Spoilers: Season 6 through Normal Again; slightly spoilery for ep 18, but mostly AU.
Summary: Buffy runs away after discovering Spike in a compromising position; Spike has an epiphany. Challenge response (challenge details at end of multi-part story)
Disclaimer: I own nothing; it's all borrowed from Joss, ME, UPN, Fox, WB – anybody but me.
Rating: R for adult situations. Nothing too graphic, the show is probably worse.
**I love you. You know I do.**
Yeah. Love. Just like every man in her life--ever. The kind of love that says, "Warning: Buffy Summers ahead. Move slowly and carry a big stick. Then move on past." Dad. Angel. Parker. Riley. Giles. Even Xander, now. Check her out, love her and leave her tattooed right there on her forehead. And Spike. God. She thought she'd avoided that rejection by breaking it off when she stopped thinking of him as a thing and started having real feelings for him. At least he couldn't say there was something wrong with her that caused him to move on. Xander hadn't been so kind:
**Well, I guess I know why you haven't staked him yet, don't I? If you don't remember Ms. Calendar, Buffy. . . I do. He's going down, and you're not going to stop me this time.**
Remembering the sheer disgust radiating from Xander's eyes cut Buffy to the core. She'd been so sure this time. Spike wasn't bad; he just didn't quite know how to be good. Her need for him had her so convinced that she'd spent the better part of the day trying to impress Xander with just that. But she was finished now; no more saving of his undead hide. He'd have to deal with Xander on his own.
Buffy stopped pulling clothes out of drawers and sat down on the edge of her bed. Her hands trembled when she picked up the picture of Dawn, Tara, and Willow, and placed it in the suitcase. They would all have been better off without her. Dawn wouldn't be any worse off with Dad in L.A. than here. At least there she would be ignored in luxury. And maybe Willow and Tara had a shot at making up with one another without the constant reminder that what Willow had done sent her careening out of control with dark magic. Everyone Buffy'd ever loved was falling apart. Maybe now something could go right for them. Giles was right. She needed to stand on her own two feet--not on the backs of the people she loved.
Taking a final look around the room, Buffy noticed a tuft of black sticking out of her weapons bag. She walked over and pulled at it: a black T- shirt. His. Without conscious thought, she raised it to her face to drink in the lingering scent of tobacco and whiskey in the soft material. Black lashes closed against the hot tears welling yet again in her eyes. It was time to go.
-- -- -- -- -- --
Xander didn't know how long he'd been standing there, staring at the table. He knew that he ought to move, that there was something he had to do. But the urge to action was overpowered by inertia. A flash of shadow caught his attention, and he turned to watch the cars passing by through the window.
Mistake. The movement was enough to trigger the memory of mere hours-- lifetimes--ago, causing his brain to begin processing thought again. His gaze was drawn inexorably to the love of his life, snoring peacefully in a drunken slumber on the table. The grief that lay like a stone in his stomach flip-flopped to the surface, raising bitter bile in his throat.
Dark eyes scanned the room seeking another trap. Any trap other than the golden form in front of him. In desperation, he focused on the blink of the red light on the camera hidden in the bookshelf behind the table. Inanimate witness to the revelation that not one, but two, of the women he'd loved had given themselves in ecstasy--filthy, disgusting, degrading ecstasy--to that. . . that. . .evil, dead. . .thing.
He'd been so sure that when they arrived, he'd find it had been a trick of lighting or magic. Anya would never. . . But she had. With Spike. Was there no escape from the bloodsucking fiend? What had he said? "I never had it so good."
"No, you never did," Xander mumbled to himself. Anger regained dominance over misery and galvanized his leaden feet into action. He threw his jacket over Anya's body and walked out the door, purpose ringing in every step. First, home to take care of a few things, make a phone call, and grab some supplies, then he'd go see to it that no one would fall for Spike again.
-- -- -- -- -- --
No doubt about it. It had been one of the stupidest, most idiotic, absolutely bloody brilliant mistakes he'd ever made. Spike stalked around the floor of his crypt running the fingers of one hand over his head while the other lifted a bottle of whiskey to his lips repeatedly.
But what to do about it?
It hadn't seemed like such a bad idea at the time; he was angry and hurt. So was she. Each of them demonic proof of the pain that unconditional love could bring. He'd had no more intention of helping her wreak vengeance than of sleeping with her. Nonetheless, a burning need for a measure of comfort, tinged brown around the edges by sharp abandonment and smoldering rage, led them to drunken sex on the table at the Magic Box.
But for every second he held her, he'd been thinking of someone else. The hair was too coarse. The temperature was all wrong. And the noises she made, just a little like a stuck pig. Probably she thought the same, except for the pig part.
Awful thought that, being compared to Xander Harris and found wanting.
He'd felt the slayer's presence before she appeared, of course, but the whiskey-drowned warning came too late. Brazening it out was the only option. When Buffy stormed into the Magic Box, he'd instantly forgotten the naked woman lying next to him in a drunken stupor. The green fire flashing in those eyes frightened and attracted him at the same time, but the self-righteous judgment he saw in the set of her jaw ticked him right off. Then he caught sight of Harris over her shoulder. The look of thunder in Xander's face was enough to send him to a hasty exit, but not before firing a shot or two:
**"What's that, luv? You look a little peeved – thought we were through. You remember, don't you? 'I'm sorry, William.' Bloody William's bloody dead, Buffy. But I'm not. An undead man's got needs, too, y'know. And 1,000 years of experience? Why should I turn that down? She could teach me a thing or two. Oh, I know. You thought I'd wait forever? Has anyone ever?"**
The look on her face wavered: anger crumpling to hurt, then ice. He'd regret causing that pain for a long time. But it was a revelation. Every time he found himself thinking he knew exactly where that pointy little head was, she threw him for another loop. The encounter at the Magic Box was no exception. Damned crazy, messed up, stupid-haired bint; pretty impressive ability to maintain a constant state of denial, though. No matter how many times she had told him to stay out of her life, that look proved her feelings for him.
He remembered the lie in her eyes--
**"You just don't get it, do you? Every time you almost. . . how could I think-- It's got nothing to do with us. There's no us. You claim that you know what love is? Xander and Anya love each other. How can you possibly justify this?"**
"Yeah, I get it, pet. I quite get it." Spike stopped his pacing and turned to leave the crypt. "Time to bloody do something about it."
Continued in Chapter 2: Beginnings