Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts, care for, can you?
Ah! As the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.
-Gerard Manley Hopkins
Halloween moon. Full orange globe in a purple sky, the kind of night that doesn't come very often. The air crisp and chill, the faintest hint of a Southern California fall. No fading, blazing leaves here, those were for colder parts; here there's just the faintest touch of death in the air. The slightest hint that summer was over and a long, dark, winter was at hand.
It suited her mood exactly. The hint of death, the coming of the end.
Buffy sat in the graveyard, staring at nothing. Or, more precisely, at what was now nothing: her grave. The turned up dirt still marked her long climb back to life, back to hell on earth. Seems like somebody ought to have been bothered by what was obviously an empty grave, but, hey, Sunnydale. She didn't know what the cemeteries looked for in their groundskeepers, but it probably wasn't a sense of initiative. More likely it was a severe drinking problem and a psychiatric history that included hallucinations.
She sighed, drawing the cold air into her lungs. Breathing. Sometimes, she almost forgot to do it, parts of her body slower to catch on to life than others. You breath, and the air goes in, the lungs grab it and swirl it through the body. You breath, and old, stale, used up air, poison to the body now, goes out, mixes with the fresh. Good thing her heart already knew how to pound. She wasn't as sure that she could reteach those mechanics quite so well.
The ground under her fingers was cool and wet, dank, the dirt of the grave sticking to her fingers. It didn't bother her. This had been her home for months. No reason to hate it now. It wasn't the earth's fault that she had been cast up, cast back. The girl who couldn't even getting dying right. Twice now she had tried it, and here she was, cold and alone and still alive.
No reason to turn. Spike's footsteps, his voice, his manner, had become familiar. No surprise, no need to pretend a response she didn't feel. So nice not to have to pretend anything. "Spike," was all she said as she listened to the sounds of him settling down next to her, the creak of old leather, the rustle of crisp grass, the rasp of denim.
"Funny place to find you."
"Yeah, I know. Why would I be by a grave? Never been any use to me."
A flare of light, the brief glow of a lit match and then the smell of his cigarette. Spike was good at silences, he was good at understanding what she no longer had the words to say. Content to wait to hear anything she had to say, he simply got comfortable, streched his long legs out, and let the soundless time go undistrubed.
Finally, she stirred, pushed herself to conversation. "I wonder what they'll do with this. How they'll explain it, I mean."
"This is Sunnydale, Slayer. Seriously doubt anybody will be asking all that many questions about an empty grave."
She made a lost, confused gesture towards the useless marker, the churned up dirt, the ripped out grass.
"Yeah, but I'm walking around in the sunlight. Living in a house. Packing my little sister's school lunch. Most of the empty graves, well, their owers are out eating their nearest and dearest, or being used in science experiments, or spells…" Her voice trailed off, a thousand words unsaid, ghosts of thoughts hanging in the air between them.
A cold hand on her shoulder, the touch familar now, even welcome. "They're stupid, Slayer, I won't deny that, but they never meant to hurt you. They love you. You were never an experiement to them. Never a game."
Finally, she turned to look at him. At his face, made of shadows and light, all hard planes and deep hollows. His eyes were on her, would never look away while she looked at him. She knew, she understood, that it was no longer in him to look away when she was near. The last time he looked away, she had died, and he hadn't even been able to come into the sun to grieve. So she never said anything now when he stared at her, simply looked back. After a long pause, as they both had time to think about his words, to think them through to all the logical and illogical solutions they presented, she finally asked, "Are you sure?" and wasn't surprised when he had no answer to that.
Nights in Sunnydale are so quiet, so empty of human life, a person could almost hear the whisper the stars made as they made their patient way across the dark sky, secure in their patterns, kept safe in the knowledge that they would still blaze down on the world, no matter what happened on the ground below. She felt like part of that solitude now, distant and seperate from the struggles of life. Like the stars, all she could was watch; she was too distant now from the habit of living to find it anything but strange and useless.
"So, you didn't answer, Buffy. What are you doing here?"
She looked back the grave again. That stupid epitaph. The flowers that had been put there before she came back. They were dying now, turning brown and brittle. She could relate. "Grieving," was her only response, a whisper that she knew he could still hear.
"For?" A puff of smoke. Buffy almost smiled to think that Spike, too, must need to remind himself to breath, to mimic human life. Strange thing to have in common.
"Myself. Aren't you suppose to, when someone dies?"
"Fair enough. But you're back. So what does that leave to mourn for?"
"Memory. Warmth. Rest. All the things I lost and can never have back."
Spike blew another puff of smoke. When it came to the secrets only they shared, he was lost and it showed. For all he truly listened, for all that she could tell he hurt for her, even when pain seemed beyond her own scope, he didn't understand. For him, having her back was the closest thing to heaven he could imagine. For her, it was all she needed to know of hell. Sort of left a conversational gulf between them, she realized that. And she tried to respect it, but... he was the only one she could talk to now. The only thing on all the earth that understood her, even the slighest. "I just... I need to let it go. I need to forget. Cause it's the only way I can ever really live again. If I forget what it was like to finally be free."
"Been here long, then?" Another puff of smoke. No judgement in his voice. Just a man, making conversation with a woman.
"Long enough." There would never be enough time, but she had been here so long her toes and fingers had gone cold, a fleeting suggestion of the death she had left behind.
"To forget?" Mild curiosity. He never pushed, never pressed. Where others stared, worried, stressed, pried, or questioned, he was simply there. It helped.
"To know I can't." Humans weren't meant to remember heaven. They weren't meant to come back. That taste of perfection is too sweet for the living, the memory of it could destroy a person. It was destroying her.
Long fingers tangled in hers as he stood, and pulled her to her feet. For one brief, wonderful, moment, she let herself lean on his strength, let him hold her up. His hands were as cold as hers, but she knew that his would never warm again. He was truly dead, had been for generations. He only wore the mask of a man; that was a truth she had always known about vampires. It was a demon that loved her. A demon was the only creature that she could talk to. And that no longer seemed to matter to her. Once, it had been everything, the most important truth about him. And now, she barely brought it to mind. She rested one last moment in his grip, steeling herself for life again and, with a deep sigh, finally pulled herself away.
"Wanna get drunk?" Only Spike would say that to her, ask in all seriousness, like that would help. She strangled on a laugh, tried an honest smile and he grinned back, suddenly a little boy.
"Think I'll pass, if it's all the same to you," and he shrugged to hear it, but the quirky little smiled stayed.
"I know its hell, love, but it's all you've got now. Welcome back."
"Yeah," she muttered, turning away from the grave and looking purposefully towards the town again.
Welcome back. The swirl and rustle of leather next to her was the sound of Spike walking at her side.