UNREST

Your purity and rage
Your passion and your hate
You promised more than bliss
With your God and with your kiss

I'm on my knees
I beg your mercy
My soul is my loss
I'm well hung from your cross

            ~Kiss, London After Midnight
_________________________________________________

"Can we rest now, Buffy? Can we rest?"

She feels the tears run down her cheeks, their warmth in sharp contrast to the cold shock that grips her heart. She stands, paralyzed by the sight of him, and he is at once the most beautiful and horrific thing she's ever seen. His skin is nearly as white as the cross itself, his body draped gracefully over it like a dancer's, and he clings to it, cradling it like a lover, a mother, a dying hope; steam hissing and rising as it burns his skin wherever it touches.

A soul… My God. A soul.

It is painful to watch him embrace the symbol of peace and salvation he so desperately craves; a peace and salvation that his burning skin attests he will never know. The cross rejects him, scorns him, burns him for his sin of living beyond death. Burns him for daring to think he might ever be forgiven.

"Why does a man do what he mustn't?"

For her.

This? For her? She cannot stand this, does not want it. Has she not caused enough pain and misery in her time? Has she not endured enough?

"Can we rest now?"

We rest when we die.

No one knows peace, so long as they live. Everyone wants forgiveness for their sins, for their flaws... everyone wants to be cradled safe in the arms of lover, mother, savior. He is no different. For him, it is simply new. For him, the sins loom higher, more terrible, greater in number. But at the heart of it, beneath the crazy yammering and the melodramatic speeches, he is no different than anyone who has taken a good long look at himself and been found wanting.

She wants to tell him that; use all those pretty, perfect words that only seem to occur to her in times of great stress. But she knows it will not comfort him to know that. It doesn't comfort anyone to know that. All it does is make you realize just how sad and alone you truly are.

We rest when we die.

She had rested once, and for a little while, it had been bliss. Safe in the arms of heaven, the pain and loss of this life stripped away and forgotten, leaving only the purity of soul. This... this is what it means to be human, she thinks, looking at him. This is what it means to be trapped in flesh.

"Am I flesh to you?"

Flesh… His flesh. Her flesh. Flesh to touch and to kiss and to stroke and to tease. She remembers his hands on her skin, his lips against hers, the slow rhythm of their bodies as they moved against each other, yearning, striving and shuddering, trying desperately to seize the moment of pleasure and hold it, stretch it out forever. A tiny glimpse of heaven, of joy, the sensation of exiting ones own flesh and transcending to a higher plane; a place of beauty and ecstasy and peace without the burden of rational thought. Without the intrusion of mortal concerns. He had given her that, had given her heaven if only for a few moments at a time, and she had been grateful for what she could get.

"Am I flesh to you?"

That flesh burns now. Burns for her.

These thoughts flash through her mind in an instant, and bare seconds have passed since he spoke.

He holds the cross as if it doesn't hurt—or perhaps, as if he deserves the pain it causes—white blond head bowed, resting against one of its arms; the picture of a man completely humbled, a man completely broken, a desperate supplicant wreathed in the steam of his penance. Is he willing to die for his sins, she wonders? Is she willing to let him? How long before the cross burns through his skin into something vital?

She bites down on her lower lip, not knowing what to say or what to do. She can't make this better for him. There is nothing she can say that he would want to hear. But she can't stand by and watch him die, either. They've been through too much for her to do that.

She edges forward with one foot, opening her mouth to speak—

"Okay, drama-queen, you can get down off the cross now. Buffy needs the wood. For stakes."

Xander.

Her mouth snaps shut, and whatever she'd been about to say is forgotten instantly. As she watches, Spike slips from the cross, his arms going lax as he slides to the ground in a heap. She doubts that he heard Xander at all, thinking it likely that his arms have simply given up holding him at last, relenting before the crushing, emotional weight that rests upon his shoulders. Arms resting awkwardly atop his head, he slips to pose cramped and unnaturally at the foot of the cross, like a crumpled, broken rag doll someone threw away.

"It's what you wanted, right?"

"You okay?" Xander asks warily from behind her.

She brushes the tears from her cheeks and turns, looking at him with eyes both sad and grave. Xander cannot read what he sees there; it's been a long time since he could, but he senses that she has been hurt somehow. Seconds tick by as she stares at him in silence, and then, without warning, she pushes past him and runs from the church. A moment later, she hears Xander follow behind her.

"She shall look on him with forgiveness."

She runs, and her heart aches with knowing that what Spike seeks, she can never grant him. She has no forgiveness to spare. She hasn't even any for herself. But to see him like this, so filled with sorrow, regret and pain… it's too much. She remembers all too well what it felt like to be ripped from heaven and shoved back inside her skin. Her skin has never fit the same, ever since. But she is strong, and she is here, and she is trying to be happy.

The last thing she needs is to be reminded how hard it is to simply go on living.

So she runs, trying to leave behind the image of his body hung over the white cross.

She breathes deep and tries to forget the smell of his burning flesh.

She exhales and tries to drive out the pain in her heart and in her head.

After a while, she succeeds.