Willow sat on her narrow bed-- a virgin's bed. She was a virgin made over again, the swooning, earthy sexuality of her life before now cold and buried in the earth.
And so her room was sparse, her bed narrow. A child's room.
As Buffy had left childhood behind her, Willow came back again to butterflies on the walls-- a second childhood, in which magick was her mother and the earth held her by the hand, leading her away from what had been into an uncertain future that stretched before her like a long, dusty road to be traveled on forever.
But life wasn't forever. Not even when that was the promise you got. And she thought he'd even known that. She really did.
And that was why she was here, retreating from the crowded living room to the quiet of this solitary place, momentarily empty. And the muted sounds of girls laughing, who didn't understand the strangely poignant sadness that had descended over the older, wizened Scoobies, floated up through the floorboards.
She stood, inhaling deeply. Somehow, she was filled with unease, fluttering through her stomach and twisting around in her throat. She didn't want to do this. She didn't understand why he'd chosen her.
But she'd promised. And promises meant more to her than they did a year ago. And despite everything. Despite not even really liking him all that much-- she promised. And she was sad, really, in a small, empty sort of way. As hard as it was for her to wrest any emotion-- any feeling from herself anymore, she was sad that Spike had really died, at last. As he probably-- possibly knew he would.
And even so, no one had really expected it. He was forever-- forever strangely child-like-- forever annoying, forever in need or in passion or in anger or just inebriated.
Or maybe that didn't capture it. But whatever that forever was, in her mind, he was forever something or other, that she couldn't quite name.
"Willow..." she heard him calling to her, just a few days ago, as she stepped into the kitchen, late at night, escaping Kennedy's flirtatious chattering that frightened her so much and so senselessly. He was sitting by himself, obviously drunk, staring intently at the glass in his hands.
"Uh... hi," she said, stepping toward the fridge. Opening it. The mechanical hum filled the air, and her face was illuminated in the darkness, unnaturally white against the shadows clinging everywhere in the room.
Removing her mineral water, she turned to leave swiftly. His presence at her back was awkward. She didn't like it. She didn't know what to say to him, when they were both so dark and bloody. And because of that-- she could see him-- really see him. And she didn't know how to resolve what she saw with what she was, or what he could be-- and the questions of souls and metaphysics didn't seem so important then. And she didn't know why.
"Don't go..." he whispered, quietly. It was unnerving that he was so nearly silent-- like he was weighted down with unbearable weights, pulled to ground in a way he wasn't before. It reminded her of waking up from dreams where she was drowning and there was nothing but the cold certainty that she-- that she could do it again. Anytime. If the stage was set right. And that scared her like hell, every day.
And she wanted to run, go back to the frightening-comforting babble of the pretty girl in her virgin's bed-- of the sleeping bag on the floor and staring at the ceiling and letting Kennedy's words flow over her like she was a normal girl again. But she looked at him, and he seemed so *weighted* *down*-- and it moved in her.
"Ok..." she whispered back. They spoke in hushed tones, so not to wake the girls piled in the other room. But also like conspirators. Saying things no one else knew.
"It's been here too long, you know," he said sadly, swirling the liquid in his glass with a whimsical smile.
He looked up and smiled at her again, and it was a warm smile. It was strange coming from him, with his face still swollen with bruises.
"Here," he said simply, "This house. It's been here too long. It shouldn't have lasted-- expect some nasty or other should have burned it to the ground by now. Time was, I'd have tried it myself."
"I think we've broken it in enough places that we've probably built in over in place again a few times by now," Willow said, sinking into a chair.
"Right. So you build it new, each time. Make it better, that?"
Willow just looked at him. She didn't understand what he meant.
And he suddenly sprung one hand out to her, with inhuman speed. She started, but he just grasped her hand with a strange intensity.
"Promise me," he said, "Promise, if I don't make it through this-- just go through my things. Look at them. Sort them out."
"What...? Why are you--"
"Just promise. You'll understand..." he said, his eyes strained. And something in them moved her once again.
And she wanted to say no. She wanted to scream that she wasn't like him and never would be. She wanted to cry as much as she wanted to curl up in the old sleigh bed with Tara and tell her everything and hear her wisdom that once fell like fruit on the ground-- lush and real and gentle, dropping seeds and taking root and growing into beautiful tapestries of compassion and intelligence-- whole gardens of ripe, sensual delight and true, sexless friendship.
"I promise..." she said, squeezing his hand almost involuntarily before she retreated-- before she could let the feeling in her gut spread and break in half. If it did, she didn't know if she could recover.
And so she retreated once more from the darkness in which he sat, alone.
She didn't think it would actually ever have happened. But it had. And she couldn't help but think he knew-- perhaps he even let himself lose that fight, after proving his strength so many times before. She didn't want to think about that. She didn't want to go to Xander's, where they'd gathered boxes of what they could find from the crypt, from the closet. From the scattered existence Spike had lead.
And they wouldn't have done it if she hadn't adamantly insisted. They'd looked at her oddly, but she'd given her word. That meant more to her, now, than it did before.
She stared at the mirror as she wearily brushed her hair, the delicate sunlight white and soft, highlighting the specks of dust in the still air. She grew her hair out long, like some uprooted tree trying to plant her roots again firmly in the soil. She grew it long and soft, and though she didn't know it, she was as deeply beautiful as she had ever been. But she could only feel the hollow, ineffable loneliness of knowing who you are and not really wanting to. Not really liking what you saw and never being able to repair it.
'At least he hadn't been able to see himself in mirrors,' she thought absently, as she pulled her hair back with white fingers, braiding it severely binding up the loose braids into something constrained, something controlled. And she felt in control, or tried to, as she got up, ready to go.
"You really going?"
Buffy was standing in the doorway, and here eyes were hard.
Her hands folded across her chest, almost defensively. Like someone was going to question her harshly or throw her back-- a strange gesture for someone so physically powerful. She looked so frail, sometimes, like stood on unstable ground. Like a house built on sand. As if she too-- like this home she lived in-- had been broken apart and rebuilt, piece by piece, so many times she couldn't remember which parts were old and which parts were new.
"Yeah." There wasn't much more to say, than that.
And she stood, and they were suddenly facing each other. Buffy's eyes had softened, and Willow wondered suddenly if she would throw herself into her arms.
But she stood still, as if she wanted to say something, but didn't know if she was permitted, by whatever standard she believed she was held to, to say what she was feeling.
But then it came out, hushed and strained like a confession of some terrible crime or deep and secret love affair.
"It wasn't so bad..." she whispered, "Not all the time... sometimes, it wasn't so bad..."
And they were quiet a moment, until she spoke again.
"I... I could come with you..."
And Willow regarded her softly, and thought how small she was, really. And they could hear the sound of cartoons playing loudly downstairs, and girls running in heavy thuds across the floorboards, and laughter. And there was really only one answer she could give.
"Buffy..." she said, softly, reticently, "He didn't ask for you..."
And Buffy stepped back, almost falteringly, turning to the window, nodding so slightly it was like she was trembling.
"You know..." she responded, "We had been arguing, on that patrol-- right before... before it got him."
"We were arguing-- and I kept telling him it was ok. That things were really, really ok. That I was ok. But he didn't seem to know what it meant, or something. And he got this look-- Will, it was painful to see it. He just asked me in this soft way."
"He said 'Don't be kind.' Just like that," he just looked at me, and said that I shouldn't be kind. What the hell do you say to that? How can you say anything when it's like that, in the end?"
But Willow didn't know, so after a moment, she just walked away. And Buffy cried then, when she was alone, for a little while. She sat on the bed, in her childhood room, weeping quietly in silent, soft spasms.
Because she had to, even if she didn't understand exactly why.
The closet was full of Xander's discarded possessions. Even during the brief time Spike had lived there, it had been scattered with blueprints and boxes and Xander's old high school jacket. Things from the past no one needed anymore, but no one could really bear to throw away.
She could hear him in the other room, watching television, and trying to keep out of her way. He didn't understand her, since she gotten back from England. Not like he had before. He looked at her with this long, staid expression before he left her in that closet. He didn't know why it was important, but he let her have her space to do it.
She knelt delicately on the floor, beside the boxes that had been his. There were very few. She wondered if there were books and photographs from all of his years-- interesting letters, ancient drawings. As she sat before them, she wondered what she would find.
So she pried the first box open. Nothing old, just a few dusty records. Some discarded glasses. She placed them in a pile to be disposed of.
The next box was just clothes, all black. Some random rings. None old, none particularly valuable or even really very attractive. She recognized the death's head that Buffy had worn so long before, when she had cast her plodding, ineffective and patently stupid spell-- it seemed like decades ago.
But she set it aside. If there was a time that it was comfortable to really talk to Buffy again, maybe she'd give it to her.
And it occurred to her with some unease that the shrine to Buffy she'd heard about would be in these boxes, and she was uncomfortable to continue, because it seemed like such a ghastly thing. She didn't know what she'd do with that, if she found it.
But it wasn't there. It had long been thrown away and discarded, it seemed.
And she started to get confused, even upset. She began to root through the boxes with more urgency. Magazines, beaten-up paperbacks. A library book. Nothing. Nothing important. Nothing at all. Had they missed the important things? In all the searching, had they missed what was important?
But there was nothing.
And she sat in a pile of leavings-- a heap of sad rubbish scattered around her in a dark closet. She sat in it and felt very small, and very alone, swamped in the sparse and useless cast-offs of a tortured life.
And suddenly, she understood. It was why he asked her-- it was what he wanted her to know.
She felt her eyes watering. A single tear ran down her face.
Of course there was nothing here. Like her room-- her child's room with its sterile bed. After all the fighting and straining and struggle-- after all the blood and anger and love and the crawling back on your knees and clawing up the rocks into the fear that it might happen again-- that you could do it all over again. After that.
It was a price. And who knew what it really meant in the end, except a slow return to the earth. A disconnection from the things of the world, as you climbed up and away from what you were into something different and strange and unknowable. And she hoped he'd found his way to that knowledge-- to the hand of the earth that clung tightly to her and lead her about like a toddling child again. She hoped it had reached out to him
And she hoped that it would be kind.