Chapter 32 – In the Magic Box
The past two weeks have been difficult. Spike did what he promised, he moved back home the morning after he spent the night in my bed. But it changed everything.
We've spent the time since then slowly trying to build trust between us. I've felt more than once that I'm walking on eggshells. He's so fragile, somehow, I'm doing my best not to break down the slowly growing confidence that I see. He's relaxing gradually. Every now and then I see a flicker of the Spike I fell in love with. A snarky comment, or an argument just for the sake of it. Not about anything important, of course, just keeping his hand in.
This past week, he's even trusted himself to touch me. Nothing too difficult at first, just stroking my hair out of my face, or putting an arm around my shoulders. Simple things that meant so much. I can hardly believe how convinced he was that such simple things could lead to him losing control. Then, three days ago, he moved from a chaste kiss on the cheek, much like he gives Dawn, to kissing me properly. The first one was short, but I persuaded him to take it further. Last night, he went home late, after spending long enough kissing me that I really didn't want him to go.
I want him to stay with me tonight. And I'm not talking lying the other side of the covers from me. He's healing very well. There are scars on his arms, and he winced when I touched his chest last night, but I'm not sure that was caused by pain. My cuts are completely healed. Slayer healing is pretty amazing, but what I've got now is phenomenal. So, there're no physical impediments. I love him, and I know he loves me. And I just feel I can't bear not to have him with me at night. I mean, I want him, that goes without saying. Even when I denied feeling anything but revulsion for him, I wanted him. It's different now. I feel like time spent away from him is wasted in some way.
If I had my way, he'd move in today. But, realistically, that's not going to happen. I'm going to do my best to persuade him to stay over tonight. After that, we'll take it one step at a time.
He's talking to Dawn, joking with her. It seems so natural. Soon, I hope we'll be as natural as that. Until then, I love watching the two of them together. It makes my heart swell to know that the two people I love best are so close.
Giles is discussing the day's business with Anya. He asked us to come here to tell us some of his findings. Dawn went to the doctor for a blood test this morning, finally providing the data he needs to complete the report Giles requested. Not that all the results are available yet, not by a long way.
Xander comes in, standing beside me, but his eyes are on Anya. I know they're working on getting back together again. He's so impatient, but he's doing his best to let her have her revenge in at least doing it slowly. It's good to see him looking hopeful again. He's had so much sadness in his life. Even now, Willow's still hovering somewhere between life and death, and he still loves her. He's the one who's been there for her at every turn. He never doubted her when she came back, and even now, he believes there was more to what happened that we know.
Giles finishes, and gestures towards the research table, bringing a sheaf of notes with him.
"So, Watcher, what've you got?" Spike asks as soon as we're all assembled around the table. It's good to hear the 'Watcher' epithet again. It's a sign of his growing confidence that he'll use it.
Giles gives him a look that speaks volumes, and I smile.
"I've got the preliminary results of the tests here," he says, "and I've added my own observations. As you know, I did the standard Slayer evaluation tests specified by the Council of Watchers. There is a great deal of data on, not only Buffy's previous results, but on many other Slayers throughout the years. Buffy was always in the top ten percent of Slayers historically in these tests. Since the change, she's fifty percent stronger. She's about thirty percent faster. Her general fitness is significantly greater, but that's more difficult to put a figure on."
He shuffles through his notes before continuing. "The medical tests agree with my findings. You and Spike have metabolic rates which are off the scale in terms of humans. Your need for oxygen is minimal compared to the extrapolated values we would expect for humans. You have chemicals in your blood unlike any found in a living creature before. We may never discover their purpose. Other chemicals, specifically, some enzymes, are known. From tests carried out by the Council of Watchers over the years, we know that certain enzymes peculiar to vampires are responsible for their being able to ingest blood and derive nourishment from it. They are particularly unusual, as enzymes in mammals are normally effective only over a very narrow range of temperatures. This enzyme is effective over a range encompassing some thirty degrees Fahrenheit."
"The physical tests on Dawn show her to be within the expected range for her age. Everything checks out as would be expected. The initial tests from the blood sample she gave today look normal too, but we may have to wait another two weeks before the results are all in."
Dawn's normal, and Spike and I are freaks. I guess we already knew that. Funny. I once called him and me a freak show. It was truer than I knew. I smile at my own thoughts. Once those words would have been bitter. Now, it's different, the similarities between us binding us together, keeping us apart from the others around us. But, I don't feel any resentment on that score. Everything about what we are now just feels right.
There's a strange crackling sound in the air, and it drags me back from my own thoughts. I look towards the front wall of the shop, and I see something snaking towards us. Spike and I instinctively stand, putting ourselves between it and Dawn while Xander, Giles and Anya look on.
The tendrils of pink ignore our efforts to keep her safe. They're homing in on her, and she's shrinking away from them. We push her back, towards the training room, but as we move away, the speed of our strange pursuer increases, easily matching and overtaking us.
As the outermost finger of pink touches Dawn, there's a sound, a 'ping' like you get if you flick your finger against a crystal wine glass. Then Dawn starts to glow. She's glowing green, and the pink is invading her.
Instantly, her terror turns to ... peace. I can't understand it. My arm is on hers, but the pink ignores me completely, keeping its distance from me, and from Spike who's at Dawn's other side.
The expression on her face is ... beatific. There's a rapture on her face that I've never seen before, even in her happiest moments. And there's something else. She's at peace.
I find my voice at last. "Dawn, what's happening? Is it hurting you?"
"No," she answers, and her voice is filled with wonder. "It's ... good. I can't explain it. No, maybe I can. Remember when you came back? When you described the place you called heaven? That's what it feels like. I feel ... safe. Secure. Warm. Happy. This is how it's meant to be."
"How what's meant to be?" I ask, but the break in my voice shows I've already got my own idea.
"This is it, it's when I leave you," she answers. I try to speak, and at the same instant, Spike's voice croaks a single word. "No."
She turns to him, and puts her hand on his face. "You haven't failed," she tells him, knowing instinctively how he feels. "This is why I exist in this time."
She turns to me. "Do something for me?" she asks.
"Anything," I reply, and I mean it. I'll kill, torture, scream, bargain with Satan, anything, just to stop this.
"Hold me," she asks. "It won't hurt you," she adds as if it would matter.
"You too," she adds to Spike.
I stand on her right, and Spike is on her left. We both put our arms around her, and they end up partially around each other. She nods her head approvingly at us. "That's it. You need to be together. You need each other."
Everything in the room shrinks to the three of us. There is no one else. There is nowhere else. My world is contained in my arms.
I can hardly believe the tableau I'm watching. Watching. That's what Watchers do, after all. No bloody use for anything else. It's the saddest and most uplifting thing I've ever seen. I hardly notice Xander and Anya moving closer to each other, needing human contact. What we're seeing is something terrible and wonderful, holy and awful all at the same time.
All I can see is Spike and Buffy, holding each other, but with a green glow between them. The green is fading gradually, as a pink colour flows into it. There's no violence about the reaction, rather the reverse. There's a peace about it that's hard to describe. It's like imagining two enormously heavy freight trains colliding without sound, without anything to show for it except a bed of flowers.
I can hear Dawn's voice coming from the green. It's recognisably Dawn's voice, but it's Dawn as she will be some day. When she's impossibly old and wise. Wiser than I'll ever be. She's consoling the two who love her most. Telling them to live for one another, for the love they share. I hear Buffy try to disagree, but somehow, Dawn forces them both to accept the love they feel for one another. She's telling them not to be afraid, not to mourn her. That they are meant to be together.
The green is fading, becoming paler, and Dawn's voice is becoming fainter too. At last, there's a giggle. A laugh of pure joy that's so Dawn, that I can't help but smile. It's followed by words that I know will haunt me.
"I'm going now," she tells them. "I'm not sorry, really I'm not. It's as it should be. And, it won't be for long, I promise. I see it now. Really, you'd laugh too if you knew, but they won't let me tell you. Goodbye. I love you Spike. I love you Buffy. Listen to your hearts, both of you. Remember your love for each other. That's how this will be right. It's the only way."
The last words were so quiet as to be almost inaudible. The only reason they were heard is the total silence in the room.
It's gone, the green and the pink have gone. And, for the first time I notice a figure in the doorway. Riley Finn is propping himself up on the doorframe, weeping openly. I ignore him. Xander and Anya are crying, holding one another, and I'm seeing the room through a film of tears. My eyes return to where she was. Buffy and Spike are holding one another still, as she wanted, but both have fallen to their knees. Both are sobbing, unable to contain their misery.
"What just happened?" Riley's asking.
I take off my glasses, wiping my eyes with my handkerchief before cleaning them.
"I'm not sure I know," I reply. "Except that Dawn's gone. Gone to where she belongs, although I couldn't begin to guess where that might be."
"That ... pink. Why didn't it destroy them?"
He's pointing an accusing finger at the two grieving creatures on the floor.
"I don't know," I answer. "Should it have?"
"It killed everyone else it touched," he tells me, his voice shaky.
"What do you know about it?" I ask, immediately suspicious.
"The lab. We found a sphere. Buried for thousands of years. We were doing some tests, but something happened. I made it happen. I told her it would be ok, and I wouldn't let her stop, and then that pink was everywhere, and she's dead, and the screams, those awful screams. She's dead, and it's my fault."
"Who's dead?" I ask.
"Sam, my wife. I killed her. I killed her, and all the others."
With a sudden clarity, I understand. The sphere wasn't ready to dissolve, something this man did caused it to fail before its time. He's responsible for the fact that Dawn's gone. I move towards him, belatedly noticing that Xander has had the same idea. I get there first, hitting him hard, getting satisfaction from the fact that he falls to the ground looking stunned. As he tries to get up, Xander hits him, and he's sprawled on the ground again. He's sobbing brokenly, and I know it's nothing to do with physical pain. He looks so pathetic that I find my rage at him dissipating.
The two demons on the floor don't even seem to have noticed his presence. One glance at them shows them as they were.
"You did this," I manage to say coldly.
"You're responsible for that." I point to Buffy, knowing that such a display of raw emotion must be recognised.
"I don't understand," he mutters through tears.
"You destroyed the Orb. The Key was the antidote to its power. Sooner or later it would have happened, but maybe not for several years. We might have come up with a way that Dawn could have survived it, but, your meddling meant that we didn't get the chance. Dawn is gone, and you are responsible."
Anya has come up behind Xander, and she's holding on to him, preventing him from venting his anger further. I glance again at Buffy, relieved that the events in the room seem to have gone unnoticed by her and Spike.
"If you value your life, get out," I tell Riley. The last thing either Buffy or Spike need now is Riley's death on their conscience. I almost consider killing him myself, as I know my conscience won't have a problem with it, but I decide against it. Letting him live is simply the more cruel option. He's lost his wife, he's destroyed an innocent child, and he's going to have to live with that.
Riley tries to stand, but he's sobbing so hard, he only manages to get to his knees. I wasn't able to help Dawn in the end. I could do nothing except ruin the last days of her life by telling her that her life would be short. But, there's something I can do now. It's not much, but it's something.
I walk over to Riley, and to my surprise, Xander and Anya come with me. Between the three of us, we lift him to his feet, and pull him back towards the door. With an effort, we throw him outside. He's weeping, sobbing that he's sorry, but that's the last thing we need right now.
When the debris is removed, we move towards the two who hurt most. The five of us draw together, as the crying slows, and the first tears begin to dry. We cling together, remembering her words, trying to feel joy at her joy. But it's hard. It's so hard not to remember that she's gone, and to know that every day without her will be empty.
Ok, I did it. I finished the story before Christmas. As you may have realised, there's a lot still to be resolved.
Just to remind you:
One for Sorrow,
Two for Joy,
Three for a Girl,
And Four for a Boy,
Five for Silver,
Six for Gold,
Seven for a secret, never to be told.
So, is there going to be a sequel? What do you think?
I won't be posting anything else until after Christmas. Life is just going to be too hectic over the next week and a half. When I do start posting again, I'm determined to get my other WIP 'A Unique Specimen' underway again. It's played second fiddle to this one for a while now, and I need to put that right.
To all of you who've sent feedback on this story - Thanks. I really appreciate all the comments. And if you haven't …. Now would be a good time! I write stories because I enjoy it, but feedback keeps me going when the ideas seem to dry up - at least that's how it seems.