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I have boldly lifted bits of dialog from "After Life" and following episodes. These show up in red. Footnotes are at the end of each chapter.
Just before daybreak, Buffy startled awake, and jerked out of the confines of the blanket and Spike’s arms, smacking his face in the process. She ended up standing by the couch in a fighting stance.
“Easy, Love,” Spike said quietly. “It’s okay. I’m sorry, but you’re still here.”
Buffy stared wide-eyed around the slowly brightening room and then at Spike. She took in the damage she caused to his face, which though faded, was still very evident. “Oh, God,” she moaned and collapsed on the floor, her arms on the couch. Not wanting to spook her, Spike knelt beside her, not quite touching her despite the fact he had held her all night. She saw past the bruises into those so-blue eyes where there was nothing but concern. “I’m sorry, Spike.”
“What for?” he asked, cocking his head to one side.
She gave a hollow laugh. “I only beat the crap out of you.”
“Wasn’t the first time.”
“I can’t do it, Spike. I can’t stay here.”
“You’ve not been back a day and already you’re giving up? That’s not the Buffy I know,” Spike scoffed gently.
She stood and moved away from him with a disgusted look. “Where I was, it was… bliss. And here, now. I’m hungry. My body aches. My hands hurt. I beat up my… protector. I have to make nice to the friends who pulled me out of total happiness. I feel like I’m still covered in grave dirt. And I have to… pee.”
Spike smiled a slight, sad smile up at her. “Life is not bliss. Life is just this; it’s living. The pain that you feel you only can heal by living. [i]
So if you want to go on living, we can take care of these things. I can make you breakfast. I’ll heal, no worries. We’ll re-bandage your hands. Go clean up and I’ll be in the kitchen. As for your friends… Dawn shooed them away last night. You have at least the weekend to decide.”
Buffy gave a small sigh as she headed upstairs to the bathroom. “I don’t even know what the date is.”
As soon as Buffy was gone, Spike gave in to the pain he had been feeling all night. Clutching the couch, he managed to get up and went into the kitchen. He placed his shoulder against the doorframe and with a sudden thrust he popped his shoulder back in place. As many times as it had happened to him, he hated that feeling.
The bathroom was now crammed with the grooming items of four women, yet it was still much the same. After almost five months many of her own things still sat among the clutter. Buffy absently removed the bandages from her hands and examined the already healing cuts, thinking of how gently Spike tended her and how he had held her all night.
Standing in the steamy spray, Buffy marveled at how easy it was to go through the routine of showering. It was like when you came home after being away on vacation for a month when you expect your house to be alien and old routines forgotten. She shampooed away the rest of the grave dirt that Dawn had done her best to brush out.
When the water turned the dirt to mud, the smell brought back the feeling of earth pressing in on her, and getting in her mouth and eyes. She felt panic start to well up, and resisted it. She forced her mind away from the image of the grave. Giles’ rich baritone voice came to her, talking in the soothing way he would guide her through meditation and focus techniques.
She stood in the spray and let her hair form a curtain around her face. The water beat on the back of her head, drumming on her ears, and soothing her. She steadied her breathing and let herself think about the place she was while she was dead. She felt the protection, the completeness, the love, the happiness, and allowed herself a few more tears. Then, using image techniques Giles taught her, built a mental box around it. Reluctantly, she turned her back from its shining perfection to the world she must live in now.
saw Dawn who was more than a sister, having been made from her. Buffy thought of
all the memories she had of her life with Dawn. She’s not a little girl any
more. Being left alone has matured her. Dawn
was so… together last night. She literally pulled me back form the edge. I
want to get to know her. I want to see her grow up. I want to see the strong,
beautiful woman she will become. I left her all alone when I died. But
Spike. He stayed. He’s been looking out for her.
like the quick clips at the beginning of a TV show when they sum up what
happened previously, she saw Spike next. There he was knocking Giles out of the
way of a demon attack. Here he tried his damnedest to kill her. Here he saved
her life. Next he smiled at her and flirted. Here was his game face delighting
in the death he could bring to demons. Then he was just sitting quietly beside
her as she worried about her mother’s illness. Now he lay bloody and broken
from Glory’s abuse. Here he grabbed a sword aimed to kill Dawn. The quick
images irised down to his startling blue eyes and the expression in them when he
saw her alive. Was it just last night? I… I cannot do without him now. I
never had to do without him.
Buffy gasped in the humid air. She had been hit with a single, clear insight. She could see everything in him she would never allowed herself to see before. As hard as she denied it in the past she could not now. The vampire once known as William the Bloody, the second most sadistic killer vampire in the Watcher’s journals, loved her. He had been fighting for their side for almost 2 years. His actions went beyond the implanted government chip that kept him from hurting humans. He could have taken off at any time, yet he stayed to protect my kid sister. Just because he promised he would. Out of love. Spike is more than he seems, more than the big bad image he likes to project. Even though there is true evil in him, Spike fights on the side of good. He may even be a champion.
This revelation opened her eyes about herself, too. If Spike is not all evil, and may be quite good, then what am I? I may not be the perfect defender of the world. Maybe I can let down my guard a little. Maybe there is a little of the darkness in me…Like he has been trying to tell me. Somehow this thought is comforting. Even though she went to heaven, she did not have to act like an angel.
She showered until the water almost ran cold, collecting her thoughts and feelings about Dawn, Spike, and herself. She would ponder other things soon enough.
The kitchen was warm with defused morning sunlight when Buffy walked in. Spike had discarded his long leather coat and seemed at home in black t-shirt and jeans. His strong hands gently handled plates and cutlery as he placed an omelet on the counter and poured her a glass of orange juice.
She smiled as she watched him with her new perspective. “You can cook?”
“Sure. Omelets are easy.” He nodded to her hands. “Do you need me to take care of those?”
She glanced at the even scabbing across her knuckles. “They’re fine, thanks. Apparently I still heal quickly.”
“You’re still you, Buffy. You’ve not changed.”
“Are you sure?”
“As sure as my senses and heart can tell, Luv.”
Buffy ate in silence as Spike sipped a mug of pig’s blood. He noticed her watching him and lowered the mug. “Does this bother you? I can go into the other room, or drink it later.”
“No, no. It’s fine. I just still say ‘ew!”
“It’s not O pos. but it keeps the bloom in my cheeks.”
Buffy had to smile a little and Spike was pleased to see it.
Just being with Spike made her feel grounded and safe. Buffy was surprised to find herself enjoying this new feeling. She didn’t want to tell him what she had discovered, afraid it would change this delicate balance between them somehow, so she distracted herself from her thoughts of Spike. “Why did Giles leave?”
“There was no one for him to watch, was there. I’d never seen a man so unhappy. But that’s only because I have no reflection.” Buffy looked in his eyes. “We… talked a lot over the summer. We both… and I… never mind.” Spike turned away and gazed out into the sunny back yard without seeing it.
Buffy came over and touched his shoulder. “What, Spike?”
He turned around and was very aware of how close she was standing. “I did save you. Not when it counted, of course, but… after that. Every night after that. I see it all again. I do something different, faster, more clever, you know. Dozens of times, lots of different ways. Every night I save you.” [ii] He dropped his eyes. “Sorry, I’ve said too much.”
This confession called for one of her own. Buffy reached up and laid a hand on his cheek. “Thank you. Spike. Thank you for all the good things you’ve done; for fighting the hell god, for protecting Dawn, for being there for me through it all, and for being here, now. I don’t understand it, I admit. I know exactly what you are. I’ve read the Watcher’s diaries and I know the evil things you’ve done in the past. And yet… and yet, a big part of being the Slayer is instinct. I have to listen to what I feel. What I feel from you is good and right.”
“You’re completely undermining my whole ‘Big Bad’ campaign, pet.” Spike could only cover his surprise with humor.
Buffy smiled sadly at him and lowered her hand.
are you okay?”
“Buffy, if you’re… if you’re in pain. If you need anything or I can do anything for you…”[iii]
stepped back, and gazed intently into his eyes. This was the one thing she could
only ask of him, for no one else would give her the out she needed so much. “I
still don’t know if I can make it here. Everything here is hard and bright and
violent. Everything I feel, everything I touch. This is hell. Just getting
through the next moment and the one after that knowing what I’ve lost.
“I think that if you stay by me, I can make it. I am going to try my best for Dawn, and myself. If I can’t…”
Spike met her pleading eyes, and tucked a hair out of her face, smiling sadly. “Yes, Luv. I promise. No force is strong enough to tear me from your side except your own words. I'll stay until you command me to go.” He cocked his head to one side, his voice a low murmur. “And if this cruel world is too much, if you decide this life is destroying you, I'll take you in my arms and drink your life into me. I'll send you back to your hero’s realm. I'll then use that strength to continue to protect Dawn as long as my existence will allow.” A tear ran down his cheek, yet there was only strength in his voice.
“Like you said, some things are easier to take if you know they can end. Thank you.” She smiled, ready to start taking what she has been dealt a moment at a time.
He spoke softly, “Just remember this: you've known something most people never will. And one day you'll go there again. I know it. You carry it within you. You’ve not lost it, it’s lost you.”
Dawn came into the kitchen to find them standing close. “Is there something I should know?”
“Oh, Dawn!” Buffy left Spike to hug her sister. Spike slipped away to give them some privacy, and to hide his tears from Dawn.
“Ow! Buffy, gently,” Dawn wiggled in Buffy’s too-strong embrace.
She loosened her grip, but did not let go. “Dawn, I love you. I… have to tell you…”
“It’s okay, Buffy. I know.”
Buffy pulled back to see her sister better. “You know what?”
“I overheard you talking to Spike last night.”
“Oh. Then…” She glanced away and back to her. “It really is hard for me to be here.”
“Buffy. Let me know if I can do anything. Or... or if I’m doing the wrong thing… or if…”
“Dawn. Just be you. I love you. You brought me back when I would have jumped. I… I think I’m past that. But knowing you’re here, and that Spike’s here.”
Dawn gave her sister a sunny smile. “You finally see what I’ve been saying about him all along?”
“I guess so. It’s strange, isn’t it?”
“He’s spent a lot of time here, over the summer. I’ve gotten to know him. The demon is still there in him don’t doubt that. When he fights… burr! He’s still dangerous. But not to us, not to his friends. Don’t ever tell Spike, but my theory is he’s got a weak demon in him. Just as there are stronger and weaker people, I think his demon is not so powerful. Some, maybe a lot of William has surfaced since they chipped him.”
“The demon is leashed so the man can come out?”
“It’s a battle some times, between William and his vampire nature, I’d say. Plus, 120 years of behaving a certain way can be a hard habit to break.”
“Have you been taking Watcher lessons?”
“Some. Although they won’t let me near most of the books. But I listen, and Spike talks.” Dawn saw the dishes on the counter. “Did Spike make you an omelet?”
“Yeah, I didn’t know he could cook.”
“He couldn’t at first. I had to help him.” Dawn confessed.
“You can’t cook, either.”
“We both learned. I admit to some loss of fry pans. And… a couple of spatulas.”
Buffy sat at the counter and Dawn got down cereal and such to join her.
“Spike told me you banished the gang.”
“Yeah. I overheard what they did, how they acted. I didn’t want to talk to them, either.”
Dawn heaped on the sugar as Buffy picked at an orange. It’s amazing how quickly things turn normal, mundane.
“Dawn, did I see myself being torn apart last night? I thought I did.”
Dawn gulped a mouth full of cereal. “That was the Buffybot. Willow fixed it up. She got the head back on and Giles sharpened the fighting skills. They didn’t want the local baddies to know you… you were gone.”
“Did it work?”
“Yeah, only the speech patterns were never right. I never appreciated your punning before.”
Something nasty occurred to Buffy. “Did Spike… was he…?”
“Oh God, no. He hated it. He would never even look straight at it. Willow took out all that... programming.”
Buffy smiled and suddenly yawned. “I… I’m going to go to bed. To see if I can sleep.”
“Well, I only got about 5 hours of sleep myself, so this is going to be a sleepy house today.”
“Dawn, what day is it? I don’t even know the date.”
She told her sister.
“I missed your birthday.”
“I have you back. That’s gift enough. Go sleep and I’ll keep the place quiet.”
Buffy went into the living room to find Spike sprawled on the couch, with his boots off and the blanket that had covered her all night half-pulled over him. She studied the still form and returned to Dawn who was pouring another bowl of cereal.
“Dawn, when Spike wakes up, can you… send him up to my room?”
“What if you’re asleep?”
“I have a feeling I won’t sleep much.”
“Sure, if that’s what you want.”
“Thanks.” Buffy went upstairs.
Some things were different in her room. It had the feel of a place that is walked through, but not lived in, like a guest room. Dawn had laid out her yummy sushi pajamas on folded-down sheets. Looking at the pictures of her friends, she dreaded seeing them. She knew they would want her to thank them and she just did not know if she could. She closed the window, getting a sudden memory of Angel leaning in through it and kissing her. Her first real love, Angel.
Who had told Angel? What did he feel? Would he want to see me again? Do I want to see him? She explored her feelings for Angel. Theirs was a love that was like bedrock, solid and real, but now over it flowed her thoughts about Spike. These new ideas were like quicksilver, not taking any defined shape, yet real. She pulled the blinds and crawled into bed. Her thoughts tumbled until she fell into an exhausted sleep, clutching her toy pig, Mr. Gordo.
[i] “Once More With Feeling” Written By: Joss Whedon
[ii] “After Life” Written By: Jane Espenson
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