Here’s the next installment of What Lay Onward and What Behind. Runs ~2700 words long. I plan to have the rest finished within a week. Thanks for reading!
What Lay Onward and What Behind, Chapter 2
The next morning she woke up, dreams fleeting, to the sound of plumbing coming from the next hotel room, and with the extra grogginess, she was momentarily disorientated. She smiled at the last frame of her rapidly-evaporating dream, a memory, really, of playing hooky in a certain vampire’s lair, with a pair of handcuffs put to good use. It had been a restless night of vivid images involving locks and keys, real and metaphorical, but that scene alone made the whole mess worthwhile. She groaned at the remembrance of the real events of last night: it was Buffy at her worst.
On trips like this Buffy and Jason had always ended up at his all-expenses-paid-and-none-spared hotel room, way above her budget, and she’d usually only bothered with a one-night booking of cheap lodging for her arrival. Actually sleeping in the lumpy bed made Buffy wish she’d shelled out more for personal comfort. Oh, well. She would be changing her flight to return home today, anyway. No big deal.
Home. For some definition thereof.
For now, it was in a town in the greater metro area of Boston, Massachusetts, so full of college students shuffling in and out that Buffy, one more person on the move, blended right in. That, and the never-aging thing. College towns turned out to be a perfect fit for what appeared to be a side effect of her “coming back wrong” via Willow’s resurrection spell all those years ago, though it took a while for it to become evident. Every year, a crop of new, young high school graduates would flood the town, replacing the wave of older, college graduates leaving for gainful employment elsewhere. The town remained forever young, just as Buffy had always looked twenty years old, even now, at the unheard-of Slayer age of thirty-two.
Ignoring the alert for three messages and half a dozen missed phone calls, probably all from Jason, she dialed the airline, and stammered her way through the conversation to change her return flight. When the operator inquired, way too chirpily, “Will this be to the same originating airport?” an idea–crazy, ridiculous, out of the blue, she must be losing her mind–popped into her head.
She canceled the transaction, apologizing profusely, and after a mental calculation for the time difference to England–she was too old to make that particular mistake again–dialed Willow instead.
“Buffy!” There was genuine surprise from the other end, a slightly distorted voice mixed with traffic noises, in a combination Buffy recognized as speaker phone. “It’s been too long!”
They made small talk until there was a lull in the conversation.
“Okay, spill,” Willow said. “You didn’t call me all the way from São Paulo to shoot the breeze.”
Ah, same old Willow, who could read Buffy like an open book telepathically from halfway around the world.
“Okay, the truth is–I need a favor.”
“Well, I was thinking, uhm, well, wondering, if you could possibly”–she rubbed her forehead, impatient with her own hesitation–“do a Locator Spell on Spike for me.” It’s been over a decade since she’d said that name, and rolling it off her tongue, spitting it out, and hearing her own voice and feeling the memories it triggered…caused a shudder to course through her body.
The line went silent, so much so that Buffy removed the phone from her ear to check if it had been disconnected.
“Spike? Spike??” Willow’s voice went up an octave. “As in, Spike Spike?”
This, Buffy thought, was why people used last names. Cut down on the confusion significantly.
“Really, Will, was that necessary?” With effort, Buffy managed to keep her voice level. “How many slayers and watchers and witches do you know by that name?”
“It’s just that–” There was an exasperated sigh, then Willow came in, loud and clear, and Buffy realized that she was no longer on speaker phone. “It’s been a looong time, Buffy.”
She had no reply for that. A decade gone while she was asleep at the wheel of her own life, Rip Van Winkle-style. Was it because her body bore no wrinkles to attest to the passage of time, that she’d been so insouciant?
“Buffy, what is this really about?”
“Well, I-I realized something.”
Willow’s tone was reserved and cautious, and expectant in a way that made Buffy think she was sure to disappoint. She was taken back to the year that shouldn’t have been, the year after her resurrection: The withholding of information, the lies, the blame, the judgement, the falling apart. The fact that she’d looked into the deep pit of her soul and saw only despair. The fact that because her head had been in the wrong place, she had admitted no silver lining, and denied all things positive in her life. The fact that she’d weighed her heart, hadn’t been able to decide, and had done nothing, pushing away love on the outside while the love inside of her had withered and died.
No more. No more. She’d grown wiser since then, hadn’t she? The mirror belied her charted course into maturity, but she had changed–they all had. So why would she revert to her twenty-year-old, tentative, and insecure self before Willow?
“I let him go, Willow, and I want him back,” she admitted, because she couldn’t not. She didn’t want to withhold, or conceal, or obfuscate, or evade, or outright lie, or employ any number of miscommunication tricks a young and naïve Buffy might have, just to squirm out of having to own up to The Truth.
That had been a Buffy who hadn’t understood what she’d had, what she’d been willing to lose. Hadn’t understood or appreciated how precious it had been, how countless people had sought it and never found it and would’ve done anything to trade places with her. It’d been something to be cherished, to be celebrated. She’d been chosen for the gift of love by the one who would do anything to love her, to be hers, and she’d brushed it away like an ordinary petal in a shower of falling cherry blossoms, mistakenly thinking that there were plenty others, would be plenty more to come. She’d been sleepwalking through life, chanced upon it, and turned her back.
“You want him back,” said Willow noncommittally. “Oh Buffy, it’s been a decade. And what about Jason?”
“Jason made me realize… Will, Spike was the one.” She paused for effect, but there was no reply from the other end of the call. Willow was apparently not going to confirm or deny, or touch that with a proverbial ten foot pole from over five thousand miles away. Buffy pushed forward. “When Jason proposed, that was when it became clear to–”
“Jason proposed? Oh my God, Buffy!”
Buffy smiled indulgently at Willow’s reaction. “So, as I was saying, that was when I–”
“You don’t want Spike back, Buffy.” Willow had apparently recovered from the excitement, her voice weary and disappointed. “You’re just…running away from Jason. He’s making a commitment, and you got spooked, God knows why, and now you’re latching onto the least eligible bachelor under the sun with whom you could expect to build a life.”
“What? No!” She said automatically, because that person would definitely be Angel. She didn’t think that would help her argument though, so she swallowed that particular retort.
“Buffy, sweetheart”–there was another maternal sigh–“why don’t you think it over, okay? Sleep on it. Don’t do anything rash. We all get nostalgic over Sunnydale sometimes, but it’s gone. The past is done. Jason is a good man. Just…think it over, all right?”
Buffy wanted to set the record straight, that it wasn’t nostalgia, for Heaven’s sake, but in the end, it was easier to just go along and end the phone call in an amiable manner.
No help from Willow, fine. She eliminated Angel as a lead on similar grounds–there could only be more resistance from talking to him. After all, he was the Vampire Who’d Left, insistent that it was the best thing he could ever do to her and for her. Fortunately, the Slayer’s rep still meant something in the world and the underworld, even with all of the activated Potentials sharing that title. And Spike, well, Spike could never manage to live inconspicuously. How hard would it be to track down one of the two only souled vampires in existence, the reformed Slayer of Slayers?
Very, as it turned out. Sneaky vampire was aptly sneaky when he wanted to be, as Buffy soon realized, even as she traveled from hellmouth to hellmouth, honing her reprehensible skills at mixing bribery with threats of physical violence to that perfect personalized cocktail of high pressure to convince those in the know, or have the means to find out on her behalf.
Also, she had no idea there were that many hellmouths in the United States alone. She’d paged through the list from Giles, with the minor ones in regular text and the major ones, like Cleveland, in boldface. After Buffy had made a string of phone calls to Giles to confirm the location of a hellmouth in upper New York state, he had enlisted her help in conducting a regular round of census on demon variety and population at each location. It was usually a research project conducted by a team of two watchers with a slayer in tow for protection, explained Giles, with no active slaying to be pursued. But, as it happened, they were currently stretched a bit thin personnel-wise, so if he might propose adding active slaying duty to the project to make it more her cup of tea, thus killing two demon-related tasks with one slayer, would she mind…?
Glad to replenish her savings account and conduct her search for Spike under the cover of official Council business, Buffy jumped at the opportunity. She didn’t know how she knew Spike was still in the U.S.–there was certainly nothing left to tether him there, once he had broken away from Angel’s team and refused an offer from Giles that Buffy wasn’t sure was a genuine invitation or a form of politeness on both ends. Oh, the Brits and their formalities. Giles had only gotten worse as the head of the Council, forgivable though it was, since part of his responsibilities included the restorations of order and age-old procedures within the Council.
A California girl through and through, Buffy still tripped over British customs every time she got called to the mothership in London, so her read on the whole situation was a bit shaky. She couldn’t imagine Giles sharing her enthusiasm for the vampire, though, souled or not. There was simply too much deep-ingrained Council indoctrination to overcome, and that was assuming willingness on Giles’ part, which would be generous indeed.
But she thought that deep down, if Spike had harbored a crumb of hope, a sliver of a dream of, well, maybe not a crypt for two, but an apartment with both of their names on the lease–if he still loved her at all, even if any stray thought of that nature was immediately followed with a potent chaser of vehement denial, he’d remain close, for her, just a phone call and a domestic red-eye away.
It had been spring when she’d first begun her own mission, methodically sweeping through America from east to west, dealing out more demon asskicking than she’d done in a very long time. It had been invigorating, returning to her roots, choosing her mission this time around with both eyes wide open instead of being chosen and resigned to it. By the color creeping back to her cheeks, and the spring returning to her steps, Buffy had concluded that it was doing her a world of good. Clearly, slaying suited her and her mystically-powered body.
A mission, even a self-motivated one, gave her purpose. Purpose gave her hope. And hope, well, hope gave her dreams for the future and brought back memories she had tried hard to forget. Reconciling the two, she was no longer the slayer without a past, without a history. Remarkably, reliving her memories, even those that hurt, and maybe especially those that hurt–and oh, there were so many of those, so many–released her from their hold. And so she was surprised–surprised and relieved–to discover that she was no longer a prisoner of her own mind. Staring pain right between the eyes had been what she’d needed to finally let go.
Over the years, her attitude towards her destiny had metamorphosed, sometimes evolving, sometimes faltering, but always short of breaking through. She had alternately denied it, accepted it, endured it, escaped it, ignored it, renounced it, and at her worst, belittled it. Finally, she was learning to embrace it and transcend it. Guess all those weeks meditating with the yogi in India, sitting on the hard ground until her legs went numb, surviving a place without flushable bathrooms and more importantly, air-conditioned shopping malls(!) had actually paid off. It had just taken a while for the lesson to sink in. Or maybe the battles were the catalyst that had been missing to spur her spiritual growth. It made sense; after all, she’d always been action girl.
Some of her more applicable thoughts and observations she shared with the junior slayers via a Council-wide mailing list, and before long Andrew informed her that she’d gotten fans who eagerly awaited each of her updates. Her unique status as the Source of all of their power didn’t hurt. Instead of shying away as she would normally do, as she had done in the past, Buffy pushed herself to welcome it, as a teacher welcomed her disciples.
She’d even had a cordial exchange with Faith before joining her briefly in Cleveland. That led to a coordinated and successful effort in clearing out a nest of Ghoras that had been a headache for the local slayer. Considering that the city’s plan for replacing miles of aging sewers would soon send a steady stream of workers right into what the Ghoras considered their territory, the extra slayer power could not have been more timely or more welcome.
By autumn she had been half way through her map (if only Andrew would stop sending her emails that said, “The map is not the territory! *wink wink*”), marking off demonic hotspots as she went. She had established a pattern of traveling by day, slaying by night, alternating work days with time off, to rest, to train, to regroup. The discipline brought much-needed order back into her life after so many years, and she was elevated to a fighter of a whole different class because of it. Focus distilled gave her precision, and that resulted in a higher kill rate with less wear and tear on her body. She might look twenty (and being carded for alcohol just the way of life, possibly for the rest of her life, and getting no sympathy from her friends on that one), but she felt every day of her thirty-two, and that included seventeen years as the Slayer.
The journey got lonely sometimes, not entirely unexpectedly. On those nights, she sometimes missed Jason. He was a good man, but the way they were both drifting in life, seeing only as far as the next hotel room, leaving no permanent marks on each other’s lives, experiencing physical releases without ever risking a deeper connection–she couldn’t travel down that road again. It was a life that’d been put on hold, and she was so ready to live.
She had finally summoned the courage to call him and apologize, for she owed him that much. Her rejection (because what else could it be, when the woman you’d just proposed to literally ran away?) had hit him hard, until the next business assignment whisked him away and took over his thoughts and his time. He had thought they were perfect together, the way they demanded so little of each other, having never experienced her intensity when she gave herself wholeheartedly.
She wished him luck, staring out her ground-floor motel window at the cars whizzing by in a landscape with a whole lot of nothing, and imagined him doing the same from his high-rise luxury suite overlooking Melbourne, Australia. Not that she didn’t like travel, but she would never be seduced by exotic locales again, mistaking excitement for passion. Especially now, once she’d realized that she’d rather be on the hellmouth with her love than distracting herself from the hole in her heart with all the things that filled only her eyes.
~ To be Continued… ~
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/511060.html