All About Spike

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The Waiting Season
By Annie Sewell-Jennings

SUMMARY: The summer of waiting and awakening.

RATING: R

SPOILERS: Through "Grave"

DISTRIBUTION: Wherever it is wanted; it will be posted to fanfiction.net

DISCLAIMER: The characters within this story are the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy Productions, and I infringe upon the almighty copyright laws for the sake of angsty smut. Do you think that argument would hold up in a court of law? The lyrics are courtesy of Mary Chapin Carpenter, from her brilliant, heartbreaking song "Where Time Stands Still" from _Stones in the Road_; Travis's elegant and spare "Slide Show" from _The Man Who_; and "Mad World" by Tears for Fears, though I credit Gary Jules's superior, haunting piano version from the _Donnie Darko_ soundtrack. It's what I listened to, and the original is, IMHO, crap on a synthesizer.

AUTHOR'S NOTES: Feedback is always appreciated, and I'm making a better effort to reply to all of it. Really, I am. Don't hurt me. This is a prequel to my next big epic WIP, "Waking the Dead", and it's kind of necessary to read this first. Enjoy!

Thanks very, very much to Devil Piglet, who provided encouragement and good grammar and style. :)



Chapter One: All the Candles Burning Bright

*****

"Baby, where's that place where time stands still?

I remember like a lover can

But I forget it like a leaver will

It's no place you can get to by yourself

You've got to love someone

And they love you

Time will stop for nothing else"

--Mary Chapin Carpenter, "Where Time Stands Still"

*****

In the dimming light of dusk, Willow draws the curtains and turns off the lights, and begins to light the candles.

They were banished from her hands for a long time, too long, paying for her crimes in the basement of the house. Collecting dust, making penance. She knows how they feel. Now they have air, no more must and dampness, no more living in shoeboxes or wasting away in cardboard. They can burn again. After all, it isn't their fault that everything shattered.

//Eye to eye, nose to nose, they stare at each other on the dirty floor of the sewer, a breath away from a kiss that will never happen. Memory rushes back in a whirlwind of badness, and as Willow pushes herself off of Tara, she looks at her lover's eyes and knows that it is over.//

Sandalwood. Mulberry. Cinnamon. Orange rind. The long, scratchy scrape of match striking flame, and then the warm, familiar smell of burning things wafts to her nostrils, warming her heart. Once upon a time, she used to burn candles and paint dreams on her lover's tummy as they snuggled in and watched the rain fall against the glass, water streaking down everywhere.

Scent is a part of sense memory; she learned this in psychology, back when she was interested in things other than how to levitate in the air or which blend of herbs and crystals could make the dead walk on solid ground. Back when she was content to let the words remain in the binding of books rather than let the ink and meaning swarm through her veins. Back when she was beautiful and not so. Well, not so broken.

Willow has not spoken since that morning.

Voices travel from downstairs, but she listens not with her ears, but with other senses. Murmured whisperings, rushing worries, and she knows what they are saying. What to do with Willow now? Scarred and wicked Willow, the rock, the geyser. Old Reliable gone off the deep end. They want her away. She cannot blame them, because she knows that they love her, and they are concerned, but she cannot move yet. Moving. It taxes her.

Besides, she has things to do.

//"I have places to be!" Tara exclaims abruptly, and then she shivers, crawls back into herself, hugging her knees like a little child and tucking her chin down as she whimpers nonsense under her breath. The haunted look in her eyes, the way that she sees but doesn't see, everything all muddled and glazed. It tugs at Willow's heart like nothing else before.//

There are things left behind, souvenirs tucked into the back of the closet where no one else could see. Not the magical things, not the incense and crystals, but the simpler, more mundane objects that are tools of the heart rather than of the spirit. Boxes of Tara, snippets of sorcery and sugar, packaged and stored away for safekeeping and hopeful returns. Flowing silk dresses and glittery hair clips, worn-out novels read too many times, photographs and postcards from the edge of romance.

That last night, the night before everything crumbled and slipped away from her, Willow watched as Tara lay sleeping and brought out the box again, smiling with the silly dreams of nave girls who didn't realize that life was a cruelty and not always a comfort. //I knew it,// she thought to herself. //I knew that she'd come back. I was right all along.//

//Barefoot and dressed in nothing but the tumbled red sheet, Tara shifts her weight from foot to foot and nervously tucks her mussed hair behind her ear. "Do you... Do you have something I can wear?" she asks a little shyly, and Willow smirks.

"I think you look great just as you are," she says archly, slyly, hands traveling underneath the folds of crimson linen to where the creamy, baby- smooth skin of her lover lies.

Sotto chuckling, and the slightest of moans when Willow's fingers dance across a damp patch of flesh. "Oh," Tara sighs, lolling her head back so that cornsilk strands brush across her bare shoulders, "but think of the scandal. Scantily-clad lesbian streaks across campus after all-night sexfest. I'd be a tramp." But then all thoughts of modesty are laid to rest, and the sheet puddles on the floor...//

With steady fingers, Willow picks up the first item in the small box, and the candlelight catches in the faceted glass beads of the Victorian-style necklace. It is a dainty little trinket, a gift she gave to Tara on their second night together, back when they were so fragile and girlish. When she wore bright and colorful things, fuzzy sweaters and silly duckies embroidered into skirts.

Willow is all grown-up now. No more orange hats or purple overalls. No more Victorian jewelry. Still, it would be nice to keep the necklace.

All of these things must be packed away, shipped off to her family in Mississippi. Her dormitory room is already vacant, her shiny love beads and moody Christmas lights taken down. Willow snuck out of the house a couple of nights ago to see it, to stand in the barren single and look at blank walls where angels and charms once hung, to see the mattress where they first made love, stripped of all of its sheets. And the candles...

//When they make love for the first time, it's by the light of a dozen candles, the room plunged into darkness by lack of electricity, but they create all the light that they need in their bed. Surprises, secrets revealed as Willow widens her eyes to drink in the nude figure of Tara. Soft, round breasts, curve of her belly, skin brocaded by roseate light. She's everything holy and sacred, and when she smiles, Willow is in love.//

Mundane little items follow, like the tube of toothpaste she forgot in their bathroom, or a suede pouch filled with tumbled gemstones. These little things are easy to give up, effortlessly packed away in the box, because they aren't the essence of Tara. They're just things. It's the pair of silk stockings, the single garnet earring, the pair of russet silk panties... Well, her parents won't want her underwear anyway.

Calmly, without wavering or weeping, Willow places these items into boxes and files them away. Her parents would never know about this box of things, and she knows that she could probably keep all of these little possessions and no one would ever be the wiser, but the fact is that it doesn't matter. The measure of a woman cannot be found in stockings or an earring. That's not where Tara lives. All of her memories, her wonderful memories... That's where Tara is buried.

//Arms wrapped around each other, they smile and dance to the music, surrounded by people yet entirely alone, secluded in the paradise they built for each other, and neither is surprised when their feet leave the ground. After all, they've been existing above the earth ever since they met.//

Concealed beneath a flap of cardboard, she finds what she has been looking for in this box. Carefully, Willow removes the stack of photographs that she has of the two of them, and sighs when she sees how young they used to be. They were taken in that first radiant summer together, in their old dorm at the school, shot after twilight and in the nude. There were several pictures, but they each selected two to keep, just to "remember ourselves by". It's excruciatingly painful to look at the first picture, the one of Tara reclining on the bed, her head cocked to the side and her eyes so dewy and ethereal that it fools her into believing that Tara is still alive.

//Laughing, Tara tosses her hair and gives Willow a dirty little smirk, her hand cupping her left breast and thumb pushing over the nipple. "How about this?" she asked. "We can send these into Playboy and become porn stars."

Giggling, Willow lowers the camera and gives her lover a lascivious look, waggling her eyebrows suggestively. "Cause hey, there's nothing more fun than having porno names," she says, and Tara throws her head back, laughing uproariously as the flash illuminates the room...//

There is a knock at the door suddenly, and Willow jumps a bit, startled out of her reverie. "Will?" Uncertain, male, worried. Xander. "Are... Are you in there? You decent?" She says nothing, but then again, she never says anything, not to any of them. Not after what she... They should not have to listen to her. A brittle laugh, and then, "Stupid me. You're doing the silent treatment thing."

He refuses to leave. Buffy and Giles have tried to make him go home, tried to make him rest, but he will not leave. Sometimes, he sleeps on the floor outside of her bedroom, but deeply enough so that he cannot hear her when she climbs out on the roof and watches the stars, like she used to do with Tara. Still, Willow understands why Xander can't go home. It's the same reason why she promised Tara her life when Glory ravaged her mind, why she swore that she would never leave. The bonds of love are unbreakable, no matter what kind of love it is.

Sighing, Willow pushes the box back into the closet and stands up, padding barefoot across the carpeting to the door and opening it. There he stands, ragged and red-eyed, a relieved smile on his face as he stares at her. It startles her sometimes to see him now, because it's difficult to see the little boy from her childhood in his eyes. Shadows hang where humor used to ring, and he looks like he has seen too much in his life for any average person. Average. That's what everyone always called Xander Harris.

She knows he's anything but.

Gently, Xander reaches out his hand and strokes her cheek, a fond smile on his face. She averts her eyes, as always, because she remembers what she tried to do to him. Tried to kill him, tried to rid the world of a man like Xander, tried to rob the earth of his warm heart and loyal nature. "Hey," he says softly, and he arches his eyebrows at her. "Is it... Can we talk?" He winces, running his hand through his dark hair. "Let me rephrase that. Can I talk while you listen?" His brow furrows with worry. "Can you... Can you even listen?"

She says nothing, just looks down at her bare feet, and Xander sighs, placing his hand at the small of her back and guiding her towards the bed. "Come on, sit down for a minute with me," he says, and she appreciates the way that he talks to her. Buffy talks over her, about her, but never to her. Giles speaks to her like she is still a child, and Dawn will not look at her at all. But Xander. Well, they've always known how to talk to each other.

Side by side, they sit on the edge of the bed, Willow folding her hands neatly in her lap as Xander speaks. "I miss you," he says in his gentle voice. "I really do. It's been. Well, it's been pretty weird, what with the whole ending of the world stuff, but." He sighs, frustrated. "I wish you'd say something, Will, anything. It's kind of freaking all of us out. Major wiggins below. But I guess you need your space. Lots of space."

He turns towards her now, takes her limp hands from her lap and covers them with his large, callused worker's hands. They're so warm; everything about him is warm. Not hot, not scorching, not like she is. Just. Warm. "Giles wants you to go back to England with him," he says. "He says that the coven up there can help you get the magic under control, teach you how to use it, and he'll be Watcher guy for you. And. I think he's right, Willow. They can help you and I. Well, all I can do is love you."

And he does; he loves her so much that she can feel it transferring from his hands to her heart. They have known each other for the whole of their lives, and Willow does not have any memories without Xander in them. Playing in sandboxes, bemoaning growing pains, fighting the forces of evil. They're all in it together. It's good, this love that they have for each other, and she lets her hands rest in his for a while longer, warming herself by his fire.

Xander is talking again. "Will, everything got so screwed up somewhere. How did we let it go this far? Anya, Tara, and, oh God, Buffy. And you. Everything's so different, so changed. I'm not big on the change. Static guy, that's me. But I guess that you knew that. You know everything about me. And I... I still know everything about you. I know who you are, and what you are, and I love you for it. You don't have to keep this bottled up inside. We love you, even if you do want to start a couple of apocalypses every now and then. It doesn't change who you are."

Licking his lips, Xander shakes his head and then wraps her in his arms, engulfing her like he did eight days ago on that bright, blistering morning before an effigy of disaster. All of his love for her surrounds her, blankets and comforts her, and Willow wilts in his embrace. Grief and guilt overwhelm her, all of her sins lit ablaze, and she feels like weeping like she did that dawning day.

But she does not, and he pulls away, disappointed and a little shattered. He sighs, rakes his hand through his hair and gives her that wonderful, quirky Xander-grin, and then kisses her forehead. "We'll wait for you," he promises, and she says nothing. Nothing at all, not even as he walks out of the bedroom and leaves her alone with her thoughts.

For a few moments, Willow does not move. She simply remains on the bed, arms loose by her sides and eyes not really registering all that she sees. Pillow, blanket, carpet, curtains. All that she can see is what she has done, the blood on her hands and the fury in her soul, and the way that she tried to destroy everything that she loves. Herself included.

The photographs are waiting for her in the little box in the closet, and Willow moves towards them with open hands, kneeling once again on the floor and pulling out the box. Shiny celluloid gleams in her palms as she looks at the picture of herself, the one that Tara took and the one that she liked best at the time. Bright, redheaded nymphet shaking her shorn hair proudly, chin tilted and smile bright and deadly. For the first time, Willow sees the arrogance in her posture, the conceit in her eyes, and feels nauseous. This is who she has been for a long time. This is what she loved about herself.

Power. Control. The feeling that she knows what is best, that she knows what is right, and she can fix anything and everything. Capability and confidence, and violence lurking underneath delicate bones and skin. This is the photograph that she selected, her pick.

//"Don't leave me," Willow says in a dull, hollow voice as Tara packs her belongings up, her motions slow and heavy. "I mean it. Don't. Don't go. I know I screwed up, but I can do better. I'm strong like that."

"Oh, you're strong," Tara says bitterly, her words as hot and sour as lemon and vodka. "I just didn't know how strong you really were." She can't be leaving, because it's not fair. Everyone makes mistakes, and Willow can fix it. She knows how to repair the damage that she's done, and if that doesn't work, then there's always the spells. Always the magic.

"Don't go," Willow says again, and it's not a request. It's a command. "Don't."//

It is change that scares her, just like Xander, because their world is so unsteady in the first place. They live on the edge of the world and walk on a mad blade, teetering back and forth between good and evil. If she can keep everything the same, then she can handle the monsters and the darkness. She can handle it just fine, so long as Buffy still slays the vampires and goes shopping, and so long as Tara loves her.

Everything changes, and she is beginning to accept that. The people that she loves are growing up into different people, and where she once rebelled against that thought, she now understands it. They have gone through ravaging events in their lives; it would be impossible for them to still skip along eating lollipops and trading snappy jibes. Life is harrowing, and it is vicious, and it can be unbearably cruel. It can take away the people that she loves, and it can weather her and strip her down into nothing at all.

For the first time, Willow understands why Buffy jumped.

Yet even as she sits here, holding a photograph of herself taken merely two years ago and contemplating crying, she feels the energy and the muted joy from below her. The love inside of Buffy Summers, the rapture that she feels when she looks outside of a window and sees the world stretched out around her, even after everything that has happened. Bliss is not impossible, and there is a girl who has been torn out of heaven who is smiling downstairs, even after all of this. Even after, and it gives her happiness.

//Fine sunlight beams down onto their entwined bodies, just a little morning delight, chuckling and sighing as the two women stroke hands across hips, fingers across tummies, lips across warm, wet places. Love is everywhere, tying them together, binding them with the radiance of romance renewed. They are happy here, in their bed of dreams, with the sounds of birds awakening and the fragile light peeking through glass, showering them in sun.//

The wispy curtains push away with ease, and Willow peers out the window at the backyard laid out before her eyes. The sunlight has faded into night all of a sudden, and she does not remember when that happened, but it is all right. The twilight is gorgeous, soaked in sapphire and violet, and she wants to go out and dance underneath the stars. She thinks that Tara would have liked that.

But there is more packing to be done, and Willow resumes her task with renewed energy, with a sense of purpose rather than obligation, placing clothing into suitcases and fragile mementos in packaging peanuts. There is a world out there that is filled with the kind of joy that her friend feels downstairs, and a globe scattered with the memories that she so badly needs to hold onto. Her mind is made up. She knows what she must do.

She has to change, too.

Smiling, Willow slips into her denim jacket and then pats the pockets, careful not to rumple the delicate photographs that she carries with her. Little Tara and Willow from years past, from happier times, and she can remember how they were, how lovely and young they used to be.

After all, love is but a memory preserved above all others.

When the others come upstairs later on, they find that she is gone, as is half of her closet and mementos. There is a small cardboard box sitting peacefully on the bed, simply labeled "For Tara's Family", and a slip of lavender stationary tucked into the flap.

"Don't worry. Everything will be fine. Wait for me."

*****

"So, baby, where's that place where time stands still?

I remember like a lover can

I forget it like a leaver will

It's the first time that you held my hand

It's the smell, and the taste

And the fear and the thrill

It's everything I understand

And all the things I never will"

--Mary Chapin Carpenter, "Where Time Stands Still"

*****

(end)



Chapter Two: All the Pretty Maids

*****

"There is no design for life

There's no devil's haircut in my mind

There is not a wonderwall to climb or step around

But there is a slide show and it's so slow

Flashing through my mind



Today is the day, but only for the first time"

--Travis, "Slide Show"

*****

The dress hangs patiently in the closet, untouched, unused, just a swirl of white satin and intricate beading. It smells like uncorked champagne and unheard wishes, lost dreams embroidered into the bodice with the sequins and the gathers, the careful tucks and so many fittings until it was Just Right. All gauzy and filmy, dreamy and delicate, and as she looks at it, it seems to represent everything that she is not.

"It's ugly," Anya says with surprise, blinking her eyelashes as she looks at her wedding dress. "Oh, my God. This dress... It's so *ugly*."

It never struck her before that this dress is not right for her, too frothy and starry-eyed. She is none of those things. She's the frank one, the one who has the smarts and the wits, matter-of-fact and delightfully insensitive. Foamy, bubbly mermaid dresses are not made for a girl like her when she likes everything starched and neat, clean and tidy.

Then why did she choose it? Why did she pick this fairy-tale monstrosity out instead of something sensible, something straightforward and no- nonsense, like her? A pantsuit, maybe, or a nice, conservative dress with a pencil skirt? Anya is not a woman who stares off into space, all giggles and dumb smiles and princess dreams, and nowadays, she's not even a woman at all.

Craning her neck around to see what Anya has spied, Buffy swallows her comment and struggles to come up with something complimentary. "But the... The sequins," she says, nodding her head like this will be helpful. Yes, the sequins. They will solve everything, because Buffy does not know how to tell Anya that she has never understood the selection of the gown. She tries again. "The bridesmaid dresses were worse."

Sadly, Anya pulls the dress out of the closet and lays it on the bed, amidst a sea of half-packed cardboard boxes carrying her most prized possessions. Sequins and beaded baubles are stitched over the bodice of the dress with loving care, and it looks like a cloud, something unstable and soft, like it could fly away if she were to just open the window. Is that what love is? Tenuous and fragile, uncertain and wispy? If she opens up her bedroom window, will her heart fly from her chest and ascend towards the sun?

//She stands in front of the full-length mirror in the bridal shop, looking at herself in the mirror with this feeling of absolute light and awe. The smiling, gushing clerk carefully places the gauzy veil atop her head of tight lemony curls, and Anya sighs at the reflection. She looks like something out of a story, like something human and happy, and her heart is swelling as she gazes at her reflection, spellbound by her own glory.

When she spins to smile at Xander, she sees that he is on the verge of tears and she frowns. "What?" she asks, irritated. Can't he see how beautiful she is? Asshole. "You think I look fat in this, don't you? You think my ass looks big. Well, I'd like to know how you're going to fit in your tux if you keep cramming--"

But he is shaking his head, his mouth smiling so wide that she realizes without listening to his words that she was mistaken. "No, An," he says softly, his breath caught in his throat. "You look stunning."//

Love flies away so fast.

Everything is packed away in her neat little apartment, not as nice as Xander's or even the small loft she occupied before him, but adequate for a single vengeance demon with no direction whatsoever. But now, with the Magic Box out of business and her apartment turning into a co-op, Anya simply cannot afford it anymore. Since Buffy has an extra bedroom and the need for cash, fast, Anya will live with her for the time being, until she figures out what to do next.

And so the two girls stand amidst a sea of cardboard boxes, staring at a beaded wedding dress sewn with all the hopes and dreams of little girls.

Tentatively, Buffy reaches out her hand and touches the fine chiffon train, her fingertip caressing the piped lining, and she shakes her head a little. "I always wanted to get married," she says a little regretfully, and Anya frowns at her.

"You're not an old maid yet," she says helpfully, and Buffy rolls her eyes a bit, not meanly, just in amusement.

"No," she agrees, "but I'm not bridal material, either. No pretty white dresses for Buffy."

No, Slayers do not get married in churches with everyone throwing rice and catching good luck bouquets. Warriors are not meant to walk down velvety aisles with lacy trains trailing behind them, blushing brides behind demure veils. All that she gets is blood, sweat and tears. Slayers are too dark to wear white, too tainted and stained, and she knows this from experience.

//Furiously, hatefully, she thrusts her mouth against his and forces her tongue inside, not waiting for permission because she doesn't give a fuck what he wants. Want. Take. Have. Faith is right, and she'll do what she pleases with him. Spike moans as she bites her blunt teeth into the lush peach of his lower lip, and she digs her fingernails deep enough into his back to make him bleed. That's all she wants, anyway. To bleed him to death.//

"Do you want to take it?" she asks Anya gently, and the girl stands there, looking down at her ill-fated wedding dress, not touching it or even breathing on it. "You don't have to if you don't want to."

But Anya is not listening; she is moving away from the wedding dress and towards the closet, rummaging through boxes of trendy shoes until she finds what she is looking for. A shoebox, just a shoebox, tucked away in the back where no one else can see. She is not a sentimental woman, and she is known for her callous speech and thoughtless words. If they know that even she cannot banish things from her heart, then they will be disappointed.

Hesitantly, she holds the box in her hand for a moment and looks over nervously at Buffy, who still stands caressing the bodice of the bridal gown. There is a distinct sadness in her posture, like she is regretting something as she stands there. The others think that she is so happy now, overcome with the joy of living, and while Buffy has rediscovered the rapture of existence, she has not forgotten that sometimes, all life can bring is pain.

//The look on his face, the regret and the sorrow, the fear and uncertainty. The way that he drops her hand, the way that he staggers a little dazedly out of the chapel, leaving her alone in her magic gown, the gown that she looks so stunning in. Is the music playing? Oh, God, it is, and now she will walk down the aisle without anybody to love her, without anybody to cherish her, and for the first time in her life Anya knows what it is like to be fucked. It hurts worse than anything.//

When Anya places the box on the mattress, Buffy is startled and recoils from the dress, blinking her eyes. Bluntly, Anya opens up the box and dumps its contents onto the bed, spilling them out in a shower of lost love's memorabilia. "This is what I kept," she says in a dull, sorrowful tone. "Isn't it pretty?"

It is not as pretty as it is sad, all of these wishes Anya made only to watch them crumble. A dried vanilla-colored rose with a sprig of fragile baby's breath. Blue satin garter belt trimmed with lace. The champagne flute embossed with "Mr. and Mrs. Xander Harris" and their wedding date. The miniature bride and groom that was placed atop their uneaten, three- tiered cake. All these pointless items, but Anya had staked her heart on them. They remind Buffy of pennies children throw into mall fountains, only to watch bullies fish for their dreams an hour later, greedy arms swimming in dirty water.

Lovingly, Anya strokes the garter belt, a smile too old for her youthful face resting on her lips. "Willow said I had to have something borrowed, and Tara said I had to have something blue," she explains, and a mischievous look seizes her face as she pulls out a lacy white strapless bra from the pile. "So Tara made the garter, and Willow gave me her bra."

A sharp bark of laughter makes its way out of Buffy's throat, and she shakes her head as she looks down at the scrap of filmy lace dangling from Anya's manicured fingertips. "That's terrible," she says, but she doesn't mean it and Anya knows it. It's actually very wonderful that she has these mementos, these objects to hold onto, and Buffy is envious of the fact that the girl has a shoebox full of memories and she has nothing to hold onto of her own torrid love affair with Spike. Nothing but one thing...

//It rests in the closet, where the others cannot see it, because all good skeletons like to hang out in bureaus and wardrobes and other out-of-the- way places. She doesn't do anything dumb or high-school like sleep with it (even though she's tempted), and she won't ever wear it out (because she tried it on and it doesn't fit), but it's still there nonetheless. Just an embrace of leather, a snatched scent of spent tobacco and spilled semen, and that good, undetectable Spike smell that promises chaos and undying love.//

"I'll never get married, you know," Anya says in a quiet, sad sort of voice, like there's something breaking inside of her chest. It might be her heart. She sits on the bed, the bra replaced with the champagne glass, reading the words over and over again to herself like a mantra. Mr. and Mrs. Xander Harris. "Vengeance demons don't get married. We're lone ducks."

"Wolves," Buffy corrects absently, but she knows what Anya means. It's the same for her, destined to never wear a band on her finger or have a first dance underneath the starlight. Giles will never escort her down the aisle and give her away to her beloved, and Dawn will never get dressed up in lace and baby's breath to be her flower teenager. It used to make her sad, and she's a little down right now as she looks at all of what she can never have. What she never should have wanted. "I know. Me either."

Anya understands, and she places a hand on top of Buffy's, commiserating with the warrior doomed to die before she turns thirty. What must that be like, to know that there would only be a limited amount of time, much less than the others, and to know that with such certainty because it had already happened twice before? The third time, she knows that it will be final. Permanent. No hope for the future...

//"I want to have a baby," Anya announces with pride, and Xander drops his jaw and coffee, the latter shattering into irreparable porcelain pieces stained with dark caffeine.

"What?" he asks in a shrill, brittle voice. "You want to have a... What?"

Rolling her eyes in exasperation, she crosses her trim legs and thumbs through the newspaper until she finds the stock section. Even though she's not currently investing, it never hurts to know what she will invest in when she becomes a millionaire. "A baby," she repeats in a slower voice, in case he can't understand her. Suddenly, his look of abject terror makes sense and she huffs a little sigh. "Oh, for God's sake, Xander, not tomorrow. Just... One day. We should have children one day. And we can name them and feed them and teach them how to be capitalists and to love America and love us, and they'll be these little mini-Xanders and mini-Anyas and..."

But then he's kissing her and she just wants him.//

"I'll never have a baby," Anya says in a sudden, shocked voice, blinking her eyes as she stares at her hands. "I never... I didn't even think about it. I can't ever have children, and I can't ever have children with Xander."

Buffy frowns, confused. "What do you mean?" she asks. "You can't have little half-vengeance, half-construction worker babies?"

Numbly, Anya shakes her head, and she thinks that her hands are shaking a little, too. Her fingers are tightly clutching the stem of the champagne flute, and she knows that if she grips it much tighter it will snap, but that doesn't matter. Not in the face of this. "Vengeance doesn't breed anything but discontent," she says. "It's a barren field. I gave up... I gave up my life."

//Nineteen years old now, big girl in college, with the big guy boyfriend who's large and strong and normal, and she's looking at herself in the mirror in just her bra and panties, her cheeks streaked with drying tears. Trembling hands cover her flat stomach, and she thinks about creation and conception and the miracle of life, and then she knows that a Slayer is just a killer after all.//

"I can't have children, either," Buffy whispers, and it's the first time she's told anybody. Only to Anya, because she understands. Because they both know what it is like to walk down the street and see a pregnant woman ripe with vitality and heavy with child, so beautiful and proud, glowing radiantly because she's so lucky. So fucking lucky. "Giles told me. It was after I started seeing Riley, and we were training one day. I knocked my purse off the table and a condom fell out. It was so embarrassing, and then he sat me down and said..."

//"Buffy, I know that this might come as a... You can't have children. Slayers. They can't have children. Every Slayer is sterile. It's genetic and mystic all at once, to keep the girls from getting pregnant in the line of duty. It's cruel, and it's inhuman, but there's nothing that can be done about it. I can't tell you differently. And Buffy... I'm so terribly sorry."//

"I'm sorry," Anya murmurs, and her hand is cool and tight around hers, palms so dry because demons don't sweat. No sweaty palms for Anya, not ever, and there's this overwhelming sadness that washes over her and drags her underneath, back to the dark place where the waves drown out her joys and she can just lay there, dying.

//Cool cubes of ice press softly at the nape of her neck, and she sighs, relaxing against his lukewarm body, so nice and non-invasive, always easy to lean against while he smoothes sweaty tendrils of hair away from her face. In the afterglow, she's often mean and bitter, calling him names, taunting his sexuality, calling him a thing, but he's always so... Tender. Delicate. Gentle. "You're the most incredible person I've ever met," he breathes into her ear, and the ice is melting against her too-hot skin and she's content.//

The wedding dress is still on the bed, its sequins and beads glittering underneath the bright afternoon sunshine and its stiff train trailing on the cheap shag carpeting. The veil is just a fog of froth, and Buffy touches it briefly. Suddenly, she looks at this silly fairy tale concoction and sees that Anya is right. It's not Anya at all. It's too sugary and saccharine, too ethereal and dreamy for a girl who prefers severe pencil skirts and matching sets of underwear.

This is somebody else's dream, spread out across the bed for every little girl to twirl around in and giggle in, like something Cinderella or Snow White would wear to the enchanted ball or inside the glass coffin. Starlight and dew drops are not the end-all be-all of femininity, and she realizes with a shocking revelation that the time she felt most like a woman was in Spike's bed, when he looked at her with wide, worshipful eyes and told her that she was incredible.

She was *happy* with him.

"We don't need this," Buffy says all of a sudden, shaking her head in amazement at the dress. "Really. We don't. We *so* don't have to have the stupid white dress, and the cheesy first song, and the big honeymoon in Paris."

"We were going to Vegas," Anya says moodily, morosely staring at the white confection of cloth sprawled across her bed.

"But it doesn't *matter*," she says, and she takes Anya's hands tightly within hers, body and blood racing with the joy of her revelation. "Get it? None of it. Because you're wonderful, Anya; you really *are*, and we're such stupid, stupid people for getting all suckered into that fantasy of happily ever after. There's no light at the end of the tunnel unless you make it yourself, right? Right?"

And Buffy is *right*, so damn right, and Anya parts her lips as she looks at the Slayer. "You think I'm wonderful?" she asks in her small, uncertain voice that's so rare because she is articulate and confident. "Really?"

Smiling, Buffy wraps her arms around the demon and hugs her tightly. "Of course you are," she whispers. "It doesn't matter what you are. It's the who. The who is the wonderful thing. The vengeance demon thing is just... Well, it's actually kind of cool. The teleporting? Way awesome."

Anya beams happily at Buffy. "And it's cheaper than buying gas."

Feeling an incredible lightness, this ease of being that is better than any sunny day, Anya picks the dress up from the bed and holds it up against her body, looking at herself in the mirror. As she looks at herself, she remembers the way that Xander saw her in his eyes, and how silly she was to think that it was just the dress. He loves her for who she is, not what she wears or what she is. Just the essence of Anya, and the rest of it is all icing on the proverbial cake.

//After they lower her body into the ground, the plain, stolen casket covered with violet hydrangea (her favorite), it becomes too much to take and Anya starts crying. She doesn't even know the Slayer that well, doesn't know what her hopes and dreams are, but she knows something about death now. She knows that it's permanent and damning, that her life is over and she'll never have fruit punch again, and those are things that she'll one day have to give up, too.

That night, Xander makes love to her while he cries, and when it's over, he breathes the words into her ear while sliding the ring on her finger. "I promise you it's forever," he whispers, his voice shaky and weak. "I love you so much. I want to be with you until I die."

They make love four more times that night.//

Laughing, she runs over to the window and thrusts it open, and then lets the wedding dress flutter from the fifth story down to the pond below, and it floats for a moment before the heavy train and satin drags it to the bottom. As it disappears into the murky waters, Anya feels remarkably satisfied, like this is exactly what she needed to do. She is who she is, and Xander loves her for that. Marriage is not necessary. She doesn't need the ring or the papers or the American dream.

She has her own dreams now.

*****

After Anya's life is packed up into boxes, Buffy walks home to the little house on Revello Drive and smiles to herself the entire way. There is a skip in her step again, a song in her heart, and a sudden eye for beauty that makes her incredibly light to the touch. The stars brightening the sky are brilliant, promising far-off galaxies and other wonders of the universe, and she thinks that she might be getting all existential in her old age because she never really contemplated the stars before. Not really, not before. Everything is captivating, fascinating, and there's a burning in her heart that is making her overjoyed.

//One brief glimpse of sweetness through the tarnish. Wrapped up in the tumbled sheets of his rarely used bed, tethered to the bedposts with silk scarves so delicate that she thinks she might weep, and Spike's making love to her. Not just fucking her, not growling and smirking and rolling her over into new and bendy positions, but making love. Tender, fragile, wispy. He makes it wispy. Eyelashes dance across her areole, and she arches her back and sighs his name, and then she starts laughing because he's tickling her belly with his tongue. "Spike!" she giggles, and he looks up at her with so much love that it does make her cry. Just this once. Just this once, she'll cry for him.//

"I'm in love with him," she whispers to herself, and the idea is so startling and new that she starts to laugh again. It's true, though. She *is* in love with him, has been for months, for maybe years. She doesn't know and she doesn't care. What matters is that she's in love with him consciously for the first time, and she wants to run to his crypt and leap into his arms. Ravish me, you beast of a lover. Ravish me and make me cry again, because you make it hurt so pretty.

It will be hard to love him, and she knows that. But she's not afraid of the hard anymore because she doesn't know any other way to live. Life is difficult, twisting and turning, throwing disasters like the cold, wet bathroom tiles and the bright morning when Willow lost her mind. Yet sometimes, there are these moments of absolute grace, when there is nothing but this invigorating feeling that's so much larger than she is. It fills her and stretches her skin until she can't take it anymore.

So Buffy sits down on the front steps of her house and laughs, lets it all fall out of her as she thinks of what he can be when she lets him be nice. When she allows him his moments of intimacy, of tenderness, instead of pushing him to the violence. They pull and claw at each other, but when they allow it, there's bliss there. Between the lines, there is rapture.

//"You seem to... glow," he says, tilting his head to the side with a look of warmth and intimacy that she rarely sees in him nowadays. Like this is how it's going to be between them for the rest of their lives, soft acknowledgments of what failed between them. In that moment, Buffy almost wishes that she could be his again. Just to hear him tell her that she glows.

But all that she says is, "The dress is radioactive."//

The message Willow left for them is taped up on the refrigerator, and every morning when she wakes up, Buffy reads it over again. Tonight, she stands in front of it and reads the neat, calm handwriting, registering its message and knowing its full meaning.

She'll wait.

*****

"There is no design for life

There's no devil's haircut in your mind

There is not a wonderwall to climb or step around

But there is a slide show, and it's so slow

Flashing through your mind

Today is the day

But only for the first time



I hope it's not the last time"

--Travis, "Slide Show"

*****

(end)



Chapter Three: All the Waves Breaking

*****

"All around me are familiar faces

Worn out places, worn out faces

Bright and early for the daily races

Going nowhere, going nowhere

The tears are filling up their glasses

No expression, no expression

Hang my head, I want to drown my sorrow

No tomorrow, no tomorrow"

--Gary Jules, "Mad World"

*****

Spike is beginning to wonder if perhaps regaining his soul has cost him his sanity.

Why else would he be running down the beach naked as a jaybird, a bottle of whiskey in one hand and his boots in the other, giggling like a madman? He can't think of any reason other than utter craziness. "Lost the plot, old man," he titters to himself, lips numbed from too much whiskey and blood running too fast through his veins. "Bollixed it all up right and proper... Right and..."

He forgets the rest, and that does not matter either because damned if Spike does not remember everything else. Remembers it all, bugger it to hell and back, from that first moment in the alley to that bloody bathroom with those cold, cold tiles. All of these things just keep rushing at him from all sides, and the only way to deal with the sheer speed and lunacy of it all is to get and stay pissed beyond all belief.

//"You look tired as hell, honey," the woman at the bar says, cocking her pierced eyebrow at him as he desperately downs another shot of tequila. He doesn't reply, doesn't bother because everything that would come out of his mouth will be totally useless anyway. Just ignores her and pounds his fist on the table for another drink, because he'll start thinking about that waitress in Calgary with the nice big tits and the pretty throat he slit...

"Yeah," he croaks as she pours him another shot. "Real tired."//

Not now, of course; now, Spike's bursting at the seams with alcoholic energy, giggling and stumbling along the rocks without any certainty whatsoever to his steps. The night's so hot along the Pacific, unusually hot, and he's fine with that as long as it doesn't bother him on the ride home. Just a two hundred miles north of Sunnydale, he is, and he's nowhere near ready to go back. Nope, not a bit, and that's why he's been staying in Rosetta for the past seventeen days.

Cause if he goes home like this, he'll kill himself.

The waves and wind howls at him, stripping him of his bare skin and throwing him to the sand, where the world turns upside down and spins unpleasantly around him while Spike scowls and clutches his suddenly throbbing head. They're everywhere again, surrounding him on all sides, attacking from the ocean like fucking soldiers of Bad Choices Past. All of these bloody ghosts, right bastards that they are, whispering in his ear about everything that he's done to them and their precious families. It's madness, he thinks, schizophrenic delusions that must be ignored completely...

//"Do you remember me, William? The mother that you left behind when you decided to become a man of ill nature? Do you recall the family that you abandoned in favor of massacring the populace and destroying your good name? Oh, the future you might have had, my boy, if you were not such a pigheaded fuck-up..."//

"Stop it!" Spike yells into the wind, throwing a sloppy handful of sand at the mocking stars. Woozily, he pulls himself to a splayed but sitting position, one bare foot submerged ankle deep in a tidal pool, and his head spins with the force of the whiskey and too many regrets.

It's been like this since that blasted cave, ever since he woke up from his haze and felt the weight slam down on his heart. Stumbling, fumbling, staggering, Spike made his way from the cavern and into the moonlight, abandoned and disoriented, collapsing on the sand much like now. Sand stuck to his wounds, stinging and blistering, and it was nothing compared to the slicing, burning fury inside of his newfound soul. All that he'd done, all that he'd damaged and destroyed, and that massacred Atlantis was rising in his mind. Dreamboat history, ship of nightmares.

And he sees her all the time.

//The back of her neck, bent forward and exposed by her upswept hair, beaded with sweat as he pulses inside of her, pushing and thrusting while she shudders and moans under her breath. All the while, he tells her nasty things, tells her how she's just a thing of shadows like him, a dead thing like him, a monster like him, and she takes it all like it's medicine. Swallows the bitter pill of her desire, lets her knees tremble and her body sing, and the whole time her head dips lower and her heart sinks...//

Pained, Spike twists and turns on the sand, covering his eyes from the memory of her sweat-laden neck, the muted whimpers and hopeless sighs, all of her fading into nothing because of his stupid, thoughtless words.

Buffy is everywhere, haunting him as he drives home. He sees her as a ghostly hitchhiker on the road, wearing the dress that she was buried in and sticking out her thumb, trying to get a ride back to heaven. She's the nameless girl in the bar who takes shots of hard liquor that she can't handle, giving him eyes like she can't handle him, either. And always, always his companion for dreams.

//Lying naked on her belly, back exposed and covered in ink. Shorn hair flying away from her face in a crown of stubbly blonde, scalp bleeding from where the scissors cut too close. "You're killing me," she says in a dull, empty voice. "You're destroying me with every passing moment, and do you care? Oh, so what that you got a soul? It's not like it's going to help me now. I'm too far gone for you. Bye-bye, Buffy. Thanks for murdering me. It's all I wanted from you in the first place."

And then he sees that the ink is not black; it's red, and it's coming from her because his paintbrush is a scalpel and he's just cutting out chunks of her flesh. All for the sake of the four words written over and over into her skin, and as she turns to glare over her shoulder with dead, corpse's eyes, he reads it aloud:

"You'll feel it again."//

Another swig of whiskey, bracing and blistering, and Spike's falling back on his elbows, his head all sore and heavy from too much booze and brooding. He's not supposed to be like this, disoriented and dismal, weeping over spilled milk like a right nance. That is Angel's lot in life, to mope about atoning for the sins of the world and being wretched, and Spike's not having any of that. At least when he's grieving, he's messy and loud about it, screaming his outrage and torment into the night sky with a bottle of Jack in one hand and a fist for the other.

"It's not supposed to be like this!" he yells, stomping his foot in the sand with indignation. "Fucking..." He falters for a moment; who's he yelling at again? God? No, not that. Spike is an atheist in the truest sense of the world, because God's not any fun and life isn't the same without a spot of pleasure every now and, well, now. Oh, right then. The soul. He's yelling at himself. "Stupid bloody me! And stupid... Stupid fucking *Buffy*!"

Yeah, that's right. That's more like it, Spike. It's all her fault anyway, what with her undying goodness and her stupid, vapid virtue. All of her damn morals, trampling his undead body with her high horse as she rides off into the sunlight, taking everything that he loves about himself with her. If it wasn't for her, he'd be happily slitting throats and slaughtering the innocents, right alongside his princess, and not longing for the reigning Queen of Pain.

"Should kill you," he slurs, groaning as he pulls himself to his feet. He sways for a moment, then takes another bracing gulp of whiskey and starts to stumble down the beach. "Yeah... Should just go ahead and do it, do it good..."

//She screams, her arms flailing and her eyes filling up with tears, and she's shaking her head and trying to wrench herself away from him. Always fighting, stupid bint, fighting what's got to be inside of her. Love, this kind of love, this kind that eats up everything else and then destroys, destroys, destroys...//

A wretched moan slips out of his mouth and he's back on the sand again, his face crumpling up as drunken tears spill out of his eyes. He's always doing this, going mad with memory and then sobbing like a right wanker. Always crying, because he can't keep the balance between what he is now and what he used to be. Because he does not know what this soul will make of him, what it will change him into, and there is nothing scarier than change like that.

The waves continue to pound at his naked body, lapping at his skin and stinging the lingering wounds from Africa, and Spike doesn't care. He merely wants to sleep, to let it go, sink into the abyss of unconsciousness and not wake up ever again.

But of course, he dreams.

The desert stretches out as far as his eyes can see, brilliant and scorching, the winds creating absent and meaningless patterns in the glass landscape as it shifts and moves around him. The sun is high in the sky, but his skin does not burn in his dreaming daylight, and he swears that he can hear Jim Morrison crooning drug-addled insanity in the background.

"This is the end... My only friend, the end..."

In a billowing sweep of white linen, she descends from the middle of the desert and into the sands, her hair flying on the wings of the wind, all pale skin and hair, bleached out by the ivory gown. Midriff exposed, voluptuous breasts enticingly insinuated by the low cut of the garment, diamonds and stones embedded into her skin so that she shimmers as she walks. The Doors continue to play on, and when Morrison hits the crescendo, an explosion of white feathers bursts from where she stands, and she's before him suddenly.

Tara, lady of the desert sand.

Confused, Spike gives her a deadpan expression as she dully looks back at him, and when it is clear that she offers nothing, he shrugs and reaches for his pockets. Oh, of course. He doesn't have any because he's naked. Rolling his eyes, he arches his scarred eyebrow at her and sighs. "Got a fag?" he asks, and she does not respond. Frustrated, Spike grunts and plops down on the sand, scowling at her in disgust. "Well, was worth a shot, right?"

"Everything's worth a shot for you," she then says, and her voice is calm and serene, evoking images of placid Pacific waters and calm, soothing skies studded with starlight. It occurs to him that this is a dream, a strange and silly dream full of gratuitous nudity and blatant _Apocalypse Now_ rip-offs. He thinks that if he can just find the jukebox blaring this Morrison crap, he'll turn it to something especially vicious from The Clash and dig up some smokes. Yeah, that would be about right. "There is no jukebox. Do not look for it."

Spike rolls his eyes and wishes that the dream had also transported his whiskey. Precognitive dreaming requires a good pint of solid Irish liquor. "Right," he says flatly, and then he drums his fingertips on his knees, sitting Indian-style on the uncomfortable desert floor. "So, let's just cut to the chase, pet. What sort of nasty event are you giving me the eye for? Another apocalypse? Some more murders from the good old days? Oh, wait. Let me guess. Another image of Her Lowness suffering her pretty little head over me. That's always a good one. Chart-topper and all that, but I usually don't get such a choice soundtrack."

Sighing, Tara's blank and blunt demeanor is suddenly stripped away from her along with her billowing white robes, and she's suddenly sitting before him in plainclothes, looking more like herself with her blonde hair loose around her shoulders and a blue shirt and jeans. She's more comfortable and accessible in denim, and she sits down across from him, holding a yard of the white fabric in her hands. "Here," she offers in that tentative Tara- way of hers, giving him the white linen. "You're kind of naked. Do you...?"

The wind picks up the edge of the fine fabric, tossing it every which way, and Spike stares at it blankly for a moment, seeing something interwoven with the tiny white threads. It's the story of his life, from infancy in the hands of the nanny to the darkness of the cave, and he sees every etching come alive with the perfection of memory. His mother scolding him and ripping apart his poetry, the look of disinterest on Cecily's china features, the sound of bone snapping as he twists the Slayer's neck, the smell of his only great love as he lowers his head between her thighs, and the way that she cries as he tries to destroy her...

Beyond him, in the desert, there are things rustling and moving with insect noises, skittering and scampering in the dust to escape his watching eyes. There is a boy in a sandbox far larger than the landscape, holding a plastic shovel and glaring at him sullenly, his head bald and his breath reeking of radiation. He sees Willow in the far distance, draped in jewels that threaten to drown her, and she is weeping because she is sinking underneath the weight of rubies and emeralds. Beyond them all is the sound of calculating, velveteen laughter, wrapping around his brain stem and controlling his actions.

"No," Tara says sharply, and she quickly drapes the cloth over his eyes, over his naked body, fashioning some sort of garment out of the fine, snowy linen. "Don't look in the desert. There are things that you can't control out there. Time and destiny are not for you to see. Let the seers see them."

"Am I not a seer?" he asks in a strange, clipped voice. Culture sometimes seems to flow out of him at odd moments, ruining his rebellion against high society with awakenings of his own boyhood of wealth and fine education. Gruffly, Spike clears his throat and tries to leer at her, arching his eyebrow and pouting his lips. "Can see 'bout everything you've got to offer... Forget the old bra this morning, witchlet?"

Cocking her head to the side, Tara seems amused by his efforts, but not in the manner that he was aiming for. "It's hard, isn't it?" she asks. "Hard to try and see where you end and the soul begins. But it's okay, Spike. You don't have to try. It's all so easy if you just... Let... *Go*."

She brings her palms to her mouth and blows sand in his face, but it is not sand. It's just dust, the ashes of some sacrificed vampire, and Spike recoils briefly underneath the scent of his own self, destroyed by the Slayer's stake. All of his history scatters on the arrogant planes of his face, and he sees all of his sins unfurled before him like an ashen rose in bloody bloom. All the faces of those he has murdered, those he has raped, those he has shattered and ruined.

They are all around him in the desert, surrounding him and astonishing them in their sheer mass. Hundreds of thousands of people, standing in the desert in utter silence and desolation, dressed in the bloodied clothes he'd killed them in. Ghosts, phantoms, transparent and gray, filmy figments of history undone. Gasping, Spike recoils and swallows hard, looking around him in horror. "All of them," he whispers, feeling sick to his stomach. He had no idea that there were this many, so many people, more than a million and they are all staring at him, their killer, while the Beatles sing along with their misery.

"Let me take you down, cause I'm going to strawberry fields... Nothing is real..."

He cannot take it. He cannot take their eyes on him, their dead eyes and bloodied wounds. Whores he's fucked and then destroyed, the crotches of their revealing dresses all stained from the horrible death he gave them, little children missing fingers and heads, and their mothers holding their amputated hands and cocking his head at him. //Why us? What did we do that earned us this death? We are mothers, wives, husbands, fathers, sisters, brothers, and we are human like you once were. Why?//

As Spike lowers his head and covers it with his hands, he starts to weep like always, like his tears are going to turn back time and take back the killings. Like crying will magically revoke all of his errors and mistakes and give these people their lives back. It does nothing, and he does nothing but sob.

Gentle, loving fingers twine through his hair briefly, and Tara is soothing him, murmuring into his ear and embracing him with her warm arms. "It's okay," she murmurs into his ear, brushing her cheek against his. "Let it go, Spike. There is nothing that you can do for them. What's done is done, and you can't bring them back. Death... It's like that. It's kind of permanent. That's how things should be."

"You don't understand," he pleads, burying his face into her neck as she rocks him. "It's not... I did these things, these terrible *things*, and I didn't know it was going to be like this and God, Tara, what Buffy... What the others..."

"The others don't know things like this," Tara murmurs into his hair, stroking his back and pressing kisses on his skin. "It's over. What happened to them, what happened to... It's over. There is nothing that can be done about it now. Death is inevitable. It's final, no matter how badly... No matter. It's over. Let it go."

There is an immeasurable sadness in her gestures, in her very state of being, but there is enlightenment, too. She's always been like that, the wise little sorceress with her scented candles and magic eyes. Likes her, he does, and he wants to hold her and comfort her because there's something warm and brilliant within her. He wants to give her all of the love that he knows he's capable of, shelter and protect her, and when he wraps his arms around her body, she smiles.

"Yes," she encourages, letting him hug her, letting him comfort her. "That's it, Spike. Let go of the past. It's done, and it's over. There are things in the desert that you can't see, but you have to go home and fight them. You are full of love. Love will lead you to your gift."

She pulls away then, and oh, Tara is bleeding. There is a blossom of blood on her left breast, spreading and dripping, and he stares at her with a shattered feeling inside of him as she smiles tearfully at him. "You're bleeding," he says, reaching his hand out to add pressure to the wound, to try and save her life, but she shakes her head, stilling his hand with hers.

"Don't worry about it," she says, but her voice is shaking. "I... It's not important. What's done is done, and what shall be shall be. You're going to go home, Spike, where she needs you, and you'll love her. It's why you did this to yourself, right? So that you could love her?"

Yes. He forgot about that somewhere in the middle of grief and alcohol, that shady and necessary mission statement that he'd tried to hold onto when he left the crypt on his bike. Was doing this for her. So that she could be loved and not hurt, cherished and not destroyed. A smile spreads across his face, and he nods his head. "Yeah. That's right. So that she could be loved."

The desert is suddenly empty again, and the music is gone, leaving only the austere sound of wind and sand as Tara stands in front of him, draped in white linen like before. No more denim and cloth, just this ethereal beauty and diamonds in her skin. She smiles down at him, and then bows down to kiss the top of his head. "You'll be fine," she whispers. "She's waiting. Go home."

When he wakes up, he finds himself dressed and lying beside the motorcycle, though he does not remember ever grabbing his scattered clothing or carrying his drunken ass back to the bike. Doesn't matter. He's got plans now, got a purpose, and he's got just two hundred and fifty miles back to Sunnydale before he sees her face again.

Grinning that mad-dog, feral smile that Spike loves best, he looks up at the sky and sees the stars blinking above him. He hops on the motorcycle with a jaunt in his step that's been missing ever since Africa, and smirks at the horizon.

"Spike's coming home, baby," he smiles. "Wait for me."

*****

"And I find it kind of funny

I find it kind of sad

The dreams in which I'm dying

Are the best I've ever had

I find it hard to tell you

I find it hard to take

When people run in circles

It's a very, very mad world"

--Gary Jules, "Mad World"

*****

(end)

*****

Next up -- "Waking the Dead". Feedback would be lovely. And thanks muchly again to Devil Piglet and to those great writers and readers over at Television Without Pity.

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