By Valerie X
“The Crucible”, mentioned in this section, is by Arthur Miller.
He was like when you hear the first few notes of a song and you turn up the volume, but then you remember that you hate this song, and you feel stupid having just made it louder. Maybe you even nodded your head to the first few beats, or sung along with the opening line, and now you feel ashamed for enjoying it. If someone walked in, you’d have to explain what you were doing listening to that song, when that song so obviously sucks. Like him. If she was attracted to him, it was only because he was there, and because he’d been there in the past. Like the song you react to just because it’s familiar.
That was Spike, Buffy thought. Her own personal Sugar Ray.
She briefly considered telling him this, that he was a metaphorical Sugar Ray, because then he would probably kill her, and if she was dead she wouldn’t have to be standing in front of piles of sliced cheese in the Super Food World at one in the morning, feeling worthless and looking towards the future with dread.
Spike appeared at the cart beside her and set down a second case of beer. He watched her curiously as she continued standing motionlessly.
“You were supposed to be picking out cheese,” he told her.
“None of it is cheese,” she said weakly.
He glimpsed the dairy in front of them. “Looks like cheese to me, pet.”
“But it’s not. They all say ’Cheese Food’ or ’Cheese Product’. None of them just say ‘Cheese’.” Her chin wrinkled with the threat of tears, and she put her hand up to the side of her face. “How am I supposed to buy cheese when none of it is really cheese?”
Spike leaned past her and grabbed a package of American. “The amount of therapy you need boggles the mind.”
Buffy realized that she was rubbing her cheek now. “My jaw hurts,” she said sadly.
“Told you you didn’t have to if you didn’t want to,” Spike muttered as he rearranged their heaping cart to accommodate a few more items.
“What?” Her eyes leapt up to meet his. “Ew! No, not that.” Instantly uncomfortable, she looked down at her hands. “Besides, it’s been like four days since we did that.”
“’Bout time we got back to it, eh?” he suggested.
Buffy attempted her best menacing glare. “What happened to the promise not to shag me in the frozen food aisle?”
Spike’s smile seemed to take up half his face. “We’re not in the frozen food aisle yet.”
Buffy grabbed the cart, stormed around the corner, and turned into the frozen food aisle.
The pain in her jaw was more obvious now, but she knew it wasn’t caused by that. For one thing, she liked doing that. And then, after she did that to him, he’d do that to her, and then pain was the furthest thing from her mind.
She hadn’t gotten punched in the face recently, so there was really only one other explanation for why her jaw hurt.
“I think I’m grinding my teeth in my sleep,” she said when he caught up to her.
He stifled a growl and for a moment seemed like he was going to scream at her. She raised her chin, ready for both a verbal and physical assault. But instead of letting the insults and fists fly, he turned his body away and opened one of the large standing coolers.
“Grab something and let’s get the hell out of here,” he said, his voice a low rumble. “’Cause I’m sick to death of you.”
Funny how he could tell her she was stupid, ugly, crazy, worthless, a whining hero, a poor fighter, and a silly bint who can’t keep a man, and cheerfully describe her gruesome death repeatedly over the course of several years, and it didn’t even make her blink. But for some reason, as soon as he said “sick to death of you”, it felt like something heavy had fallen on her head.
She grabbed onto the side of the cart, her fingers curling around the thin lines of metal until they bent.
He noticed the small act of destruction and sighed so loudly that she was sure people throughout the store heard it. His put his hands to his temples, as if massaging out an agonizing thought, and then held them out towards her in a gesture of explanation.
“Buffy,” he said slowly and evenly. “You are driving me insane.”
She closed her eyes for a moment. In tenth grade she’d read The Crucible for her English class. Or rather, she’d read the Cliff Notes for The Crucible. She didn’t remember much of it, but just then one of the images from the book popped into her head.
There was a man who was crushed to death.
And not crushed to death in the expected way, where a car smashed against another car, or a house collapsed on him, or he got hit by a train.
They piled stones on top of him until it killed him.
She wondered if they were small stones, maybe not more than five or ten pounds each, so that the executioner could lift them. One wouldn’t hurt too much. Two would be manageable. But then, as they grew in number, as they piled higher, they slowly made his body compress, made his skeleton cave in and puncture his organs, and she wondered how slow the entire process had been, and how many it had taken to finish the job.
And she thought: My mother is dead. My father doesn’t want to see me. My sister doesn’t believe that I care about her. My friends are uncomfortable around me. People move out of the country just to get away from me. A third of the population of my town would like to see me dead. Everyone is sick to death of my moodiness. I can’t afford groceries.
She could feel her bones give in.
His face was calmer now, and his voice softer, though struggling to stay that way. “I get that you’re miserable,” he was saying. “We all are. Because we live in the world. But you’re taking this too far. You’ve got to snap out of it.”
“Snap out of it, right.” She lowered her head. “Why didn’t I just think of that? It’s so simple.”
“I’m not saying it’s simple -”
“That’s what it sounds like,” She was trying to sound angry, but her voice only came out shaken. “And everyone says it to me. Willow and Xander and Dawn keep fluttering around saying things like, ‘We just want you to be happy!’ Well maybe it would be easier to be happy if people weren’t always yelling at me about how I should be happy!”
“I’m not yelling!” Spike shouted. He stopped and his eyebrows knit together. “Wait a minute....”
“I don’t like being this way,” she continued. “And if it was easy for me to feel better, I would. But I can’t take people being mad at me because I’m unhappy. I can’t take that on top of everything else.”
“And no one’s trying to drive you crazier,” he argued. “Your friends are trying to help. You need to tell them what you need. You need to tell me-”
“Don’t make yourself out to be one of my friends,” she spat out. “You only make things worse! Always telling me to turn to the dark side or whatever.”
Spike clenched his jaw and folded his arms across his chest. “I seem to remember betraying my fellow demons and my entire nature. Was that not good enough for you?”
“Please, you’ve never shown any sort of remorse for anything-”
Spike signaled that he was done arguing by flinging open the door of the cooler in front of him and taking out bags of French fries. “Oh, I feel such guilt about all the sorry wankers I killed,” he said sarcastically. “How can I go on knowing what I’ve done, et cetera.”
“Very convincing,” Buffy said sharply.
“Look, Slayer, if you want me to be Angel, just put me in a dress and be done with it,” Spike said with a dismissive wave of his hand.
He moved to the next cooler, where he filled his arms with frozen pizzas. When he moved to the cart to put them down, he noticed that Buffy was biting down on her lower lip and her entire body was shaking.
“What?” he asked.
She exploded into laughter, the kind of laughter that ached in your lungs, filled your eyes with tears, and made your abdominal muscles sore.
“What?” he repeated.
“I....I....” She put her hand to her stomach and struggled to speak through her cackles. “I just imagined you in a dress. And then...” She doubled over, holding onto the side of the cart, though this time it wasn’t to destroy it, but to keep herself from toppling over. “I imagined Angel in a dress. And then I imagined you and Angel in big Victorian dresses with hoop skirts and corsets...” She burst into a fresh round of laughter and fell into a crouching position.
“I’m glad that me being a poof can bring you such joy,” Spike said.
Buffy looked up at him, her face flushed and covered with a rare smile. “It really does.”
Spike couldn’t help but smile back, though he quickly turned it into a disapproving glare. “Just don’t go getting any weird ideas now.” He grabbed the edge of the cart and yanked it forward. “Come on, let’s get out of here already.”
True to his word, he made her carry both cases of beer to his crypt. He was loaded down himself, yellow plastic bags billowing off his arms like he was some sort of pale leather butterfly.
“Didn’t you used to have a car?” she asked as they entered the cemetery and she shifted the two boxes to try and relieve some of the ache in her arms.
“Still do,” he replied. “It’s parked out in the woods.”
“So why couldn’t we drive it?”
“There’s the decomposing body of a Tropwen demon in the backseat.” He turned to meet her startled expression and shook his head. “You don’t want to know.”
When they reached his crypt, she stopped at the threshold as he entered and shook the plastic bags from his body. If she went inside, then that would mean that they were both inside. And it was his place, with his bed, and it smelled like him, and all of that was not good at all. Inside, things could happen.
So she handed him his beer without stepping inside, and only watched as he took off his jacket and began stacking the glass bottles in his refrigerator.
Continued in Part Five