By Valerie X
Have to give credit to Frawley for suggesting a joke in a review at fanfiction.net. Thank you for a great idea! Hope you don’t mind...you know...the stealing of it.
He was disgusting, really. All hard angles and lines. He was so thin that when he leaned over his chest seemed concave, and his pants hung too low off his narrow hips. Every slight change in his moods or thoughts was disclosed in the too-visible bones of his expressive face. She could count every vein in his arms, arms which, she decided, while muscular, were very much definitely not sexy. They were stick-like, actually, and under the long rows of incandescent lights his long-dead skin was far too white.
Buffy turned away from him and caught a glimpse of her reflection in the dairy case at the end of the aisle. She hadn’t been sleeping or eating much lately, and it showed in her pale complexion and reedy frame.
She was distracted from her gloominess when a box of Saltines hit her in the head.
“Spike!” she shouted, spinning around to glare at him. “Do you have to find violence even in a grocery store?”
“Will you buy something already?” he snapped back. He held up a bag of Cheetos as if displaying them. “How ‘bout these? Damn good stuff.”
“Ew. Do you know how much fat those have in them?”
Spike grinned, opened the bag, and tossed a few fluorescent orange pieces in his mouth. “Vampires don’t gain weight,” he said, his mouth full. “Ha ha.”
Buffy’s face suddenly went slack with shock. She rushed to Spike’s side and spoke in a low voice. “What are you doing?”
“What?” Spike looked around, trying to see if there was someone else in the snack aisle who’d pissed her off. No such luck.
“You can’t do that!” she said in a loud whisper, gesturing at the bag in his hands.
“I can’t eat Cheetos?” he asked disbelievingly.
“You can’t open the chips until you pay for them!”
Spike growled and put his hands to his head, looking as if he’d just gotten zapped by the chip. Buffy took a step backwards as he recovered and leaned towards her, his eyes angry and his neck taut.
“Why don’t you just go nail yourself to a cross right now?” he shouted.
Buffy crossed her arms over her chest, refusing to be intimidated. “Oh, I’m sorry. Does my morality bother you?”
“No, your insanity bothers me.”
“Yeah, well....“ She pointed to the Cheetos, which he was still gripping tightly. “You‘re evil!”
“Is that the best you’ve got?” he said with a chuckle.
“Shut up.” She shoved past him and removed a bag of fat-free pretzels from the shelf.
He walked ahead of her and turned into the beverage aisle. She pushed the cart at a snail’s pace, in no hurry to catch up. Maybe if she moved incredibly slowly they could complete the rest of the shopping trip without having to be near each other. It was really the only way she could imagine the evening ending well.
It wasn’t that she didn’t have better insults. She had fabulous insults, tons of them, attacking everything from his masculinity to his hair. It was one of the few things in her short, angst-ridden life which she felt confident that she had a talent for. No matter how pathetic she got, even when she wasn’t getting along with her friends, even when she was so tired from working at that damned fast-food place that she didn’t feel like slaying, even when a vampire managed to stab in her the gut with her own stake, she could always insult Spike. It was her calling. It was her gift.
Well, that and the death.
But right now she couldn’t unleash any of her brilliant verbal abuse. Because he could leave.
Not leave as in leave; not that at all. She wasn’t so pathetic that she wept inwardly at the thought of Spike leaving town. As a matter of fact, it would make things simpler if he just did. She’d miss him, sure, but she was good at suffering, what with all the practice she’d gotten.
She was afraid that he would leave right then. Leave the grocery store. Just get angry and walk out, and then she’d be left standing with a cart full of food and a dollar in her pocket.
Now that would be sad.
When she finally made her way to the row of soda and juice, Spike was examining the shelves intently, his gaze steady even as she came up behind him, and he didn’t turn around as he spoke to her.
“So I have this radio in my crypt -”
“Which you stole from Xander,” she interrupted.
“And I can pick up a few halfway-decent stations,” he continued, ignoring her. “But sometimes the crap they play is just too much.” He frowned at the bottles before him and took a sideways step to explore more selections. “If I hear one more bloody Sugar Ray song, I’m going on a killing spree, chip or no chip. I don’t know who the hell listens to Sugar Ray and says, ‘This is great! We need to put this on heavy rotation!’ I thought I’d seen every sort of depravity on this twisted Earth, but a man who would do that is beyond me. And don’t even get me started on Creed.” He moved further down the aisle, his eyes still keenly searching. “If those Powers That Be you good guys all believe in had any sense, they’d zap every one of those bleeding Jesus rockers with lightning or what have you. I mean, what kind of god allows a band like Creed to exist? There’s the real big bad for you, Slayer. If good and evil were real, if it could all be nicely packaged and clearly defined like you think, there’d be none of that rot on the radio, and they’d play more System of a Down.” He spotted what he had been looking for and hefted the bottle into his hands.
“System of a what now?” Buffy asked.
Spike glanced over his shoulder with a disgusted expression on his face. “That’s it. I can never sleep with you again.” He held out the bottle. “Dawn likes this.”
Buffy took the container of CranApple Juice from him and frowned at it. “No she doesn’t.”
“Yes she does,” Spike said as he moved towards the beer cooler.
“No she doesn’t,” Buffy said, her voice firm. “I bought her apple juice a few weeks ago and she made a big deal about how much she hates it.”
Spike rolled his eyes along with his body as he turned to face her, giving her his standard head-down eyes-up you-are-so-stupid glare. “She hates apple. She likes CranApple.”
Buffy absentmindedly dropped the juice into the cart, where it crushed a bag of Tostitos.
She searched her mind for a memory of this, something that would make her nod and say, “Oh, right. Because that one time...” But there was nothing. All she could remember was a recent, vague, “You know I hate apple juice.” But at the time she hadn’t known that, about the apple juice. And now this other element, this Cran, and she didn’t remember at all.
But Spike did.
“You get sucked into an alternate reality or what?” Spike said, lifting a case of Rolling Rock into the cart. “Can you believe I actually drink this crap? Best damn beer I ever tasted was this Dominican stuff called Presidente, but you can’t get it in this lily-white town. I’d kill for some Presidente.” His eyes darkened. “Seriously. If I could, I’d kill some Dominicans and swipe their beer.”
“I didn’t know,” Buffy said weakly.
“Didn’t know what?”
“About the juice.” She stared down at it, thick and red and sloshing around in its container, like blood. “I can’t remember what she likes. Or maybe I never knew at all. But you knew.” When she looked up at him, her eyes were wet. “How did you know?”
Spike shrugged. “Five months of being the girl’s babysitter, I suppose.” He grabbed her arm, as if to yank her out of her mood. “’S no big, just juice. Come on.”
Buffy refused to budge, again focusing on the CranApple, which had stilled now in its plastic carton, looking almost solid. “What was she like, when I was gone?” she asked softly.
Spike’s mouth hardened with the threat of an uncomfortable conversation. “She was good,’ he said. “Not too much of the moping and rebellion that you’d expect after all she went through. She let the witches be her mommies, sat in on the Scooby meetings, didn’t go out too late with her friends.” He swallowed hard. “You would’a been proud of her. She was brave.” He released his grip on Buffy’s arm and began fiddling with a strap hanging off the front of the grocery cart. It took him a moment to realize what it was for. People put their babies here, tied them to the seat and rolled them around the store. Normal people, and when they stopped in the middle of this aisle, it was to wipe the kid’s nose and check out the Mountain Dew sale, not to discuss events that occurred while one of them was dead. He didn’t know whether to envy those people, or just wish he could bite them, listen to the panicked beating of their hearts and the mundane thoughts in their heads, the worries about diapers and car payments that still filled them, even as he drained them, even as he hated them. “’Cept for the first night.”
“The first night after I....”
And when normal people stood on opposite sides of this great squeaky metal contraption and talked, they probably made eye contact. Not like the two of them, who stared downward even as they stood so closely that she could’ve felt his breath on her skin, if he breathed, which most times, he didn’t. “I don’t know what happened, after,” he said. His voice sounded too even, as if he was trying to distance himself from the memories by playing the narrator. “It was daylight. I went home. Watched the sunlight on the crypt walls and tried not to think. So I don’t know where they went. The hospital maybe, with you. Or maybe they took her back to the house to patch her up. I never asked. But later that day she came to me.
“She was hurt. The cuts weren’t deep, but I could tell that it hurt. When she cried, she held her hands just over her stomach, barely touching the bandages, because it ached every time she took in a breath to sob. But that wasn’t the big hurt. Think it distracted her from the real pain, that surface pain. Kept her remembering that she had a body, that she was still alive, that she wasn’t just a big pile of empty space curled up on my bed crying like she might cough up all her insides.”
The hum of the dairy case at the far wall was like the crickets in the night. A few aisles down, a stock boy cracked open a package of food with a box cutter. The sounds of the Super Food World in daytime would’ve been a comfort. Chatting teenagers buying snacks or an overweight mother yelling at her kids to stop running would’ve shaken them both to reality, made them look up and remember where they were. But the night sounds weren’t enough to distract them, so they stood like statues between root beer and seltzer, their bodies still, their eyes down.
“You know how humans say things like, ‘Don’t worry; it’ll be okay’?” he continued. “Stupid comforting things like that. I wanted to say that to her, even if it meant nothing. Just say, ‘It’ll be okay.’ But I couldn’t. Because it wasn’t going to be okay. Not just because you were gone, though that was a big part of it. But also because she’d been kidnapped and tied to a metal pole and sliced open. Because the whole world got sliced open...but then it was fixed. Everything back to normal. Big battle over, and we were both still here. Both of us were ready to die that night. We expected it. But then it was over, and you were dead, but we weren’t. And the whole stupid world that should’ve ended kept going on. And no matter what happened, even if the pain got better over time, even if we killed all the monsters in the world, even if...even if you came back, nothing would ever be okay again.
“So I didn’t say anything. I just sat there next to her and she cried all night. Twelve hours at least, just crying, and I couldn’t say anything.
“That was the real tragedy I think. Not that you died, but that we lived and lived and didn’t say a word. I was at the house a bunch of days, watching over her while the others had their things to do, jobs, school. We watched TV and played cards and made fun of Xander’s hair and argued over what was the best type of juice, but we never really said anything. And she never cried again. I taught her how to play poker while we both just wanted to fall down on the floor and weep out strangled screams. Not because the world almost ended, but because it didn’t.”
Things had changed, Buffy realized. She’d come back, and everyone had put on their happy smiley faces and went back to normal, fallen back into their old habits of whiny little sister and undead stalker guy. But they hadn’t forgotten what it was like.
As they stood there, she imagined that Spike still felt like the failed protector, the tragic anti-hero.
And she still felt like a corpse.
“So that’s how I know about the CranApple.” He raised his head, cleared his throat, but kept his eyes away from her, focusing on the products at the end of the aisle. “You’ll need milk,” he said. “For the cereal.”
And he walked on without looking back.
Continued in Part Four