Includes something that I'm told was in the U.S. TV Guide blurb for next week. And no, unlike much of my recent writing, nobody dies.
He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Not good.”
“Come here.” She pulled him towards herself, facing less resistance than usual. Shifted so he could lay his head in her lap. He had regained his strength, physically, but in some ways still seemed so weak, so vulnerable.
He shut his eyes and listened to the steady beating of her heart. It made a more pleasant counterpoint to the beating in his head. “Thank you.”
“Shh. Relax.” Gently, with barely a feather touch, she stroked his temples. “It’s been getting worse, hasn’t it?” she asked softly.
He nodded, the very act causing him to grimace. “I’ll get by.”
“What do you think it is?” She swallowed. “The chip?” His face was troubled, and she tried another tack. “Probably just listening to those girls. I’ve resorted to the Excedrin a few times myself.”
He smiled wanly at that. “Just who is Justin Timberlake when he’s at home, then?”
She allowed a finger to slip lightly over his lips, and he jerked, slightly. She returned to the ministrations of his temples. “I wish I could take you to a doctor.”
“Naw.” He looked up into her face. “I think I know what it is. I see them. All of them. All the time.”
“You mean the First?” She stopped her massage and lay her hand on his shoulder. “Is he after you again? You have to tell me.”
“Not the First. My victims. I see them.” He started to sit up, but she pushed him back down. Too tired and pained to fight her, he lay back in her lap. “There’s not a bloody thing I can do about them.”
“Tell me. If it will help, tell me.”
He turned his head away. “You’ll hate me.”
“I’m way past judging.” Once again, she made little circles on the side of his head with her fingers. “You have to let go of the guilt. Believe me, I know. At least, you have to try.”
“There was this little girl. Must have been no more than five. Maybe younger. And I was hungry. Sneaked her away from her mom at the mall, dragged her into the change rooms. No one else was about. Kept my hand over her mouth so she wouldn’t scream. Used to like the screaming, mind, but this wasn’t the place for it. Then I...” He stopped. Grimaced, as the memories flooded back.
“Go on. You can go on.”
“I killed her. Drained her. Hardly more than a morsel.” He blinked back tears. “Sorry. You don’t need to hear this.”
“I think I do.” She leaned down a pressed a gentle kiss to his forehead. “I think I do.”
“Took her doll home to Dru. She had a collection, all from victims. Treated them like her children. Then again, they were her toys. I was her toy.”
“Does this help?” Buffy asked.
“Yeah,” he smiled grimly. “It helps. There was a gypsy family...”
She listened into the night, wondering at the fact that one man could change so much. After a while, the pain left his face, as he droned on. As she took the pain into herself. As she realized that she had changed, too.
The night was clear and quiet, and the moon shone onto the couple holding each other in the back yard.