By L.A. Ward and Sanguine
Chapter Eight: We All Fall Down
"What are you three doing here? The Magic Box is closed for the night."
Officiously, she flicked a pink feather duster across a glass-topped display case, carefully directing bits of detritus in Xander's direction.
Xander coughed, but remained silent.
Obviously uncomfortable, Buffy plunged in. "Anya, we need your help. There are these demons in the tunnel that look like little kermits and we can't figure out how to kill them and they just keep coming. We tried everything!"
Anya looked puzzled. "Kermits?"
Dawn chimed in. "You know, the Muppet Show? The little green frog puppet? Heigh-ho?"
Anya rolled her eyes in response. "Kermitis demons. Your Muppet Show wasn't very creative with its choice of names, was it?"
Xander's eyebrows raised in astonishment. "You mean Jim Henson named his muppets after demons?" Under his breath he confessed, "I always thought the muppets were evil."
"Did you try squishing them?" Anya asked impatiently.
"Huh?" Buffy asked. "Just squishing them? That's it?"
Sighing heavily, Anya plucked a book from one of her revolving display racks. "Honestly, you're all completely helpless without Giles. It's right here, in Demonology for Dummies." Anya handed the black and yellow paperback to Buffy.
Staccato laughter burst from Xander. "They have a book for everything in that series."
"Yes, well, it would seem to be appropriate for you, Xander, being for . . . dummies and given that you happen to be a person in that . . . category."
Anya flushed. She was angry and hurt and unable to think of anything to say that would cause him adequate pain. Sometimes she wished she'd never been human.
Xander ground his teeth. "I don't know why you hate me so much, Anya. I was willing to give it another try."
"Oh, maybe it had something to do with you humiliating me in front of everyone and leaving me at the altar."
"Hey," Buffy interrupted with desperate cheeriness, as she pointed to a page in the book. "Anya was right! All we have to do is squish the Kermit demons with a heavy object."
"Gee, they even have a handy diagram for squishing." Dawn peered over Buffy's shoulder and snickered at the little stick figure man in Demonology for Dummies. In sequential cartoon bubbles, he picked up a heavy sledge hammer, swung the sledge hammer, and brought said sledge hammer soundly down upon a panic-stricken Kermitis demon's head.
Anya plucked the book from Dawn's hand and rang it up on the cash register. "That will be .95. Will you be paying with cash, check, or credit?"
Dawn gaped. "We have to buy it?"
"Cash," Buffy interrupted. "We'll pay for it in cash."
Anya thrust Demonology for Dummies into a bag. "You and Dawn are welcome to come by any time." Assiduously, she avoided Xander's eyes as she looked up from her register and gestured towards a metal shelf behind her. "You may take Olaf's hammer with you. Just clean it before you bring it back. And don't bring Xander."
Xander's mouth opened, but no sound emerged. Anya noted that his eyes looked suspiciously glassy. That gave her a twinge of bitter satisfaction.
Buffy grasped his hand and opened the door. "We're leaving now. Thanks, Anya. We appreciate your help."
Anya nodded and swallowed heavily. She even managed to hold back her tears until she heard the door close.
Willow emerged from the Council's immaculate Victorian row house and began to search the mix of idle shoppers and upscale residents that mingled on Gloucester Road, looking for a glimpse of silvery blond. She saw him from a distance. He looked small, hunched over. Muttering to himself he emerged from an upscale tobacco shop, pack of Marlboros in hand.
This evening's interview session had not ended well. Lydia had asked some leading questions about Spike and his relationship to Buffy. After turning unusually quiet, Spike had tipped over the Council's expensive mahogany table, then stormed off. Willow had wanted to follow him, and, surprisingly enough, Giles had allowed her to go. Giles's trust in her steadied her voice as she approached Spike.
"Talking to yourself, Spike? Not a good sign." Willow smiled tentatively, pausing in front of the tobacconist's artfully designed display window.
Spike grimaced. "Just don't like dwelling on the past, that's all."
"And that's all you've been doing since the Council started interviewing you."
"Yeah." Spike nodded, eyes darting to the side. He seemed restless, jumpy, every fiber of his being stretched taut.
"Sometimes we have to remember to move on." Willow watched as he fidgeted, picking a piece of lint from his black sweater. "Why are you so upset, Spike? You used to love to talk about yourself."
Spike laughed bitterly. "That much of a bore, was I?"
"No, I . . ." Willow flushed with embarrassment. "I just meant that you used to talk a lot about Dru and . . . other things . . . and . . . well, you kind of seemed pretty nostalgic for the good old days with the killing and maiming."
Spike stepped in between street lamps, artfully obscuring his face in shadow. When he reached the next pool of light his face was perfectly composed, trademark smirk in place, newly lit cigarette between parted lips. He shrugged. "Times change, Red."
Willow brow furrowed with suspicion. "It's Buffy isn't it? Is this all still for Buffy? Are you hoping that I'll tell her how great you've been? 'Cause I don't even talk to her anymore. Not since . . ."
"Really, Red. A whole bloody Continent and the Atlantic Ocean besides is between me and the Slayer." His hand shook as he brought the cigarette to his lips.
"Why are you here, Spike?" Willow's hand brushed the fabric of his sweater. It felt rough and cheap--scratchy acrylic. "Why are you doing this?"
"Had to leave, Willow. It was time to move on." He gestured towards the tube station. "I'm going to Highgate to kill things. Wanna come?"
"I'm assuming that you mean evil, bumpy things?" Willow grinned.
Spike took a deep breath and patted Willow on the back. "Come, Red. White hat stuff. Promise. I've heard there's a vamp nest on the prowl there."
Willow felt in her pocket. She had a few pound coins in change. "Sure. I won't be much good with the spells, but I can be pretty mean with a stake."
Spike smiled sardonically. "Just don't point it in my direction, Red."
Buffy swung Olaf's troll hammer with elan, neatly crushing the skull of a gibbering Kermitis demon.
Sometimes it was good to be the Slayer.
It kind of reminded her of Whack-a-Mole actually. The little buggers were easy enough to kill once you knew the trick.
=Buggers. I definitely spent too much time with Spike.= Unbidden, her stomach twinged as she remembered cuddling with him under his soft oriental rug. =He really tried to fix his place up, make it a home . . . And then I used explosives. But that was totally justified! He was hiding demon eggs!=
Spike, thrusting her down on the cold white tile of the bathroom, porcelain of the bathtub edge hard against her head. Fighting back, pushing him off. Then his face: confusion, shock, remorse.
Buffy squished another Kermitis with a satisfying splat. =Dwelling, Buffy. Stop with the dwelling.=
"Buffy!" Dawn exclaimed, wiping Kermitis goo off her face. "Watch where you're splatting!"
"Yeah, Buffy," Xander said, bringing a baseball bat down on another chattering Kermitis's head. "A little less violence in your squishing!"
"Sorry," Buffy grinned sheepishly. "Good thing Anya told us how to kill them, huh?" She swung her troll hammer again, taking out three advancing demons at once. "It's kinda fun isn't it?"
"We would have figured it out without Anya's help. We didn't have to go to her, you know." Xander lip thrust into a pout as another Kermitis demon fell under his bat.
"Arghh!" Dawn wiped more goo from her face. "Xander! Now you? I'm definitely doing a facial when I get home."
"I don't know, Xander. Research and us aren't mixy. We kinda suck. It WAS in Demonology for Dummies."
"We would have found out how to kill them. We did just fine when it was just you, me, and Willow."
"But we had Giles. And Willow isn't much help to anyone right now."
"Hey!" Dawn looked around the empty, goo-splattered tunnel. "I think we got them all."
"Why doesn't Anya get that I just wasn't ready to get married, Buffy?"
"Just a wild guess, but I think Anya got the message when you left her at the altar," Buffy replied.
"I know I left her at the goddamn altar, Buffy." Xander stomped his foot down in a pool of Kermitis muck. "Whatever mistakes I made it doesn't excuse her. She betrayed me in the worst possible way, sleeping with that thing."
Buffy's face flushed as she heard her own words emanating from Xander's mouth. =You're an evil soulless thing. There's no good in you!= What must Spike have felt when he heard her say that? In measured tones Buffy answered, "Sleeping with Spike wasn't a great decision . . . well, for anyone, but . . . um . . . Anya was single. Spike was single."
"But Spike? How could she lower herself?"
"Wait just a minute, Xander." Buffy grabbed Xander's arm, eyes flashing. "*I* slept with Spike. Or have you forgotten?"
"Guys!" Dawn interrupted. "They're gone. We can go now."
"God!" Xander laughed joylessly. "How could I forget?"
"Spike may be many things, but . . ."
"But what, Buffy? He's a good fuck?" Xander bellowed.
Buffy gasped in disbelief. "Xander!"
Dawn's jaw dropped.
"Jesus, Buffy, he's a rapist. He's evil. Why don't you get that? Why can't you see that you and Anya were wrong? It makes me sick, thinking about it."
Buffy shook with anger. "Listen to yourself, Xander! You're being a pig. Maybe that's why Anya slept with Spike. The company was an improvement. Come on Dawn. We're going home."
"Bye, Xander," Dawn waved tentatively as Buffy pulled her through the sewer grate.
"Why is it my fault?" Xander asked. The echoes of the tunnel and the sucking sound of his shoes in Kermitis muck served as his only reply.
"You let her out? Chasing after a vampire? Honestly Rupert, if your wayward witch goes off the rails again the responsibility will rest firmly on your shoulders." Travers poured himself a stiff scotch and placed it on the mass of papers strewn across his desk.
Giles removed his glasses and began polishing them. The repetitive motion helped him keep his temper in check. And right now he would like nothing better than to tear Travers's head from his shoulders. It would be a distinct aesthetic improvement.
Alas, it would also be very wrong.
"I understand your concerns, Quentin, but Willow seems to have formed some kind of special bond with Spike over the past few weeks. If any one can convince him to complete the interview, she can. It would behoove you to remember that Willow's the reason Spike is assisting you in the first place."
"Let's hope Miss Rosenberg proves to be more persuasive than she looks, Rupert. For your sake." Travers took a large gulp of scotch.
Giles replaced his glasses and immediately began to snicker. "Quentin."
"You should know better than to laugh at my threats, Rupert. You know I'm perfectly capable of . . ."
"Quentin . . . ah, you've got something stuck to the bottom of your glass."
Quentin looked down. Condensation from his drink had adhered his notes on the scroll to the bottom of his glass. As the moisture thinned the paper, the symbol that could destroy the Council was reflected up at him through rich amber. The Ouroborous.
Giles smirked. "You've got the sacred symbol of the Order of Aurelius stuck to your glass. A closet vampire, are you, Quentin? Wanting to join the bloodline?"
"Certainly not." Quentin slammed down his scotch. "That's the furthest thing from my mind, Rupert."
"Sunnydale's the furthest thing from my mind," Spike declared adamantly as he and Willow emerged from the subway and began the hike up the hill towards Highgate. "I'm never going back."
Willow gasped for breath. The escalator was broken and they'd had to walk up 150 stairs. Go, London Transport! "You still haven't answered my question. Why are you here? And why are you helping me? Isn't it breaking some kind of vampire code?"
Spike snorted. "I've broken a few million vampire codes." He paused and lit another cigarette. "Took you long enough to notice," he muttered.
"You must be feeling better. Not so preoccupied with yourself, eh? Now you're starting to nose around in old Spike's life. Well, just leave it. I'm bad news. Just ask the Slayer." Contemplatively he exhaled a cloud of smoke, hiding behind its swirls and eddies. "Just ask Emma." Quickly, he moved ahead.
"Who's Emma?" Willow struggled to keep up, feeling a bit woozy after the exertion on the escalator, but determined to know more. After all, she'd always been the curious Scooby. =But curiosity killed the cat.=
"Dammit, Red. Leave it."
"Spike." Willow crossed her arms with determination as she caught up to the blond vampire. "This is my resolve face. If you didn't want me to know, you wouldn't have brought it up. You obviously want to talk to me about something and I'm not going to drop it until you tell me."
"Hey! You didn't let me wallow in the gutter of despair. I'm not going to let you go all wallow-y either."
"Sometimes I think you and the Scoobies have invented your own language." Spike laughed gently and extinguished his cigarette. "Not quite the Queen's English, but it has its charms."
"Still with the resolve face, Spike."
Spike sighed as he forced the lock on the creaky iron gate to the cemetery. "All right, Red. What do you want to know?"
"A bird I killed."
Willow's eyes grew as wide as saucers. Shakily, she took a step back. "The chip?"
"Still chips ahoy, Red. But I killed her just the same."
"And that upsets you?" Willow considered his pinched features. Spike was obviously distressed. "Why should you care? That used to be your fun vampire pastime."
"Out of practice?" As soon as the question left Willow's lips, she knew it was a mistake. Spike winced and Willow experienced a reciprocal twinge of guilt. Spike had quite literally saved her life--whatever he had done to Emma, he'd earned her compassion. Adopting a gentler tone, she asked, "Who was this Emma?"
Spike took a moment before answering. "She was a friend when I lived here during the 70s." A smiled played around Spike's lips. "Great days, those. That was music."
"A human friend?" Willow's tone betrayed her disbelief.
"Yeah, what of it?" Spike's eyebrow arched defiantly.
"It just that, well, you thinking of humans as food and all could really put a crimp in the friendship."
"Emma wasn't food," Spike objected. "She was different."
"Was she different like Buffy? Did you love her?"
Spike shook his head and dragged his hand across the ironwork grating of a Victorian-era crypt. "Not like Buffy." Pain flickered across his face as his flesh caught a sharpened edge. Looking down, he considered the neat cut on his palm--angry red under the full moon. His voice grew quiet, almost a whisper. "More like Niblet. Anyway, doesn't matter what I felt. I killed her family. Stood and watched as Dru played with them. Then, thirty years on I have the unmitigated gall to come back, wanting to fix things. But there are some things you can't fix." Spike kicked a lopsided tombstone, forcing it further to one side.
=Unmitigated gall? That didn't sound very Spikean.= Willow nodded sympathetically. "I get that. I can't bring Tara back. I can't change the fact that I tried to destroy the world. I can't make that better. Ever."
"I reckon seeing me made her kill herself."
"You can't know that." Willow tried to clasp Spike's hand, but he ripped it away.
"I can't help it, Red. Everyone I care about, I hurt." Absentmindedly, he ran a finger over the place where the cut had been. Already, it was completely healed. "You'd best keep your distance." He smirked, but his eyes were empty. "I'm a dangerous man."
"You didn't hurt Dru, though." Willow panted, trying to keep up, as Spike increased his pace once more.
"I did in the end. Wasn't monster enough for her. Wasn't Angelus."
Willow nodded. "I remember you mentioning that when you kidnapped me to do that love spell for you, and . . . " Willow considered Spike's pain-filled eyes and desperately tried to backtrack. "Um, water under the bridge."
A lump formed at the back of Spike's throat as unwelcome memories flooded his mind. "Dru said I'd gone soft because I wouldn't kill the Slayer for her."
"Did you love Buffy even back then?"
"Probably. Fat lot of good it did me . . . or her."
Willow blushed. "You mean the whole sex thing? Yeah, that was kinda ooky."
Spike didn't answer.
Willow rushed on, uncomfortable with the silence. "I mean, it was sort of strange, you and Buffy, you know, having the sex." Willow face grew stern. "And then you slept with Anya. You really hurt Buffy by doing that, you know?"
"I can imagine." Spike's voice wavered, and he tripped over a worn gravestone, narrowly avoiding a fall.
Willow watched Spike's obvious distress and slowly it dawned on her. His reaction about returning to Sunnydale. His tipping over the table at the Council when the questioning turned to Buffy. The pain he felt when she brought up the whole Anya debacle. =Spike really, truly loved Buffy. And none of us believed him. Not even Buffy herself. We couldn't believe it was real . . . but it was.= "You really did love her, didn't you?"
"Stop it!" Spike whirled around and grasped Willow's shoulders. "I almost raped her, Willow."
Willow felt the sharpness of his fingers, digging into her. She tried to pull away, but he was too strong. Her heart began to race. Was he going to kill her? If he could do that to Buffy, what would he do to her? "W. . . what?"
"That's right." Spike thrust Willow into the unforgiving marble of a mausoleum and bared his teeth as he shifted into game face. "Now you know why I can never go back there. Now you know what I really am."
=Damn Xander.= Buffy slammed the front door and angrily began pulling off her goo-laden boots.
Dawn sighed and threw out up her hands in frustration. "Fine. Don't want to talk about it? I'll be in my room." With a final huff, Dawn retreated up the stairs.
Buffy threw her right boot against the wall, leaving a thick black mark.
=Jerk. Talking about Anya that way. Talking about Spike . . .=
Why the hell was she so mad? It's not like Spike doesn't deserve the criticism. Hello, vampire! Violent . . . confused . . . crushed . . .
=Crushed by me.=
"Do you even like me?"
=Bitch much?= Buffy's stomach grumbled and she wearily made her way to the fridge. The post-slayage hunger attack was coming on. =As Faith once said, slaying made you hungry or . . .=
Buffy's unruly train of thought was interrupted as she opened the refrigerator. Instead of the nice strawberry cheesecake she was planning to devour, she was greeted by something far less appetizing: a horde of shiny, black cockroaches. A couple dozen fled the light, crawling up her arms, going down her shirt, little feet moving across her skin.
"Ahhhh!" Buffy screamed. Vampires she could do. Bugs? Not so much.
"What?" Dawn called, still surly. Slowly, she made her way down the stairs. "What do you want?" Moving into the kitchen doorway, she was greeted by the sight of Buffy, sticking her head under the kitchen faucet, desperately trying to drown the bugs that had begun nesting in her hair.
Over the sound of the running water, Dawn heard two words:
Willow's upper arms still stung and her back ached from the impact she had made against the mausoleum. But she barely noticed her minor physical discomfort. =How did he do it? If the chip is still working, how could he hurt Buffy?= Slack-jawed, she watched Spike's hasty retreat as he ran through the cemetery, ran away from her, ran away from the memory of what he'd almost done. He was still obviously distraught . . . which was just weird. Why should he care about hurting Buffy? That's what vampires did--hurt people.
But Spike had always been different, especially where Buffy was concerned. And even without Buffy, he'd been an honorary Scooby and full-time Dawn babysitter. Willow still had no explanation as to why he'd agreed to help that summer.
Slowing down, Spike tripped over a stone, veered towards a grave marker about a hundred yards away, and heavily slid down its smooth surface, placing his head in his hands. Moonlight glinted off the reflective surface of his hair, turning it into an inappropriately angelic silver halo. Then his shoulders began to shake.
Spike was crying.
"My God," Willow whispered. "What is going on?" Tentatively she made her way over to the vampire, feeling a curious mixture of revulsion and sympathy. He'd tried to rape her friend. She couldn't ignore that. But he didn't go through with it. Why? Did the chip stop him? Did Buffy stop him? Watching his silent sobbing, Willow realized that regardless of what had happened between Spike and Buffy, one thing was certain. He was broken. Just like her.
"Spike?" Gingerly, she extended her hand and touched Spike's shoulder. She was in no position to judge Spike's actions, no matter how horrible the crime. Underneath the itchy acrylic wool and the trembling she could feel the cold. Animated dead flesh. As dead as the body that lay beneath the tombstone. Softly, she asked, "What happened?"
Spike impatiently swatted Willow's hand away. His face, now human, was tight with pain. His clouded blue eyes bore into hers with a frightening intensity. "Leave me alone, Red."
"No, I want to know. Tell me what happened."
Spike laughed bitterly. "I thought she loved me. Big mistake."
"I know there's more to it than that. Spike, I know first hand that love can make us do terrible things."
Spike took a deep breath and the words came out in a confessional rush.
"Dawn had come by, to tell me how hurt Buffy was by me sleeping with Anya. I'd been drinking pretty heavy. Do you know how painful it is to love someone with your whole being, and you think she loves you too, and then she tells you it's over, because of what you are?"
Willow nodded. "Yeah, I do. Remember, Tara dumped me because of the magic."
Spike did not respond, lost in his own private torment. "So I decided to apologize. Try to make things better. After all, I still had to see her. It's a small town and all, and us working on the same team . . . So I went to her house. Unlocked the door with my key." He smiled gently. "Meant so much when you lot gave me the key to her house. Said I needed it to take care of Dawn. Made me feel like family."
Willow cringed, remembering how she and Xander had decided to bring Spike into their fold that summer. They'd used him because they'd had no other choice. They'd never considered him family.
Spike shook his head, expunging the happy memory from his brain. "Hung my duster on the staircase, just like I used to do when I was looking after Bit last summer. I heard a noise upstairs, so I figured one of my girls was up there. I'd just go up, say my piece, then leave."
"But it didn't happen that way?" Willow said anxiously.
"No. Saw Buffy as I passed the bathroom. She was going to take a bath. She looked so beautiful. Pure white robe. Told her I was sorry. She said she could never love me, because of me being a vampire and all. She said our kind of love was destructive and would never last. Told her that safe love was for old marrieds. God," Spike tore at his hair, "I was a fucking idiot. Didn't understand. I never understood. She'd say 'no' and 'never' and tell me to leave, then she'd show up at my door, same as always. Didn't think this time was any different. Despite what she said I thought she loved me." He looked at Willow, searching for some kind of absolution.
"She was ashamed of me. But she came back, just the same. And I didn't mind what she did to me, as long as she kept coming back. But then she stopped coming back, and I thought . . . I hoped she'd change her mind again, just like she always did. Thought if I could just make love to her, then everything would be the same as it had been."
Willow considered him, confused, shaken. She had no idea what to say.
"So then I pushed her down and kissed her and I didn't see . . . didn't hear her. She didn't want me, Will. She pushed me away." He looked at Willow and there was stark pain in his eyes. "I am a bad man. I am a monster. I hurt people. I have for lifetimes, but not what I loved. I never thought I'd hurt someone I loved. But I did. I didn't mean to, but I did. I couldn't stop. She had to push me away, and I saw . . ." he bowed his head, his hands clasped over his neck, " . . . what I'd done. I felt sick. She said she could never love me. I understood why." He lifted his head and stared into the black night. "I'm a monster."
Willow was silent for a moment, the gravity of Spike's confession sinking in. Finally she asked, "How could you hurt her at all, if the chip was still working?"
A pain-filled laugh erupted from Spike's lips. "Another one of Buffy's dirty little secrets. I've been able to hit her ever since she came back. Something changed when you did your spell. Tricked my chip into thinking Buffy was something other than human."
Willow looked shocked. "Is Buffy a . . . demon?"
His mouth twisted into a parody of a smile. "No, Will. Buffy's unsullied . . . at least in that way." Spike lit another cigarette and stared ahead blankly.
Willow slumped beside him, not knowing what to think. What Spike had done to Buffy was reprehensible. But Willow knew better than most that life was not black and white. She'd tried to kill Buffy herself.
Her musings were interrupted by a cackling, derisive laugh. A group of about ten vampires emerged from one of the nearby mausoleums. "Well, well, well. What do we have here?" The lead vampire, sporting a rather out-of-date mullet addressed the two sorry-looking figures slumped against a gravestone. Looks like we have dinner." His glowing yellow eyes pierced Willow's. Then he gestured in Spike's direction with complete disgust. "Although I can't imagine why you haven't killed her yourself. What kind of vampire are you?"
Spike rose from the ground, pulling himself together enough to radiate cocky bravado. Casually, he extinguished his cigarette beneath his boot-clad heel. Drawing a stake from his pocket, he maneuvered himself in front of Willow. "The kind that's going to kick your eighties fashion victim arse."
The vampire tried unsuccessfully to suppress his laughter. "Like you have room to talk, Billy Idol wannabe." As he drew nearer, he saw Spike's angry face. "William the Bloody. How far you've fallen. Protecting humans. You're a disgrace to your kind."
Spike staked the verbose vampire. He wasn't really in the mood to banter.
Xander ran a hand through his carefully combed, wet-from-the-shower hair. The streets of Sunnydale were completely empty . . . which was kinda strange because usually all the creepy crawlies came out to play on nights with a full moon. =Maybe they heard about our obliteration of the Kermitis and have gone into hiding? Or maybe there's something big coming--something that even the baddies are afraid of.= Xander laughed softly, willfully expelling that last, unpleasant thought as he passed by the Magic Box. The light was still on. Xander extended a hand and jiggled the door handle. =Locked.= Loudly, he knocked. After a few minutes, he saw Anya appear from the back. Upon seeing who it was, her face twisted with anger.
"We're closed." Anya began to retreat behind a bookshelf.
"Wait!" Xander cried. "Anya, I'm so sorry! I need to talk to you."
Anya paused, her resolve softening. Slowly, she moved towards the door and unlocked it. Blocking the doorframe, she considered Xander. "Very well. Talk."
"I wanted to apologize . . . for tonight. I really am sorry about the way things turned out and I wanted to make it up to you. I wanted to walk you home." Xander gestured towards the empty street behind him. "There are monsters out there."
Anya shook her head, eyes filled with pain. "By your criteria, Xander, there are monsters in here. Or have you forgotten?" Anya's face morphed into the veiny visage of Anyanka.
Xander gulped, swallowing his knee-jerk response of revulsion. "You could give up the whole vengeance thing. Then maybe we could be together again."
Anya shook her head, her human features falling back into place. "You really don't understand, do you? Even when I was human, you never accepted me, Xander. You were always worried that I'd say the wrong thing, that someone would know I had been a demon." She regarded him sadly. "You were embarrassed by me. That's why you couldn't marry me."
"That's not . . ." Xander's voice trailed off as the truth of what Anya was saying sank in. "I mean . . ."
Sadly, Anya began to close the door to the Magic Box. "We're closed Xander. This between us is closed too. You hurt me in the worst possible way and you can't make that better."
Xander watched in disbelief as the door swung shut. It wasn't until he was halfway home that he realized he was crying.
Ring around the rosey
A pocket full of posey
We all fall down.
Dancing and chanting, giggling, laughing.
Blond, shimmering hair. But not the right blond.
Legs, thousands and thousands of legs, scurrying over her body, devouring.
Escape. But the hands grasped her too tightly. Must dance. Must keep dancing.
Blond, smiling, gorgeous, familiar, stroking her palm. "Ashes, ashes," he intoned.
Spike, kissing her. Pushing her. "We all fall down, pet."
"We all fall down." Fangs in her neck. Blissful oblivion.
Xander, a pocket full of posey. "Look at me, Buffy. I seriously need a dermotologist." Pus oozing from his cracked face.
"He's dying." Anyanka shrugged. "But there might be something on Ebay."
Willow, clasping a hand. "Ashes, ashes." Willow's hands, stretched out, blood dripping. She shook her head. "I didn't know, Buffy. Didn't know."
Buffy woke up, panting, sweating, shivering. Blinking several times, she grabbed her alarm clock. "Ewww!" Stomach churning, she flicked a cockroach off the clock's face. 3:17 am. She hid her head underneath her pillow and groaned. "What the hell kind of dream was that?"
Spike cleared his throat, surveying the damage around him. Broken tombstones scattered the landscape. Vamp dust hung heavy in the air. And Willow's elfin face was split by the most genuine smile he'd seen from her in weeks.
"Not bad for two pathetic losers like us, huh?" Willow twirled her stake happily. It seemed like a long time since she had done anything good.
Spike shrugged. "Yeah, I was hoping they'd put up a bit more of a fight. They give vampires a bad name."
Willow laughed. "Oh, like vampires don't have a bad name already."
Spike grew quiet, any trace of levity extinguished. He bent over a nearby grave and rearranged the flowers that had been disrupted by the fight. "I understand that you probably won't want to see much of me after tonight. I'll come back to the Council, finish my interview. But I want you to promise me something--and this goes for Rupert too." Spike's voice became earnest. "When you see Buffy--and you will eventually--don't tell her you saw me. I don't want her to be reminded of my continued existence. I want her to forget I ever came to Sunnydale. After the interview," Spike rose unsteadily from his crouch, wiping the dirt from his hands, "that's the last you'll see of me: William, the Bloody Awful Waste of Space."
Swiftly, he turned and headed for the cemetery's gates. Willow, still in shock, stared emptily at the tombstone Spike had left behind.
Disbelieving, Willow extended her hand and looked at one of the flowers on the grave. =Daisies. Just like the ones Spike had brought for Joyce. Joyce. Jocelyn. This couldn't be . . .=
Willow's eyes found the grave next to Jocelyn Atherton's, the gravestone she and Spike had slumped against.
Beloved son, beloved brother.
=William. William the Bloody!= "Spike!" Willow called to him, running forward to catch up. "The tombstone. Is it . . ."
Spike paused, his taut features squelching Willow's curiosity. Sighing, he scuffed his boots against the gravel pathway. "Come on, Red. I'll walk you back. There could be more nasties out there. Can't have you getting killed, now can we?"
Buffy poured a large bowl of Cheerios, then carefully picked through the little life preservers for cockroaches. The Orkin man said he couldn't come until tomorrow. Apparently lots of Sunnydale residents were having the same problem. Sighing, Buffy extracted a wiggling cockroach from her cereal and dumped the bowl into the garbage. Rummaging around in the fridge she located a sealed cherry yogurt and flopped onto the couch. She grabbed the remote, trying to find cartoons in the midst of endless weekend infomercials. She just wanted to numb her overactive brain. Sleep had been a stranger last night. First there was that bizarro dream: dancing, singing nursery rhymes, Xander with serious facial problems, and an Evil Spike chomping on her neck. But there was a Good Spike too. =Ughh! It was just too confusing.= Obviously, her mind was on Spike overload after her fight with Xander. She wished she knew how to feel about him. She knew she should hate him. He'd almost raped her. But she kept seeing his face, after she pushed him away. The pain, the confusion. He seemed so human at that moment.
Settling on Batman Beyond, she peeled back the tinfoil lid to her yogurt. The spoon was almost to her mouth, when the neo-Goth images of Batman Beyond were suddenly replaced by a news announcer.
"This just in. Two residents have checked into Sunnydale Memorial Hospital with symptoms of the bubonic plague. The mayor will be making a televised statement in a few moments."
"Bring out your dead," Buffy snorted. =I thought that disease went out with the Dark Ages.= Spooning yogurt into her open mouth, she watched as the mayor appeared onscreen. A blond man to his right whispered in his ear and the mayor nodded.
Earnestly, the mayor addressed the camera. "Good morning. As you may know, the bubonic plague has been detected in our town. If you are experiencing high fever, nausea, or boils, check yourself into the hospital immediately. If you think you've been exposed to the plague, you may receive doses of antibiotic at Sunnydale Memorial Hospital between the hours of nine and five." With a forced smile, he concluded. "Together, we'll get through this. God bless Sunnydale."
Buffy stopped, spoon halfway to her mouth. "Did he say boils?"
Willow and Spike approached the door at the Council just as the first rays of sunlight were appearing on the horizon. The sky was hazy pink and Willow was glad that Spike would be coming inside with her. In his current state of mind she couldn't be entirely sure that he wouldn't take the easy road out--self-immolation. After his night of confession, his sins weighing heavily on his head, who knew what he might do?
Spike swallowed in a futile attempt to collect himself. "We're here, Red. Probably should ring the bell."
"Nah," Willow produced a key, "Giles gave me this." Squinting in the half-light, she inserted the key into the lock. As it turned, the lock mechanism gave a satisfying click and the door swung open. "Come on, Spike. I'll make you some tea."
Spike shook his head. "Hot chocolate if you've got it."
"Right. Joyce always made you that, didn't she?"
Spike ran a hand through his hair. "Always made me feel better."
"Did she remind you of your mother? Did she remind you of Jocelyn?"
Spike sighed heavily. "Not now, Red. Please?" His eyes, glazed with unshed tears, beseeched her to stop.
"OK." Willow took his hand. "I'll let it go." She paused. "I know we, the Scoobies, didn't always treat you very well. I just want to say I'm sorry."
Spike's Adam's apple bobbed up and down. His eyes bore into the floor, refusing to meet Willow's.
"I'd like to be your friend, Spike. You saved my life. Let me help you."
Spike nodded, but said nothing. Willow watched as his jaw began to grind.
At that moment, Lydia rushed down the stairs into the foyer, Reggie in tow. "Thank goodness! We've been so worried about both of you. Rupert assured us you'd come back, but I thought I'd offended you terribly and perhaps . . ."
"Crikey." Reggie adjusted his glasses and lumbered forward. "You both look horrible."
"Vamp nest," Willow explained. "We got them all, but it was kinda messy."
Lydia considered Spike, eyes burning with curiosity. "Shall we continue? Do you feel up to it?"
"Yeah, do your worst." Spike's eyes met hers. "I'll finish your interview."
"Rupert is waiting in his office." Lydia gestured to the staircase.
"Can we get some hot chocolate?" Willow asked. "It's been a hard night."
Buffy dialed Giles's number at the Watcher's Council. This plague thing was the last straw. Just too bizarre. That and the freaky Slayer dream. It was time to get Giles on the case.
Spike sat at Giles's desk, sipping hot chocolate with little marshmallows. Lydia sat across from him, tape recorder humming and pencil scratching. Giles and Willow dozed in a corner, exhausted. And Reggie snored loudly on a nearby settee, sleeping the sleep of the mostly oblivious.
"When you say the Slayer and you had a complicated relationship, what precisely do you mean?" Lydia waited for a response, pencil poised.
"I . . . um." Spike took another sip of his chocolate. "We were . . ."
Suddenly, the phone on the desk rang. Giles and Willow started from their sleep. On impulse, Spike picked up the receiver.
Buffy waited impatiently, folding her yogurt lid into ever-smaller pieces. One ring. Two. Three. "Come on, Giles. Pick up."
"Council of Watchers."
"Hello, this is Buffy Summers. Is Mr. Giles available?"
The voice on the other end became muffled. "Hang on."
An ashen-faced Spike handed the phone to Giles. "It's for you."
Continued in Chapter Nine: Prodigal