By Kita (Donna M.)
The good power cables- the ones he nicked from the Home Depot last spring- go to the TV and refrigerator. The cords run out the window, trail through the back of the cemetery, and directly into the power supply of some unsuspecting Sunnydale inhabitant- Spike's nothing if not ingenious. They haven't failed him once- come rain, snow, or apocalypse, he's got blood, beer, and Junkyard Wars.
The other cords are shabby and threadbare, hauled out of the local dump. They're for the non-essentials- the lights that he doesn't particularly need, the stereo that doesn't do him a bit of good since Harm trashed his albums, the coffee maker he doesn't use. Those cords are notoriously unreliable and they've shocked him more than once. No matter; he lights candles. Mouse-quiet, he never hears her enter, but from below he smells the sizzling flesh. Finds her upstairs, palm stretched flat over the guttering flame, skin reddening first, then blistering.
"Buffy, pet," he said gently, the first two or three or four times it happened. "Don't do that." Now he just lets her, and bandages the burns afterwards. She doesn't listen to him anyway, and it's best to just leave her alone to feel whatever she still can.
She comes after sunset and sits in the chill silence of the crypt, speaking her confusions and fears in murmurs and half-formed phrases. Finishing sentences is just so fucking tiring these days, and here with Spike is the only place where she doesn't have to. She speaks of her vague, cloudy memories of Heaven, of the terrible persistence of wakingupinabox nightmares, of the exhaustion and frustration that greets her every fucking morning- climbing out of bed, making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, sending her little sister off to school, getting through one minute and the next and the one after that. She asks about life and death and immortality, and he tries to tell her the truth, but it usually comes out sounding like bullshit; he's not sure if she minds. She asks about her funeral, and he doesn't say "I was drunk, and your ex-boyfriend called me a worthless loser and knocked me unconscious, and I couldn't look your little sister in the face for a week afterwards. And for a moment there- just a moment- I hated you more painfully and viciously than I've ever hated anyone. Hated you and your goddamn sacrificial-lamb hangups for making me hurt this way." So he says something lame about the flowers instead, or how Dawn tucked Mr. Pointy, a picture of Joyce, and Angel's silver crucifix into the coffin's silk lining, or how he brought red roses to her grave every day for a month until her little sister discovered he was stealing them from the local florist's and made him stop. This seems to appease her.
"Would you have?" she says one night, abruptly, and for once he doesn't quite follow.
She lets him call her that. It sounds sweet, like cotton candy and thick clouds. It doesn't feel real; if it did she'd make him stop. "What they did." Tore her out. Brought her back. Damned her. He shakes his head. "Why?"
Shrug. "Dead is dead." And that's the difference between them, after all: no one is asking him to pretend. She puts a hand, impulsively, on his still chest.
"Quiet doesn't mean peace," he reminds her, and tonight his eyes are hooded and dark. He's still mourning her. And that's okay; she's still mourning her, too.
She still starts when she opens the back door in the morning, and hears the Angels singing. Dawn told her it was the birds, but Buffy knows.
She still sees her Mother, sometimes. Sometimes she is sitting on Buffy's bed, head buried in her hands. Sometimes she is laying on the couch downstairs. She always looks alive. She is always crying.
And Buffy may be only half-here, may be already half-crazy, but she realizes. How fucked up it is. That in her house, the dead mourn for the living.
She still can't bear to look at her own hands, missing chunks of skin and nails, left somewhere in the dirt, buried in a coffin that wears her name. Soon, the slithering things will eat all it all. Another small part of herself lost. Another chapter in her endless rape.
In darkness, she still dreams of Willow, her face covered in someone else's blood, doubled over in pain. She watches in silent horror as a serpent winds it way through her flesh, out of her open mouth. It slithers onto the earth covered in Willow's blood and bile.
In daylight, she still sees Xander, lying cold on the ground, one eye plucked from its socket and resting like a plastic marble against his gray cheek.
And she still wakes up screaming.
In the morning she brushes her teeth, and the dreams cling. Cobwebs and toffee. In the before-time, dreams would fade by breakfast. She can remember the summer after she'd killed him, how he would visit her at night. Come dawn, sometimes he was still there. She could smell him until her first cup of coffee. Then he was always gone.
Now the dreams hover for hours.
Days. Months. Years.
(("how long was it for you, where you were?" "longer."))
She stares at herself in the mirror, the mint paste gathering around her lips, spilling down her chin. A mad dog, foaming. It doesn't really occur to her to wonder how long she has been standing here brushing her teeth.
Minutes. Days. Years.
(("how long was it for you, where you were?" "longer."))
Because she's not even sure how long she has been... here. Been Not Dead Anymore.
One afternoon she follows the jagged sounds of mewling into the back garden. Finds the neighborhood cat stalking a small squirrel. The squirrel is torn and bleeding because the cat doesn't understand it is not a willing participant in this game of hide and seek. Or maybe the cat just doesn't care. Maybe the cat is just doing what comes naturally to it. And maybe the squirrel should have picked another goddamn yard to gather its winter stock.
It's over in moments, the cat tossing the small, furry body into the air and batting it along the grass with a single-minded glee. It is only when the squirrel is completely still that the cat pauses to wonder why its toy no longer works. Licks his chops and walks away, tail in the air.
Dawn finds her there, crouched in the grass, still watching.
The cat had torn the thing limb from tail until its innards dangled between blood spattered teeth. The squirrel hadn't made a sound. Maybe squirrels never do. What remains of it lies on the ground, already covered with a swarm of black ants. The ants are terribly efficient, really. Buffy bends down to get a closer look.
When Dawn comes, Buffy is rubbing her fingernails over what is left of the thing's tail, still soft and fuzzy despite the blood caked on the white fur. The ants just scurry on around her hand.
"Buffy," that high, tight little girl voice. "What are you doing?"
((I'm doing what you can't, I'm doing what you won't, I'm dealing with the death and the decay and the ugliness you never want to see, I'm becoming what you made me, Goddamn you, isn't this what you brought me back for?))
It takes a moment to dress her face in stone. She looks up, brushes stained hands across her lap.
"Nothing," she says. "I'm not doing anything. Let's go make some lunch."
It takes time, Spike had told her. He was right. Every day, she learns to fake it better.
When the call comes, she says, "Who can that be? Everyone I know lives here." Even though she knows that will never be true.
They meet in a cemetery, and that's ironic on more levels than she cares to dwell upon. Not her town, not his, but a familiar scene nonetheless. Death looks the same pretty much anywhere.
Angel is standing by a crumbling tomb when she jumps the gate. Hands in his pockets, waiting for her.
He is solid and dark and his lashes are wet. He whispers her name. She leans into the sound.
Angel has an old, striped picnic blanket in his trunk, and her head still fits perfectly into the hollow between his shoulder and his neck. She thinks maybe they could stay right here, in this haven of the dead, forever. She was dead, and he still is, and it's peaceful after all.
The dull lights filter through the trees like sputtering votive candles. They sit together on someone's grave beneath a cracked statue of the Virgin, and they speak their offerings. Shanshus and Epiphanies, deaths followed by rebirths, and deaths followed only by hollow, gray mourning. But neither are Priest, and both have been banished from the Kingdom, and forgiveness is an elusive thing in any case.
They were supposed to be in love until it killed them both. Then it sort of did.
Angel lets her cry for a very long time.
"You know the worst part?" she whispers later, against the soft gray silk of his shirt. He is silent. The question was rhetorical and the topic could be anything. Her mother's death, her own. The fact that in less than two hours the sun will rise and she will have to let go of his hand.
"No one ever says good-bye. Everyone leaves, but no one says good-bye." She can feel him wince at the obvious accusation, and doesn't pause to allow him a reply
"My dad snuck out of the house in the middle of the night. Did I ever tell you that? I got up at 2 a.m. to get a drink of water, and there he was, creeping down the stairs with an overnight bag slung over his shoulder. I was 14. One of the clearest memories I have of my own father. And it's his back."
She lets him pull her close, and he tries not to think about fire engines and exploding high schools. About how small she looked standing in the middle of it all before he turned away. About what he must have looked like from the back.
"Angel, did you scream in Hell?" Suddenly, softly. He stares at her, wondering if this is somehow meant to be reparation for the earlier exchange, but he has never known her to be randomly cruel.
His muscles tense as he draws a breath. "No," he says. "No, I- they... wouldn't let me."
"I'm sorry," she whispers into his neck.
It is enough.
He isn't spying. Spying is what he did last year; this is just... observation. See How in Control of the Situation I Am, he thinks, as he lights his eighth cigarette and waits patiently for Buffy to return. He watched her leave half an hour ago, hiding in the shadows as she slipped into Joyce's SUV and drove away. She's never worn perfume for him and hasn't worn lipstick since she Came Back. He knows where she's gone.
He leans against a tree, knuckles biting painfully into the rough bark, blood running in cool trickles down his hand. The cigarette quivers hard in his shaking fingers. He concentrates on the pain, fighting to supress the rage burning in his throat. He wants to scream, cry, chase her down so he can tear her into little pieces. With him, she's with him, and it's never gonna end. He's been gone for two years and wasn't even there when she died, but where does she go running the moment she gets back? They're still acting out their goddamned Romeo and Juliet fantasy and Spike knows he will never be anything more than second or third or fourth best. He drives his fist into the tree trunk so hard he can hear finger-bones snap. The pain is a bright red flare that travels up his arm and almost reaches his brain to silence the voices there. But not quite.
The eighth cigarette falls from his grasp. He lights another, cradles his broken and bloody hand. Waits.
They leave the cemetery just as purple sky melts into pink. By the time they reach his car, small wisps of smoke are already curling around his coat. They never have been any good at judging when it's just too damned late.
He crawls inside the safety of the Belvedere, and she leans in to kiss him one more time. A breath- hers, his- and he draws away, cradles her face in his palms and tilts her head downward. She feels his lips brush her forehead, feathers and firelight. Essence of Angel.
"Good-bye, Buffy," he says.
She watches him close his door against the light.
Rising music. Rising... yeah.
His hand hovers in the air a moment (and he can almost hear himself thinking what do I do, what do I do now that it's finally real, how do I touch someone that actually wants to be touched) before coming down to clench possessively on her shoulder. His fingers tangle tightly in her hair and he can feel her insistent tongue invading his throat, raping his mouth. She's devouring him, bending him to her sick little will, taking him to pieces and it feels good. so good.
She stops for breath, pulls back slightly. "Buffy-" he starts. Unsure what exactly he plans to say, but the words "what the fuck?" come to mind.
She glares, clenches his shoulders hard enough to bruise. "Shut up, Spike," she grates between clenched teeth before pulling his lips to hers again.
Her eyes are hollow tonight. She sits in the corner and stares sightlessly as he brews her some coffee, strong. She never drinks it, just warms her hands. "Leaving," she says softly. "All of them, you know? Dad, Angel, Riley, now Giles... They all just..." Her voice trails off. Still so hard, after all this time, to quarry speech, but he can still hear what goes unsaid.
He doesn't say anything. He knows he'll never leave, but he also knows that she couldn't care less. She lets him kiss her again before she goes.
The night of Willow and Dawn's car accident, Buffy lets Spike drive Dawn to the hospital. As soon as Buffy arrives, he is up to leave, glancing once at Dawn and nodding. Green walls and shiny floors, stench of anti-septic, fear and //death// and Buffy wants nothing more than to follow him into fresh air.
But Dawn is grasping her wounded arm to her side, rocking back and forth with eyes tightly closed. They've given her medicine for the pain, but it hasn't kicked in yet, and she is biting her bottom lip and moaning.
Buffy sits down beside her, wraps her arm around Dawn's good shoulder, and kisses her forehead.
"It's ok, Dawnie," she whispers. "It's ok. You go ahead and scream."
She comes to him nearly every day now, never failing to bait him with a barb or complaint- usually about the temperature of the crypt. He wonders, sometimes, if reminding him that he's dead somehow makes her feel better. Wonders if it's a game to see who will feel shittiest at the day's end. "It's cold in here," she says, and he gives her a "duh" look that doesn't offer to fix the problem. He doesn't have a fireplace or a space heater; she's not sure he owns blankets. He doesn't need them, and he's not about to make exceptions for her lingering humanity. "How do you stand it?"
He made love to Dru in the snow once, her cold nails tearing gashes in his flesh, the blood freezing in patterns of brittle crystal on the surface of his skin. He remembers that the cold never reached his bones, and that, he thinks, is the difference between them.
She made love to Angel under blankets. Chaste. A single lamp throwing warm light on what she could see: planes and curves of back and shoulders and careful fingertips.
Spike isn't chaste.
He lets her undress him first, blue eyes wide and lips slightly parted, like a whore's. He doesn't light candles and the window, shaded with threadbare cloth, barely filters the moonlight. His skin seems silver against the black garments that she peels off and tosses away, littering the dusty floor. He has Drusilla's name tattooed in delicate script in the hollow of his left hipbone. "When's the last time you wore color?" she asks, teasing gently. His curves aren't smooth like Angel's; he's all pale, flat planes and sharp angles, strong muscle and jutting bone. In the moonlight he looks like the corpse that he is and she wonders
his body will hurt against hers, stab and bruise and draw blood.
"Prague." He tosses the word away, somewhere over his left shoulder, and briefly hoods his eyes with long black lashes. They're blue like ice, and they make her feel so cold. She imagines dark handprints of Drusilla's blood on lighter clothing and realizes: he's still doing penance. Even now.
Riley used to make a lot of noise in bed. He was vocal with his pleasure, and his love, open with her in a way she could never reciprocate. But they were ..*human* noises, mortal sounds of lust and completion.
Angel was always silent, kissing, petting, making love. As if they were in a church, and being close to her was something sacred, or forbidden. Like if he made the smallest sound, he would be caught, and forever banished. She clearly remembers that first surge of feminine pride when he finally opened his mouth and groaned her name. She's never quite been able to shake the feeling that if he hadn't, if she had just left him with his idiotic, stoic composure, then his soul would not have left. And then neither would he.
Spike grunts. The sound is pure, maledemonanimal. She cannot confuse it with either of her former lovers. These days, she is grateful for small mercies.
Dru fucked Spike with her eyes closed. Riding him, thighs clamped tightly around his hips, fingernails scraping deep gouges in his chest. Dark hair tumbling between shoulderblades, eyelashes cutting black shadows on her cheekbones, and she threw her head back and shrieked like a banshee. The name she said was never his, and he bit down hard on his lip and tried to shut out the sound of her voice.
Buffy fucks him with eyes open. Unfocused. Hair and skin and lashes pale, fading into the bedsheets, face impassive as he bends over her, his fingertips trailing down her cheek. When he moves inside her she stares past him, somewhere over his left shoulder, silent. Stares past him at dusty biers and crumbling crypt walls. Because Spike might be ice-cold, but he doesn't look all that dead when he's fucking, and Death is all Buffy can see these days. He's usually on top; he doesn't much feel beneath her anymore.
He knows, of course he knows. That he fucks her to feel alive, and she fucks him to feel dead. But he figures, poetic justice. Even trade.
Continued in IV