Summary: Post-Showtime, pre-Potentials. Two characters. Two different reactions to the situation. *Not* the obvious hurt/comfort scenario the episode's ending would suggest.
They'd got the mini-Slayers back to the house, his head ringing all the way back with their chattering amazement. Two hours ago they had only been able to see death in their future, now all they saw was the life. They were still treating the world like an action movie, everything was a matter of life and death. There were no half-lifes, no half-deads. In their world, you lived or died, you didn't go on living with a dead heart. So they had got them all back to the house where there'd been hot drinks and more chattering. Every room had been full of teenage girls. And Andrew.
"I'm going to help Buffy," he'd said and no-one had questioned him. He'd glimpsed Anya and Willow sharing a look as he'd grabbed his car keys and headed off. They knew, of course, why he would always end up wanting to help Buffy. Willow had known it from the first, from the days when their world was as simple as the mini-Slayers. Anya hadn't wanted to know it but she did. It was one of the reasons he'd treated her so bad in the end. One of the reasons he was alone.
The lot was empty grey earth, scuffed and uneven. Lit only with the white sodium flare of street lights, painfully bright because this was a part of town where no-one lived, where no-one went after dark, and everything was stark and hollow in it.
He had snorted with laughter when he had seen the bleached old wood which half-heartedly guarded the black hole into the darkness. Into the evil. Yeah, that'll save someone from falling in.
Now a hand came out, struggling for a decent grip on the scrubby, dead soil. Xander unclunked the car door and went to help. It was pale, tiny, cut and covered in filth.
"You OK there, Buff, or you want some help?"
Her face looked up from the darkness, hard and tired in the harsh light. So drawn and old, too old. He wanted to see her smile like she used to. She gave a tight, brittle grin. "Yeah, we're struggling with the climbing a bit."
We. So Spike was still alive. Undead. Material, anyway. Xander crouched, reached out and two hands gripped his own. Buffy's, warm and so small. Holding on so tight Xander could feel his bones grinding as she hoist herself upwards. Spike's cold hand was shaking, cold and weak. Xander had to use his own strength to keep them connected. With much groaning and fumbling, the two drew themselves into the light, letting go of Xander as soon as they were over the lip of the rip in the ground.
He could see the way their arms were tangled together, Buffy's shoulder tight against the vampire's chest, one arm looped around his waist to hold his hip. Spike's right arm unconsciously draped across her shoulders and her equally unconscious acceptance of it. As Xander led the way back to the car, he didn't look round. He knew they'd be supporting each other, stumbling together over the uneven ground.
At the car, they got in the back, as Xander started up the motor. He'd been relegated to the designated driver, picking them up and driving them back home as they sat in the backseat, touching and speaking too low for him to hear over the growl of the car. He didn't glance in the mirror, didn't want to see Buffy with her arm still around nothing. His pain was nothing to share, nothing he should burden her with. He was always going to be waiting for her.
Several of the potential slayers had squealed when the front door banged open and Buffy half-strode, half-stumbled in with what looked like an almost dead, almost naked guy around her shoulders.
"Everyone," Buffy had said, "this is Spike. Spike this is..."
She'd trailed off. Well, how exactly do you say these are the girls who are my future, my replacements? Willow moved forward rapidly, smoothly. She could do smooth.
"These are potential slayers. Don't eat them."
Spike had offered a grim smirk then, his un-puffy eye catching hers. Willow had taken in the cuts on his torso. Alchemical. Interesting. In her head she could already see the faint traces of power that had dripped from them, the dried blood still carrying the meaning.
"Oh my god..."
"He needs blood, Willow." Buffy said as she moved towards the basement. Maybe not the most hygienic place to take someone so ripped up but then Willow had never heard of any vampires dying of infection. They'd given him two bags of pigs' blood, with him grimacing and griping the whole time. Dawn had fetched her own comforter and put it on the hard floor for him to rest on. They'd run out of sleeping bags the day before. When Willow went upstairs she found Xander sitting in the kitchen, nursing a drink.
"Nah. Not in the mood. You think she loves him?"
Willow frowned, gave him her best don't be a doofus face and left him staring at the half-full bottle of whisky. Since last summer Willow had been learning some new skills, ones which used her power in a non-destructive way. The sort of thing she'd always thought of as a little wussy, a bit wicca-wannabe. The sort of thing Tara had been able to do naturally, unconsciously. She could just about see auras now, if she concentrated. Tara had always been able to do it with a glance. Xander was not in the mood for talking, he was dulled and murky. In the living room, Dawn was sat cross-legged, telling the potential slayers the edited highlights of Spike and how cool he could be. When he wasn't being a complete bastard. Kennedy smiled at her and Willow started to smile back. No, no, no. Bad thoughts.
Giles and Anya were at the far end, books and manuscripts scattered across the table. Giles had given her a tight smile and asked for the Jezabiah Concordance. Neither of them seemed willing to talk about whatever the eyeball thingy had told them. Both were closed up, private. Giles seemed to have pulled his mood right in, so tight Willow could barely sense it at all and what she could see was black. In England he'd had a strong, happy shimmer of colours. He clearly missed his home far more than any of them ever knew.
Great. The whole house was filled with loneliness, each one of them separate and apart. It just brought home the lack of presence by her side, the lack of someone who could smile a secret sly smile and make Willow's world sparkle. There was nothing comforting, nothing warm. So she could join the pity party in the kitchen, the Spike fanclub on the sofa or the moody research at the table. Willow picked up a notebook and pen.
"I'm going to make a sketch of those symbols on Spike's chest. They're alchemical so maybe..."
Giles looked up her, his face still closed behind his glasses. "I think we may assume that they were all related to the summoning of the Turok-Han."
"Well, probably, but if I can track back which system was being used, maybe we could find something useful on our Big Bad. What kind of magic it favours and stuff. Every bit of information can help, right?"
Without waiting for Giles' affirmation, she headed back towards the basement. Xander was still staring into his glass in the kitchen so she walked right by. As she started down the stairs, she smelt warm blood, chemical pockets of odour popping in her nose. It made her dizzy for a moment, made her remember another night full of warm blood, tortured bodies and the aching dark pit where her heart had been. Then she recognised it was pigs' blood, with that faint metallic undertaste that suggested it had been microwaved.
They were unaware of her. Spike had propped himself up against the wall and Buffy was knelt beside him. She was still dirty and stale from the fight. She was holding a mug up to his mouth. As Willow watched, his taunt and shaking hands came up to hold the mug, clasping Buffy's hand to the china. Their eyes were on each other as he drank. They weren't smiling. They didn't need to.
To Willow, the room was buzzing, brightly lit with their emotion. The same colour, the same intensity, overlapping and merging. She smiled to herself and quietly went back upstairs.