Buffy’s birthday party had been subdued to say the least. The only real excitement came when Dawn’s present of a lovely leather jacket complete with security tags alerted the Slayer to her little sister’s new hobby.
Buffy had half expected Spike to show up and crash the party. With Xander’s continued fuming over the tryst he had uncovered, that would have led to yet another of Buffy’s birthday disasters. Instead she merely had to slay a demon that her war trophy sword seemed to house and deal with the uncomfortable presence of a blind date, courtesy of Xander and Anya. In short, the day had been dull by Buffy birthday standards.
Spike had disappeared from the world as far as Buffy could tell. His crypt was vacant as if no one had ever lived there at all. She wasn’t sure if her plan had been to make an apology for the hurt she had clearly inflicted by denying him in front of Xander and Willow or if she had been looking for another round of slap and tickle, but the fact that Spike was missing when she wanted to see him irritated her to no end.
As days passed by with no sign of Spike anywhere in Sunnydale, she started to worry that something had happened to him, something dusty. ‘No! I’d know it’. If Xander had made good on his threat, he would have crowed about it. Besides, Spike’s crypt was empty, and for once that knowledge gave her comfort instead of pain.
She was lost in thoughts of what might have happened to Spike when she came to an abrupt stop, taking in the sight of a mirage. “Riley?” The ‘mirage’, now clearly real, grinned before he spoke. “Sorry to just drop in on you like this. I need your help, Buffy.”
Buffy couldn’t believe it. Riley had casually left her at one of her lowest points, a time she needed all the help she could get and here he was asking for her help. “…Suvolte demon we’ve tracked here. They’re rare and lethal. The whole breed is nearly extinct, but this one is breeding. We figure that’s why it’s come here to the Hellmouth.”
Riley explained his mission, then introduced his shiny new wife, Sam. ‘Well, it didn’t take too long to replace me, did it?’ Buffy would have laughed if it hadn’t hurt so much. Not that she wanted Riley back–she was SO over him–but still, it would have been nice to know he had some trouble moving on. After all, she had moved on with Spike–stop! There had been no moving on. Spike had been a temporary glitch, that was all. So why did her heart hurt at the thought of the missing vampire?
“Sorry again for killing the nasty,” Buffy shot a rueful grin at the couple. They looked like they had popped into her reality from some James Bond movie and now they were exiting the same way! “Nice getaway helicopter you’ve got there.” The spotlight was blinding as Riley hooked up to the winch to be whisked upward and out of her life once more.
‘I should be feeling all kinds of sad here.’ Buffy didn’t know how to describe her emotions but “relieved” came closest to it. It had all been such a whirlwind. The demon hunt, the surprise wife, the quick leave-taking had all taken no more than a night. Buffy hadn’t had time to process it all, but one thing she was certain of at last: she had never loved Riley Finn.
“Man!” Xander was nearly drooling. “What a life! Buffy, you need to have the Council do some serious upgrades.”
“I’m happy with my old-fashioned Chosen One gig, thanks.” As exciting as the lifestyle Riley and Sam had described seemed, Buffy couldn’t really see enjoying jetting and helicoptering from place to place using high-tech gadgets. “Guns and Buffy are non-mixy, remember?”
“You did fine with that rocket launcher,” Willow reminded her.
“True, but I still prefer a nice shiny sword or a reliable piece of sharp wood,” Buffy laughed. “Call me a traditionalist. Besides, getting the Council to part with a nickel is harder than facing an apocalypse! Can you just see Quentin Travers if I asked them to send a Blackhawk and pilot for my personal use? His head would go kaplooie.”
“There is that,” Xander nodded in agreement. “But then that would just be a plus.” He put a friendly arm around Buffy and Willow’s waists and guided the girls back to the Summers living room.
They had resumed the jokey, easy, friendship of yore, at least on the surface. As soon as it became obvious that Spike had moved on, all tension had eased. Xander preferred to pretend that Spike and Buffy’s involvement had never happened, and Willow was too interested in patching up her own love life to poke about in Buffy’s emotional fallout. Tara had kept Buffy’s confidence and Anya had been clueless to everything that had happened.
Willow and Tara headed out to the Bronze soon after Riley’s departure. Anya had gone on ahead to get a table for all of them, having taken her leave early. She still wasn’t completely comfortable around the demon hunters, even though Sam had seemed more interested in the wedding plans than Anya’s history.
“So is the Buffster ready to bust a move or three?” Xander crooked his arm in offer of escort.
“Think I’m gonna pass, Xan.” Buffy felt an emotional let-down that she didn’t fully understand. All she did know was that she wasn’t in the mood to party. “Too much slaying after a hard day at the Doublemeat grill makes for one tired Buffy.”
Xander looked disappointed but gave her a quick squeeze and hurried out to catch up with the girls. His “Later then” trailed behind him.
“You wanna talk?” Dawn had been watching all day, worried that Riley and his new wife coming to town all lovey-dovey and content might be a last straw for her still bad-moody sister.
“Not really.” Buffy noted the disappointed look on Dawn’s face and added, “Not much to talk about. I’m not upset and I guess I think that maybe I should be. I think it just hit me how much I didn’t feel for Riley after all.”
“It was almost funny how Riley tried to pin the demon egg thing on Spike when he hasn’t even been in town for weeks!” Dawn giggled. “Then to find out that the “doctor” guy was a human, not a demon, was icing on the cake.”
“Yeah, well, in Riley’s defense, that’s just the sort of lame thing Spike might have pulled,” Buffy frowned.
Dawn gave her a shocked look, “You are kidding, right? First, there is no way Spike would use the name ‘Doctor’ after what Doc did on the tower, and second, Spike hasn’t done anything really evil in a long time.”
“Chip, Dawnie, a piece of metal and plastic that leashes the beast,” Buffy sighed.
“Not the chip. Spike’s been trying to be good, really trying, not that he gets any credit.” Dawn had her pouty face on. “He could still do lots of evil if he wanted to. Jeez, Buffy, the chip wouldn’t stop him from burning down our house while we’re asleep! There’s lots of things he could do and not get zapped.”
Buffy stared at her little sister with a strange expression on her face. It was true! There were lots of things Spike could have done if he truly wanted to wreck havoc in her life but he hadn’t. All this time he could have done anything to her; the chip didn’t work where she was concerned. He hadn’t even hit her since that first time. All he’d done was bug her with vows of love and driven her nearly crazy with mind-blowing sex. He’d also been handy on patrol, come to think of it. Buffy hadn’t realized how much she had relied on the vampire until he skipped out on her. Nightly back-aches were only one reminder of his absence.
Dawn seemed to have come to the conclusion that Spike had just gone on an extended vacation or something because it hadn’t sunk in that he was likely gone for good. That thought brought a surprising amount of moisture to Buffy’s eyes.
“Should we do something for her?” Dawn reached for her tea mechanically. “Anything?”
“She wants to be alone. That’s what she wants.” Willow looked anything but sure about that decision. “It just hurts my heart to think of her.” She sipped at her cup of tea, setting it down quickly as she burned her tongue. “I never thought I’d ever feel anything for Anya but annoyance. God, this is awful!”
“I know. The whole thing hurts my heart.” Buffy shook her head wearily. “They were supposed to be my light at the end of the tunnel. I guess they were a train.”
“I thought they were happy.” Dawn sounded small and lost. “Why did this happen?”
Willow had some suspicions, but none she wanted to voice. She had known Xander most of his life, after all. “I don’t know. I feel like I should be hating Xander right about now, but I can’t,” she sighed, “I just…I just hope he’s okay.”
The wedding from hell, literally, had been a disaster for everyone. None was spared, but no one was more harmed than Anya. The intended bride had disappeared shortly after sending everyone home with the heartbreaking announcement that the wedding was not going to take place. The groom had done his disappearing act shortly before leaving his explanation to the heartbroken girl he left at the altar.
Somehow Buffy had the weird thought in the back of her mind that if these two friends of hers could just find happiness then it was not too late for her as well. No one in her world seemed to get a lucky break when it came to love! Tara and Willow were slowly coming back together…but for how long? Xander walking out on Anya like that had been a blow to the heart.
It had been a long day wearing that hideous dress and playing peacekeeper between the well-behaved demons and the demonically acting humans. She had to admire Xander for being as decent a guy as he was coming from that family! At least until he turned tail, leaving Anya to pick up the pieces. All the courage Xander had shown over the years and then he decided to chicken out on what was supposed to be the happiest day of his life!
Buffy had felt an inner sense of hope all day until that horrible last act of the farce. She had imagined Spike showing up and teasing her about looking like a demon herself in the radioactive green monstrosity chosen for the bridesmaids. She had even smiled thinking of his teasing voice and bright eyed look of appreciation in spite of her costume of the day.
Face it, there just were no happy endings for any of them. Willow had better be prepared!
Xander lay on the small bed in the cheap hotel that was his refuge from the cold, wet world. It was supposed to be his wedding night, his first official night as part of a happily married couple. Anya had looked so beautiful he found it hard to breathe just looking at her. The look of desperation on her face as he told her there would be no wedding was seared in his mind forever. She had been in obvious pain and he had been the one to cause it. He was no better than the demon that had come to destroy their day, worse! That demon hated Anya and Xander had professed to love her.
All those visions had horrified him. Yes, he had always feared becoming just like his father. It was his greatest fear, actually, far worse than the childish fear of clowns that used to plague him. To become abusive and bitter, taking out his inner ugliness on Anya was unthinkable. He had watched his mother being slowly destroyed over the years, finally becoming as destructive as her husband in the end. In all the visions, he had been damaged by following Buffy, working at her side even when Anya had begged for his attention. Maybe that was the real issue…maybe what he really feared was that he was with the wrong woman.
He loved Anya. Who wouldn’t? She was beautiful, sexy, and successful. All the guys at the site were impressed that a guy like him had a girl like her who clearly adored him. She had come into his world intending on cursing him in some way and she herself had ended up being the one to suffer.
For some reason, he had never been able to completely put aside his attraction for Buffy. No matter how great the sex with Anya, no matter how clearly Buffy had rejected his interest, he still had that kernel of hope that one day the Slayer would look at him and realize how great they could be.
Buffy was every dream he had ever had growing up reading comics filled with superheroes that couldn’t hold a candle to the Slayer! She had swept into his world and made him a part of hers. She had never made him feel like a nobody, the schmuck who was always getting pantsed, shoved into lockers and being the butt of all the jokes by the other guys. His dad always made him feel worthless at home and aside from Willow and Jesse, no one in the outer world had ever noticed the value of Alexander LaVelle Harris until Buffy. He would always love her if for no other reason than that.
He needed to finally accept that Buffy was his friend and that was the sum total of it. Hell, he wasn’t even sure he still wanted it to be more than that. He had been terribly jealous of Angel. That his shining heroine, the monster killer, had chosen to give her heart to one of the very monsters she was called to destroy had stung. It added insult to injury and the day Angel left for LA was one for rejoicing, in Xander’s opinion.
Riley had been a cool guy. Xander liked to think that they were alike in many ways. Finn was all that Xander could have been if circumstances were different. Heck, when he had been a soldier that Halloween, he could have stood toe to toe with the commando and been his equal! Somehow Buffy being with Riley had almost been like her choosing him. It was a vicarious thrill and he had to admit that his heart seemed to have broken more than Buffy’s when Riley left. It was like he had lost her himself!
Seeing Buffy turn to Spike had set him off like never before. All thought of the times Spike had saved his life that summer, the semi-friendly pool games, all of it had gone out the window at the realization that once more Buffy had been attracted to a monster over him. What, was he invisible?!
Xander’s eyes widened as he remembered the time when Buffy had been invisible and he had looked for her at Spike’s crypt. ‘They must have thought I was a complete idiot!’ Of course she was there. Spike hadn’t needed to get a girlfriend; he had one–Buffy! The vampire hadn’t been lying about their relationship; it wasn’t just that one time he’d been with Buffy.
Xander thought back on all those months since they brought Buffy back from the dead and remembered how she was always turning to Spike. Even before she had jumped from the tower to her death she had begun to turn to the vampire. He reviewed it all in his mind, his emotions numbed from his own pain and plenty of whiskey, and now he saw it through fresh eyes.
Spike did love the Slayer. His actions that summer when she was dead proved that to anyone not prejudiced against the idea. Buffy might not have loved Spike, but clearly she was attracted. No way could Spike have forced himself on the Slayer. Buffy could wipe the floor with him even without the chip. He had been blind!
All that time Xander had trailed behind the Slayer, hoping for crumbs, notice. He probably wouldn’t have been able to satisfy her if he did get the chance. He was no superhero himself, just a regular guy. If even Riley hadn’t managed to hold Buffy’s interest, how much less would plain Xander Harris? Anya had been jealous and she had reason.
He had always denied it when Anya accused him of mooning over the Slayer. He hadn’t admitted it to himself, so it wasn’t that he was lying to her. Anya had tried to seduce him away from his fantasy of Buffy, tried to make new fantasies with her in the female lead role. She had put up with so much from him! She had tried to be friends with all of his friends, even when they hadn’t been exactly welcoming to her. She was always so hopeful, so full of pure happiness. Anya had dreams of building a really good life with him and he had pulled it all down with just a few words.
His vaguely formed fantasy world had cost him everything. He had destroyed any hope of a life with Anya. He had tainted his friendship with Buffy while possibly costing her some well deserved happiness with Spike. God only knew what Willow thought of him after this day. Willow had never approved of Anya, but no one could watch what he had done and take his side in this. He’d never seen a look of sadness quite like the one Anya had as he turned from her and wandered out into the rain. Even the heavens were crying for her!
‘Anya.’ Xander pulled on the bottle of Old Crow that was his only companion for the night. The one woman who did want him that way and he had walked away. It was for her own good, just like he had told her. He’d eventually screw it up and hurt her even worse than he had today. Anya was better off without him. They all were.
Xander refused to cry. He feared that once he started there would be no end.
Next chapter here
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/370142.html