SUMMARY: Post-Help, up through Him. "...Buffy cannot decide if she is still alive to Spike; she cannot decide how long dead he is to her."
NOTES: Inspiration from Sylvia Plath. And a HUGE thank-you to Kelly for being such a kickass beta.
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)
The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)
God topples from the sky, hell's fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan's men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
I fancied you'd return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)
I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)"
--Sylvia Plath, “Mad Girl’s Love Song”
Body pressed against the wall, words escaping his mouth in a stream of incoherent mutterings, he turns away from her gaze. She moves toward him slowly, as if approaching a rabid animal. With each step, her low heels clack against the cold cement floor and send out a reverberating echo into the silence.
Buffy waits a moment. Clears her throat. “Spike? Spike, can you… can you hear me?”
He raises his head and turns slowly, not looking at her, but at least facing in her direction now. “Louder than all the other voices,” he responds hoarsely. Nice response. “Always here. Always listen to you, would do anything… So many in here, but always hear you. Above the rest. Always.”
She swallows the lump in her throat and presses on. “I wanted to thank you. For the other day. With the demon, and the girl.”
“Cassie,” he says lowly, not really to her, but to himself.
She can’t mask her surprise that he actually remembers. “Yeah, Cassie. That was her name. She, um, she didn’t make it.”
“Evil never sleeps,” is all he says.
She doesn’t know how to respond to that. Her eyes drift as she studies him, what has become of him. His shocking blonde hair has matted itself into disheveled curls, his razor-sharp cheekbones are streaked with blackened soot. Clothing is rumpled and filthy.
But most of all, she sees the change in his eyes. They are still the same brilliant blue, prisms of reflections and facets, but now they seem to have somehow changed, become something else. Topaz institutions of innocence laced with something that she had never seen there before—feral, primal madness. No, his eyes do not belong to him any longer.
When it becomes too hard to look at him any more, Buffy shifts her gaze to the dirty floor, shrugs one shoulder at him. “Yeah, well… Sometimes, things just happen. Sometimes things are beyond our control.”
Spike lets out a long, shuddery wet gasp, and she realizes that there are traces of tears on his cheeks. He's trying to control the crying. Buffy could have told him that the more you try and control tears, the more desperate they are to get out, and the more violent and noisy they become. But for some reason she doesn't think that right now is really the appropriate time to bring it up.
“Couldn’t save the girl,” he chokes out frantically, “couldn’t be of any help, always a burden, only meant to kill, only good for hurting—for destroying—”
Worried, Buffy takes a step back, her heart beginning to race. “It wasn’t your fault, it just happened—”
“Always my fault!” Spike’s voice is hedged with hysteria. “My fault, my fault, just an evil thing, just a thing, just a thing—”
His hands begin to tear wildly at the cuts marking his chest, ripping open the flesh anew, and blood begins to emerge from the still-fresh gashes. A horrible sound erupts from his throat, the howl of a wounded animal, the anguished cries resonating through the basement walls. Buffy’s eyes widen in horror, her mouth opens but no words come out. Her mind is screaming at her, run, run, but she is frozen in place, paralyzed, unable to move. Suddenly, her instincts kick in and her brain connects to her limbs.
Buffy turns and flees, Spike’s agonized screams fading into the distance.
In the hours before dawn, Buffy can't get Spike out of her head.
This bed, these sheets, this darkness, that moon... this heart-- can't rid it of his essence. It's driving her crazy. And of course that leads her back to him. Him. ((No-visitors-today-terribly-busy)) So alone, ((don’t-you-think-I’m-trying?!)) so distant, ((I've-always-been-here)) so broken.
Beneath Buffy’s skin, the memories send her tossing and shaking her head involuntarily, all before she forces her eyelids open and rolls over to glance at the clock at her bedside.
"Is the clock not moving?" she whispers to the ghost of him.
"Of course it's not," comes the familiar, quietly accented voice in response, as if he is speaking to a small child, his face a picture of patience. "Time doesn't continue when you're lonely."
She looks up at Spike, the moonlight spilling a blue-gray cast across his face, softening the sharpness of his jagged features. He leans down, caresses her shoulder with featherlight butterfly kisses, smooth cool hands brushing over her skin, and she knows she’s been here before.
“When you were gone,” Buffy begins, “did you miss me?”
“I never left,” he answers softly. “I’ve always been here. And I never stopped missing you.”
“Do you still count the days?” she asks.
He answers her with a kiss. She sinks into his arms, pulling him down all of the way next to her. He’s supposed to feel cold to the touch, but he’s warm, oh so warm. He holds her close to him, surrounding and consuming, and she melts into the easy embrace. It seems as if hours pass, though she knows it is only moments, but suddenly he draws back. Every second seems like an eternity without his lips on hers, and she wants him--no, she needs him to be kissing her again. Maybe she’d turn around if she thought checking the clock one more time would make time move faster or slower or stop altogether.
Suddenly she looks up and notices the slow trickle of blood dripping down from the long slashes that criss-cross on his chest, dark red droplets seeping out and staining the creamy white bed sheet below.
“Spike…” she breathes, blinking up at him. “You’re bleeding.”
“It’s always got to be blood,” he reminds her in his broken voice, and suddenly she’s shooting straight up in bed, gasping for air, breaking out in a cold sweat. And she feels that ache deep in her chest, the one that makes it feel as if someone has placed a lead weight on her heart, and she finds it difficult to breathe. And it’s times like these when she misses the feel of his silken skin against hers more than ever.
She just wants to be touched again.
Everyone is gathered in the living room. Dawn and Willow sitting on the couch, Xander leaning against the wall. Only four of them left, Buffy realizes, the core three Scoobies and the sister-slash-Key. It seems like such a small group, considering how many there were last year. Short one ex-ex-vengeance demon, a witch, and a vampire. All lost for different reasons. Those who are left of her friends and family all look at Buffy expectantly, mild curiosity written across their faces, waiting for her to make her announcement. She breathes deeply, exhales, paces around back and forth for a few minutes, feeling nervous and edgy and dizzy all at once. Finally Xander makes a sound in his throat, gives her a concerned look.
“Hey, Buff, you okay?” he questions, brow furrowed.
She looks at him, blinks. “I’m—I have something to tell you. All of you. I don’t know exactly how to tell you this, so I’m just going to say it. It’s about Spike.”
Buffy watches the reactions— Xander’s jaw clenches at the mere mention of the vampire’s name, Dawn sits straight up in her chair and becomes suddenly stiff, and Willow’s small smile fades, her eyes creasing at the corners in deep thought. Buffy waits a few moments in awkward silence before deciding to continue. “I talked to him. Or, Spike talked to me. A couple of nights ago, after the whole giant worm catastrophe, after he ran off. I followed him. He, um, he wasn’t all there. Mentally, I mean. But he told me what—he told me what happened to him.” She stops, breathes deeply, trying to stop the stammering. She can do this. She can say it out loud. “Spike has a soul.”
For a long minute, no one says anything. Xander’s mouth literally hangs open, Dawn’s eyes widen in shock, and Willow just stares at her. Buffy wrenches her hands, bites down on her lower lip hard enough to make it bleed, waits anxiously for someone to speak.
“How?” Dawn finally asks, her tone inquisitive. “I mean, was it like Angel? Some kind of a spell, or a curse or something?”
“No.” Buffy pauses, trying to gather her thoughts. Crosses her arms nervously, uncrosses them again, finally folds them back across her chest tightly. “He got it on his own. I don’t know how exactly, like I said, it was kinda confusing, but… he got it on his own. I know that much for sure.”
“Are you sure he was telling you the truth?” Xander suddenly questions. “It is Spike, after all. Not exactly notorious for his honesty. This could all be just a big scheme to get back into—”
“It’s true.” Willow’s voice cuts him off, and she looks straight at Buffy as she speaks. “Spike isn’t lying. He does. He has his soul.”
Xander’s eyes snap over to the redhead. “How do you know?”
“I saw it,” she explains quietly. “In the basement. When I looked at him, I could just… tell. That happens to me sometimes. It’s a side-effect of last year, with the magic.” Willow stops short, face flushed red with shame, unable to meet anyone’s eyes.
“What are you going to do?” Dawn says after a few moments.
“I don’t know,” Buffy replies honestly. “I just—I don’t know.”
Willow and Xander sit in contemplative silence, the true weight of this sinking in, and Dawn crosses the room. Touches Buffy’s arm tentatively. Worry is painted across her pretty face, her lips pursed, big clear blue eyes clouded with concern.
“You all right?” Dawn asks softly.
“Fine,” she answers quietly. “I’m fine.”
And it’s not far from the truth, really. Buffy really wishes the full impact of this situation would just hit her already. She'd really like to cry and scream and get it over with. She’s anticipating it. She can't be this calm. She just can't. This is so earth-shattering, and Buffy doesn't see how she can possibly walk around and laugh and talk to people like she’s okay. She doesn't even see how her world is still turning. She feels like she should collapse and cry and fall apart. And she almost wishes she would, because her very normal state of mind is scaring her.
How can she possibly keep living like nothing ever happened? As if there is not a vampire in the high school basement, a vampire who is completely shattered and out of his mind on her behalf?
No one says anything else for a long time. Finally Xander mumbles something about having to get to the site early tomorrow, and Dawn mentions an essay she needs to get started on. Willow, not saying anything at all, ascends up the stairs and goes to her room.
Eventually Buffy goes to bed. Has the same damn dream over again. Wakes up and tries to catch her breath, the half-choked sobs hitched in her chest. Glances at the clock and sees that it’s 2:59 am.
Spike’s soul is red. Willow told her so.
“Dark, and kind of cloudy,” she explains, sitting cross-legged on her neatly-made bed and flipping through some thick, ancient-looking text that she obtained from Giles. She came back from England with a box full of dusty old books, chattering excitably about root systems, Gaia, mother earth, and things that Buffy does not really understand. But during these talks, Willow smiles like sunflowers, and her eyes sparkle like emeralds. Buffy is just glad to see her friend happy again. So she returns the smiles, nods and pretends to know what the witch is babbling on about.
Buffy pulls out a candle from one of Willow’s boxes and sets in on top of the dresser. It smells like white sage. “So this seeing thing… how does it work? I mean, do you just look and people and…see them?”
“Sometimes,” Willow replies, turning her head to the side pensively in a way that makes her red ponytail bob up and down. “It depends. Sometimes I have to concentrate so I can see them—and sometimes they’re just there. Spike’s was… It was red, dark red. Like roses." Like blood. "And it was loud. Like it was screaming at me. All of that pain..." Willow shudders visibly. "Couldn’t you feel it, Buffy?” This is a great line.
Bathed in blue moonlight, cloaked in the darkness of shadows, serrated scars across his naked chest. Oh, his beautiful chest, the one that she once was hers; hers to scratch and bruise and kiss. Hers to own, to claim, the same as the rest of his body. The was a time when he craved her touch, and now he recoils from her, ((am-I-flesh-to-you?)) so lost. Laid out before her, so vulnerable, so exposed. Tears in his eyes, tears in his voice. ((so-weak-did-you-make-me-weak?)) Words pouring from him, ((why-does-a-man-do-what-he-mustn’t?)) like a fountain of pain, ((to-be-hers-to-be-the-kind-of-man)) flowing like poetry.
And she realizes: All of this, everything he has done, it is for her ((it’s-what-you-wanted-right?)), she drove him to this, ((and-now-everybody's-in-here)) and she looks at him and she can see it ((and-she-shall-look-on-him-with-forgiveness)) all around him, she can feel it ((and-everybody-will-forgive-and-love)) in her gut, this is real and ((he-will-be-loved))
It is all. For. Her.
From time to time she can feel the memory come rushing back, feel the unshed tears pressing against her eyes, but they never come out. It's like she’s sealed herself off, and her feelings are hiding from this horrible truth she’s been presented with.
She’s broken something beautiful.
Buffy arranges the white candle carefully on the shelf, next to the ones named Lotus Blossoms and Blend of Jasmine, avoiding Willow’s intensely curious gaze.
“No,” she responds indifferently. “I didn’t feel anything.”
Sometimes Buffy wonders about willingness, and by this she means of course the willingness people have to love. This makes her wonder about the willingness people have to be loved. Which makes her wonder about missing. Which leads her to wonder about loss, which leads her to reminisce about death.
Because Buffy cannot decide if she is still alive to Spike. She cannot decide how long dead he is to her.
Buffy doesn’t know what she expected going into this argument. But she does know that she has to win this. She has to.
“Come on, Xander,” she persists. “He needs somewhere to stay.”
“No. No way, Buffy.” Xander shakes his head firmly. “I am not letting some insane vampire move into my apartment with me.”
“It isn't—” Buffy stops herself, blows out an exasperated sigh. “He has a soul now. Everything’s different. He’s different.” She seems to have used those exact words twenty times in the past ten minutes, but she can’t help it. It’s the best explanation she can come up with.
“You can say that again.” Dawn’s tone is cold, callous, and she’s rolling her eyes petulantly, shoving her food around on her plate with her fork in a pissy teenage manner, clearly unhappy with the entire conversation at hand.
“Dawn, don’t talk like that.” Buffy sighs again. “He’s not—” Not what? Not broken? She has to believe he can be fixed, that he can put himself back together, because if he can’t, that means that he is destroyed, and she did that to him. “Spike needs our help,” she finishes in a less tense tone. “He deserves a chance, Xander. Please?”
“And what happens if he’s still the same?” Xander demands. “What if he’s still the same old Spike? Except crazy and delusional and dangerous?”
“Xander, I am not going to let him stay down there and rot in that school.” Buffy’s voice is strong, and she shudders inwardly at the memory of the basement: Dank coldness, dripping pipes, the sound of rat feet scuttling across the cement, only a single dim bulb above to illuminate the darkness. His tormented screams ricocheting off the walls.
“Buffy—” he starts again, but she decides to pull out her trump card.
“If you do not let Spike stay in your apartment, then I am bringing him to our house,” she says seriously. "It's either your place, or mine." Xander sees the resolute look in her eyes and knows she isn’t bluffing this time. He sighs, resigned, leans back in his chair defeatedly.
“Fine.” He speaks through clenched teeth, eyes narrowed. “Fine, you win. He can stay at my place.”
It doesn’t take much to coax Spike out of the basement; he seems relatively normal compared to how he was before. Jittery, a bit unnerved, but he seems to understand her explanation of staying at Xander’s. For one moment, he looks at her with those blue eyes of his and he’s him again. Just Spike. The moment passes all too fleetingly, and he’s again this stranger, with a face like melted honey and eyes like soft blue skies.
He nods, follows them to the car where Dawn is waiting. Sits in the backseat with Buffy, pressed up against the window. Xander turns the keys in the ignition, and the radio comes blaring through the speakers. Some top forty rock ballad from Dawn’s favorite radio station. Spike’s eyes flicker in alarm and suddenly he’s grasping his head, fingers tightening around his tussled blonde locks.
“No, no, no, no,” he moans, beginning to thrash violently. “Not listening, not real, not real, no, no, no nononononono—”
“Spike!” Buffy tries to calm him down with her voice, but it doesn’t work. She looks up to the front seat and sees Dawn, staring at them. There’s something in her eyes, Buffy sees, something akin to— triumph? But it quickly dissolves into horror as she sees Spike seize his hair and twist around in jumbled spasms. Xander is grasping Dawn’s arm protectively as he tries to fumble with the controls on the radio.
“Turn it off!” Buffy shouts from behind, pinning Spike down with all of her Slayer strength. “Turn it off, goddamnit!”
Dawn finally springs into action, bats Xander’s hands away and hastily jerks the knob off. The car plunges into perfect silence, and Spike immediately stops writhing beneath Buffy’s grip. She tries to catch her breath and backs off of him. When he looks in her direction, she sees shame written clearly across his face. Buffy reaches to gently touch his shoulder, but Spike flinches at the motion.
Buffy gazes at her sister and suddenly it hits her like a brick in the face. Dawn was alone in the car. Dawn had decided to set Spike off. Dawn had done this on purpose. She wanted to see Spike suffer.
“I’m sorry,” Dawn babbles breathlessly, “Oh, God, I didn’t—I didn’t know—” Her voice is trembling, eyes wide with shock and guilt, terrified at what she’d just allowed herself to let happen.
“Just drive,” Buffy orders Xander. She cannot look at her sister during the rest of the drive there.
This wait for destiny won't do.
Buffy is so sick of this, she’s sick of complaining and making no changes, but mostly she’s sick of the sun never shining as bright as it used to and the moon hanging a little lower than usual, the stars a dull finish instead of what they should be. She’s sick of going to bed every night only to wake at 2:59 am, knowing that it's not quite early enough to still be the day before and not late enough to be today, and then wondering if she’s mixed up and if it's the other way around.
Willow says she’s connected. Her, the magic, the Earth-- they're entwined, tied together. Buffy doesn’t know anything about root systems or Gaia, but she wishes she could feel that. Wishes she could be like Willow, who sits in her room for hours on end, meditating. Focusing. Connecting. Buffy wishes she could feel connected. She used to.
((It's not just the memories they built, it's physical.
Dawn is a part of me.))
Sometimes Buffy looks at Dawn and she feels it, that tug in her heart, that feeling in her gut that reminds her that they share the same blood. She thinks back to the car ride, to the stunt Dawn pulled, and she wonders—this seething hatred, this underlying venom instilled in her sister toward Spike—did she learn it from Buffy? Or was it genetic? Buffy has those urges sometimes, frequently has thoughts so full of vile and loathing that it frightens her.
Last year with Spike-- she lashed out at him for loving her. She spilled all of those distorted ugly feelings onto him, a release for all of her internal pain. She treated him like a fucking punching bag that doubled as a sex toy. But she has learned since then. She has learned how to walk inside of the darkness and come back out with a smile, to hide and cover it from the rest of the world, because they could never understand.
So she has to wonder if her little sister has that in her too. Is Dawn just more open, more willing to show it? Does she have the darkness too?
“I didn’t mean it,” Dawn says later that night, standing in the doorway of the bedroom while Buffy takes out her earrings, watching her sister's apology in the reflection of the mirror. “I was just bored, and wanted to listen to some music, and I forgot to turn it back down. I didn’t realize that—”
“I know.” Oh, Buffy knows, but she wishes so desperately that she didn’t, wishes that she could believe her sister’s rehearsed lines. Wishes that she didn’t know the truth, only because it is reflected within herself.
No, the others could never understand the darkness. She doesn't blame them, because she doesn't understand it either.
Spike is doing the dishes. Face expressionless, eyes focused downward. Scrubs at the plate in his hand with a square yellow sponge, painstakingly thorough in rubbing off the foodstains. Buffy stands at the counter, doesn’t say anything. He hadn't said anything to her since she showed up knocking on the door. Just let her in with just the briefest of nods and returned to the kitchen. After a couple of minutes he finally speaks, still not looking at her.
“Xander isn’t here,” he tells her quietly. His gaze remains downward, hands smoothly sliding over the dish.
“Who said anything about Xander?” she shoots back a little hotly.
Spike responds with a shrug. Places the platter in the dishwasher, begins to work on a bowl. Buffy watches his action, frowning, and then sighs silently to herself.
“How are you doing?” she asks as casually as she can.
“Fine,” he answers after a moment in an acquiescent tone. Looks over at her for the first time, and she sees his penetrating blue eyes have lost their once blinding shine. It feels as if she has reached the end of something fathomless, and she does not know what to say.
He speaks for her. “Buffy, is there something you want from me?”
((I want you to be able to look me in the eye.
I want you to call me Slayer again.
I want to be able to touch you without you cringing.
I want you to tell me that you still love me.
I want you to tell me that I’m still lovable.))
“No,” she says softly. “No, it’s nothing. I'll go.”
She leaves him standing there with the water still running.
And the clock reads 2:59 and Buffy sits crying by the windowsill, looking out at the dark trees ((where he used to stand and smoke cigarettes while staring up at her window till just an hour before dawn)) and into the depths of the black night ((the only time he was able to roam around freely, acting like he owned the night and the cemetery and the whole damned town)).
And she looks through the glass and sees the stars in the sky in a different place than usual because things are starting to change. And still she sits crying in her own self-dissapointment and wishes that things would change a little faster, just so at least something would be different and she could cry over something a little more simple.