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: email@example.com.
Part 19: Are You Experienced?
“Dear Lord, Anya. It smells like an opium den in here.”
Her head popped up comically from behind the front counter. “I got a new shipment of incense. Siam Lassitude Spice.”
“Yes, well. I’m sure the college students will like it.” Giles studied her now, as he had often over the last several weeks. Anya was a dilemma to him, suddenly. He wanted to tell himself that she’d changed, that Xander’s betrayal and the recent crises had tempered her candor. But that reasoning seemed superficial. He wondered, instead, if her fiance’s constant admonitions to her and the ill-disguised contempt she’d been accorded by others had, in fact, blinded them to something quite special in their midst. Something quite special, indeed.
“Are you happy here?” he asked abruptly.
Her head rose again, slowly this time. “Here…?”
He cleared his throat. “In Sunnydale. Working at the store. Does it satisfy you?” His last words hung in the air between them.
“Oh.” She appeared to consider this. “I’m good at retail,” she offered finally.
“Without a doubt.”
“And de-Buffying the merchandise will require at least another three weeks, maybe more.”
“She does tend to have a rather…turbulent effect on her surroundings.”
“And I realize that the store doesn’t look anything like it used to, but I still feel…connected somehow. Does that make any sense? It can’t be very human, I don’t think, this attachment to a small building of rather shoddy craftsmanship.”
“It makes perfect sense, to me.” He smiled briefly. “You’ve built this shop into quite the viable enterprise. It represents many hours of hard work and ingenuity on your part.”
Her eyes widened slightly. Giles wondered how long it had been since she’d received a compliment. Xander had never praised her in Giles’ presence, at least. He felt again, keenly, how she’d been treated as an interloper among them.
When she spoke again, her voice was tremulous. “They need me.”
“Buffy, Dawn – even Spike. God, even Xander. But Buffy especially. I can talk to her, Giles. About…discovering our capacity for evil. And then living with it. Because what’s the alternative?”
Giles recalled the sick awareness that had swamped him after he suffocated Ben. He’d done it to save them, to save the world, to save Buffy, but Buffy had died just the same. And Giles had been left with his grief and his punctured righteousness.
And then, oddly, he thought of Spike. Spike, who’d gone good to help them but who had lost everything still.
“It’s a relief to her, I think, to have someone who doesn’t look at her and see everything she isn’t; see only a Slayer gone bad.” Anya’s brows drew together in contemplation. “Although sometimes I look at her and see how much more attractive she would be if she’d curl her hair just a bit. Right at the ends.”
Giles found that his smile had returned. It felt good, to look at Anya and feel something akin to comfort. And something…else.
“Perhaps the two of you can take an afternoon off and do…” he faltered. “Female things.”
Anya frowned. “You mean have lesbian sex?”
For a full minute he gaped at her, while she gazed back inquisitively. Finally, he shook his head.
“No. No, I was thinking of, ah, shopping. Or a trip to one of those day spas. I’d be happy to sponsor the outing.” Was he still blushing? His ears felt hot.
Anya paled marginally. “You mean, hang out? Her and me?”
“Well, Dawn may also enjoy some pampering. I daresay the weeks she spent with Spike did not include many opportunities for extensive grooming. I must admit, I’d prefer not to hear another diatribe on how a month without conditioner has damaged her follicles irreparably.”
But Anya appeared nearly panicked at the prospect. “Buffy and I….recently we’ve spent time together, of course, involving mutual unburdening and the occasional emotional outburst. And she’s done an excellent job repairing those pine display cases. But, Giles…it’s not as though she likes me.”
For the longest moment he looked at her – the sudden vulnerability in her gaze; the way her fingers gripped the cash register like a drowning man would a life preserver. So afraid of rejection, and who was he to blame her? She’d been rejected in the most public, most humiliating manner imaginable. And here he stood, blithely suggesting that she extend herself to someone who had never previously expressed much interest.
Mistaking his perusal, she nodded, a bit jerkily. “Precisely. Buffy would have very little inclination to engage in that sort of female bonding with…me. Really, if we simply continue to cry and emote and occasionally eat fish tacos together, things will be fine. Don’t you worry, Rupe – Giles,” she corrected quickly. “She’s going to get better every day, until this whole murder and insanity affair is merely an unpleasant memory. Why, even now –"
She was still talking when he leaned across the counter and kissed her.
There was silence as Buffy and Spike lay together, after. In the past Spike had filled the space with accusations, coaxes, taunts. Now, though his arms clutched her to his chest securely, he didn’t speak.
He was holding back, she knew. Still not ready to believe her, even while their guttural I love yous hung heavy in the air between them. She could almost see the machinery of his brain working feverishly, trying to envision a scenario in which she was telling the truth.
She got that. She wasn’t entirely accustomed to the ‘I’m in love with Spike’ concept herself, and it had been percolating within her for a few weeks now.
Oh, it’s been longer than that, wouldn’t you say? BadBrain prompted.
Well, Buffy conceded, maybe.
It was all so new, and so old (“I’d rather be fighting you anyway.” “Mutual.”), and so very strange. And Buffy didn’t like the tension that stifled them both now. Then her eyes brightened. She had something else to tell him.
“I met William.”
Nothing like weirdness on top of weirdness, she figured.
He didn’t stir, didn’t turn his attention from where it was fastened somewhere on the cracked ceiling. “William who?”
“William you. Your – your –“ She waved her hand helplessly. “You know.”
He scooted out from under her, unceremoniously dumping her on the floor in the process. “Like hell you did.”
“So over that. No, it’s true. When I was – stuck – in there, he came to me. In my dreams.”
“Oh, this sounds like some bad Lifetime movie,” Spike snapped.
“It does not! And what would you know about it anyway? Or the Lifetime channel for that matter?”
“Ask your sister. All summer long I’ve been watching tales of courage and sacrifice and husbands who turn out to be murderous polygamists. And they all starred that bird who was in ‘One Day At a Time.’” He thought back. “Well, sometimes there was Laura from ‘Little House on the Prairie.’ Bizarre. I kept waiting for Almanzo to kidnap her daughter.”
“Spike. Stop trying to change the subject.”
“What subject? You were hallucinating. No real surprise, that. But you didn’t see him.”
“Why are you so freaked about this? He was nice. He helped me.”
“There is no he. William’s dead.” Spike smirked unpleasantly. “Pissed on his grave myself. Look, I might have crawled out of the ground where they dumped him but I left him behind when I did. There is no William.”
“There is!” She folded her arms and glared at him. “And he told me things.”
“Lots of things. Tons of things. Hundreds of interesting bits of information.”
Spike looked so horrified that Buffy had to relent. “Oh, relax. We didn’t talk about you. Much. We talked about…how to do the right thing when it seems impossible. He gave me hope. I was ready to give up, Spike.”
He was listening to her now, despite himself. She needed him to know; needed him to understand what William had explained (better than she would, she was certain) about the whole good and evil thing. Spike had known about the gray area between the two, long before she had. But Spike needed hope now as well – the hope she’d pounded out of him in an alley, the hope that had been behind his blustery posturing when Riley had discovered them. He’d been needling her ex, but she saw now that he’d also been trying to convince himself that this could work, that he could love his Slayer and she could love him in return.
She’d taken the last shreds of that hope with her when she’d swept out of his crypt that last time. And what he had done after that – confronting her, protecting Dawn, battling to restore her to the person she’d been (the person who’d cut him out of her life) – that had been for her sake, and Dawn’s.
“He showed me stuff I hadn’t seen before. Hadn’t wanted to, hadn’t been able to…I don’t know. But he showed me, the way you dug goodness out of yourself. You found it in you, Spike, even when everybody said there was none to be found.”
“I don’t want to hear this,” he said. His head was down now, hanging between his bent knees as he sat.
“Yeah, I’m kind of getting that. But I’m leading up to something, so…as you told me once, you’ll forebear. Right?”
An unintelligible grunt. She went on.
“I don’t make you do the right thing, Spike. Something’s happened over the last two years. Something amazing.” She poked his bare foot with her own. “And I want to stick around to see what happens next.”
Then he looked up at her, all sloe-eyed sex and promise. And showed her what happened next.
An hour later, as she walked home, Buffy could still feel a foolish smile tugging at her lips. Was this joy she felt? The retrieval of something she didn’t know she’d lost. How he’d been swayed by her words, against his will.
And, of course, the incredible sex. Nice to know that in a whirlwind of realization and adjustment, some things hadn’t changed. She was still smiling when she drifted up to her porch and unlocked the door.
“Bloody buggering hell!”
Startled, Buffy slammed the front door behind her. She dropped her bag on the floor and walked to the kitchen.
“Stupid washing machine is broken again,” Dawn muttered as she climbed up the stairs from the basement. “And I have to wear that outfit to Janice’s tonight. Okay? I have to.”
“Using that kind of language won’t help the washing machine problem and it certainly isn’t going to get you to Janice’s tonight.” Buffy went to the junk drawer and began rummaging for a wrench.
Dawn stared at her, a genuinely blank expression on her face. Then she pouted. “Like you can tell me not to swear, Miss Use-A-Huge-Ass-Butcher-Knife-To-Try-And-Kill-My-Little-Sister. You so can’t act all morally superior.”
Buffy whirled around, aghast. “I didn’t – you know that I wasn’t in control – I tried to…” She narrowed her eyes. “And it wasn’t a ‘huge-ass butcher knife’. It was the same knife Mom used to carve the pumpkin at Halloween.”
“Oh, and that’s supposed to make me feel better?”
“Are you going to bring this up every time we have an argument?”
“Are you going to let me go to Janice’s?”
“Start your homework. I’ll take a look at the washer and then we’ll talk about it again.” They’d spent the time since she’d returned in a tender, if delicate, companionship. Now, Buffy saw, the honeymoon was clearly over.
Dawn grabbed her books off the kitchen table and stomped out of the room. Buffy nearly, nearly didn’t hear her sister’s last words.
“What was that? What did you say?” Dawn merely harrumphed.
“Did you say Crazy Buffy would have let you go?”
Buffy placed the wrench carefully, so carefully down on the counter. Then she followed Dawn into the living room. “I asked you a –" She gasped.
Her friend stood in the doorway, wreathed in yellow light. But it wasn’t the sun; too bright, too harsh for that. It hurt Buffy’s eyes to look.
“Why, there’s the Summers I’ve been looking for,” Willow said in a tone of saccharine sweetness. “I’ve got a bone to pick with you, Buffy. Well, actually about two hundred and six.” A short, brittle laugh. “Sorry. You were never the scholar, were you? Kinda ruins the joke.”
Buffy moved next to Dawn and reached for her sister’s hand. Finding it, she felt a quick, reassuring squeeze. Strength.
“I’m so glad you came back,” Buffy said truthfully. “I tried and tried to find you, Willow. I asked Xander – and your parents said you were traveling – where were you? Are you…” Seemed foolish, even cruel to ask. “How are you?”
Willow lifted her hands in a gesture of resignation. “Oh, you know. Some days are better than others. Some days I just want to die, so I can be with her. And other days…Other days, I want to kill.”
Buffy stepped forward, close enough to embrace. “Willow, I can’t begin to explain it, or make up for what happened. I wish it had been me, instead of –"
Willow slapped her.
Buffy recoiled, more from shock than anything else. Willow shrugged.
“Hey – if I had any say in the matter,” she replied, “it would have been you. But wanna hear something ironic? I wasted my chance, Buff. All that studying and preparation for the resurrection spell? The one that brought you back? That was my one shot. And I used it on you. So when Tara – when Tara –“ She broke off, choking on the words. Buffy approached her again but Willow’s left hand flew up. “Back.”
Buffy was knocked backwards, landing painfully on the hardwood floor of the hallway. She looked up, re-evaluating the situation even as misery and guilt vied for position in her gut. She just had to get Dawn out of the house; then she and Willow could talk. This was Willow, after all.
But Dawn was next to Buffy now, long arms frantically pulling at her sister. Buffy stood, her eyes never leaving her friend’s.
“I don’t expect you to forgive me,” Buffy told her resolutely. Tears threatened, but she held herself steady. This wasn’t about her, not really. This was Willow’s loss, she thought. Willow’s turn.
Buffy moved toward her friend once more. “You know I love you. I loved Tara. If there was anything that I could do –"
Willow cocked her head, as if considering this. “Well,” she replied, “now that you mention it…”
A hazy image sprang up between the girls, flickering and wavering. The scene it showed, however, was clear.
“You can watch your lover die. Just like I did.”
Spike, naked and chained. Skin flayed open. Blood running in crimson rivers along abused flesh, and eyes –
Eyes now no more than blackened gouges in his skull.
Buffy found that she could do nothing but stare at the vision, even as some new torment assailed Spike and his lips parted in a soundless scream. There was another presence with him, although how she knew that Buffy couldn’t say. Because she couldn’t tear her gaze from Spike’s body. Beside her Dawn whimpered piteously, but Buffy remained motionless. Her limbs were leaden, her voice banished by horror, and her heart…Spike. Spike.
Willow grinned. “Welcome home, Buffy.”
Continued in Part 20: Wicked Witch