By Annie Sewell-Jennings
Sequel to The Waiting Season
SUMMARY: As old friends return to Sunnydale and life begins to move on, a new adversary comes to town and shows Buffy more about herself than she ever wanted to know. B/S
SPOILERS: Through "Grave"
DISCLAIMER: The characters within this story are the property of Mutant Enemy Productions, except for the ones that you don't recognize, because I made them up all by my lonesome. Aren't I cool? No? Shut up. You don't know me. Bitch. Music will be disclaimed as it is used, and it will be used occasionally. Like in this chapter. Really, it will.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: I have had this idea brewing in my head for what seems like an eternity, and only now is it finally coming together on paper. Or screen. Whatever. Anyway, the necromancy information is a combination of genuine research and Lovecraft's mythology, as well as some embellishments from yours truly. It may help if you read my The Waiting Season series of vignettes to help establish this story, and those are also on my site.
I'd just like to make a shout-out to my beta dawg, Devil Piglet. Big props to her mad grammar skillz. You know you a pimp.
Chapter Two: Cruel Summer
Just one a night, not enough to do any real damage. She did not even inhale, not all the time, mostly just letting it burn between her fingertips and breathing in the scent. That was all that was important. Not the nicotine rush, but the fragrance, because it was better when it was fresh. It allowed her to pretend for a moment, just a little moment, that everything was right as rain and he was still around.
Buffy only smoked Spike’s brand.
Her lips pursed and closed around the filter, and she inhaled briefly, a little drag here and there, and exhaled misty, dreamy spirals of spent tobacco into the humid August night. It was so hot in the summertime, smoldering and sweltering, and the air conditioning unit was broken in the house right now, so they had to rely upon ceiling fans and margaritas to combat the outrageous temperatures until Xander could fix the A/C.
Beads of sweat sluiced down her nose, and Buffy irritably swiped at the salty moisture, wishing for him again. He knew what to do when she got so hot that she couldn’t breathe, when the fire overtook her and all of the pain and rage burned her from the inside out. All that he had to do was hold her, surround her in his lukewarm embrace, cool skin touching fevered flesh, and...
It was not the same to hold the ice to the nape of her neck herself, not the same at all, but it was all that she had. Sighing, Buffy relaxed against the side of the house, looking down at her cigarette and smiling a little. The smoking started with the half-empty pack of cigarettes forgotten in his coat pocket, but after only six days, she had to start buying them. The others would be upset if they saw, which was why she did it in secret, deciding that some things were best left unsaid and unmentioned. They would know soon enough.
A hot, humid breeze rustled by, and Buffy groaned, shifting miserably underneath the heavy heat of summer. It was that time of year where clothing was too tight and constrictive, and she preferred to wear as little as possible. Just a tank top and denim shorts tonight, exposing too much leg as she stretched and shifted restlessly. There were noises all around her, the cicadas singing and the crickets chirping, and while it was a very pretty night, she just wanted to be cool again.
Alas, she could not control the weather, and so Buffy took another drag from the cigarette and then carefully balanced the filter on the edge of a chipped saucer, looking down at the manila folder by her side. The contents were the fruits of her recent hard labor, her photographs, developed in the makeshift darkroom she’d created in the basement with Xander’s help.
Photography was her obsession now. She'd discovered a battered Nikon in the attic after Anya ordered a round of belated spring cleaning. It had belonged to her mother, and Giles suggested that she take it and use it as her own to document her experiences and add a sense of permanence and history to her life. Neither one of them mentioned it, but for a girl who had died twice by the age of twenty-one, it was not a bad idea to preserve what little life she would ever possess.
Buffy was dependent upon the camera, always carrying it around her neck by its leather strap while on patrol and often utilizing it as a weapon when necessary. She had an itchy trigger finger, snapping off several rolls of film a day, and then studiously and carefully developing her shots in the basement. But this roll was special, because her friends finally allowed her to take their pictures. They were all in black and white because while she was dying to start shooting in color, she was infatuated with the ability to process and develop her own photographs. Buffy was enamored of the dark room, spending so much time in the red lamps that she flinched against the rays of the sun.
The photographs taken were from the Fourth of July barbecue she’d spontaneously decided to hold at the house, and the first photographs were of Dawn. She struck poses in the backyard hinting at swordplay, wielding a sparkler like a scimitar, body curved into a fencing stance while her eyes flashed mischief at her imaginary opponent. As Buffy smiled at the shot, she took careful notice that her sister’s positioning was exquisite and flawless, relaxed and poised for battle.
Over the summer, Giles oversaw the girl’s training, giving her lessons in how to throw daggers blindfolded, how to fire a crossbow, and how to kill a vampire in less than three moves. Oftentimes, he remarked on how much more studious and disciplined Dawn was compared to Buffy at the age of sixteen, and she just made faces and reminded Giles who the Slayer was around here. Still, there was a glow of pride inside of her whenever she watched her sister in training, so skilled and smooth, and as a result of her success, she had grown up.
It was not surprising; Dawn was at that age where it was typical for teenagers to go to bed as girls and wake up as women. Instead of an overnight change, her transformation had occurred in the bright, blossoming morning after the near-destruction of the world, when she gripped that sword in her hands and took charge of her destiny for the very first time. Afterwards, she seemed to glow with the aloof, cool radiance of a woman who knew her purpose, and whenever she walked down the street, boys stared at her in awe.
The next series of photographs were of Anya, and Buffy was startled by the way that the film captured the vengeance demon. She was stunning, absolutely heartbreaking, but not with that wistful youth that Dawn possessed. No, Anya was as striking as a dagger, sharply cutting into the picture with her trim, perfectly tailored linen suit and sandals. She’d dyed her hair again, trading in blonde for brunette, and the deep chestnut shade she chose was flattering and sophisticated, bobbed around her angular, proud jaw.
Ever since she’d tossed out her wedding dress and abandoned the girlish hierarchy of fairy tale dreams, Anya had matured into her own vicious, cutthroat brand of businesswoman. The master bedroom was shifted from a girly haven of incense and candlelight into a spartan affair, the closet stuffed full of Donna Karan suits and couture clothing, the origins of which Buffy did not question out of fear of knowing the answer.
Xander was featured next, looking better than he had in years, if not a little haunted and harrowed from his emotional battles over the last year. Buffy tilted her head and frowned at the way that he sat so quiet and still on the picnic bench, a beer half-drunk in his hand, a wistful, longing smile on his face as he stared out into space. The disappearance of Willow had taken its toll on him and taken it hard, a destructive force that ripped him apart and made him feel responsible for her absence.
The only spark in his life at the moment was Anya. Buffy knew that Xander was still in love with her, that she was probably the greatest love of his life, but the abandoned bride was still unattainable to him. They’d spent a good portion of the summer together while repairing the battered Magic Box, but rebuilding the ruins of their relationship proved to be much more difficult. Anya was discovering herself, coming into her own for the first time, and her independence had made her doubtful of reentering a romance with him.
She smiled as she came across the series of Giles playing the guitar, surrounded by Tiki torches and fireflies, face thoughtful and strained as he sang classic American rock songs, all on request from Buffy and Xander. She still remembered the sound of his voice, the resonance and quality of it, and the way that he could make shivers roll down her spine from the passion he placed into his music. When he sang "Hotel California", Buffy had wanted to crawl up in his lap and never let him go, if only because she understood the suffering in his voice.
Yet he stayed on, her mentor and Watcher, returning to the small apartment with its lovely veranda and desert blossoms dangling in the window. No more gallanting off to London; he was here to stay, and Buffy was glad. She did not need him as a shield anymore, not as her handler or her personal auto-pilot, but as a friend and as a father. He seemed both older and younger than she last remembered him, as though what he had experienced in his absence had scarred him somewhat, but taught him a strength and wisdom that she craved to benefit from.
After Giles, there was only one more study in photography, and that was her. The others had insisted that if she was going to take photographs of them, then she had to take one of herself. Buffy decided to be austere, setting up her camera on a tripod and then standing in front of a blank wall of the training room, letting herself be surrounded by light. In the black and white photograph, she came out in shades of ash and shadow, smiling brightly, hair twisting around her face in soft waves of burnished white.
Curiously, Buffy tilted her head and examined the photograph. She had several shots, all of them slowly coming to life around her, but this was the one that she thought she might like best. The pose worked, with her fingers covering her embarrassed giggling, head thrown back. She smiled, remembering that at the time, Xander was trying to be Dawn’s opponent and was squeaking out terror as she jabbed playfully at his midsection with a wooden practice sword.
Everything had changed so rapidly in the months following her epiphany, and the change was all Good. She needed these things, needed to put her stand-still life into motion, and that was what she was doing. Giles had bought her a bicycle and gave her the wise advice to “see and explore the world”. She zipped everywhere on her candy-apple bike, complete with cheerful silver bell, which Dawn claimed was embarrassing and only fueled her decision to ring it incessantly in front of the teen’s friends.
Yet in spite of all of this happiness, all of these Very Good Things, Buffy still knew that there were pictures missing from her collection. She badly wanted one of Tara, the soft, wonderful girl who had been her confidante and confessor, ethereal and tangible all at once, but there would never photographs to commemorate her, not taken by Buffy’s hand. The ghost of Tara still seemed to haunt the walls of the house; Buffy dreamed about her sometimes, just the way that she smiled and nothing else.
They were still waiting for Willow, patiently passing by her note magnetically pinioned to the refrigerator every morning on the way to the coffeepot and finding some strange sort of solace in her farewell message. The aftermath of her disappearance had been almost nuclear, with Xander firing warheads into the atmosphere every five minutes, railing against her irresponsibility until Buffy quieted him.
Abandonment had been an issue with her for a long time, hating those who refused to stick it out with her, hating herself for driving those who dared to love her into exile. Her deadbeat dad, her first vampire lover, her soldier boy with the heart too good for the likes of her, and her Watcher... But she understood the necessity of leaving. She’d done it herself once, after that dreaded dawn before the altar of Acathla. Sometimes, there was too much pain in familiarity to breathe, and she knew that Willow would return when she was ready.
Just like Spike would.
Her fingers itched for the cigarette, but when Buffy picked it up from the makeshift ashtray, she was disappointed to discover that it had burned down to the filter in a long cylinder of ash. Sighing, she flicked the ash away, flakes of gray drifting towards that cherry under which Spike often stood in the first days of his obsession, watching her window and chain-smoking his lonely heart away.
She wondered when the piles of cigarette butts stopped being scary and became reassuring.
Wondering, wondering. She spent half of her time nowadays lost in her own thoughts, and the photograph of herself showed it. There was a little bit of dreaminess in her sleepy-eyed gaze, like she was star-struck and thunder-shook. Good old head-in-the-clouds Buffy making another lovesick appearance. She was distant lately, but not numb and hollowed out like she had been after her resurrection. Epiphanies and revelations seemed to occur to her on a regular basis, illuminating paths that were once dark and unfathomable.
I love the way that the muscles in his back tighten under my hands right before he comes...
The way that he says my name when he's astonished, when he's loving and tender...
My God, I drove him mad...
The last thought was the one that upset her, the one that made her fingers quiver and her lip tremble. Had she driven Spike mad? Had her mind-games and careless beatings thrown him off that precarious edge between sanity and total lunacy? Buffy remembered the way that his eyes had glazed over when he forced her to the floor, all of that desperation and utter brokenness, and she worried now that she'd shattered him before she'd ever thought of loving him. Another Riley, another mistake. Another notch on the belt of Buffy's ruined men.
No amount of sudden joie de vivre could permanently assuage the sorrow and pain of regret. Buffy was not invulnerable to sudden seizures of sadness, and she found that these attacks of anguish preyed on her whenever she thought of him. Once upon a time, after she crawled out of her grave with scraped knuckles and an all-consuming emptiness churning inside of her, she had been plagued by dreams of heaven and tormented by her stale, meaningless reality. Now, she dreamed of another paradise lost. The potential for paradise, at least.
She'd fallen in love with Spike, and now Buffy feared that it was too late.
There was a sound by the window suddenly, and Buffy whipped her head around, fingers scampering to conceal the pack of cigarettes and chipped saucer still resting on the shingled roof. It was Dawn, her eyes bright and alert, face slightly shimmering with summer sweat. She quirked her mouth at Buffy, cocking her head to the side. "Can't sleep either, huh?" she said, and then she wrinkled her nose. "What's that smell?"
Shit. The cigarette. Trying to make sure that all of the color did not drain from her face, Buffy furrowed her brow and tried her best to lie, something that she was terrible at in the first place. "It smells like cigarettes," she said, figuring that whoever smelt it, dealt it. Immature, perhaps, but it was all that she was riding on at the moment.
Suspicion filled Dawn's body as she looked at her older sister, sitting out on the roof scantily-clad and sticky with sweat, holding some of her cherished photographs in her lap. Another good sniff, and then a glance underneath her sister's carefully folded legs.
"So your leg's taken up smoking?" she said coyly, and Buffy widened her eyes, glancing down at her lap. The Slayer then squealed and shoved the chipped saucer-cum-ashtray out onto the roof, swatting at sparks that flew on the mild breeze. As she stubbed out the cigarette, Dawn crossed her arms over her chest and gave Buffy an amused but smug look. She never caught her sister doing anything wrong, nothing that she could really call her on, and now she was armed with the proper ammunition to do battle.
Flustered and trapped, Buffy opened up her mouth a few times like a flounder ensnared in a lucky fisherman's net until she finally sighed and shrugged her shoulders. "Okay, you caught me," she said. "It's not a big. Just every now and then..." She lowered her voice and pouted. "Besides, I thought that was out."
Snorting, Dawn settled herself down on the roof beside her sister, nudging Buffy with her shoulder. "Buffy, don't freak," she said. "Like you said, no big. Hey, they're your lungs for you to get all black and gross. Though I am kind of wondering about the why, because yucky. Smoking is nasty."
Buffy nodded her head. "That's right," she said enthusiastically. "Smoking is very nasty, and you shouldn't follow in your big sister's icky footsteps. Bad Buffy. But..."
"You miss him."
The words fell between them with a deafening silence, hanging there with the tension that always arose between the two of them when they happened to stumble across a memory of the blond vampire. No, not even that. It was when Buffy found something of his, or when she got that faraway look in her eyes that screamed of angst, and Dawn ached over it. Spike had been her confidant, her compatriot once upon a time, spending the long nights of the summer Without watching television or teaching her how to cheat at poker.
He sits on the porch steps behind her, his hands running through her hair and twisting the fine locks into braids and knots, all the while puffing on his cigarette. She provides the jabbering conversation, nothing of real importance, just the comfort of being touched and the knowledge that someone wants to share.
It killed her when he betrayed her.
“I do,” Buffy said in a hushed voice, and Dawn flinched. “You hate him, don’t you.” It wasn’t a question, because her expressive little sister left very little to ponder. It was all in the taut, careful body language, the way that she almost assumed a defensive stance, like a coil ready to spring into battle.
A muscle near Dawn’s jaw twitched, and she shook her head. “I don’t know,” she said in a low, uncertain voice. “It makes my head hurt to think of all of it. You couldn’t have tried to be in a non-confusing relationship, could you?”
A ghost of a smile crossed her face, and Buffy shrugged her shoulders. “I was confused when it happened,” she said plainly, and Dawn cocked her head to the side, curious and startled by her sister’s honesty.
Her sisterhood with Buffy had always been a contradiction. They would die for each other, sacrifice to save the other’s life, but when it came to where Dawn got that nifty leather skirt from or who was Buffy sleeping with, everything was all hush-hush secrecy. Their recent honesty with each other was still tenuous and fragile, and there were still some secrets between the two of them that needed to be exhumed and exposed.
Furrowing her brow, Buffy shifted uneasily, wiping sweat and melted ice from the back of her neck. Her fingers were itching for another cigarette, and her mouth was dry and thirsty. “When I came back, it was really... It was really bad. Like, end of the world bad. I didn’t understand it, and everything felt so...”
“Disappointing?” Dawn asked softly, unable to keep the hurt out of her voice, and Buffy grimaced, sighing.
“No,” she said. “Not disappointing. It was just... Everything was hard. Hard to breathe, hard to see, hard to move. I felt like I was all hollowed out, like I was running on empty. And he was there for me.”
As memory kindled those comforting sparks, the wistful nights of sitting on her back porch while he chain-smoked and she talked resurfacing, a smile crossed her face and she felt an aching inside of her for that rapport that had been lost in their great, disastrous affair. “We used to do all this talking,” she said. “Just talking. About everything. But I mucked it all up.”
“You had the sex,” Dawn said wisely, and Buffy nodded her head. “The sex complicates everything.” At Buffy’s wary look, Dawn laughed a little. “Real World marathon.”
All was explained. Relieved, Buffy sighed and played with her fingernails before furrowing her brow and glancing uncomfortably at her younger sister. “Is this awkward?” she asked. “I mean, you, me, the sex with Spike talk...”
But Dawn casually shrugged her shoulders. “I’m sixteen,” she said. “I know about the birds and the bees, and how babies don’t come from the cabbage patch. Plus, living with Anya.”
Buffy nodded her head. “Right. So, the sex. And then the badness. But not him. He was... Well, he was Spike, but God, the things I put him through. I was so miserable, Dawnie, and I treated him like he was...”
“Like he was a thing,” she said. She knew exactly how her sister had always treated Spike, like he was some sort of disgusting, repulsive object without any feelings of his own. She once defended him, preached about his feelings and the depth of his heart, until she saw the pain on her sister’s face. “But what he did to you... Weren’t you right...”
“No,” Buffy said swiftly, sternly. “I wasn’t.” Wincing, she ran her hands over her face, feeling too hot and too humiliated by what she had done to him. The bruises on his face from her ramming her fists into him, the way that he tried to be tender and she only tortured him further, how she demanded that he declare his love for her only to defile it with her taunts. I drove him mad. “He loves me. I didn’t want to believe it, but it doesn’t change what he feels. And... It doesn’t change what I feel, either.”
Startled, Dawn whipped her head around to Buffy, and all of the puzzle pieces started to fall into perfect, obvious order. Buffy standing on the back porch, scanning the darkness for someone who was not there. The leather coat still remaining in their closet. The way that she sometimes looked off into the distance and smiled without knowing it, and then blushed feverishly like a schoolgirl. “You’re in love with him,” Dawn said quietly, and Buffy covered her pink cheeks with her hands, cupping her palm over her mouth to hide a smile. “Oh, my God. You’re so in love with him. Even after...”
“I know,” Buffy whispered, her eyes bright and glittering as she looked off into the late night sky. The moon was full and hanging low in the sky, so heavy with light that it brought the stars closer to the earth, and she thought that she might understand how celestial gravity felt. There was something inside of her own heart that made the heavens seem more tangible, like paradise could be brought down to man. She’d had glimpses of her garden of Eden in Spike’s bed, but she’d eaten the forbidden fruit and forced him to take a bite in the process.
Confused and troubled, Dawn furrowed her brow and tried to follow her sister’s eyes, tried to see what Buffy saw in the sky that made her have that breathless look on her mouth. All that she saw was darkness stretching ahead of her, and she wondered if that was what love was like. Unpredictable and dark, impenetrably dark. Was love something that a person could become lost in? Was it something that swallowed someone whole, consumed them and ripped them apart, until they were nothing but scraps of silver hung in the heavens?
“Is all love like that?” Dawn asked softly, and Buffy blinked her eyes, startled and then pained by what her sister asked.
Urgently, Buffy put her hands on her sister’s slender, freckled shoulders, forcing her to look her in the eyes and not into the night. “No,” she said firmly. “What Spike and I had... It wasn’t love. Not then. I wouldn’t let myself love him, and he couldn’t stop himself from loving me. It was wrong of me to use him the way I did, and it was wrong of him to do what he... To hurt me. We fucked up, plain and simple.”
Sighing, Buffy released her sister and then slumped against the window, wearily pulling out the pack of Marlboro Reds and bringing the filter to her lips. Astonished, Dawn watched as the Slayer pulled out a sterling silver Zippo lighter and lit the end, exhaling a mist of whorls and shadows.
Weary, tired eyes turned in Dawn’s direction, and a sad, regretful smile tugged at Buffy’s mouth. “Do you know why I do this?” she asked, and Dawn frowned. “It’s because I miss his mouth. Just... The way that he kissed me, when we weren’t being angry or mean. He’d kiss me and try to make me live, and all that I wanted was to die.”
“You didn’t destroy him,” Dawn said then, and Buffy sighed, because her sister understood. She threw the barely-smoked cigarette out into the yard, and then they embraced, not caring about the sticky heat or the smelly sweat, because sisterhood transcended summer heat waves and broken air conditioning units. It was comfort and familiarity, and simple knowledge.
When Buffy released Dawn from her arms, the two sisters sighed in tandem, leaning against the wall and staring up at the pregnant moon. “I miss Willow,” Dawn said then, and Buffy was both surprised and relieved. The younger girl hadn’t spoken of the absentee witch during the entire summer, too hurt by her threats and her disappearance. Tears were in Dawn’s voice as she spoke. “What she did... It doesn’t matter. I love her, and I want her to come home.”
Nodding her head, Buffy draped an arm around her sister’s shoulder and nodded. “So do I,” she said softly.
Dawn sniffled against her sister's neck, and when she spoke, her voice was small and nasal, like she was crying. "Buffy?"
Gently, Buffy soothed her, rubbing her back with small circles. "Yes, Dawnie?"
"Do you really miss Spike?"
Like nothing else in the world. Like I miss Mom, only worse, because there's no excuse for him to be gone.
"Yeah, I do."
Another sniffle, and then a sigh. "Well, don't, because he's standing on our sidewalk."
(end part two)
Continued in Chapter Three: Crossing the Threshold