TITLE: Crawling In The Dark
DISCLAIMER: Not mine. Never was, never will be.
SPOILERS: BTVS: "Chosen", AtS: "Conviction", "Just Rewards"
SUMMARY: The road stretches on before them, dark and empty without seeming to end.
FEEDBACK: Yes, please.
2 hours. Highway.
The road stretches on before them, dark and empty without seeming to end. She sits alone at the front of the bus, the silence encompassing; the emptiness of the road echoing the emptiness that's consuming her heart.
It's gone. All of it.
Her home. Her life. Her heart.
She closes her eyes for a moment only to be assaulted by her last vision of him, the pain etched on his face and body as he sent her away. As he died for her. For all of them.
A solitary tear trails down her cheek as she forces her eyes open, looks down at her hand and the vicious red burn marring her palm. It doesn't hurt, not next to the rest of it, just a distant throb in comparison to the jagged, tearing, searing pain that ravages her heart.
"I love you."
"No you don't. But thanks for saying it."
Why did it have to end like this? Why did she have to wait until it was too late to admit what she'd never been able to?
Not for the first time since facing the desolation that was once Sunnydale, she wished she hadn't left him to face death alone. She should never have left his side.
Day 3. Los Angeles. Hyperion hotel, room 424.
She stares vacantly out the window, nestled in to the armchair she'd pushed there after Angel had left her two and a half days ago. Her head is pillowed on the crook of her elbow. Her eyes, red and bloodshot, focus on nothing and everything at the same time.
She's empty. Unfeeling. She hasn't shed a tear in three days. She hasn't slept.
The knock on her door goes ignored, but moments later the knob turns and the soft, tentative footsteps enter the room. She knows who it is without looking; with the exception of Dawn he's the only one left here that cares.
He stops behind her and after what seems like a moments hesitation, rests a hand gently on her shoulder.
She doesn't flinch. Doesn't blink. Makes no sign of acknowledging him at all. If she looks at him, sees the pity, she knows she'll fall apart. She's not ready for that yet. Doesn't think she ever will be.
"I've booked a couple of tickets for you and Dawn, I thought it'd be good for you if you joined Giles in England," his voice, though soft, has an undertone of impatience, frustration.
He'd left two and a half days ago. Needed to get away. Couldn't cope with it. Couldn't cope with her.
She blinks, continues to gaze out the window. She can't deal with this. Any of it.
A low growl leaves his throat as he pulls his hand away from her shoulder, his anger washing over her in bitter waves. It means nothing to her, there's nothing to compete with the pain and emptiness that fills her so completely now.
That's all she has now – pain and emptiness and bitter, wretched memories. The burn, three days ago so red and raw, is healing fast. Soon there'll be nothing left to see, no physical sign of her last contact with him.
In a better frame of mind she might have sensed his defeat, the disappointment, the cold concern. She was far from noticing or caring.
His footsteps don't move towards the door, however, but around the armchair, his large frame blocking her view of the window. She stares through him, not reacting when he leans down and slides his arms beneath her.
"You have to get over this."
She barely makes a sound as he sweeps her up in his arms and begins walking towards the bathroom. Her hollow gaze drifts up to his face, seeing yet not seeing his own pain etched on it.
Distantly she's aware that he's stepping into the shower stall, but takes no more notice of that than anything else in the past couple of days. It seems irrelevant.
The first rush of icy water sends a jolt of cold fire throughout her body. Like a slap to the face she's dragged screaming back into awareness as icy fingers of water rapidly seep through her clothing. For the first time her vision focuses on the man holding her, sees every bit of concern, frustration, worry, that there is to see on his dark features.
It brings her crashing back to reality.
Her voice is tiny, whimpered more than spoken as the horrible truth she'd tried to hard to evade sinks in. Every piece of grief, every memory, every face and moment flashes into her consciousness.
She's lost it all. She's lost too much. She's lost the man she loved.
She's still alive.
The tears begin to flow, sobs of anguish rending themselves from her throat as she mourns for everything she's lost.
Day 9. Rome. Piazza Navona.
At any other time she might have felt overawed at the apartment that the Watchers Council had managed to procure for her, but right now she just felt exhausted, her body still trying to counteract the jet lag. Leaving her bags by the front door she moves to the sofa and sinks into it with a grateful sigh.
She still felt strangely detached from her surroundings. All she needed was a bed to sleep and a place to be alone. She had to be alone to grieve.
Giles and Dawn both seemed to understand, but it was obvious neither of them liked it. They were worried about her, she knew, she saw it in their faces.
She was still a shell, still wrapped in her blanket of sorrow and misery. She was better than she was, Angel had helped with that, held her as she wept well into the night, listened although he clearly didn't understand, couldn't bear to believe that she felt so deeply for the man that had been his enemy for so long.
At least now she could handle going through the routine of acting normal.
But she had to get away, be alone, and for the moment it suited her better. She was away from their pitying looks. Away from their worry and concern and constant fawning. Away from their lack of understanding.
She needed to finish her mourning, to find the most important thing she'd lost.
Once she'd found that she'd be able to go back, to be the sister that Dawn needed her to be.
She'd be able to function again.
Day 19. Rome.
It came out of the blue, startlingly shrill.
She stares at the phone for two full rings before reaching out and plucking it off the receiver. It was the first time it had rung since she'd moved into the loft apartment.
Her voice was hesitant. Should she have said ciao instead? Or buon giorno? What if they didn't speak English?
Only Dawn and Giles had her number.
It takes her a moment to register the voice, a moment longer to recognize it. She hadn't spoken to him since leaving LA. Only two weeks ago. It felt like a distant memory.
It must be important.
They say silence can be deafening. Sometimes it can be.
"How are you doing?"
Her eyebrows come down as her concern rises. He tracked down her phone number for small talk?
He sounded off. Awkward. More awkward than normal. Strained. Stressed.
"What's up Angel?" Biting. Straight to the point.
"Uh," he trails off. She wishes she could reach through the phone line and slap him. "Something's happened."
Then she hears it, clear as day, that voice she's longed to here again for the last nineteen days. The voice she'll never hear again. You don't know what you have til its gone, she thinks bitterly.
Oh, bloody hell.
She wonders if perhaps she's finally lost it, she can't cope with the grief and she's lost her mind. Or, maybe it's just a dream. Wishful thinking. Her imagination. A memory. It would be exactly the thing that he would say if he was overhearing this conversation. She was just imagining it.
What is it with you two? Quit being a bloody ponce and tell her, you prat.
Exasperated. Annoyed. Hearing a voice that can't be there. She shakes her head, tries to get rid of her inner Spike. Strange, that his voice seems to be coming over the phone line.
Twirls her fingers in the cord in a futile attempt at maintaining her patience. What is it with the riddles?
Chest tightens, breath halts. Fury rises. Her eyes begin to well, the mention of his name does that to her. Disbelief. Pain. She was starting to do so well. Incomprehension.
"That's not funny, Angel," she spits, pulling the receiver away from her ear. An instant before it's slammed back down into the cradle she hears it again, small and tinny.
"Buffy, pet. Listen I-"
She sinks to the floor as the sobs return, screams in impotent rage.
Why would he do this? She was doing so well. She was coping.
His voice, that ingratiating British voice. Cut off when she hung up the phone. She wasn't imagining it. It was him.
And she'd just hung up on him.
She'd paced. She'd cried. She'd shook. Stared blankly at the walls. The disbelief was still there. The shock.
He was alive? How was it possible?
She ran the past three hours back in her mind. They'd phoned back half an hour later, she'd finished screaming and wailing by then, had garnered a modicum of control.
He was back, and yet he wasn't.
Non-corporeal. What the hell did that mean? A ghost, yet not a ghost.
Even over the phone she could hear his frustration, with him it was always made known anyway. He didn't deserve that, he'd sacrificed himself to close the Hellmouth, given up his life to save so many … and this was how he's getting repaid?
She'd wanted to talk to him. Really talk to him. There was so much that had gone unsaid before, so much to tell him, admit to him. She had so much to prove to him.
And she couldn't even tell him she loved him.
Not with Angel right there with him, and certainly not with the room full of veritable strangers right there with him. Had they never heard of privacy?
She wanted nothing more than to drop everything, book a ticket and wing it back to LA. She'd received a resounding no from everyone, even from Spike. It was his words she heard clearer than anyone else's.
"There's no point, love. Looks like I'm stuck here til they work out what's wrong with me. Besides, don't particularly fancy you seeing me like this. You have your new life; don't put that on hold for me."
He didn't want to see her. She'd slipped into silence then, stunned and hurt. He didn't want her to come.
It was only later that she came to the realization that his words were true, that he was embarrassed to have her see him like this, a shadow of the man he used to be.
She wasn't sure what hurt more.
3 months. Rome. Piazza Navona.
"Posso avere un caffè e una focaccina, prego?" she asks in broken Italian.
She's getting the hang of some of the simpler phrases, but she still sounded like she was reading it directly from a phrase book. She's slowly getting used to living here, in a city so different to what she was accustomed to. She was getting back on her feet, and on with her life.
The waitress offers her a warm smile as she moves back inside.
Her return smile is forced as she pulls the cigarette pack out of her bag, pulls one out and quickly lights it with practised ease.
If asked, she couldn't explain why she started, she just woke up one morning and needed one, but the moment she'd lit up that first cigarette, smelt the burning tobacco, tasted it on her tongue, she knew why.
The smell. The taste.
It reminded her of him. It comforted her.
Being alone in this foreign city, she needed every little bit of comfort she could get.
Her holiday was nearly over though, next week she was heading back to England, to Dawn and Giles. She'd achieved what she'd needed to by coming here – overcome her grief, found herself, become her own woman.
There was still an emptiness in her heart, a void, a part of her that missed him like crazy but she was more in control of that too. But it was coupled with longing. He was alive, on the other side of the planet.
She wanted nothing more than to be with him, but he'd asked her to respect his wishes … and his wish was that she stay in Rome.
He'd said that the last time she'd spoken to him, over a month now. It was all business; again Angel had been there with him. Hardly conducive to having a conversation about her feelings.
All she wanted to do was tell him she loved him, convince him of it.
She was starting to wonder if the lack of communication meant that he didn't feel the same way anymore. It didn't seem right, but it was the only possible explanation that made any logical sense to her. Why else would he not want her there? Why else would he never call, or try and talk to her alone?
Maybe something had happened to him while he was in hell, or wherever he'd been in those nineteen days, something that made him rethink his feelings. Something that made him realized that it wasn't love that he felt for her, but something primal, something tainted and twisted.
It had to be that, because to her there was no other explanation. She was prepared to move heaven and earth to be with him again, to see him again, and she'd always assumed that he was always willing to do the same.
He hadn't. He wasn't going to. He didn't want to be with her.
Taking a last, long, drag of her cigarette, she stubs it out in the ashtray and wondered, not for the first time, whether the feeling of rejection was more painful to bear than loss.
6 days. Rome. Piazza Navona.
Lighting another cigarette, her third in a little over half an hour, she smiles gratefully as the waitress places the coffee before her on the table.
"Grazie, Luisa," she murmurs.
She's going to miss this place. She's been coming here for coffee every day since arriving in Rome, it hadn't occurred to her to try anywhere else. This place just seemed … comfortable.
Luisa hovers for a moment, plucking at her apron uncertainly. "Voi gradiscono niente altro? Una focaccina, forse?"
She smiles warmly in return. "No, grazie."
She is left alone again then, alone to her thoughts, her bitter, twisted, sadness. One thing she's realized for sure in the last couple of months is that when you're alone you can't help but dwell on everything. She missed having her friends around, missed having them there to distract her and cheer her up.
Though, in truth they probably wouldn't have been able to. They hadn't understood after Sunnydale was destroyed, couldn't comprehend why she was so distraught over losing him. They'd never understand if she told them she loved him.
It was beyond them. Until recently it had been beyond her too.
Now, it just doesn't matter. It was time to move on.
"Haven't you ever been told that those things'll kill you?"
Her head jerks around so fast that she wonders how she managed not putting her neck out. She stares for a long time, disbelieving, her mind taking an age to process what she's seeing. Her eyes follow him as he moves with the grace of a cat and slides into the seat opposite her. He smiles, face sparkling with amusement, reaches across the table and plucks the forgotten cigarette from her fingers. "Besides, it doesn't suit you," he laughs lightly as he takes a long, slow, drag from the cigarette.
She blinks, fights to get back in control of herself. "Spike?" It's practically a gasp, whispered and abrupt. Disbelief creeps back. She can't think straight. "Spike?"
"Think we've established that, love," His face lights up as he grins and takes another drag of the cigarette before handing it back to her. "Here, looks like you need this more than I do."
Numbly her eyes drift down to his hand, stretched out before her grasping the cigarette. Holding the cigarette. Her eyes drift back to his face, meet those deep blue eyes. "You're … how?"
He laughs, soft and low, no hint of mocking, and perches the cigarette on the ashtray. "Yeah, back to myself again. No more ghosting away."
Reaching out, he touches her hand, squeezes it gently. "See?"
She's not sure why the touch startles her, it does though. Her heart starts pounding in her chest. It all seems so unreal, like a dream, but she can feel his cool flesh against hers, the calluses on his fingers pressing into the back of her hand. This is real.
She wants to laugh. She wants to cry. To scream, to giggle hysterically, to run. To jump up and hold him.
Instead, she does nothing, just sits there and studies him intently. He still looks the same, yet different. His hair still bleached blonde, still slicked back. Those blue eyes, still striking and intense and powerful. His face, still all sleek lines. He was dressed differently - the duster noticeably absent – he wore a plain blue dress shirt, black trousers.
His demeanour was different. He didn't exude swagger and cockiness like he used to. He seemed confident, composed, self-assured. Calm. When he smiled, and he seemed to be doing that a lot, it lit up his whole face.
With a shaking hand she plucks the cigarette off the ashtray, but one look at him, at the way his face hardens briefly as he watches her makes her quickly stub it out.
"You've changed," she blurts, knowing she has to say something, anything. He didn't come all this way to have her stare at him like a brainless idiot. "You seem different."
He grins at her, his eyes twinkling. "The whole dying, hell, resurrection thing tends to do that to a man."
Blushing, she tears her gaze away. Not that long ago she would have told him that he wasn't a man, that he was an animal, a beast. The last year had changed things. His soul had changed him. For the first time she saw him as a man, saw the suffering, the insanity, that he'd gone through to prove that to her. She tears her eyes from his, tears pricking at her eyes. She can almost feel his hasty back pedal. Too soon, too painful, too raw.
"You're different too. You've lost weight."
Her eyes slide shut for a moment, she wills the tears away. It's too much, too sudden, too much to deal with so quickly. She'd given up on any chance of ever seeing him again, and now here he was. With her. It had to mean something, didn't it?
"It's been a hard couple of months," she murmurs sadly, unable to meet his eyes. If she looks at him she'll break down, she can't break down, not yet. There's so much to say, so much to tell him and she doesn't have a clue where to start. "I didn't think I'd ever see you again."
Out of the corner of her eye she could see him shifting awkwardly. Sensitive subject. She didn't care. "I was starting to think that maybe you realized you didn't love me any more. You never phoned Spike. Not once. What was I supposed to think?"
Looking up she looks at him with eyes full of hurt, loneliness. He flinches, drags his eyes away from her. "It was kind of difficult, ya know. Couldn't pick up the phone for myself, couldn't ring you without someone bein' there, listenin' in. I didn't," he trails off as he looks up, meets her eyes with guilt and remorse. He reaches across the table again and takes her hand. "I wanted to see you. It was all I could think about from the moment I came back, seeing you, being with you, talking to you. But I didn't come back right, and I didn't want you to see me like that, didn't want you hanging around waiting for something to change when it might not have. It wouldn't have been fair to you, not when you have your own life to move on with."
Unable to stem the surge of anger flooding through her she jerks her hand away. "Didn't it occur to you that maybe I didn't want to move on? That I wanted to drop everything to be with you in LA?" she snarls, her voice rising. "That maybe it was killing me knowing that you were out there, alive, and didn't want me to be with you?"
He flinches under the intensity of her gaze. Emitting a soft sigh he sits back, the smile drifting from his face. "I didn't want you to do it out of some sort of obligation to me."
Angrily, she snatches up the cigarette packet, lights another one. "This has nothing to do with obligation," she snarls, "I don't feel obligated to you about anything, and I don't expect you to feel it for me either. I love you. Don't you get that?"
He flushes, tearing his gaze from hers. Reaching across the table, he grabs the cigarette pack, lights one. "I thought you just told me that to … I don't know. You picked the worst time to tell me, didn't you, love?"
A sigh, bitter and tortured, leaves her lips. "You didn't believe me did you? You told me you didn't, and you meant it."
The tears start pricking again, tickling at her eyes even as she begins to construct the wall against her emotions. Her eyes stay on him though, burning with fury, with bitterness, with loss. She can't cry, not now, not in front of him.
He fidgets, seemingly aware of the ferocity of her gaze, plucks absently at the tablecloth with one hand as he takes a slow puff of his cigarette, gathers his thoughts.
"I did believe you," he murmurs after what feels like an eternity. Still, he doesn't look up at her, "but I was dying, Buffy. Not the most opportune moment to tell a man something so momentous. I didn't want you to dwell on that moment, live in it and let it consume you. You deserve so much more than that."
His voice gathers in intensity until he finally looks up at her. His blue eyes, so full of desperation, quell her anger. "You deserve so much better than what I could ever offer you."
The pain in his voice, so raw and bleak, tears at her. She feels like she's been picked up and turned on her head as her emotions shift rapidly from anger to remorse and regret. Only he's ever been capable of dragging her through the fill spectrum of emotions in such a short period of time.
"I think we both deserve each other," she whispers. "We've both done things to each other, horrible, evil things. We've both forgiven. We both love. You wouldn't be here today if you didn't, and I wouldn't still be sitting her if I didn't."
Glancing down at her hand, at the half-smoked cigarette clutched between her fingers, she grimaces and stubs it out. She can feel the silent question in his gaze, the raised eyebrow, the slight twist of his head. She shrugs. "It reminded me of you, the smell and the taste, it was comforting."
A small, devilish, gleam lights his face as he offers a tiny smile. "Yeah, I started wearing that vanilla perfume stuff you liked so much. It was comforting too," he snorts sarcastically. Leaning across the table he cups her face in his hand, strokes her cheek tenderly with his thumb. "Where do we go from here?"
She smiles, hopeful and tremulous. She hasn't done it much in the last three months, never meant it when she did. It feels good, like a tiny sliver of normality is creeping back. Maybe things were going to be okay after all.