my friends wouldn’t like it” had ever been a good enough reason.
She told the truth. My soul. It’s really there.
Weepy, mourn-y Buffy was not in line with the the heroic Slayer persona she’d been cultivating. Oh well. She’d tell Giles this softened her image, or something. She knew the woman across from her was playing a role, just like she had been. Still, when she looked into her assiduously sympathetic face, she could believe someone wanted to know who he’d been. And she wanted to tell.
If the Scoobies had wanted to be prepared for how she’d react to being asked about Spike, they should have asked her about Spike.
When the interviewer happened to call Spike unique as a souled vampire, she opened her mouth to dispute it. Candor was addictive, and her sense of justice said Angel deserved some mention. She caught herself, though, shut her mouth and shook her head with an apologetic smile — no, never mind.
In this case, she did have a good reason to keep quiet. It wasn’t just that her history with Angel was fraught with even more danger zones than hers with Spike. Angel was still fighting the good fight. Probably hoping not to see his name in the papers, which would lead to paparazzi lurking behind his trash bins. She couldn’t destroy his anonymity on a whim.
Besides, one souled vampire could be taken as a singularity. Two would be seen as a pattern. She couldn’t let people think they could go around souling up vampires to get their loved ones back. It didn’t work like that.
The conversation had moved onto safer ground when there was a commotion near the fire doors. It looked like somebody was trying to push past security. She sat up, poised for a possible altercation.
Then she heard a voice yell, “Buffy!”
She knew that voice. “Spike?” How…? The security guards released him.
The cameras swiveled, capturing him and her both in wide angle shots that cut across the usual divide between the set and offstage.
As if in a dream, she moved towards him. Stared into his eyes, breathed, “You’re alive,” and reached up to cup her hand to his jaw.
It took a moment for the warmth beneath her palm to register. In a different tone of wonderment, she said it again. “You’re alive.”
~ the lot ~
Once outside, Buffy had grabbed Spike’s hand and bolted to escape the director, the cameraman, the crewwoman with a boom mic, and the assorted gawkers who had spilled out the door after them. Moving at a quick scurry, they quickly left the lot behind.
She started laughing as they dashed down the street; the joy was too much to contain. He was laughing with her, and then one of them was spinning the other around until they wobbled to a stop in a loose clinch, hands at each other’s elbows.
He trailed the back of a finger down her cheek, but didn’t kiss her. “They’re still on us.”
She nodded. “That van,” she indicated with a tip of her head.
They each considered the wisdom and desirability of letting their first kiss be caught on film.
“Real decent of them to agree not to press charges,” he offered after a moment. “Assault, breaking and entering…”
“By way of a thank you…” His lips drifted closer to hers.
“Least we could do…” Her mouth gently caught his and held.
The mammoth convertible ferrying the Angel Investigations team lurched to a halt beside them. After a leisurely moment, she released Spike.
“Do you think your recent course has been wise?” Wesley inquired mildly from the passenger seat. “Alerting the media? Setting the hounds of… on us all?”
But the question Buffy was mulling was: had she earned her soul too?
Share time was over. She didn’t have to answer. With a grin, she shoved Spike ahead of her into the back seat. “Show’s over.”
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/169254.html