By Devil Piglet
Disclaimer: All characters of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ are used without permission.
Author’s Notes: This is set post-Hell’s Bells, and while it overlaps some themes of Normal Again, for my purposes, that events in that episode haven’t occurred.
Feedback: This is my first story posted to fanfiction.net. I’d appreciate reviews: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Part 13: Mercy Street
There was a time, Buffy reflected, when she hadn’t been afraid of love.
Angel had been her first, in so many ways. She’d been young, very young, and inexperienced. Her teenaged confidence had occasionally flickered but there had been enough desire to make up for it. She had pursued him. She knew it was love, and wasn’t that all that mattered?
It took no effort to recall their final hour. Angel, wordless as always, had turned on his heel and left her standing in the midst of a typical Sunnydale scene: ambulances; exploded building; gross remnants of an evil beast littering the ground and – ew – her shoes? And Angel walking away.
They’d seen each other since, but that had been their goodbye. Buffy had gone to work on the wall she had started when Hank Summers left. Parker had been good for plenty of bricks, and Riley…
Riley, who’d seemed so safe and nice and honest; Riley, whom she’d willed herself to love because if she didn’t, she’d be crazy, right? Riley had earnestly betrayed her because he liked a little less Slayer in his women.
After that she thought the wall couldn’t get any higher, but then Mom had died.
The pain of that still stunned her; she didn’t have words for it. The mourning she’d done over her errant lovers seemed obscene in comparison.
That’s when she had decided. Each time she thought to herself, It will never be this bad again. But never became an increasingly short respite. She couldn’t do it anymore. Not with Dawn to take care of, and slaying, and the million and one other things that pressed on her from all sides.
All those times Spike had proclaimed his love, loud and fierce – stupid vampire, she had thought scornfully. She’d done her duty by trying to talk him out of it, and when that didn’t work she taken what she’d wanted and spit out the rest. It worked for everyone else, didn’t it?
Of course, she’d been the fool. Easy to see now, with Spike and Dawn in the front of the DeSoto, bickering and poking each other in the ribs as L.A. faded behind them. Easy to feel, with him sitting so close she could see the fine hairs on the back of his neck.
They were near one of the seedier beach areas. Spike pointed to a barren industrial park beneath the freeway exit. “You see that?” he was telling Dawn. “That’s where I tortured your sister’s ex-boyfriend.” He nodded solemnly, and Dawn smacked him on the arm. In seconds they were scrabbling for control over the radio dial.
They’d been this way for the bulk of the drive; two fractious children who’d been cooped up too long. At any other time Buffy suspected their antics would have annoyed her but now she was content to sit silently in the backseat and watch. It warmed a place inside her, seeing them now. Their affection, Buffy realized, was a precious thing. How had she never noticed that before?
She wondered what Giles had thought of this whole mess. She was glad Spike had conducted that conversation elsewhere. It was…too hard, her fall from grace in Giles’ absence. Made her think that he’d been right to leave.
“Buffy?” Dawn twisted around in the bench seat. “You okay? You haven’t said much.”
“Swallow your tongue, Slayer?” Spike’s voice was devoid of emotion.
She grimaced at him out of habit, then addressed Dawn. “Just tired. I think it’s going to take me while to, you know…recover.”
“Sure.” Dawn accepted this explanation.
“’Bout another hour and a half to Sunnydale,” Spike said. Buffy retreated into her corner of the car, and closed her eyes.
The Magic Box was a sooty, smoke-blackened mess, but it was home. To Anya, at any rate.
After the fire she’d all but moved in. She ate here, did her bookkeeping on the charred round table, even stole naps in the training room. It was important to her, to be near this place. Especially now, when it was broken and in need of fixing. She didn’t want to abandon it.
She knew how silly that was; knew that was nothing but a collection of bricks and plywood and odd, clever merchandise. But it was hers. Giles had gone, left her in charge, and she was determined to rebuild. This had been the first place she’d really fit in, the first place she’d felt safe and strong after months of struggling to find her place with Xander’s friends. There hadn’t been a place for her, she thought now. She’d never really belonged, anywhere except here.
The front of the shop was almost presentable. Anya wanted to reopen as soon as possible. She stood now on a stepladder, straining to reach the purification oil she’d rather inconveniently banished to the top of the bookcases. You’d think, she told herself crossly, that after everything I would position this in a more universally accessible location. Honestly --
A creak from the back of the shop made her freeze. Muted shuffling sounds reached her ears, and she realized how absurdly vulnerable she was, perched on the ladder, arms outstretched like a figurine in a music box.
The sounds ceased. Slowly Anya scanned the shelves that were more easily within her reach. Much as she enjoyed the anti-shoplifting spell she’d discovered in Colletti’s Compendium, she doubted the book would serve as a useful weapon.
The creaking began again. Her panicked gaze fell on a marble mortar and pestle being used as a bookend. Grabbing the mortar, she crept down from the stepladder. She edged toward the back entrance.
Heavy, determined footsteps. Anya clutched the mortar and viciously cursed the ease with which a mortal girl could be reduced to fear and trembling, only because of physical weakness. Anya knew they couldn’t all be Slayers, but –-
Oh, no. What if it was Buffy, back to finish the job? Anya looked down at the marble in her hand with sudden pessimism. This certainly wouldn’t do the trick. Where was Olaf’s troll hammer when she needed it?
The door to the training room swung wide. Anya raised the mortar and leaped.
“Good God, Anya!”
Giles grabbed her wrist, stopping the mortar a fraction of inch before it connected with his skull. He carefully lowered her arm while Anya stared, openmouthed.
“Anya. I didn’t mean to startle you. I had no idea you’d be here –- why are you here? It’s after dark.”
She felt foolish and pleased all at once, and it was a discomfiting sensation. She decided to glare at him sternly. It always worked with Xander. “Giles, what are you doing here?”
His mouth quirked. “Anya, it is my store.”
“Technically,” she began, a bit huffily, “the store belongs to Southland Property Management. Of course, if you’d taken my advice and entered into a lease-to-buy arrangement –-"
“The landlord is eager to divest himself of his Sunnydale holdings. We’ve come to an agreement.”
“Oh,” she said. She didn’t think he’d been listening to her, when she told him about the benefits of equity and ownership.
He cocked his head at her, and then his features seemed to soften. “Hello,” he said, and opened his arms. And Anya flung herself into them, tears suddenly pricking at her eyes.
She felt his large, warm hand smoothing back the hair on top of her head. Uncharacteristically abashed, she pulled back and attempted casualness.
“Why aren’t you in England?”
He studied her for another moment, then sighed. “I hoped I could be of some help here, given the recent developments. Buffy is, obviously, in need of assistance. I’m not sure if I’m the one to provide it for her, however.”
He seemed so weary. Anya took his hand and led him to the table. “Sit,” she said. You left some tea here. I’m going to make it.”
Giles chuckled half-heartedly. “Earl Grey would survive a disaster.”
“Actually,” Anya said from where she knelt behind the counter, “it’s orange pekoe. I drank all the Earl Grey.”
“Did you? I never noticed you liked it,” he answered absently.
I don’t. It reminded me of you. And it made me feel safe. Anya came closer to saying that than she liked. She returned to the table.
“So,” she said, gesturing around. “This is what your investment looks like.” The brightness she tried for sounded brittle to her own ears.
“I heard,” he replied. “It’s just a building. It doesn’t matter.”
She was stung, and she couldn’t figure out why. “I’m fixing it up,” she told him. “Another month and we can have a grand reopening, with gaudy decorations and discounts on selected items.”
He smiled. “I’d love to see that.”
“Aren’t you glad I made you get insurance?”
“It was an excellent suggestion. It will stand us in good stead, I believe.” He cleared his throat. “You weren’t here when Buffy…visited.”
She shook her head. “I had been coming in during the late evenings. You got my letter? About how I was closing the shop for –- inventory?”
“Yes.” He paused. “I’m sorry I didn’t say this earlier – it didn’t seem right over the phone or on paper. I’m so terribly sorry about what happened with Xander.”
She smiled a little. “Me too. It’s over, though. That’s the great thing about living on the Hellmouth! There’s always something worse about to happen.”
“Er – yes. Anya…”
“Buffy is coming home. She’s herself again, thanks to Spike and Dawn and a bit of research on my part.”
“That’s excellent. In my experience, when one has been previously possessed by an evil being it’s really best to jump right back into things.”
“Really? I’m concerned, frankly. About her constitution, and her mental state. Also, she doesn’t know about Tara.”
“Oh.” Tara’s funeral was another time during which she’d felt Giles’ absence keenly. And Buffy’s, and Dawn’s, and even Spike’s. It seemed they should have all been together then, even if one of them had brought them to that point. Funerals were very upsetting to Anya, and she felt that she’d endured more than was her fair share in her brief humanity.
“Well, she was obviously crazy,” Anya said in what she hoped was a soothing tone. “I mean, totally off the deep end. She’s not to blame for what happened.”
Giles looked around again at the shop, then back at Anya. “That’s very understanding of you.”
Anya was nonplussed. At a loss, she looked down at the table. “Willow won’t be as forgiving,” she told him.
He gazed at her bowed head. “I know.”
“End of the line,” Spike said. He shut off the engine and, for the first time since they’d left Los Angeles, turned around to face Buffy. “Welcome home.”
“Thanks,” she said. “For the ride.”
“Right.” He got out of the car and opened the trunk, removing the few small bags he and Dawn had accumulated during their flight.
Yawning, Dawn shambled out of the car and up the front walk. After a moment, Buffy followed with Spike behind her.
He deposited the bags at the front door. “They aren’t heavy. Leave ‘em here if you want.” Clearly, he had no desire to go inside.
“Is my Enrique Iglesias CD in there?” Dawn asked. Spike rolled his eyes.
“No. I kept it. I just love him so much. Tonight I’m going to go home and play it, because hearing it fifty thousand times just isn’t enough.”
Dawn sniffed. Then she went to Spike and hugged him like it was the most natural thing in the world. And Spike – his arms went around her without thought, until he met Buffy’s eyes over Dawn’s nestled head. Then he gently pushed her off. “Up you go, now. Into bed with you.”
“’Kay. ‘Night.” Buffy had been expecting a more substantial goodbye, and then she realized that for Dawn, this wasn’t goodbye. Spike was part of her life now, and she would see him again soon.
Dawn dug into her backpack and finally found the housekey. As she unlocked the door, Buffy turned to Spike.
“Harris came by and locked up. You two left in a hurry.”
Struggling with Dawn in her bedroom, tearing out of the house after her weeping sister…
Buffy wrenched herself back to the present. “If you’re tired –- I mean, if you’re not sure you can make it to your crypt –-"
“I’ll be fine.” His voice was clipped but polite. God, what had she done to send him so far away from her?
“Well, then,” she said. “Goodnight.”
And then he was off, down the path and back into the car. Buffy stood at the door and watched him leave, stood there until the DeSoto turned the corner. Then she went inside.
Half an hour later the Summers girls had washed up and shimmied into sleepwear. Now Buffy lay in bed, lights off and eyes open.
God, the look on his face tonight – all the usual passion and fury and wildness banked. He came alive with Dawn but there was nothing in that icy gaze for Buffy. And hadn’t she wanted that for so long? For him to finally get over his obsession? Yet now she was the one whose mind was filled with unwelcome images – the way his shoulders worked under the weight of the bags, making him seem so fundamentally male; the hidden smile that emerged under Dawn’s teasing and questions –-
The way he’d held on to her so frantically in the club, love-words pouring out of him even as she’d fought against herself.
A tap on the door, and then a glossy head poking around the door. “Can you sleep?”
“No,” Buffy said, and scooted over in bed. Dawn sat down.
“It’s weird being in my room alone. I’m used to Spike in the next bed.”
And Buffy saw, as clearly as if she had been there: Dawn’s long form sprawled across a lumpy twin bed, and Spike watching over her. Sleep would be elusive to him, and he didn’t feel good about closing his eyes anyway. Not when they were running. So he’d lean against the headboard, legs crossed at the ankles, eyes occasionally drifting to the white light of the television.
“I made a mistake,” Buffy heard herself say. The words were choked.
Dawn didn’t ask You mean when you tried to kill me or when you burned down our hangout or when you attacked your friends? Instead, she smoothed the hair back from Buffy’s forehead. “Sleep now,” she said softly. “It will be better in the morning.” She nudged Buffy over and then lay down beside her, and Buffy’s eyes closed again.
Oh, she’d been the fool, all right.
There’d been love, the night in the broken house and the times after. It had caught in her throat, and she’d buried it in slightly-too-hard bites along his hipbones. She’d been the fool to think she could screw him senseless, crumple in his arms after, gasp out her desires in language that had never seen the light of day – all without loving him. She’d hated him too, hated him with a growing rage because at night alone in her room the love intruded and it was so much harder to deny then. Because he made her out a liar.
There’d been love.
Come back, she wanted to say. It’s just now making sense and I need to know that I’m not too late.
She listened to Dawn’s deep, rhythmic breathing and wondered what tomorrow would bring.
Continued in Part 14: Daughters of the Chaos
Author's Note: To those of you eager for Buffy/Spike rapprochement, and who want to see Willow go all apeshit and blow up the moon -- it's coming, I promise.