By Gwyneth Rhys
Falling down, down.
Clouds split open, spit me out like rain. Somewhere else, but where is it... where is it? Earth below down below, way down. Down in the valley, valley so low. White clouds all around me like the white of an eye, a frightened eye rolling back in the head.
The vapor is cool against my skin, but where I came from was so warm. It is light above and dark beneath. No substance, body converges with air and I fall down. Ashes, ashes,
Velocity breaks bones, sears skin. Something pulls me down, faster than the speed of the light that follows, pulls me twists and turns to make taffy-me. Where am I going? Why am I going? Don't make me go, I begged , but the hand that held me there above and warm pulled away from mine the harder I grasped for its fingers. Slipped away, all my hope in its palm.
Where is this one taking me? Not going willingly; no siree. It takes. Calgon take me away, no, don't take me away, don't take me. I was happy there.
I was happy.
I was happy.
Words like the bone-crack sound carom around this empty skull. I hear them echo inside, nothing there to ground them. Curvilinear. Shampoo. Thrush. Recede. Dawn. Something remembered, carried like a past, like it means something.
The endless lowing of an animal, a scared animal with the frightened white of the eye. No, wait, that's just me.
The clouds roll by. I fall. Then.
Hit the ground not running but crushing bones like jelly, like a jellyfish. Collapse. Smash. Squish. No longer vapor surrounding me but something metallic and dirt. Blood and earth. There is a question on the tip of my tongue, a question for him but he is not here to answer me this riddle: why I am here? I was happy there. You let go.
Useless lump of carbon, salt, water. Saltwater tears sting. They put out the fire though, quenching it.
The earth below. Rises up to meet me, greets me like an old enemy. So much of my life sifting through the dirt, hunting what came out of it. I belong to the dirt, dust to dust. Hurts as I hit. Takes me somewhere dark. Oh please oh please oh please. God don't leave me here. He answers with a roll of thunder.
Spike watched the brilliant flash of white-hot light hit the western sky. Not lightning weather, not tonight, but it was big enough to blanche the other half of the world. His world, his cemetery. No, not lightning, but the Santa Anas blowing so strong tonight he couldn't light a simple fag no matter how many times he tried; every time he'd slicked his hair back the wind like a herd of horses ran him over, lifting his hair into a big soft pile of coils.
Patrol was over, the Scoobs had disappeared themselves early, else they'd have followed the white light because they couldn't stand a mystery. Well, neither could Spike. He strolled over to the western corner of the graveyard thinking meteorites, fragments of the heavens, invaders from outside their world.
Instead he found her. Marred with gashes, marred by fire. Blood trickled out of an ear, the crimson rivulet carving a path along her neck. The lower lip cleaved, orbit of the eye swollen to purple pulp. One ankle twisted in the wrong direction as if pointing out where she'd come from, the left hand flopped back across the forearm. A shoulder pushed so far out of place it was not dislocated but mislocated. Her hair, electrified, sprang out in all directions, chopped as if by machete.
Something rose up inside Spike, vomit blood a rage of agony a howl like the animal he is. He dropped to his knees above her, not recognizing the keening sounds around him until he understood they came from him. When he stopped he finally listened and breathed the scent.
Buffy was alive. He could hear the blood faintly whooshing through her veins, a tiny tap inside the drum of her ribcage. She smelled of blood and earth, the sweetsick aroma of charred living flesh.
Her body. The body they'd lost to another dimension, consumed by fire and permanent night. Nothing to even bury though that hadn't stopped them from making a grave like it marked her life, the worth she'd brought to them. Nothing to see here people move along. Spike had never thought to touch her again, nor trace the angle of her cheek, the blade of her chin. But there it was, under the carmine and ochre mash.
He picked her up, her body like piles of wet tissue sagging in his hands sodden with life draining out unstoppably. The tears he hadn't known he shed dripped onto the blood on her face, forming a blossom pattern. Where has this useless vessel been? It's been ripped to shreds, returned to them in pieces put together by a two-year-old, and what was inside it now? With a pallbearer's slow steps, Spike carried the coffin of her body, took her back underground to the dirt she should have been buried under before. The earth that would have been her salvation.
He set her gently on the bed, wishing he could have taken the sheets off, found something cleaner. Casting his pearl into the swine-trough of his life, but what else was there to do? Even with his animal's night senses he had to switch on a light, give her the proper once-over to see just how much damage was done. Under the carnage there must be a girl somewhere.
What to do? What do I do? Nothing but pace the room, spending energy and fear. His brain roiled and sputtered with a cauldron-full of ideas.
He spun, then dropped to his knees beside the bed, howl of ancient fury ripped from his throat as he turned his head heavenward and hands balled into helpless fists. Even howling didn't rouse her; she lay still in her bath of blood and cinders. Spike rested his forehead on the mangled claw of hand, licked the blood from her fingers and arm like sacrament, a host inside his body to sanctify. She tasted of death.
He rose, folded sheets, shroud of life, over her body. Then paced the room again. Should he give her water, try to wake her? Splint the bones and straighten the breaks, mend the wounds? Giles would know what to do. Giles was gone; the fucker had just left yesterday. Clattery thoughts bounced in his head, the din made it hard to think. The children were the ones he should ask, but the children weren't trustworthy. In the back of his mind, under the layers of possibilities, was the germ of thought that this was their handiwork, anyway. They'd tried to find her body, her soul, and brought it back. Brought back something in the shape of a Buffy.
These were things Spike did not know: How to set bones (he breaks them), how to close a wound (he makes them), how to keep a human heart beating (he takes them). The char of lightning she was reborn on has left her rubicund, but the irregular beat of her pulse told him that was a lie. She was newly alive, dying again.
When he touched his face he realized he was crying. It made him laugh, then punch the wall, then laugh again inside a shrill bubble of hysteria. If he left, she could die. If he stayed, he had nothing to fix her with, and she could die. Spike was used to the loss, though. Whatever this remnant of Buffy was in the shell buried here in his oubliette, it wasn't enough yet to fill the hole of her going. He ran up the ladder, and to the hospital.
Water, bandages, splints, tape, ointment, pills. Nothing but tiny offerings to whatever god holds Buffy's life in his hand. Or her hand -- he remembered Glory, her wild shock of hair, eyes wilder still. Could this be her idea of revenge from some great god beyond? Where did gods go when they died?
Spike spread everything he'd stolen on the foot of the bed. First with a flannel he cleaned her body, holding each limb tenderly, light swipes at the fragile skin. The nakedness made no impression. Washed her face, cloth tinged madder by blood. Twisted the ankle into alignment and hoped it took, slipped the wrist on straight, shoved the shoulder back where it belonged, bound it all up with plastic and metal and fabric. Taped the lip into one piece. Snap of bones and pop of tendons, sounds once so glorious and desired, now left him sickened and dizzy. Spike performed these ablutions slowly and with care, without thought, because to think was to wonder, to try to understand. He stopped only to wipe tears away, to breathe out the nausea that threatened. Dressed her in a t-shirt for the wisp of dignity it offered. When he had finished, it was the end of the day.
He threaded water laced with electrolytes through her lips and down her throat, the muscles moving of their own accord to take it in. Then lay next to her, watching not with predator's eyes, but those of a lover. She breathed, barely, and he combed her ragged straw hair with blood-caked fingers.
Wondered: could she dream? Was she whole within, if she wasn't without? Where and who and how had she gone, come back? Would she remember, if her mind ever came back to them? If given a choice, would she want to come back...
The witches must be a part of it, but that belief meant all of them witlessly playing with forces they didn't understand. Spike's mind couldn't follow. Were they that beyond control?
Demons don't drop from the sky, only the refugees of heaven. The earth spits up evil from below it claws its way through mud and turf, and she'd come back here on that open sky express elevator down all the way. Back from heaven to hell? He knew what awaited slayers, chosen ones, when they died. Not the downbelow.
The children would be expecting him tonight unless.
Unless. In that case they would be out looking.
Let them look. Tonight he was the guardian of the angel.
There is: Cold. Pain. Fear. Mind is willing but body isn't, eyes don't open with the will, mouth doesn't part with the effort. Something shuffles and shifts around me but I can't see it. Am I in heaven or has someone dragged me down to hell? Was there a mistake and the memo didn't reach them in time, so the world took me back?
The clouds thin and I float for a while on the pain and the fear -- oh, my old friends, so good to have you back. Something forces liquid cool and wet and choking down my throat let it go, let it go down. People in hell want ice water; this might be my last chance to drink. Shuffle shift rustle, snap crackle pop. The bone crack sound again.
How long have I slept, if I'm really sleeping? Will they come and wake me up, tell me where I am, why I am? Do I want them to? Something else controls me now, limbs lifted like a marionette, flip this way, flop the other. Hands and feet baffled by filaments of spider silk. Nothing moves there. So, shift the shoulder, lift the hip, turn the head sideways, see if it goes anywhere. Nope. Nothing nada zilch. So disappointing.
Maybe this is like the Alien movies and I'm cocooned in sticky fibers; I'll wake up and something will burst from my chest. Or, maybe just my heart. I hear it beat beat beat in my head but it's not a pleasant rhythm, it's messed up in 3/7 time or maybe it's just a samba.
One ear doesn't work, it rings and rings. Hello? But there's no one on the other line. I'm sorry, God has left for the day, may I take a message?
But there is something. Someone. I can feel it, next to me, quiet as the clouds, hovering nearby. My guardian spirit. Did it come with me on the long ride down? Would hell let an angel inside, though? Maybe yes. Lucifer was an angel. Or maybe no, because they probably closed the membership or he'd never have been big cheese. Head cheese. The cheese wears me.
Thoughts come and go so quickly here.
That's it: If I tap my heels together three times, I can go home. Home to there -- where? Happyville. Thoughts come and go but time doesn't. I can feel the drift, the float. Pain and Fear hold my hands and we lie back buoyant in the ether.
Finally, the eye opens, just one, but that's okay, it's something. Everything's red and dark. A figure dark and light. So: the shuffler and the shifter. Maybe not a guardian after all. I whisper to Fear: Should I be afraid? Shhhh, says Fear, no, no, we're all in this together. Pain laughs and says, you're gonna be fine, kid. The figure moves, gone from the tiny slice of space my eye can see, space for rent.
Or, space time continuum. I like the sound of that, but I don't know what it means.
Or, level three diagnostic. Maybe it's running a level three diagnostic on the space time continuum. I hear that solved everything on the Enterprise.
Or, I'm alone, and I'm in hell. Fear says, go to sleep. Let me worry about it now.
Shadowed by corners, Spike watched her walk around a parked car on the street, then stepped out from behind the RV. Sun had set minutes ago and why was she out here on her own, where anyone could grab her? Fingers clamped around the twig she called an arm, then he yanked hard, pulling her halfway down the street behind a tool shed.
Reptile hisses follow all the way. "Spike! Sssspiiike!" and Dawn nearly got one of those twiglets pulled out of its socket by hauling back, digging in her heels. "What the freaking hell are you doing?"
"Language." He hadn't let go her arm; afraid she'd bolt, colt-legs flying in fear.
"Screw you." Then, slathered with sniffles, "Where were you last night? You were supposed to come over and stay. The guys needed to go out and you were supposed to stay. With me."
"Needed to go out why?"
"Because! Because patrols and vampires and demons, why. God! Your lameness is breathtaking."
"Then why wouldn't I go along?"
She froze, ripe mouth open, eyes squinched. "I... I don't know."
Too bloody right you don't, my lolly. "Where were they night before last? After patrol? Were they round your house?"
"Um... I think so. No. They left me with the Buffybot and then didn't they go say goodbye to Giles or something?"
"What you doin' out here on your own at night?"
"I was at Janice's. I was at her place last night too. Because you ditched us."
"It's not safe out here. Don't want you running about by yourself."
Oh, there's the huffy face. "Glory's gone, Spike. I'm perfectly fine."
"The vamps and the demons and the things go bump in the night aren't gone, though, yeah?"
"Oh, geez. I can take care of myself."
He glanced at his hand on her arm, glared at her as if to remind her how easy it had been for the snatch and grab, and said, "Course you can."
He wanted to tell her of their blessing, but it wasn't the right time. Work to do, and all of that. And he was afraid of what he could give her, only the husk of her sister now, and what if the insides were rotten? Spike knew why the gang were gone both nights, but it would have to stay inside the bottle. "Can't tell you what it's about now, but I've something important for you... maybe later. I need your help right now, though."
This love does nothing but choke, he without breath and still gasping as it pressed down on him. Spike wanted to kiss the crown of her head, hold her tight against him and vicariously know her heartbeat. She only stared back, suspicious.
"What if I won't help you until you tell me what's so big and important?"
"What if I thump the crap out of you?"
"You can't." She mimed him getting a headache and doubling over in spasms of pain.
"Let's test that theory, shall we?"
"All right, already!" Hand up in surrender, frown like a dark cloud. "God, you're so crappy when you're... crappy. Stupid cranky vampires."
"Give me Giles's number."
"Why do you think I have it?"
"Just give it."
The theatrical teenage sigh. Detritus of her life spilled out of the book bag as she searched for a treacly sweet address book, all pink and sky blue and kittens with bows. She wrote on a slip of lavender paper and thrust it at him, lips awash in pout. As he took it, he kissed her silky cheek.
"You smell weird. Like -- like smoke, only not cigarettes."
How could he explain the fallen, burnt and broken angel he'd found? His Niblet was still so new to this world, still so young. She would panic at seeing that form of her flesh and blood hanging tenuously to its life.
"Dawn." She pulled back her head, eyes narrowed. He only called her by name when it was serious, and now his ears filled with the pom pom pom sound of her fear. "Listen to me. This is very important. Don't tell them you spoke with me, or what I asked for. Don't tell them you've seen me if they ask. As soon as I know what's what, I'll get you. Do you understand me?"
"No, Niblet. Something very bad or very good's happened, don't know yet, and if it's bad, it could be a problem. Let me sort it out, yeah?"
Swallowing hard, her throat moved up, down, up, down. "I know you're going to get all pissed off, but I like it better when you're around. The Buffybot, she's kind of..." She could move so fast, never expected. Her arms around him like hope, and then she said, "I love you, you stupid vampire." Ran off, colt-legs flying.
Well. He stayed rooted, tremulous and disoriented. Wondered where along the line a slayer and a slayer's mum and sis had crept inside his veins to destroy him with the need, and if he'd have seen it coming, could he have done anything? If he could fix Buffy, bring her back just for the Niblet, then it would be okay. So much riding on shoulders that were never strong enough to begin with.
Sometime after patrolling and a few rounds at Willy's, Spike found a pay phone and stuffed the card he'd bought into the slot, dialed the country code and number. Greater London, the olde British ring and ring until someone picked up, a posh bint with a disaffected "May I help you?" tagged on at the end. So this was the Council number, not a personal phone, and at first he tried the friendly approach, cleaned up the accent a bit, but she would not help him and the familiar fraying of temper began. He unraveled eventually, after the fifth "can't help you."
"Listen, you toff-nosed bitch," he barked, pounding the receiver against the box a few times. "I don't give a toss what you can or can't do--" he stopped when he heard a hand over the mouthpiece and muffled discussion on the other end. Suddenly an even more toff-nosed bitch came on with a cold, "I understand you're looking for Mr. Giles and that there's a bit of a problem?"
The voice sounded familiar. "Damn right there's a problem."
"May I ask who is trying to reach him?"
"Someone from Sunnydale. Someone he needs to bloody talk to right now!"
"Is this... this wouldn't Spike, by any chance?" And the penny dropped right into the slot: the watcher he'd flirted with so shamelessly before. If she'd been alone that day, he'd have had her right there on the tomb.
"Yes, and who's this?" he asked, voice pitched as low as he could get it.
"You may remember me from earlier this year... I'm with the Council, I interviewed you regarding Ms. Summers? Lydia."
"Oh, of course. Lydia. How could I forget someone so lovely, and on the other end of a few crossbows, yet?"
Her smile came through the line. "It was a most illuminating trip for me." A pause, more muffled voices. "Emily wasn't really trying to be difficult, it's just that we can't give out information about past or present watchers, as you can imagine."
"Oh, absolutely, Lydia. And please do apologize for me, it's just... there've been some very stressful events since Giles left and I really must speak with him. If he isn't there, might you at least pass on the message that I'll call, or... give me his number when I do call again?" She'd do anything he asked, and he knew it. Every syllable, every breath, would be recorded in her journal to write up later; he knew her type.
"Certainly," she answered smoothly, that voice like trifle, so sweet and creamy. "Tell me when you'll ring next, and I'll be certain to have what you need." Oh, you will, you will.
"How about Friday, say half past ten? That ought to suit us both, time-wise." He rang off, a silky goodbye for her and a reminder again of how apologetic he was for losing his temper. If she ever came back to Sunnydale he'd shag the bitch silly.
But what if? the little devil voice asked him from his left. What if Giles didn't know what to do or didn't want to help? What if he'd been in on the whole thing? Spike didn't believe the Bit had been in on it; she certainly seemed clueless. Mistrust was a rock in his belly. Made it hard to think, to reason. Stop making sense.
By the time he got back to the crypt light filtered up behind the trees, spindly shadow fingers clutching for him in the breeze. She was there, still breathing but unmoving in the swaddle of blankets. Didn't really even know how to check a pulse, but he pretended to do it anyway. After unwrapping her he took the salves and daubed them on the open wounds, closing now, but slowly. Felt along each bone: a veterinarian with a prized racehorse, checking for breaks and mismatched shifts in the line. More water and a little bit of the high-energy meal mashed up on his fingertip, slipped gently inside her mouth. The reflex stimulated, she sucked a little off his finger, but Spike didn't think it was enough to help.
For a little while he slept, then more of the same, ointments and movement to keep the muscles full of blood, the meal and the water, and then rest. Off and on he spoke to Buffy, told her about Dawn, about tending to her mother's grave and the flowers he'd kept there over the summer, about her own headstone. How many baddies they'd slain, Giles and Anya's fights, the summer school lessons he'd tutored for her sister. Of course she couldn't hear him, but he wanted to believe she could feel him there. Hoped that whatever came back to him was something like Buffy, with reason, emotion, humanity intact.
Though he didn't tell her how cold his heart was; how chilled with fear and dread each waking moment was now. Be careful what you wish for, they always say, and he knew why. This is what you get with one wish; what could happen with two more?
Yes. No. Maybe. Please check all that apply.
I will check all of the above. Dead or alive? Could be anything.
The shuffler is here again, moving around and about. I can see more of it now, a he, and I think he has white hair though that could be a trick of the light or the fact that I'm blind in one eye. Whitehair talks to me, and I try to talk back but he doesn't hear me. I moved my mouth a few times, jaw like a creaking hinge but then there's nothing, not even the animal lowing from my trip down. I know who I am because Whitehair tells me I am Buffy hear me roar.
He says my name as if in prayer. I can't quite figure who he is though, and why he's picking me up, puppet-stringing me this way and that. At first I didn't know who he meant by Buffy but now I remember: I'm Buffy the vampire slayer and you are? My whole life was dust and dirt and wood and sharp, icy metal, but now I'm back under the ground and it feels so familiar. I know what I am and my name, but I don't feel like her. Who, her? That's the question.
Alas poor Buffy I knew her well.
Whitehair has a voice made of honey though and he pours it in my ear, it stops ringing when he speaks. He washes my raw flesh, feeds me with a fingertip. Sometimes he puts things on my skin, his hands touch me there and there and here, and it's a potion, so sweet and soft and soothes the ache, his touch. Hands like potions. So, I think, he must be important. He must be my guardian.
But then, I think, no. Fallen, too, like me.
The honey has names embedded in it, Giles and Dawn and Xander. I know them. For a while I thought that Dawn was me, but then I knew it was me who was Buffy. But Dawn is the name that makes my heart beat loudest, only I don't know why.
When he moves my limbs, I spasm and jerk sometimes. Twitch, twitch, which witch... I know a witch named Willow. It was her voice, wasn't it, that said come back? I heard someone say "Osiris, let her cross, the warrior of the people." Hey! That's me! And Osiris said "bye-bye!" And then there was this new voice, it's English and soft and I can fall into it, safe and sound, pillow fort.
Fear was right. Whitehair isn't really someone to be afraid of, though at first I thought he was. But I think Pain was wrong about how I am going to be fine. Sometimes, when he talks, Whitehair's voice cracks, little pits and chips in the amber tone. This leads to my suspicions. You know what I mean, don't you? It's always when they're keeping something bad from you that they sound the most emotional. And I can tell this isn't something Whitehair's used to, he doesn't recover quickly, gets all herky-jerky in the speech and then falters, drifts off, and loses his train of thought.
Sort of like me. Right? Where was I?
Kidding. I'm getting more focused. I can tell now I have broken bones, and where they are. I know that my lip is split wide open and my ear is almost gone. There are burns and gashes, birthmarks of my return. And I know I'm underground but this isn't hell. Somewhere in between, though, living limbo.
And I think... I know... he loves me. Whitehair does, I mean, not him from the above. This one would never wave bye-bye and let me fall.
When I wake again later I feel different. More me, though I'm not sure what that means. He's combing my hair, and my head lolls on his arm. Blue eyes, has Whitehair.
"Well, hello, Luv," he says and suddenly I realize my eyes are open. Both of them this time, even though one of them is like looking through a backwards kaleidoscope. I can't get the mouth to work and maybe this will turn out to be like those uplifting movies about people who are paralyzed and he'll make up a code and I'll blink once for yes and twice for no. But all he does is smile, even though I can't get the words out. "Look who's decided to pay us a visit."
He's so happy and his voice so soft like the balms he puts on my wounds.
Tears glimmer shimmer in his eyes, and then I know that he's called Spike and he loves me. Spikewhotriedtokillme, Spikewhotriedtoloveme.
"How we doin'," he asks but it's a ridiculous question because of course anyone can tell I'm not exactly at the peak of my game. Wish I could laugh, but that's not gonna happen. He finishes my hair and sets me back gently on pillows marshmallow soft and they smell like hair gel and leather for some reason. "Probably in a lot of pain right now, so don't you worry, you can rest all you need to. Gonna take real good care of you, right? And soon we'll have Giles and he'll know what to do. You remember Giles, don't you?" I try to nod but my head hangs loosely.
"Now you're awake, how 'bout we get something more nourishing into you?" He gets up and rustles and shuffles some more outside my vision (ha! as if!) and then comes back to me, shaking a can. "Chocolate, even." Picks me up again and pours something into my mouth and I swallow it and somehow even though it's bad it's good. It feels real, he feels real. I'm real again. "Stuff is supposed to have lots of vitamins and things." He says vitamins the English way. Because he's from England and so is Giles and Giles was my watcher my friend. They will fix me.
My face must be scrunchy because he smiles and sets the can down. "Yeah, bit chalky, that, but good for you. We're gonna get you better, Luv." But his hands shake as he says it; always the great betrayer, our bodies. He can tell lies but his body can't and he holds my swaddled hand so tenderly I want to cry with him. But no, enough tears for now for both of us. He kisses my cheek soft like the clouds I came through on my way here. Cool, too, like clouds, and then I remember.
He's a vampire.
One of many.
It's like this: You stole her out of heaven, you arrogant bitch. You tore her limb from limb, flayed her alive, burnt her on a pyre of pages torn from the books of darkest magicks. Thought you had the power and the light, and instead you covered her in darkness and blood, drowned her in the pain and the fear. Burned her love in effigy.
You don't deserve her. None of you do. Think that her life and her sacrifice is a bendy toy for you to play with as you please. The words you used to drag her back here for your bidding are ashes in your mouth. I hope you choke on them.
Spike watched them from outside, hovering at the shadows of amber and gold light that filtered out of the Summers house. The Bot wasn't there, the witches were, Harris and his bint, but no sign of Dawn. So, probably meeting to discuss their lack of success in the resurrection business. Half-formed snatches of conversation filtered out and clearly Harris had doubts about Red, thought she was pushing too big of an envelope. And what a sweet surprise to hear Tara say she worried that maybe it was too much magic, too much risk. Dissension in the ranks makes the ringer's job easier. After a long while they broke apart; he watched as Willow left, her head swiveling this way and that, checking to see if anyone noticed her. I notice, you bitch. He trailed her, and as she veered from the street that would normally take her to University, he knew where she was going. Sprinting to the crypt before her, he waited silently with predator's patience and cunning. Thought she was sneaking around to the door, but oh no, he caught her, grabbed her wrist hard and pulled. The petite scream made him laugh, then her gasp and the delectable taste of fear covered his tongue, filled his nostrils. She'd not been afraid of him for a very long time; most fond of Willow when she was scared, Spike was.
"Let go of me!" she finally spat out, but he held tighter.
"You're the big witch -- make me."
"Where've you been the past few days? We needed you for patrol." She shook her arm hard, but no luck. "And Dawn..."
"Bit's fine, I've checked." He leaned in, his lips a hair's breadth from her cheek, and said, "I know what you've been playing at, you wicked girls. You amateurs. All of you. Think I don't see, but I see just... fine."
He knew her, these insecurities and fears like toy snakes, packed so tightly into the container of her cool. The littlest danger and they would explode in a riot, leaving her a gibbering ball of anxiety. Willow's life had been his own so very long ago, young and tender and uncertain. And that's why he now knew the power lust she had, recognized the face of the demon inside her she hadn't even seen in the mirror yet.
"Do you... do you know what happened to Buffy?" She stepped away, and he let go the wrist, so small he could snap it and leave himself with barely a twitch in the brain.
"I know more than you." They faced each other down, provocation and anger glinting like stardust in her eyes. She stalked around him in a circle.
"I could turn you to dust right now. I know spells to get rid of you, no staking required." Such a coldness in her voice he'd never heard before. He almost liked it.
"Do it, then. Try explaining to Girlfriend why I'm gone once she rumbles the power happy you've got. She'll see through you like you're made of glass. So much suspicion already. Everyone wondering if going along with you was the wrong ticket to ride."
There -- enough to make her hesitate, stumble, the pretty grey of doubt clouding her face. The only thing that would keep her in check now was the lover, he knew, even if she did not.
"Spike, if you're... if you're playing at something... if you're yanking my chain, I can guarantee you'll regret it." She stood with hip out, hands clenched to fists, head down and staring up at him with such anger.
"I keep my own counsel. But stop -- I mean stop -- creeping round my life like you own me. I'm not at your beck and call, any of you. I helped because I wanted to, and right now... I don't want to."
Part of him hoped to dare her, to have a go and see what would happen if she tried. Marquis of Queensbury rules, bare knuckles and no spells to cheat with so he ended up a pile of ash. Would love to see what she could throw at him, but that should wait. And anyway, Giles would put a far greater smackdown on her than Spike could ever hope to, because the watcher had emotional weight. Such anticipation to see it, though, and he could feel the twitch of rage, hands wanting to rip and tear.
Willow was haughty as she walked away, but he knew that mask she wore, this small girl trying to make herself big. Spike waited a while before he went in, then stayed above for some time, sniffing the air, keeping lookout lest she try to trick him. When satisfied, he went below, and found his angel sitting up, shed of the blanket robes. And found of a voice.
"Hey," she said, sand grinding through rusted gears. But it was a word, and it meant intact faculties, and his phantom heart leapt in his corpse.
"Buffy..." Speechless with a kind of grief he never knew he could possess, his remaining words hung lifeless in the air. Presently sat down on the edge of the bed, careful not to be too close; no spooking the nervous animals. Finally he looked at her. "Do you know who you are? Where you are?"
She nodded, head so delicate and battered on top of that spring of a neck.
"And who I am?"
Again a nod, and then she placed her hand, the unbroken one, on his arm.
"Having trouble talking, I imagine. Wasn't sure if your jaw was broken, considering all the rest of the head trauma. Didn't know what to do. Giles is coming, but... still another day at least, and your wounds..." So very very hard to speak with all the turmoil inside him; he couldn't remember the words and didn't know how to stop himself crying.
"I -- know." Her one good eye burned at him with such light; the other, underneath the red and swollen skin, said nothing. He touched his finger lightly to the swelling.
"Need to fix that one most of all. Are you...blind?"
"No," she managed in such a tiny voice he could barely hear it. He wanted to kiss her, hold her, just as comfort. But he could take no such liberties with his slayer, not even as her Galahad.
Spike stood, staring down at her, so fragile and ruined. "Do you know what happened to you? Do you remember anything?"
The nod was slow and deliberate, as if admitting it meant they shared the terrible secret. Her resurrection was a burden now, not joy.
"I think... I know it was them who pulled you back. Been taking care of Dawn when I wasn't picking up your duties. Then one night they disappeared early, and I saw this light, then you. I was afraid of what they might do, and seeing you so bad... didn't want the Niblet to panic. Haven't said anything, though, I wanted... wanted it to be your choice, what to do. When to do it."
Her face was so soft and caring, a look he'd never seen from her before; not, at least, directed his way.
Hands in pockets, he scuffed a toe in the dirt and stared down at the ground. More lost now than he'd ever felt, even the day her lifeless form had been stolen away, and known how desperately he'd failed her. "You were in heaven, weren't you? The light... the fall. You must have come from above, is how I figure it. Guiding light and falling and all."
"Angel said." She struggled, pain and confusion fleeting over her sharp features. Wiped her good hand lightly across her mouth, as if to make it stop failing her. "Light for him too. From there. He fell."
He wanted to laugh, but that wouldn't do. "Well, the powers did always like him, so even hell would come out like heaven, wouldn't it?" A smile for her and then he said, "Still. You've been elsewhere. That's what I can't figure, no matter how hard I try: why would your mates be stupid enough to think a chosen one would go to a hell dimension?" Glory was gone, of course God would take care of her. Only their arrogance and greed had brought her back, nothing more nor less.
Now she looked so weary; the wrong tack to push so early. She held out her hand and he took it, and then wrapped his arms around her when she sagged against him. Such a treasured dream, and now he would give anything to not have her here, not like this. They sank back on the bed and he stroked her fright-wig hair. Against his chest, her word slipped out so low and halting, "Afraid."
"Yes. Maybe they were."
Buffy fell asleep like that, and he considered whether to tend her wound while she was out. Must have taken so much for her to wake and to sit up and talk. Nothing in imagination could possibly compare to the loss of perfect eternity. What could she be thinking? If she were able to articulate it, Buffy must be consumed with fear and uncertainty. Would she think she was unworthy of heaven, and that's why it had been so easy to take her out? Her thought processes were a mystery, and what the result of all this pain would be, he couldn't imagine. But he would stand for her, regardless.
Giles stood staring down at the bed, took off his glasses and then put them back on, over and over. After a time Spike grew exasperated; his loud sigh shook Giles out of it. He reached out and touched her foot through the blanket, as if somehow the spell that had brought her here would be broken and he'd be alone once more, a slayerless watcher. The gesture brought a feeling Spike had long since lost in the fog of history -- compassion, its unfamiliarity cold and aching in the pit of his chest.
"She... I don't know what to say." His face as he turned to Spike asked a thousand questions: if it was a miracle, or something diabolical, and how had it happened at all. "And she's spoken?"
"Not a lot. But she'll wake soon, I imagine. Be happy to see you."
Giles was losing his struggle to hold back tears. Spike wanted to reach out a hand in support, but knew that was a line not crossable, not even now. Knight in tarnished armor still didn't get you to the Round Table.
He'd told Rupert a few things about it, but now filled in the blanks, the drama of her arrival and the confrontation with Willow. It was the condition of her body Rupert fixed on most.
With his hand over his mouth, he choked out, "Do you know what this means?" There were tears in his old eyes. Spike shook his head, bewildered.
"What do you know of Catholic doctrine?"
Spike held out his hands, palms up, and shrugged. "Hey, nineteenth century C of E. What do you think I know?"
"Have you ever heard of the assumption of Mary into heaven?"
"There's nothing biblical to support it, but there's a belief that Mary was brought, body and soul, into heaven upon her death. There may have been others, but Mary is whom the Feast of the Assumption is named for. It's... it's a miracle of the highest order, as you can imagine."
He stared down at the sleeping girl in his bed, broken and bruised in body, shattered in soul. "And they pulled her back out." Spike's voice felt like something dead in his throat, he barely choked the words out without gagging.
Giles rubbed his hands hard over his face. "Oh dear god. We thought she'd been physically consumed by the fire and the storm. That her death was... a death. That her body had simply been destroyed in the sacrifice. It never could have occurred to me that she would be... chosen like this. By a miracle."
They watched her in silence for a while. Giles wouldn't credit Spike, being a vampire and all, with being able to understand the significance of this.
"I just..." Giles sighed heavily, took a gulping breath, and continued, "You've done well playing nurse, but we must get her home, at least. I suppose I ought to tell them..." He paused when Spike drew his head back, the sharpness of the action telling him all he needed to know. Watcher was never stupid, Spike would grant him that.
"I'd never imagined they could do such a thing, or I shouldn't have left them. How foolish of me! But I think... I think it would be easier if Dawn were here, it will ease Buffy's mind."
"Yeah. The Bit's got an idea something's up, but not what. Wanted to wait for you. I'm afraid of how she'll react, seeing her sis like this."
"I daresay pretty much as I've reacted."
They looked at each other, an understanding that closed the gulf always keeping them apart these long years. Nothing like trust there, but something changing behind Giles's eyes, maybe just a belief at last that Spike could be relied upon where Buffy was concerned. It was good enough for him, though.
After Giles left, Spike lay down next to Buffy and stroked her hair with fingertips, not wanting to wake her. But she did, opening those starry eyes and smiling at him. He fed her more of the nutrition drink, washed her wounds and redressed them, and told her that Giles and Dawn were coming to take her home. She blinked as if in recognition, then fell back into that deathlike sleep, brow tensed. He had no compass for guidance here, perhaps he chose the wrong direction to make her happy, but he was lost in this wilderness of right and wrong.
Obviously briefed by Giles on the way over, Dawn nevertheless trembled and swayed at the sight of her sister, the broken angel. Spike steadied her with a hand under the elbow, though no one had been there to steady him when he'd first found her.
"We can carry her out together," Giles said, gazing down at the blasted-out form of his slayer.
She looked at Spike with shimmering eyes, her love buried under tears.
Dawn's imploring look to Giles broke his resolve though, and he glanced at Spike, then nodded. So it was decided that Spike would carry her again, perform the duty of his adoration. When he picked her up she woke this time, and said incongruously to his chest, "Okay." They all sighed with relief, and Buffy stretched an arm to her sister's face. She was already home in their presence.
"Back to the house, Luv. Home in a jiff." Her lashes as she closed her eyes felt like butterfly wings on his neck.
When he carried her in their faces were like melting wax -- eyes open wide and drooping mouths, slack and sallow skin. In Willow's eyes he saw the hard glitter of rage. They clustered around his precious burden and touched her like penitents, like pilgrims to something holy. Spike gave her a moment to wake, but when her eyes opened, she only glanced, closing the lids again so quickly. Blocking the light. Giles pushed them back, and guided Spike upstairs.
He lay her on the bed, her bed, and nodded at Dawn. She would dress her in something for the sickbed, take care of her now. Due diligence done. And Giles would take care of the wounds and the breaks. This was a family matter; he did not belong.
But none of them, Spike knew, were capable of filling that emptiness inside her. None of them could give her heaven back and he was just a demon, incapable of offering her anything more than the humans. In this loss of heaven, though, Spike felt that maybe Buffy and he were closer, more alike, than ever before. He understood what she was missing, and the certainty of their failure weighed on him now.
As he closed the door, Dawn crawled onto the bed next to Buffy. He stood with head bowed outside the door, listening to the buzz and fuss of the children below them. Their confusion and resentment burned through the empty air. He looked at Giles and tried a smile; Rupert did the same. "Well done us, eh?"
"I suppose so. I just wish I knew what to tell her when she's really fit again." The agony on the watcher's face aged him all the more. Spike pitied him, something he'd never thought possible.
"Let her heal on her own time. Slayer time." Then turned on his heels and walked away from the pointed voices, out to the soundless night of the world with his Buffy back in it.
Don't cry anymore. Don't tell me that you love me and you're sorry. Don't put your arms around me and try to make me feel like I belong here again. You took me away, you brought me back. You brought me to hell when I belong in heaven. I can only lie here and think of what was lost. Your touch burns away my skin, strips me to the bone. I don't belong here, but you never let me decide that, did you?
You can't go home again. Home is where they have to take you in. Home is where the heart is. Home again, home again, jiggety-jig. Home sweet home.
You'd think after weeks of bickering and quibbling they could stop, but no, it's yet another night of All in the Family and I think if I hear one more word my head will go pop! and what's left of my brain will splatter across the wallpaper. Too bad they didn't repaper while I was gone. I don't like this pattern anymore.
Giles's voice is so tense sometimes I think it will break. So far he's accused Willow of everything from arrogance and stupidity to crimes against nature, and she's threatened him with retaliation. She's not the girl I used to know, not the little slip of a girl. My Willow the wisp. Xander defends but I can tell by now his heart isn't in it, he doesn't even make his jokes. Anya won't even come over anymore now that the novelty of my being back is gone. Nothing left to poke at. They mean well, all of them, but it's hard when the words come out in a foreign language and the purpose is hidden by fog.
Poor Giles. He can't see with the light in his eyes. It all hurts him and he's blind with the pain and the fear. My old friends.
Dawn comes to me and snuggles in my arms; we lie on Mom's bed, now Tara and Willow's. Everything's so different now. Me too.
Downstairs in the dining room the conversation drones on and on. "She's so distant," Willow is saying. "She's what they call affectless in psych books." I told Giles the story, he told them, and now they all know where I was temporarily residing till they came knocking at my door. And they told two friends, and they told two friends...
"You'd think if she was physically healing, that the emotional..." Xander drifts off. He doesn't do well with people in pain, poor Xander. It kind of throws him for a loop.
"You stole her from heaven, you berk. You expect her to act like the fucking bot?" Spike snaps, and then I hear him stomp out of the living room.
"I looked it up," Willow says. "Mary wasn't the only one assumed body and soul into heaven. Someone named Elijah was too, Enoch, and maybe even Moses. Kind of like a test case, I guess, or maybe just rewards for good service. Or something."
"So, what are you saying?" Tara's voice is like chamomile tea, all comforting and warm. I wish sometimes hers was the only voice I heard. "That being assumed... that it's part of the slayer thing? Being chosen?"
"She fought one of the lesser gods and saved the world. She saved the world many times. Buffy wasn't just any slayer." Giles always likes to think I'm the most special girl.
Dawn looks up at me then, her saucer eyes red and bloodshot. She's so tired of this. She clings to me like a barnacle. "Is that true? That God took you body and soul because you're the chosen of the chosen?"
"I guess," I say, and that's really all I can say. It wasn't like anyone offered me a signed contract or anything, or a lease for a room with a view.
"But we took you away from it." She keeps blaming herself, like somehow she was supposed to know they'd do it, and I can't convince her otherwise. Neither can Spike. It makes her feel better, to take some of the responsibility. Boy, can I tell they made her out of me.
"I guess it was like check boxes on the Internet, the way you can click on a box and it's checked, and then click again and it's unchecked. He unchose me when the time came." It hurts to think of it. To not be good enough to be held on to. How come he didn't keep me, spell or no spell? I want to ask Giles but I know he doesn't know. Who could understand the mind of God?
She starts to cry, but I smooth her hair and whisper, "Shhh. It's okay. I know everyone meant well."
The discussion is still going on down below. About God's will and what they've messed with. Giles says, "You've played in God's territory now. You've crossed a line." No one responds. She's probably pissed now. I hope she won't turn him into a frog.
Dawn breathes in and out, her breath rising and falling against my shoulder. I hold her and stroke her hair until she falls asleep. Funny how I feel so alone, even when she is with me.
When she's asleep I tiptoe down the stairs, hoping they won't hear me just around the corner. Xander is trying to calm everyone down, but it's not working. Sometimes I feel like their voices are knives, sushi knives so sharp and pointy they cut perfect little slices out of my soul flick flick flick until I'm just teeny fillets.
Spike is standing there in the hallway, a packet of cigarettes in his hand, white hair like a halo. He looks like I feel, stripped to the bone, weary and zombie-like. He tilts his head sideways and gazes at me with that soft face he wore after I came back.
Behind us their voices grind and tear, and I reach out my hand to touch his cheek. After a moment he takes my hand from his face, and pulls. "Yes," I say, like I know what I'm agreeing to, but I figure whatever it is, if it's with Spike, it's okay.
We run out the back door, hand in hand, into the inky dark night, into nothingness.
We don't fall, though. We fly.
He drove for a while, up the coast and the salt air breathing new life into them both. Stars like a net of light strung across the water. When Spike glanced at Buffy, she was watching the sky as if she saw home again for the first time in years. What could it be like to lose that: stars falling from your fingertips, moonlight streaming from your hair?
Now instead she'd legged it off into the night with a vampire, abandoning the ones she loved. Into the hills and the woods they drove till they found a home that looked unlived in; a summer home that he broke into and she said nothing. If there was conversation or admonishment in her, it would only come out on her own terms; she sat and stared at him with bruised, lonely eyes. The dinner breakfast whatever he made seemed to delight her, though she didn't eat much at all. Spike delighted, instead, in Buffy's delight.
Later as morning broke they sat just out of the light and she nestled in his arms while he combed her hair with his fingers. They wore the silence like comfortable clothes.
"Giles and Dawn are probably freaking," Buffy finally volunteered as they shifted from the sun now slanting towards them. Of course it was only them she had room in her heart and mind to think of, the ones not responsible for her return.
"They'll understand. Rupert's clever, he'll know you only needed a bit of R&R." Her heart had been shut out to all but this motley little crew, the ceaseless squabbling over conditions and decisions and whatnot having only driven her farther away when they thought they were pulling her back. Spike was gobsmacked, though, that she'd left him a corner of her heart along with the ones she loved the most.
"Giles says that what Will did can only lead to more bad. You know -- dark side of the Force and all."
"You were chosen. All the way, body and soul. Don't imagine you muck with the big bloke's choices of who goes to heaven, and live to tell the tale unscarred."
She rested her cheek against his neck, the smell of her like candy floss and he felt he could hear a heart beat inside his own chest again. "I never thanked you, for picking me up when I got unchosen."
"Yeah, you did."
"You talked to me like I was your friend. You're with me now."
The "oh" she gave was small and choked with her pain, loss, need. Buffy twisted in his arms and put hands on either side of his face, cold little hands that trembled with all her fears rushing through the veins.
"I should be grateful to have you back. The world with you in it and all. The Bit's better off and she needed you so much. But it hurts to see you like this." He tried so hard not to show her this worry, but it covered his face like a caul. Spike pushed a lock of her hair behind her ear; she ducked her head coquettishly.
"I don't know how to live in this world anymore." And then she kissed him, oh, she kissed him, and he had a taste an aroma a feeling of heaven, her heaven. Buffy's mouth against his and lips searching for life brought him alive, into her. She was around him and in him like water, flowing, rippling, falling with a great noise and torrent.
They woke and made love, slept and woke and made love, until the second evening when her sigh was a goodbye letter that told Spike it was time to leave. He wished he had a photographic memory to imprint this, color light and sound, the sweeping tide of her pulling him under. But he knew enough of this world to let go of this perfect piece of it; such a place could never belong to him.
"Do you think they'll be angry when we get back? Giles and Dawn?"
"That you went with me, or that you went at all?"
Stroking her hair one last time, he asked, "What do you remember?" He wanted to hear it now, before she turned away her lost confessor.
When Buffy spoke, it was not her own voice; instead the voice of a poet, lyrical and writerly, considered. "I remember the waking, coming out like a newborn, wailing and shouting, red-faced and angry. They'd taken me away from everything I was, stole my comfort. Then the slowly building awareness as I came to, sliding more deeply into the abyss of awake."
For a moment he was unsure whether she meant there or here. And uncertain who was speaking to him. A different Buffy, one who had lived in heaven.
"Isn't that funny? That we think of death or sleep as an abyss -- or the mountain peak, the sky? To me, the waking, the life was an abyss, not a place of sun or warmth or future or happiness. Alive again, dark and cold and full of fear, and I remember the anger, because this was not in the bargain. The deal was different, agreements were made, I thought, and aren't you supposed to be able to take supernatural forces at their word?" Little kisses from her cool lips feathered along his neck, ear, cheek.
"Finally, after crawling through my head, hearing the sound of my heart beating noisily in my ears, I crawled with my body out of the sunlight. The exit from heaven, the entrance to hell. And you were there, waiting for me."
She will never be the girl he knew before: everything after will be this. She had a different mind, a different heart. A new soul. And she was haunted by it all; no one here on earth could give her what she needed.
You pays your money, you takes your chances.
I expected that they'd be all pinchy-faced, pissed off and untrusting, when we got back, but all Giles did was hug me and Dawn hugged Spike. The rest of them looked sheepish when they came around. Baaaaa.
We were all pretending I'm just a normal girl again. Giles had tried to help me with planning for the household and all, but sometimes it felt like that Far Side cartoon, and the words were coming out in thought bubbles "Blah blah blah checkbook blah blah blah Dawn blah blah school." Now they know. I'm not normal, can't be calm cool and collected, can't plan and do. I'm the unstable damaged girl who runs away with unsoulled vampires. But when I look at Dawn I know I have to try. Get a grip, and all.
The hardest thing was coming back here, giving up the time alone with someone who understands: what it means to have lost your shot at heaven, what it's like to be turned away from eternity. Spike gets it all, the loss and the fear and the loneliness, and he doesn't even have to ask me. He paid his money a long time ago and took his chances. And how scary is it that Evil is the one who gets me? I wondered, sometimes, as we lay there in each others' arms last night, if it meant I was on the other side now. That there was something wrong with me enough that God couldn't keep me just because of a little bitty girl's magic spell. Spike told me that heaven wouldn't willingly let me go, that some magicks are more powerful than even heavenly forces.
Tell me, I wanted to ask, how a girl from Sunnydale could be more powerful than God? Other plans, the back of my mind answers like an echo. Other plans for me, but is that all there is to it? I want something more, and the only person who really understands that feeling isn't even a person. The only one who understands me is a demon; the only one who makes me feel less alone is a vampire I'm supposed to kill. And are the ones who took me back evil because they did this to me, and to God?
Demon, demon, who's got the demon?
Spike stands by the back door after our return, watching all the interactions, the little careful waltzes we all make around each other. There's this really awful tension between him and Willow, he won't say and she won't say, but at times like this, I can tell it's dangerous. Something really dark hovers around the edge of them, like one of Tara's auras, only deep as midnight. I'm so afraid of what she could do to him, but I learned a long time ago that you can't tell Spike to behave.
After they leave the kitchen he tilts his head a little and looks at me with such sad eyes my heart hurts. I feel like I'm looking into my own eyes there, all the despair and tragedy that we've cloaked ourselves in. He takes my hand, so strong and solid. In rescuing me, he finally saw me, all the way me. I never knew him, though I thought I did. Last night I learned his rarest of gifts: to really hear what someone says, even when they say nothing. He gave me that of his own free will, and I have to keep it now. It's a talisman.
Something else is there between us. Spike loves me, I know that, and he has love in his heart though I never gave him credit for it. For me, for Dawn, for Mom. I wish he had some for himself. I don't know if a demon can love himself. Spike is not your average demon, though, is he? but I already know the answer to that.
And I love him back. I do. I want to tell him, but the words stick in my throat. I can't say them to Giles, to Dawn, to anyone. Maybe, though, he knows. It's hard to tell right now, we're both a little tired, and it's tough to see through the shimmer of tears, so hard to see the world of light and dark clearly.
I let go of his hand and he opens the door. I can feel something inside of me falling, falling again.
I love him, but I belong to heaven now.
And he still belongs to hell.