By Kita (Donna M.)
Giles has that look, the look of a man about to rabbit off. Captain Cardboard looked that way most of last year; at least the old man had the decency to wait until she was in the ground.
Scoobies, vampires, patrolling and it's another night in Sunnyhell. The vamp is easily twice Spike's size and has him pinned to the ground and neither one of them has a stake; and there's really no fucking point to two vampires trying to kill each other without a stake, which is the *real* reason that vamps don't attempt to fight to the death very often, because it's all a big damn waste of time. So it's all punching and kicking and clawing and each trying to break the other's neck, until he finds himself with his fists full of dust, being straddled by the Buffybot, stake in her hand and triumphant smile on her face.
"I like this position best," she chirps, slipping the stake into her waistband.
He closes his eyes. When he opens them he can see the others on the edges of his vision and knows they've gone pale, their expressions stunned. He's tired of this. So fucking tired. "Get off me," he says sickly.
"You can make me if you want to. I like it when you make me do things." Cheery inflection unchanged, eyes utterly devoid of hurt or even basic understanding, and how had he ever thought this could be *her*?
I can't do this, he thinks, panic rising in his chest. Oh my God, I can't do this, eighty, eighty-one, eighty-two and I just can't. "Get the fuck off me," he growls, and the Bot blinks in confusion. The Scoobs look sickened and horrified- all but one. And Spike realizes. That Willow hasn't fixed the bot, hasn't even attempted to fix the bot, and she did so on purpose. Because she's making sure he gets what he paid for. He's being punished.
"Oh Spike, you know I love it when you- "
He can feel a scream of grief and rage building in his throat before Willow rushes forward and hits the switch at the nape of her neck. The Bot's eyes flutter closed and her head sags to one side. He shoves her off his lap and she clatters beside him in a heap of plastic. He sits up slowly, fighting tears. The others are stunned into silence and Willow looks panicked, terrified of what she just allowed to happen. "I'm sorry," she babbles, "I'm sorry, I didn't-"
His fist slams out quickly, making sharp contact with her cheekbone. It'll bruise tomorrow, bright patterns of purple and blue, and he will enjoy seeing it: proof that he's still really here. For now, he curls on the grass in agony. The chip has gone off with such viciousness that his vision goes gray and his nose spurts blood. He lies on the cemetery ground, badly shaken, synapses screaming.
Xander and Tara both lunge forward simultaneously, furious, and Xander nearly decks Spike before the Watcher pulls him back. "Go home," he says sternly. "All of you, go home." He then turns, offers a hand to Spike, and leads him back to his crypt.
"If you lay a hand on any of them again," Giles says sharply, "I'll stake you myself, never mind the bloody chip." Spike doesn't care; he just wants Giles to leave. He's sitting on the stone bier, arms wrapped tightly around his knees, tears rolling silently down his cheeks and he feels like he's about to crack into a million pieces.
"In any case," he continues, his tone becoming more kind, "I'll talk to Willow about reprogramming the robot." Giles gets the bottle of whiskey from a nearby shelf and offers it to him silently. "You know," he says softly, "whoever said it gets easier with time clearly didn't have a bloody clue."
Spike looks up over the lip of the bottle and realizes. "You're leaving, aren't you?" he asks flatly, and Giles nods.
"She loved you, y'know" he says quietly. He doesn't know why. Maybe because Giles looks like he desperately needs to hear it. Maybe because he wishes desperately that someone could have said it to him. And he realizes in that moment how much he hates all of them for that. For their chance to be able to treasure that memory of friendship when all he has is the memory of bruising.
Maybe after another eighty-two days, he thinks, another two hundred, another thousand, he'll be able to forget his rage and grief and pain and simply remember that he once loved her. Remember that there was once something good about that. He hopes.
A hundred and forty-five.
It hurts, but that's okay. Part of the process, yeah? 'Cause he think things are gonna be all right, maybe. That he can keep going, even if he can't move on. In late August Spike arrives to drive Dawn to her first high-school dance. He stands in the doorway and watches her primping before the mirror, confident that the glass will not reflect the maudlin, defanged vampire-babysitter who loved her dead sister. All she sees is an excited girl preening in a pretty white dress, and that's how it should be. Buffy's dead. When he's awake, Buffy finally feels dead to him.
But: He still dreams about it, every. fucking. night. Rolls over crushed ribs to see her fall, graceful, swan-dive, arms stretched cruciform, eyes accusing. //i'm counting on you to protect her//until the end of the world//
And part of him, the part that does not want this guilt, doesn't want this goddamned ache, still believes that the world ended that night. That they're all dead and none of them have the sense to lie down. He doesn't want this, so he wakes. Wakes and shakes his head hard to clear it, breaths in acrid lungfuls of crypt dust. Lights a cigarette and draws his knees up to his chest, trembling.
It's just a dream. And this, too, shall pass.
She remembers feeling her mother nearby. No physical sensation of it, just a comforting certainty. She remembers knowing that the world was still intact, dimensional walls sturdy and strong. She knew that Dawn was alive, that her friends were safe. Sad without her, perhaps; but they would be okay.
She doesn't remember thinking of Spike at all.
No one alive remembers this because her friends didn't know her then, and Dawn
(Dawn isn't real)
and her Mother
(Mommy is dead).
But: when Buffy was seven, she fractured her arm in three places. The bone stuck out through her skin, shiny and smooth like the white keys on her father's piano. She remembers how the doctors looked at her when she quietly walked through the door of the Emergency Room alongside her mother. She clutched the wounded arm tight to her chest, and just stared at the men in their white lab coats. "In shock," they said. They gave her pain medication through a needle in her vein. "Unusually high tolerance for pain," they said. She didn't understand the words. Didn't understand why they were so surprised that she never once screamed.
Buffy didn't scream when The Master killed her. When his fetid breath washed over her face and his talons closed around her neck, and she knew she was going to die. She was sixteen then, and she was not ready. But it never occurred to her to scream.
She didn't scream when she had to kill Angel. When he stared up at her, innocent and stripped, and she thrust a sword through his gut and sent him to eternal damnation. She cried for three months. She saw his face in every nightmare, but she never once woke up screaming.
Buffy didn't scream when her Mother died. But oh, she'd wanted to.
The world tilted and her insides came rushing out. Guts and blood, milk and cornflakes. Choking her so she couldn't scream. She vomited instead, and when she was done, Giles was there. She sobbed into her pillow all that night, and when she woke up the next morning to buy a coffin for her mother, she had no voice.
But when the hands came (she remembers them as hands though they couldn't have been hands, because there was no flesh there, no form; but they seemed to be hands, huge and cold and hard as marble) and tore her away from the place where she was Finished,
When she woke up in her own coffin to feel her skin creep and stretch and knit itself back together over rotted bone,
(((Angel's bed is too soft and there are too many pillows. The paneled walls are too dark, and the canopy is too close to her face. Drabbles of sun filter through the blinds. The window is open, she can feel the outdoors creeping in. Wet, hot and confining, no breeze. A filmy pink glow crawls over Angel's bare chest and arms. He doesn't flinch away.
She can smell pancakes downstairs. They're burning.
She rolls over to face Angel. He is still, his skin is warm. Between her legs, sweat, and the scent of sex.
"Angel?" softly, but he remains asleep, wrapped in layers of linen. Too many damn linens.
Satin against her cheek as the light shifts. Splinters from the walls she can brush with outstretched fingertips. Her nails are dirty. The canopy drapes across her face and chest, sticky, heavy. Hot. Too hot.
"Angel...Angel I can't...."
"Shhh," he whispers, pulling her closer. Thrumming of a heartbeat by her ear now, steady and strong.
Pancakes. Pancakes and milk.
"Shh," he says. "We don't have a lot of time left.")))
When she took her first breath and coated her new, pink lungs in cemetery dirt and dung beetles,
(((In Angel's shower, watching the water run over white tile in never ending rivulets of red and brown. He is scrubbing her hair, and the dirt falls away in clumps, swirling, swirling, until the drain is clogged with it.
"Give me your hands," he says, and she does. Watches in silence as he digs the clay from beneath her nails, and gently cleanses the gashes on her knuckles with sweet smelling white soap.
The sheets are white too when he carries her back to his bed. Lays her upon the clean cotton.
It spreads beneath her until she can feel it. It spreads until the shape around her body is outlined in dark colors and grit. Dirt and small scurrying things. It spreads until she can see it, and she tries to scream.
But Angel is kissing her, and he tastes like cream and sugar, and she forgets everything else. So familiar; this cadence of muted pillowtalk, this broad chest as her bedframe. Which is strange really, because it never actually happened.
"We shouldn't," she whispers into his mouth, "Your soul."
"I can't be truly happy, Buffy," he assures her. "Not without you.")))
When she punched at the wood encasing her under six feet of earth and realized that her strength did not return along with her breath,
(((Spent with sleep and sex, her limbs aching and heavy. And there are maggots crawling in his sheets. They make sounds like a thousand tiny batwings. She wants to shove them away, wants to scream, but she can't. She can't breathe, and she can't move and she can't-
//Osiris, Lord of the Dead//
"Shh," he says again. He is standing by the bed, looking down on her and the maggots. The light catches the silver cross around his neck. The damned pancakes are still burning.
//Here lies the Warrior of the People//
"Willow," she breathes, "is Willow here?"
"Everyone is here, Buffy," he tells her, sinking down onto the filthy mattress beside her. He doesn't seem to mind the maggots, and they do not come close to him.
His arms slide around her, lift her, and she is boneless, weightless and without form. Without-
"No..." she breathes again. Breath can make things real. Breath can make things happen. Breath can make things.
"No..." she says again, but there is no sound.
She is crumbling. Bits of her falling away, skin and teeth and nail, until Angel holds nothing but slivers of golden hair and clumps of dirt.
//Let her cross over//
"Made of clay, Buffy. In the beginning, we were all made of clay."
"Ribs," she says, staring at the memory of his bare chest.
He rubs his dirty palms on his jeans.
"I'm sorry," he says. "You know there are things that I can never give you." )))
When she dug and clawed and cried out for god but no one answered,
Then Buffy screamed.
Her face is grave-pale, her eyes bleary, squinting at the light. He remembers.
"Clawed her way out of her coffin, that's how."
Ragged nails and bloody knuckles and he can *feel* that vicious tightening of claustrophobia in his throat. Dirt and dust a hundred and twenty years old and he remembers: Boy William in a box, trapped in one of those slender pine compartments that passed for a casket in the nineteenth century and beneath her, beneath them, oh so beneath it all. Fingernails scraping for purchase on his own coffin-lid and he couldn't breathe and didn't yet realize that he no longer needed to. Does it matter? Fear is fear.
"Isn't that right?"
*Was it easier for her?* he wonders, staring at her bloodied hands in horror. *Or harder? Who's weaker, a dormant Slayer or a fledgling vampire? Her coffin was modern, stronger, oak and steel, but her grave was shallower. Only four feet and not six- Xander and Giles dug to exhaustion and I was still useless, a broken-boned, drunken mess. They bury them deep in England, lest the bodies float to the surface when the rains come. But I didn't have to breathe.* He's channeling William now, and he knows it- three days old and terrified and he remembers scrabbling to the surface, choking on dirt, mint-cool sharpness of the night air, the ember of his grandsire's cigar glowing in the chill darkness, the betrayal of being left in a box. //she was supposed to meet you here, but she forgot.// *They forgot, those bastards forgot her. Oh, God, her hands.* Bloody knuckles gleaming brightly in the lamplight. Torn, ragged skin. He remembers how small and perfect her hands once seemed to him.
"Yeah," she whispers, and glances down, as if ashamed. Because there's nothing glamourous about being neither here nor there. "That's what I had to do."
"Done it myself," he murmurs. She's here. He's not dreaming, she's here.
But is she? Her fingers are lank and lax in his trembling hands; he stares into her eyes and she stares back but he knows she doesn't see him. "How long was I gone?" she asks, and he wants to reply, "Are you sure you're really back?"
"Hundred and forty-seven days yesterday," his voice responds automatically. "Hundred and forty-eight today, 'cept today doesn't count, does it?" Do you know where you are, Buffy? Do you know who's holding your hands? Can you feel how hard I'm shaking? Where were you? Where are you now? I don't remember anything, just Dru's fingernails and the warmth seeping from my body, and waking to darkness and cold, and three days had felt like only moments. But you... "How long was it for you, where you were?"
"Longer," she says softly, and he just nods.
And then they come in, all screeching and screaming and human blather and pounding of feet. He shrugs the damp, chill silence of the grave off his shoulders, and slams the door when he goes.
The brat and the demon emerge ten minutes later, find him weeping quietly behind the tree where he has spent so many nights. "I hope you're not going to start your little obsession now that she's around again," Xander sneers, and Spike realizes that the game is up. Bleeding in the backseat and tequila offerings and how many times had he saved the whelp's life in the last five months? How many times had he patrolled so that the rest of them could throw dinner parties in Xander's cozy apartment that he didn't care about not being invited to? How many times had he watched Dawn so the rest of them could hang out at the Bronze? But he'd done it all and he hadn't bitched about it once, because he thought it meant something, that he was doing something she would have wanted, paying some kind of penance, and he mistook their strained politeness for appreciation when all they had been doing was baiting the super-strong bitchboy so he would return to save their asses once again. Oh, but the game is up, the game is so fucking up, and who the fuck cares about the chip when he slams the boy up against the nearest tree? What the hell is one measly headache after the last hundred and forty-eight days?
"You didn't tell me," he grates out, throat choked with sobs. "You brought her back and you didn't tell me-" He's horrified at how betrayed he feels. Christ, this is where loving her has brought him. This is what it's done to him.
"Well, now you know," the kid says snottily, and Ways to Kill Xander Harris When I Get the Chip Out, Nos. 317-322 are quickly added to Spike's mental list.
"I worked beside you all summer."
"We didn't tell you. It was just ... we didn't, okay?" Fucker. Stupid, childish fucker.
"Listen," he growls. "I've figured it out. Maybe you haven't, but I have." Because they forget. Spike is frequently irresponsible and always immature- he considers it one of his inherent charms- but they forget that he's a hundred and twenty fucking years old, he's seen death and horror and apocalypse that they can't even imagine, and he knows better. That there are some things that you don't try to fuck with; you just try to keep living in the wake of the collapse, the way he's been trying to do every day for the last five months. And these stupid, ignorant children, even after years of living on a Hellmouth, still haven't figured out happy endings are just a pretty, half-assed falsity. Especially that arrogant little bitch who thinks she can take life and death into her own hands. "Willow knew there was a chance that she'd come back wrong," he says insistently, "so wrong that you'd have-" He can't say it. "That she would have to get rid of what came back, and I wouldn't let her. If any part of that was Buffy, I wouldn't let her. And *that's* why she shut me out."
"What are you talking about?" Xander says nervously. "Willow wouldn't do that."
"Oh," he says slowly. Willow has done that, and Spike knows she will do more. "Is that right?"
"You're just covering. Don't tell me you're not happy," the boy says defensively, and Spike snickers. Does Xander think it's all better now? Does he think it's *over*? Christ, it's just beginning. And Spike thinks ((knows)) they're all daft not to realize.
Consequences. Always. consequences. Repercussions. Pound of flesh.
And you pay and you pay and you pay.
That night she dreams. Scraps of song, dark and brutal, hint of rent flesh and shattered bone. She follows the cadence down, down. Whispers and shadows in a crypt. He is reading by candlelight, his thick accent reminiscent, but...wrong.
She cannot see his face, just the barest curve of jaw, the familiar tilt of head. He does not turn when she enters.
"The flies swarmed on the putrid vulva, then,"
"Jesus," she flinches. Breathes. Heat and sin, and all around her the scent of melted wax. "What the hell kind of poetry is that?"
"A black tumbling rout would seethe,"
"Whatever happened to love sonnets?" she asks him, fingers reaching for that long, dirty brown hair, brown coat covering lean shoulders, brown ribbon in the tangled curls.
"Of maggots, thick like a torrent in a glen,"
He shrugs off her touch without bothering to face her. Continues to read aloud with a smoother voice she still cannot place. It sounds so young. She can't remember young. Dark. She remembers dark.
"Over those rags that lived and seemed to breathe."
"What are you talking about?" she demands; angry. Not afraid. Not of him. His posture stiffens.
He slams the book closed and gestures to the four post bed where Angel lays still, silent, asleep. "Why don't you save the deep thoughts for naked-boy, over there? That's really not why I'm here."
She reaches for him again, feels the swell of light muscle and crinkle of leather. He turns to face her, now platinum and sharp. The scar on his left brow is open.
"Why are you here then, Spike?"
The book hits the floor with a dull thud and a small splash, and her gaze follows the sound. Sees his thick black boots covered in crimson, seeping from the steel spikes which nail both his feet to the floor.
Derisive laugh. "Just where the fuck do you think I'm going to go?"
One hundred forty-nine.
She's back, she's alive, it's over. But it hasn't. stopped.
And that night he dreams the same damned dream all over again. Watches her fall. Hears the crunch of bones. Soft whispers of blood.
And the night after that. And the night after that. And the night after that.
In waking hours too, she comes to his crypt, drawn to the scent of dust and mold. Dirt and earth. His eyes drop when she enters, in an expression of deference she never would have expected from him. It angers her as much as everything else. He offers her a seat, talks to her of forgiveness, promises her that from now on he will catch her when she falls. And she wants to laugh, wants to say, "Spike, don't you see? You *did* save me. You're incompetent and you're weak and your failures got me into Heaven. It was all the rest of them that damned me to Hell."
But of course, she doesn't. She sits there half the night, and she doesn't say anything at all. He lets her stay anyway. He smells like Death.
And she wonders what it would be like, to wrap her legs around him and take that scent into herself. Because he is not Angel, and he does not have a soul, and he would kill her. Once upon a time, he would.
She imagines him, naked and pale, covered in a thin sheen of sweat. The firelight paints his skin, molds monsters out of wide planes, shapes demons out of sharp angles. Orange and yellow licking at his toes and sweeping the backs of his legs.
She sees him bathed in flame, his coat curled around his feet, his bare arms outstretched. She wonders how long it would take before the fire turned him to dust. She wonders if he would scream.
Next time they meet it is in the shadow of midday. She offers her secret to him there, like a child, open palm outstretched. Then she walks into the sunlight where she knows he cannot follow. She feels his stare for hours.
The nights which follow, his presence is steady and solid, and for reasons she has no desire to explore, comforting. She doesn't comprehend physics or theology, the laws of the natural or supernatural order of things. She does not want to learn. It is sickening enough to understand that she is not really Alive, but not Undead like Spike, either. His demon animates him, but what animates her? What makes her cells divide, what forces her out of bed each day? Raised from clay by the obscene will of her friends, and kept walking by the endless tears of a sister who is as much an abomination as she is.
No, certainly not alive.
Not like Anya who bubbles, chirps and talks conspiratorially of making new life. Not even like Willow who has learned to take new life, in silent and secret trade for reanimated Slayers.
Reanimated. No longer dead.
Not-Dead-Anymore. That is what she is. And it is not enough. It is not enough to coax her out of bed most days. Not nearly enough to care. Spike seems to understand at least that.
Continued in III