AUTHOR'S NOTES (1): This series is inspired by Loreena
McKerritt's "The Book of Secrets". Other stories in the series are "Just
Like Heaven" and "The Snowstorm". These stories are also
available on ff.net.
AUTHOR'S NOTES (2): Buffy's thoughts are in italics.
DISCLAIMER: Characters still don't belong to me.
Buffy had to dial the number three times before she finally got through. The laconic exchange was plagued with bouts of interrupting static and crossover chatter. Buffy drummed her fingers on the table as she waited for the latest dance of noise to end. What's that saying? We can send a man to the moon but we can't ______.
"Buffy, tell me again. I didn't quite catch that last bit." A man's deep commanding voice echoed over the miles. Buffy sighed. You did too get it. You got it the first two times I said it. You just don't believe it.
"Spike has a soul." It was a sentence that still made no sense to her. Spike had gone to Africa to get a soul. For me. "What do I do?" She heard Giles sigh. If she were there, she knew what she would see: a greying ex-librarian in striped pajamas pinching the bridge of his nose while he bit the end of his glasses. Some things never changed. And Spike has.
"Are you sure?" The bewildered response was uttered before the static cascaded into her ear. She waited for it to dissipate.
"Yes. I'm sure." I'm sure that was a vampire trying to burn out his asked-for soul with a honking big cross. "Giles, what do I do? He needs help. And I can't." She couldn't help him. Not then. Not now. Once upon a time she might have, if he asked. But that was before.
She heard Willow murmuring in the background. Then Giles said, "Willow's right. You should contact Wesley. You may remember that the Council does not sanction any assistance with vampires."
Buffy knocked her head on the wall in exasperation. Yes, I remember. I remember his arms holding me. I remember his fangs buried in my neck. I remember wanting him to never stop. I remember. I remember.
"Buffy?" The soothing male voice reached through the phone and tapped her shoulder. "Buffy, are you there?"
"Yes, I'm here. I'll call him. But I don't think he's going to help." Wesley was busy doing his own thing these days.
"You could call Angel." Willow's suddenly crystal clear voice made Buffy wince.
"And tell him what, Will? That I've been screwing the one thing he hates more than anything else? Oh, and, he's not the only vampire with a soul?" Either piece of news could kill him.
"Buffy, he already knows."
"Which part? The I-fucked-up part or the I-fucked-up-and-said-fuckee-now-has-a-soul part?" Buffy's retort was sharper than she intended, and she grimaced when she realized what it must sound like to Willow.
"The first one." Buffy waited for the explanation. "He knows because I told him."
She felt the breath rush out of her body. "Why? When?" But she already knew why Tara and when the night Will tried to end the world.
"Buffy, I'm sorry. I wasn't…" Is that why he disappeared? He said he would always love me no matter what. Maybe it did matter. Oh, God, what the hell was I thinking? Willow was still explaining through her sobs. Eventually there was just silence.
"Will? Tells Giles I'll call him later. I gotta go." She hung up the phone and stared at her hands. Jewel has a whole song about hands. She shoved the random thought out of her brain and flipped through the address book. Wesley's number stared at her in Willow's neat handwriting. She picked up the phone and slowly pressed the buttons.
Wesley had been worse than useless. The Englishman had succinctly announced "Spike is not my problem" and suggested she try Angel. Amazingly, the conversation had lasted all of thirty-five seconds and left her no other choice.
She picked up the phone again, and idly wondered how much this month's long distance bill would be. A girl with a southern accent answered. Who's this?
"I'd like to speak with Angel, please?" Buffy used her professional guidance counselor voice to hide her nervousness. When Fred asked for her name, she continued the charade. "This is Buffy Summers. I'm the Slayer." She didn't know why she added her title. Angel knew exactly who she was. The minutes ticked by. Where the hell is Angel? Siberia?
Fred finally spoke into the phone. "Um, can he call you back? He's kind of busy right now." Angel's too busy to talk to me? Buffy closed her eyes and willed the fear to leave her mind.
"Sure," she answered, "I'm at home. He knows the number." She left the phone in the kitchen and wandered out to the deck. The night sky was laced with clouds. Here and there a star poked out. Spike has a soul. She supposed this was a good thing. Angel with a soul was way better than Angelus. She needed to stop thinking about Angel; she needed to focus on Spike.
Except she kept remembering the last time she'd seen Angel. He could have been the poster boy for "Father of the Year." He had brought Connor with him, and she had been amazed and so terribly hurt that he was Angel's son but not hers. Angel had known she was hurting. He had lifted both his son and the woman he loved onto his lap and held them in his arms. When Connor had fallen asleep, Angel had tucked the child into the baby carrier and tenderly covered him with a blanket. Then he had pulled Buffy onto the bed and held her through the night while they talked in whispers. She had told him about everything in her life except for her "relationship" with Spike. That decision was now about to bite her in the butt.
The shrilling screech of the phone sent her racing to the kitchen. "Hello," she answered somewhat breathlessly.
"You called." The deep husky voice that spoke lacked the warmth and love she had always heard in it. This voice was cold and dispassionate. And angry. This is one seriously pissed vampire.
"How are you?" She hoped she sounded normal. Let's start with something safe and inane. She clutched the phone under her chin and added water to the kettle. Maybe if she kept busy, she could nonchalantly have this about-to-be surreal conversation.
"I'm fine." Angel's voice was terse and brutal. "What do you want?"
She could hear him pacing. Something was bothering him. "Angel, what's wrong? What's happened?" She reached into the cupboard for some of Willow's chamomile tea.
His answering growl nearly shattered her eardrum. "It's none of your business. Now tell me what you want or get off the phone." She was so startled that she dropped the phone. It clattered to the kitchen floor and shut off. She picked it up and waited for Angel to call her back. The phone remained silent. The kettle boiled and switched off. She absently poured some water into a cup and added the teabag. And still the phone did not ring.
Buffy took her tea and the phone and went back outside. This time she sat on a chair in the backyard. Her feet were tucked neatly under her and hid the ever-present stake. She took a sip of tea and dialed the familiar digits of Angel's private number. One ring. Two rings. Three rings. Any second now, the Count is going to laugh. Another random thought. Where is my brain tonight?
He answered on the twelfth ring. "What?" This bark was just as ferocious as his growling.
She took a deep breath and quietly confessed. "I'm sorry. I should have told you." She took another breath and heard him sob? "Angel?" He was sobbing. "Angel?" Buffy couldn't swallow her tea. "Angel, please, don't cry." She had had months to think about her affair with Spike. Months to deny his love for her. Months to deny how she used him. Months to pretend no one was being hurt. In the space of four hours, the pretense had been utterly stripped and the carcass contained two devastated vampires and one distraught slayer. So grown up and still incredibly stupid.
Angel stopped crying but the pain still leaked out of his voice. "Why, Buffy? Why?" And that would be the question of the day. Why had she let Spike hurt her, fuck her, love her? Was it fear? Self-loathing? Despair? "If it was just about sex, we could have—"
Buffy couldn't stop the laugh that escaped her lips. "We could have what, Angel? Had mindless sex? We don't do mindless sex." We never did, which is why you left in the first place.
He sighed. "But, Spike?" Spike was the only one who could touch me. He was the only one who made me feel like you were still here. "He doesn't care about you, Buffy. He's a monster. He's never been anything else." He spat the words out, and she could feel the hatred leaching out of the phone.
"It wasn't like that, Angel." It was about pain, lust, hatred, obsession, addiction, fear, hiding. "And he does care about me." The receiver trembled as the vampire growled again. "Okay, could you stop with the caveman growling? I'm starting to go deaf." She put the empty teacup under her chair and stretched out her legs.
"You still haven't told me why." She wasn't going to escape this interrogation. And, she reminded herself, he had a right to know.
"Are you sure you want to know, Angel? You aren't going to like it." If she prepared him, maybe it wouldn't hurt as much. And we're back in the land of the hopelessly naïve. She switched the phone to her other ear and looked at the sky again. The clouds had moved away. The full moon bathed in a sea of jewels. Wonder where Oz is. She shook her head to clear the random-thought generator.
"…anything you do." Whoops. Angel had said something while she had been night-dreaming.
"Angel." She loved speaking his name. In high school, she had practiced various ways to say his name: happy, sad, angry, spiteful, bitter, sexy, loving. No matter how she said it, his name always slid out of her mouth and rolled over her body like syrup. Spike's name, now that was a different story. The name fit the owner: hard, harsh, solid, stoppable, finite. With Spike, the boundaries of their relationship had been clearly defined. We will do this. We will not do that. It had not been a give-and-take relationship except that Spike gave and Buffy took and no questions were asked, ever. If she chose to acknowledge it, Buffy knew that Spike was concerned about why she was with him. But Buffy had never made that choice, and now she was facing the consequences.
"I think I wanted to hide from the world. I wanted to feel something—"
"So you let Spike sleep with you? That was your solution?" She could tell that he was trying not to throttle her through the phone. Angel still loved her. Some small part of her heart rejoiced.
"You know, this would be easier if you'd just let me tell you." She smiled as she heard his "Fine." All this time and distance between them and she could still get him worked up. She heard the creak of his bed as he settled onto the mattress.
And now comes the hard part. "I don't honestly know why, Angel. There are lots of reasons and no reasons. I felt not me, like I was here and doing life stuff but not here." She wasn't explaining this very well. "When I saw you, I thought it would be different, and it wasn't."
"You sleeping with Spike is my fault?" She felt his disbelief. Yes. NO. Can I screw this up anymore?
"I mean I thought that since I came back, we would have another chance. That it wouldn't be another installment in the Buffy and Angel show. But, apparently, we do reruns." She kicked the empty cup; it arced across the yard and shattered against a tree trunk. "And I couldn't do that again." It hurt too much the first time. "Spike and I kind of happened," she mumbled.
"What? You tripped and impaled yourself on his cock?" Buffy pulled the phone away from her ear in shock. Did Angel really just ask her that? He was never crass with her. He always chose his words carefully. He always treated her with respect. And this whole situation is about respect. Duh!
"Angel—" He roared in frustration and her soul quivered in fear.
"What, Buffy? What can you possibly say that will change what you did? YOU SLEPT WITH SPIKE!" She closed her eyes and felt an aching pain in her chest. I slept with Spike because I was scared. These last few months had been about actions and consequences and fallout. Xander had left Anya at the altar; Anya was now a vengeance demon. Warren had tried to kill Buffy; Willow had murdered him and then tried to share her pain with the world. Giles had left so she could grow up; she had nearly suffocated with the struggle of daily life. Spike had wanted me. He wanted me. And I wouldn't take him as he was, so now he has a soul. Through all these actions and consequences, the fallout had indiscriminately eliminated people, strained friendships, and broken trust. Fear lay at the base of all their actions.
"I was scared, Angel." Buffy whispered into the phone as the tears streamed down her cheeks. She shivered in the coolness of the night. "I was so scared. And I couldn't say that I was scared. The words just wouldn't come out. I'm supposed to be the strong Slayer, and all the time, I was scared." She was openly sobbing: deep wrenching cries of torment that drove her to the ground.
Angel didn't console her; he didn't say anything. Buffy wiped a sleeve across her face and sniffled noisily. "Angel? Are you still there?" Do you still love me? She heard the mattress crinkle as he moved on the bed.
"Buffy, what do you want?" The resignation in his voice ripped another hole in her heart. She couldn't tell him what she wanted. That answer only led to more pain. And I don't think I can do anymore pain tonight.
"Spike has a soul and he needs help. I don't know how to help him and I thought maybe you—". She was babbling. Spike needed help. It was her fault that he was suffering. She couldn't leave him like that.
Buffy stiffened in her chair. She couldn't have heard right. She hadn't even explained why she needed Angel's help.
"What did you say?" Buffy held her breath.
"I said no. And it's not open to negotiation." Angel's voice had returned to the cold terseness of their earlier phone call. Buffy's hand unconsciously strayed to the scar on her neck. Is he saying no because it's Spike?
"Why not?" Why can't you do this? Isn't your whole job about saving souls? She balled her fist in her lap.
"You know why not." It was delivered in an unemotional monotone. She pounded her fist on the chair's arm in frustration. We're back to the cryptic guy routine? Buffy rubbed her forehead. She was beginning to get a headache. "Pretend I don't know why, and just tell me."
"You know why not," Angel repeated forcefully. She didn't know, but she could guess: I slept with Spike ergo no Angel. She was stunned. She was asking him for help and he was refusing. Buffy suddenly understood how deeply her actions had hurt Angel
She had one more question to ask if she dared. What do I have to lose except my world. "Angel? Do you love me?" What if he says no? She tracked a centipede as it scurried along the ground. She counted the stars. She waited, and she was rewarded.
"Yes." One exhaled word lifted the corners of her mouth. He still loves me. She asked her final question while she had the courage. "What do I do about Spike?"
"Nothing." Click. Angel ended the conversation.
Buffy stretched her cold stiff body and entered the house. She put the phone on the charger and locked the back door. She checked the front door and wandered upstairs to her room. She sat on the bed and pulled Spike's duster out from underneath it. His scent was still on it. It was a strangely intoxicating blend of cigarettes, cheap alcohol, and Spike. She understood that Angel had given her an ultimatum. She hadn't decided if she would accept it.