Originally, it hadn’t been so bad, as far as crushing depression and sucking despair had been. Bit by bit, second by second, she had coped, clawing with her fingernails, not even planning minutes ahead because it was too much to cope with, those vast acres of depressing time. Surely they wouldn’t dump it all back on her right away. Surely they would let her rest. Surely they would think about what it had been like, the change from peace and completion to noise and clamor…but they hadn’t. Her very flesh felt unfamiliar on her bones, strange and uncomfortable, like an ill-tailored coat, a constant reminder of the unwilling things she’d done to it---they’d done to it-----and still they had offered bright words and platitudes, then turned their backs. Finally, at last, there had been Willow and yet another spell, the worst one of all, ripping away all the despair, but with it, all the careful little scabs and scars that had painstakingly formed over the months, the only way of making it possible to sometimes go a minute before she remembered where she was.
And where she wasn’t.
She didn’t want to look at the bottles on the bar. Oh, she remembered that all too well. It was wonderful, the fizzy feeling, the way you felt you could cope with any problem, any dilemma, except it wasn’t real. Real was easy to tell apart from the spells, the dreams, the strange things that her life had become; real was where it was hopeless. She knew she could cope if she could just drift with the tide of it, let the motion take her with it; she knew this despair was one opponent she couldn’t fight. All she could do was wear it out.
But they kept poking after her, her friends, not letting her drift, always with some other dilemma, and she knew it was bad of her to be resentful, but how couldn’t she be? They were all she had, and they knew it. If she confronted them, she knew she’d lose them.
She was so tired. She was too tired.
Where were the friends who once upon a time had wanted to help her, to stand by her side? Where had they gone? There was Xander, summoning a demon as if it were a Magic Eight Ball, never flinching at the people who’d died. Certainly, they saw lots of deaths in Sunnydale, but he’d never before caused any. Now she knew what that was like. That had been her. She couldn’t ignore it now. You’d almost think Xander would think about her a bit, notice perhaps. It had been an unintentional reminder, certainly. Had he thought about that at all? She could imagine it, and it would drive her mad. The people who’d died because of the spell, had they been good people? Or bad?
Where had they gone?
She was frozen again, back at the beginning, and they didn’t even notice.
She looked at the bottles again, and flinched away. To forget for just a few hours, to be happy, to feel something besides ice in her veins…
A shadow fell across her hands, folded precisely on the bar. What a good girl she was. A good girl with precisely folded hands, calm and composed on the outside. She didn’t dare look. Please, not Spike. When her true friends looked through her, how could it be that he saw her, as she really was, not what he wanted to see, the way they did? Why did it have to be him?
If he looked at her again, she was going to cry. Somehow it was very important not to cry in front of Spike, somehow she knew it would hurt him even if it released her. Please, not the look; not the way he looked at her when no one else was looking, the way he saw things no one else saw; please just not that. A private look, the things his eyes said, an intimate look, a glance that touched her, and she wasn’t sure she could…..
It was the spell. It was the spell; that was what made kissing him feel so different. He was a vampire, that’s what it was. That’s why it tasted so different, that’s why it felt so different.
Kissing him was like tasting a color, or seeing a sound. To kiss him hadn’t been a matter of lips and mouths and movement, it had been feeling his emotions, touching his heart, tasting his soul.
Except he didn’t have one.
She could understand him when she kissed him, because he didn’t hold back from her. He kissed her like she was water in the desert, food after a famine, and sleep in the midst of exhaustion. He kissed her, and it soothed her, balm to her aching soul and exhausted mind. It had to be magic, had to be, because he was a vampire, because when he kissed her as if he had a soul, it felt as if they stopped being separate, and became one body, longing to join.
She didn’t need that fear right now. Not that image, not that memory. Not now, not with him hovering hopefully over her. If she saw another one of those looks on his face---the ones the others never saw, the ones that made her feel less like ice and more like steam----she didn’t know if she could hold it in.
Kissing him was like drinking him in, as if he were an intoxicant. After they’d kissed in the alley, after they’d almost been discovered, they’d walked home, and she’d felt him against her for hours afterward. There was an old wives’ tale about lost limbs; she’d read it once. Old men, long cured of war wounds, complained of the feverish sensation of phantom limbs, still there, even though they’d long since been sacrificed to war or illness. That was how she felt after they’d kissed. Kissing Spike made phantom feelings come back, vivid and painful, like blood surging back into flesh numbed by lack of circulation. It hurt, in a way, but it promised relief, too, eventually.
She knew he was still there, could practically feel him there, next to her, could feel the look on his face, the exact right look from the exact wrong person. She could surrender to that look, let it wrap around her, releasing her from acting normal day after day, when what she wanted to do was stop holding it in and let it out. He wanted her to do that; he wanted to know what was wrong. He wanted to fix it, to heal it, and that alone was enough to confuse her, because she wanted to let him. But it should be her friends’ job to do that, not his, even if he loved her. Why did he have to confuse her like this, when she was worn out with confusion already?
She turned, hoping to see him gone, but instead he hovered, waiting to see what was wrong with her, and it was too much. She had to turn away, fast, before, he saw it, and so all he saw was the lower lip, thrust out in a stubborn pout, and the fast flash of her hair as she sharply turned away. That was more than enough for one night. More than he could stand for one night, after all the brush-offs she’d given him.
She swallowed the lump in her throat and turned back, and he was gone.
She stared at the space where he’d been a second before. Oh, it was bad, the way he made her feel, but it was worse the way his absence made her feel. The only thing worse than being confused by him was being…..And then she was on her feet, and running.
It only took five seconds to catch him by the stair, to grab his sleeve. He started to bat her away when he saw her, then froze, as she flinched backward. They stared at each other, Buffy with one hand at her chest, Spike with his hands jammed in his coat pockets. She blinked, and searched his eyes, her face like a corpse’s, terribly white except for the flush at each cheekbone. He saw how thin she looked, how sharp the bones in her face were, and in her skull---not something he wanted to contemplate.
They’d kissed. He’d just like a clue as to whether or not it had been the spell, but looking at her made him realize that she was in no position to figure that out. She looked as bad as when she’d first come back, and he thought that if he picked her up and shook her he’d hear a hollow sound. Her eyes were too big, too, and that was always a bad sign. They just stared at each other, and the seconds spun away into minutes.
“C’mon, Buff,” He said quietly. “Let’s get you home.”
She moved and then she was in her arms.
Once, long ago, under a spell, he’d kissed her, and for a long time, he’d managed to tell himself to forget it, that that was magic. No girl could kiss like that, slow and sweet and hungry....
It was desperation, he could practically taste it on her lips, the way her hands skimmed his shoulders, the way she pulled away and gasped, her whole face flushed now. He couldn’t have stopped if he wanted to, because it was Buffy and he almost could convince himself that the yearning in her every movement was for him.
It almost worked.
Buffy kept finding herself being pulled out of it, tripping over things that made the kiss frightening. With her eyes closed, she inadvertently found a bicep, a shoulder, and a chest. She touched his cheek with her fingertips and felt him freeze, and tried to ignore that, but then she touched his shoulder, and found herself standing on tiptoe, to do the natural thing, to fit her body against his. It was disturbing to be reminded of his body, as if she could somehow kiss him and ignore the fact that her hands very much wanted to slide up and down the spine she could feel even through the leather. She didn’t want to do that; to do that was to be reminded how close they stood, how much closer she wanted to be.
Spike pulled away and looked down at her so abruptly she blinked at him for several seconds before she could grasp it. “Buff.” He said quietly. The use of her name, rather than the usual, “Slayer,” made her face flush. He called her ‘Slayer’ in front of her friends. Now he looked at her, and saw again the same look she’d had when they’d brought her back. No spell, now, just sorrow. It wasn’t him in her eyes. He shook his head at himself. Still a fool, evidently. At least he was consistent.
She wasn’t kissing him, he was sure of it. The first time had been the spell, and here they were again, in the aftermath of a spell. Actually kissing him seemed beyond her.
Buffy sank back against the pillar, seeing some of his thoughts on his face. “It wasn’t a spell.” She whispered.
“No, it was because of a spell, though.” He ran his hands through his hair, alternating between, ‘she was kissing you, you git,’ and ‘uh oh, how do I do this?’
“No, it wasn’t.” Buffy insisted. She was starting to get that stubborn set to her chin now, he saw, something that ordinarily made him flinch but now gave him some hope.
“What was it, then?”
Buffy stayed silent.
“Was it me?”
Still no answer. She looked down, but this meant she found herself looking him straight in the chest, and actually noticing it for the first time. With a blink, she brought her eyes back up to his face, and she looked so wretched and confused that he rolled his eyes at himself. He’d had a pretty good argument, there, for a second, and then she looked up at him with those eyes, and he conceded.
Very different, this time; this kiss; very tentative, very hesitant, and she kept her hands from touching him, but she forgot after a while, and he felt her touch on his shoulders, as light as feathers, so light he almost couldn’t feel it through the leather.
And then she was gone.
It was his turn to blink at empty air, then he saw her; more importantly he saw Harris, looking at Buffy with worried eyes, then past her at Spike. Irritation flashed across Harris’ face, but it was no match for the disdain on Spike’s. Buffy said something to Harris, sending him on his way, and made to follow him, but she’d only gone a couple of steps before she turned and looked again at Spike. He stopped in his tracks, all pique gone, at the look on her face.
What a girl, thought. Not a creature she couldn’t fight, nor a fight she could lose. But damn if she could put anything into words. He knew it, she knew it, and the way she looked at him now made it plain that she knew he knew. She couldn’t say what she felt and he couldn’t shut up about it.
He shook at his head, almost amused. He could see everything she was feeling, in that worried little frown she had on her face; she was exhausted, out of patience, and if he so as moved she’d be kissing him again. It wasn’t that she was beautiful; it was that she was so vivid.
She jammed her hands in her pockets, and bit her lip. She had to say something, but she couldn’t get the words out of the mass jammed in her throat. She took a deep breath for strength, but it shuddered, so she gave him a hesitant little farewell wave, and turned to leave.
Spike blinked at her, then clapped a hand to his heart. . Damned if he couldn’t believe just for a minute there, that the sucker had started beating.....