By Annie Sewell-Jennings
Sequel to The Waiting Season
Chapter Thirteen: Fallout
Impossible. There was nothing to say. Nothing to do. There was no possible reaction, no way in the world to respond to this. None of them moved. None of them spoke. None of them looked at each other. It was awkward and awful, and they were all dying for someone to break this terrible silence, but none of them quite knew how.
And so Buffy's words just hung there in the air, and none of them could chase them away.
"There's something I have to tell you. Something that's going to come as a shock. It's about.... God, there's no easy way to say it, so I'm just going to say it. It's Spike. He has a soul."
Dawn was crying. Softly, so that none of them would hear her, but they all knew anyway. She tried to hide her tears behind her hand, tried to cover her face with her hair so that no one else would see, but it was pointless. And she didn't know why she was crying, but the tears came nonetheless.
Giles had turned his back on them. Glasses in his shaking hand, his eyes wide and shocked, staring at nothing and everything all at once. Buffy didn't want to see him like this. She wanted him to have the answers. Wanted him to look at her and nod his head, and give her an explanation and a reason. He should be reciting facts and taking the pain out of all of this, and instead, Giles offered nothing. Proposed nothing.
Anya was the first one to act. Abruptly, she stood up and pushed her chair out of her way. Muttered some kind of excuse about having to make a business call or that she thought she heard the delivery bell ring, but everyone knew that it was a lie. She looked troubled, confused. Shattered. Xander stared after her, his hands open and his eyes pained, but he couldn't move to go after her.
He just couldn't move at all.
"Holy Jesus," Xander muttered under his breath, finally interrupting the dreadful silence. "How on earth did he.... I mean, was it a curse?"
Fingernails digging into her palms, Buffy shook her head. "No. It wasn't a curse. It was a.... It was a choice. It was why he left town."
Abruptly, Giles turned his head and stared at her. "That's impossible."
She shrugged. "That's Spike. He doesn't know the meaning of the word 'impossible.'"
Giles's bark of laughter was drier than the Sahara and more humorless than a funeral. "Be that as it may, Buffy, there is absolutely no way that Spike could have done such a thing. You must be mistaken, or he must be lying, or...."
"She's not lying."
Willow was standing in the shadows, apart from the group. She looked at none of them as she spoke, even when they all turned their heads to stare at her. Instead, she just wrapped her arms tightly around herself and shuffled her feet, uncomfortable in the spotlight. "It was his decision. He did it.... He did it for Buffy."
"How do you know that?" Dawn asked.
"I saw him," she said simply. "I saw him, and I knew. I could feel it."
"Why didn't you tell me?" Buffy whispered, and Willow flinched at the note of betrayal in her friend's voice. But all she could do was shake her head.
"It wasn't my secret to share."
The silence descended again, thick and impenetrable, as all of them tried to grasp the meaning of what had been said and what had been done. None of them could look at Buffy. After all, she was the cause of all of this. Vampires were not supposed to do this sort of thing. They were supposed to kill and hunt and not give a damn as to the consequences. And yet, there was Spike.
And yet, there was Buffy.
"Where is he now?" Giles asked softly.
"At my house," Buffy answered. "He's sleeping. I think... I think he's very tired. It was a difficult night. It was.... Everything's very difficult right now."
None of them could really object to the truth of that.
"How did you find out?" Xander asked, and Buffy turned her head to look at Giles.
"That's the other thing I needed to tell you. Last night, there was.... There were some strange things. The girl who was supposed to rise? Well, she rose. The problem was, she also.... She had a...."
"A soul," Giles supplied softly, and she averted her eyes. Some words hurt too much to speak or hear.
"Right. And there was a man. A vampire. He did it to her. Gave her that... and made her try to kill me. And he was strong. Really, really strong. He gave me a name, Drake Lucas, but I don't think it's his real name. But he knew things. He knew about Spike, and.... It doesn't look good."
"I'll look through the books, Buffy," he promised. "And I won't look just for information on our new friend."
She smiled at him gratefully, because through it all, Giles always understood.
Thank God somebody does, because oh, I don't understand this at all.
She could see it on all of their faces. The confusion. The disbelief. There were tears drying on her little sister's freckled face, and Anya had been so disturbed that she'd had to run away. Giles's hand shook as he held his glasses, and Willow, off in the shadows, looked pale and small. So very small. And Buffy knew that she had to look the same way. Just a pale girl, frightened and uncertain, all because of....
All because of her.
When she left him this morning, he'd been fast asleep. Buried under layers of quilts, his weary head resting on mountains of fluffy pillows. She'd stared at him for a moment, unable to touch him, unable to move. He was talking in his sleep. Softly, too softly for her to decipher anything, but still. Talking. The way that Spike always had. But instead of slurring out nasty things, his face all slack with desire as he hummed and twisted in his erotic dreams, he'd whimpered and trembled.
Slowly, Dawn lifted her eyes from the table and looked at her sister. She was startled by what she saw. Just a day earlier, there had been this light, this radiance about her. A glow that seemed incandescent and untouchable. All summer long, Buffy had laughed and fought and taken glorious photographs. She'd planted pink flamingos in the front lawn and teased her friends with sparklers and puns. But now, Buffy was dressed in black, slender and pale as ash.
She looked like she'd just crawled out of her grave again.
Dawn did not say a word. Instead, she slowly rose from the table and walked to her sister. Touched her hair, touched her cheek, and frowned at her. "Buffy? Are you--"
But Buffy just turned on her heel and walked out of the room.
The instant Buffy entered the training room, she slumped against the door. Closed her eyes oh-so-tightly and concentrated on the simple task of breathing. In and out. In and out. Calm. Be very, very calm and so very, very still. She tried to remember all of those little meditation techniques Willow and Giles had tried to teach her over the years. Anything to keep her heart from pounding. Anything to keep these thoughts....
The only way I could touch him last night was if he was sleeping and did not know about it.
And then Buffy tried very hard not to start crying.
She could not stay in that room with them any longer. It had hurt too much to look around at them and see the looks on their faces. Those uncomprehending stares that said they had no idea how to deal with any of this, and she understood that all too well. Shock. Fear. Confusion. They had no idea that Spike would ever do something like that. That he was capable of something like this.
But she had known all along, and she'd pushed him past the edge and into madness.
Dawn stood in the doorway, slender and concerned. Worry rumpled her pretty face, and Buffy quickly pulled herself together. Pasted a smile on her face. Fixed her hair with her fingers. Hoped to God that she hadn't forgotten herself and cried. "Yeah, Dawnie?"
"Is it really.... I mean, did he really do that?" she asked uncertainly. "He really...."
Buffy closed her eyes. Swallowed hard. "Yeah," she croaked. "He really did. And Dawn, I know that this is hard, and if you're not okay with it, then it won't happen, but I'd really like to keep him here. At the house, with us. I don't think he needs to be on his own right now."
I'm terrified that if I let him out of my sight for too long, he'll kill himself or run away.
"I'll go back to the house," Dawn volunteered. "I want to talk to him. Just talking. I think... I think I owe him an apology, Buffy."
Buffy flinched. "Dawn, this isn't your fault."
A sad little smile fluttered across the girl's face. "It doesn't mean that I'm still not sorry." She turned to go, and then paused for a second, a frown crossing her face. "Buffy? Are you sure you're all right?"
No. Buffy was far from all right. She'd broken the love of her life, and she had no idea how to fix him. No idea whatsoever. Weakly, she smiled at Dawn. "I'm fine."
She'd be just fine.
There were things to do.
Everything was very busy. Yes. Very busy, indeed. She had receipts to file, and there was new merchandise that needed to be put out. And she had that new display that she needed to set up, because school had started back up again and there was nothing quite like a bunch of angry teenagers to necessitate the need for a good hex-sale. Telephone calls to make. Business deals to negotiate. There's that ad she wanted to put in the paper heralding the sale on toad's eye, and she needed to call Susan over at the alterations shop, and--
And Spike has a soul.
Anya shuddered, brought her hands to her head. No. She was not going to think about that, because there was nothing to think about. That was a detail that she could not contemplate. Not when she had that Versace suit with the tear in the hem that needed to be fixed, and not when she needed to call Mrs. Wagner and tell her that her mummified gerbils had arrived, and Anya could not forget that--
That Spike has a soul.
The supply room was silent and empty. Just the slow pitter-patter of drizzling rain as it fell from the heavens and onto the Magic Box's new roof. Anya gripped the edge of the shelf, closed her eyes, and tried to keep her knees from buckling. Everything was too much. It was too much to grasp, too much to manage, because Spike had done something impossible and beautiful, and she....
And she was a vengeance demon.
But not really. I mean, not really. Not anymore. Oh, certainly, I carry the title and I might have turned Mrs. Faulkner's ex-husband into a dingo for a couple of days, but I'm not really a vengeance demon. Even if D'Hoffryn keeps calling me and leaving me messages about quotas and I really am still a demon, and Spike has a soul. A soul.
What does that say about me?
Slowly, Anya opened her eyes. Swallowed and tasted the bitter promise of vomit in the back of her throat. There was a mirror across from her. Dark and dirty, and she really ought to clean it off and sell it, but that was not important at the moment. What was important was the reflection she saw. A pretty woman, dressed immaculately in tailored Anne Klein, her smooth chestnut hair cut in stylish layers, and a dark pendant dangling around her neck.
It did not matter how many different colors she dyed her hair. Did not matter if she dressed herself in funny, frilly dresses or sharp business suits. Because there was something deeply, deeply wrong with her. Something that was sour and rotten. Something that had made a Very Bad Decision that had changed her life forever, and she knew that now. A soulless, evil creature had made the decision to turn himself into something good, and Anya had made the decision to murder and kill. To maim and destroy.
Anya hated to cry, but she felt so lost and bewildered and she did not know what else to do.
I can pretend all that I want that I'm normal. I can pretend that I didn't mess up. But it doesn't change the fact that I can smell the need for vengeance whenever I walk up and down these streets, or that I dream about wreaking havoc on this town, or that even though my heart cries out for Xander, a pretty good part of me still wants to eviscerate him. I'm not a good woman. I'm not a woman at all.
"Shh, An. It's all right. Don't cry."
The sound of Xander's soft voice in her ear. The feel of his warm hand on her shoulder. That knowledge that he loved her like she'd once loved murder. And all of it compounded by the knowledge that when she falls asleep tonight, she'll dream about killing him, and it will be delicious.
But for now, she buried her face in the crook of his neck, and let herself cry for everything she would never be.
Giles could still the exact moment when he first loved Buffy.
It was night. Quiet, parked in front of her house. Her eyes downcast, her hair disheveled and damp around her face. Fresh from her first battle with Angelus, and terribly distraught. But it was a gentle sort of sorrow, something she kept tightly wrapped up under her pale, wet skin. It was then that he knew she was no longer a girl. No longer a child, but a woman. A woman who'd had her heart broken for the very first time.
To this day, he could never quite stand to see her like that.
Buffy moved in a flash of metal, her leg extended perfectly as she sparred with him. Her hair whipped and flew around her face as she lashed out, sweat beaded on her face as she grunted and hissed, moving around him with a catlike sense of grace. Every motion was perfect, flawless, copied from a textbook, but imbued with a passion and fervor that was astonishing.
Carefully, Giles stepped out of her path as she spun around and thrust the sword at him. His eyes scanned her body up and down, silently noting her mistakes as she parried and danced. She was being careless. Distracted. She always fought with passion; it kept her alive. But this.... She was going to die if she kept this up. She was sloppy.
She was furious.
"Come on, Giles," she panted, turning and thrusting the sword at him. "You're holding back. Give it to me. Just do it."
Swiftly, Giles raised his own sword to block her next move. Too easy. She was giving up too easily. "Perhaps a little restraint might benefit you," he suggested.
Her only answer was another grunt and a loose kick in his direction. Calmly, Giles dropped his weapon and picked up her foot in his hand, twisting her leg hard enough to make her cry out in pain. When she dropped to the mats, Giles knelt down, picked up his weapon, and pointed it at her throat. "Halt," he said softly. "Now, do you care to tell me where you went wrong?"
She glared at him. "I wasn't paying attention."
He nodded. "Very good," he said, "though that's not all of it. Tell me what else."
"There was nothing else. Let me up, and we'll try again."
When dealing with Buffy Summers in this particular state of mind, the subtleties were key. The clench of a jaw. The twitch of a vein in her forehead. Simple things like that revealed everything. There were dark circles under her eyes that no amount of foundation could mask. "I told you already, Giles. I don't want to talk about it. Let's just get back to training."
Instead, Giles just pressed the point of the sword closer to her skin. "There is no point in training you in this condition. Tell me why you're angry."
Buffy narrowed her eyes at him, and he could feel her seething. Could feel the way that she hated. "It doesn't matter. Drop it."
"Are you angry with Spike?"
A desperate noise that might've been considered a laugh escaped her throat, and Buffy looked away. "That's the stupidest.... How can I be mad at him? After what he did...."
"It doesn't matter what he did right, or what he did wrong," he said softly. "The fact of the matter is that he's changed. You fell in love with him, Buffy, before you found out about... this. And now, he's come back different. Irrevocably changed. It doesn't matter if he changed for the better or for the worse; change is difficult to accept, and your anger would be understandable. The Spike you loved is gone, and--"
"It's still him," she whispered, and Giles cocked his head at her, frowning. She swallowed hard, trying to keep that brittle resolve of hers up, but he could see. The walls were crumbling. "That's the kicker. It's still Spike. Hurt, and in pain, and absolutely miserable, but.... But it's still him." Suddenly, she lashed out her leg and kicked the sword away from her throat. "I'm not mad at Spike, Giles. I'm mad at me."
Startled, he blinked at her. "Why, Buffy, what on earth...?"
In one swift motion, she was on her feet and glaring at him. "Remember how things were when Angel lost his soul?" she asked. "The way that he changed? Everything was different. He said those horrible things to me, and he did all of those.... He hurt me. And he hated me. When he lost his soul, he fell out of love with me. Angel and Angelus were night and day. Angelus was a monster. But Spike.... It's completely different. And if I'd realized that before, then none of this would've happened."
"Is that what you really want?" he asked. "Buffy, I know that you loved him before you found out about all of this, but doesn't this make things.... I don't know...."
"Easier?" Buffy threw her head back and barked out a laugh, so sour that it sounded like vinegar. "For who, Giles? For me? Oh, sure. All those pesky problems just go up in smoke. I don't have to worry that he'll ever try to kill me, because he can't bring himself to touch me. No more fears that he'll try to hurt me again, because, hey! He can't even bear it when I tell him that I love him. So, yeah, everything's just peachy-keen in Buffy-land, and who gives a rat's ass that Spike's lying in bed right now, crying in his fucking sleep?"
She was screaming at the top of her lungs. Giles doubted if she even noticed the tears running down her cheeks. He barely even noticed the way that his own stomach was knotting up with pain and turmoil, and, Lord help him, it wasn't just sympathy for her.
It was sympathy for the devil himself.
"Buffy," he said softly, but she wasn't listening.
"And to top it all off, he did it for me. Because he thought that I could never love him without a soul. Because that's what I led him to believe. I told him things, Giles, I told him so many awful things. I beat the shit out of him too many times to count. I called him.... I called him horrible things. I told him that he really didn't love me, and he loved me so much. He loves me so fucking much."
"Buffy, you didn't know. You couldn't have known--"
"Oh, but I knew it all along," she spat. She was a thunderstorm, a blur of motion. Running her fingers through her hair, pacing back and forth. Giles remained very still, watching her carefully. "See, that's the worst part. I knew that he loved me all along, and I hated him for it. Because Angel couldn't love me that way. When he lost his soul, Angel couldn't...."
Pained, Giles turned his head and reached out to her. "Oh, Buffy...."
She jerked her shoulder away, stepped out of touch. "No. I hated him for loving me. I denied it all along, and then when I finally realized it, finally accepted it, it was too late for him. And now, everything's just even worse, because I looked at him last night, and I knew.... I just knew that he loved me more than I ever thought imaginable. And I can't.... I can't save him...."
She was disintegrating into tears before his very eyes. Buffy, falling to pieces. Her shoulders shook with sobs as she hung her head and covered her face with her hands. Tears ran down her face, and when she could not bear the weight of her grief anymore, Giles was there.
He was there.
As all of this raged on around her, Willow simply returned to work.
She could feel them all in the rooms around her. Anya's confusion, Xander's solace. Giles's bewilderment and Buffy's bright, burning anguish. It was impossible not to feel. But there was nothing she could do about it. And God help her, but she just wanted to do something. Anything. Conjure up some kind of balm, chant a spell, do something that would make all of this a little bit easier, and it would just never end, would it?
What does it mean that Spike made a mistake and tried to fix it, while I made a mistake and tried to destroy the world?
So Willow just kept stacking books, and tried not to think about it.
The little cluster of bells suddenly jingled from the entrance, and Willow was exceedingly grateful for the distraction. Relieved, she sighed and turned her head to smile at the pudgy, middle-aged man who walked in the door. "Welcome to the Magic Box, is there anything I can help you find?"
The man smiled at her in return. "Actually, there is," he said. "I'm new in town. Practicing warlock, trying to stock up on some basic supplies. You know how it is. In any case, I'd heard from a good friend that this place would probably have what I was looking for."
Willow grinned at him, gave him that perky look that Anya always projected whenever she was helping customers. "Absolutely! We're the best darn magic shop in town. What are you looking for?"
The man just smiled at her. "Actually, I was looking for information on raising the dead."
Continued in Chapter Fourteen: Downpour