The Only Love I Know

So come, my friends, be not afraid.
We are so lightly here.
It is in love we are made;
In love we disappear.
Though all the maps of blood and flesh
Are posted on the door,
There's no one yet who has told us

What Boogie Street is for.

-Leonard Cohen "Boogie Street"

Going to sleep as the sun rises makes waking up a whole different experience. When I opened my eyes to a new night, there was a brief moment when I felt swamped in confusion, wondering where the day went. And then everything Willow and I had talked about that morning came rushing back up on me, over me, and I wished the confusion would come back. Not a good sign that, wishing that I could go back to a place and time where I didn't know anything, when I was lost and bemused. Then again, there was very little in my life nowadays that didn't seem like a bad omen, like a banshee wailing out its dirge for the soon to die. How soon? How long could I expect to live like this?

My soul. I had lost my soul. I was barely more than Spike was now, not human, just not a demon. At least Willow had seemed sure about that. No demon-ness here, just the unavoidable side-effects of losing half your soul and then being pulled back from the dead against your will. At least in heaven, it hadn't mattered that she wasn't so human any more, nothing had mattered there, because all my questions had been answered and everything was sure. It was only here on earth that I didn't know how to be. Could this all really be so simple as that I was mad and didn't want to show it because they wanted so badly to think that they had done a good deed?

Struggling with the thoughts that wanted to keep me heavy and still in bed, I pushed myself up out of bed and stared at the darkness outside my window. A whole day, I had let sleep steal a whole day from me. Not a human thing, and those small distinctions were becoming very important to me now, the careful remembrance of what a human would do. If that was all that was left to me, if that was all I could be, I would grab for it with both hands and never look back. I could do this, I could wear my humanity like a mask and hope that someday it became real again.

I stumbled aimlessly to the closet, gazed unseeing into it into, my mind registering that clothes would be good. Engaged-Xander might like a clothes-free Buffy but there would be hell to pay with Anya. Hell to pay. That was a good one. Wouldn't the gang just love it if any part of me went to hell, so that they could feel all righteous in bringing me back again. But no, those thoughts were the kind that brought my inner demons out to play and I didn't want to fight them. I was trying for human tonight. Carefully, I tried to pay attention to the choices I was making, tried to take any sort of pleasure in the things that used to bring me joy. That was a cute outfit, it looked like something the old Buffy would wear. And make-up to go along with it, a mask to cover the face that showed too much truth. No one could know. No one could find out what I am now. Only Willow, because she had found out. And Spike, because...

Why Spike? Why had that thought crept so insidiously into my mind? I had never meant for him to be the kind of demon, the kind of man, that I could confide in, that I would go running to and share all my deepest secrets. He was supposed to be a distraction, a mindless way to kill the time after slaying and before going home. He was never supposed to matter to me. And yet, all I could think of now was to wonder what he would have to say to this latest piece of information, if he would care, if he would be disappointed, if he would be thrilled. Maybe it mattered to him that I was no longer quite the human that I had been before.

Ghost-like, insubstantial, I drifted down to the first floor of the house, where I could hear the sounds of people who had no doubt they were alive and well. Once more into the breach, dear friends, a vague remainder of high school English whispered to her, and I laughed at the thought, a bitter, humorless laugh. When did the fighting get easy and the friendships become almost impossible? There was no good here, there was nothing that I could understand or change, and yet I walked on regardless, desperate for the feel of my old humanity again. Desperate to feel anything with my old friends, the only thing I had left of a family. So I would try, even if it felt like there was less of me left every day now. There had to be something left. I had to have come back for something besides the killing, something beside the fight, and the pain that Spike brought to me, wrapped in shining pleasure. There had to be some old pleasures that I could find, some way to find out who I was these days.

I could feel a choice barreling down on me, a decision that needed to be made. Willow had showed me a cross-roads last night, two paths that I thought I would never have to take. I remembered from Giles' many teachings all the myths that surround a cross in the road. This was where you lost your soul. This was where the devil waited for you, willing to make a deal. People were hanged at crossroads, so their souls would be trapped. Here was where the dragons really waited, not in the cool, clean spaces on the edges of maps. This was where truth and temptation wrapped around me so tight it felt like it was stealing the very air out of my lungs. The weight of dreams and thoughts that had been coiled around me since my late waking began to dissipate, and it became easier to think, easier to understand. Now was the time for the choice. Maybe the only time. Whatever I did tonight, there may be no easy way to go back. There was no telling how much time I had on this my third chance at living. Maybe this was what I had always been walking to meet. Maybe this was destiny, slow in arrival but as implacable as death.

The voices lured me towards the kitchen, drew me into warmth and love. They were me family, are myfamily, the only thing that I has left of a family now, and I want to be with them. But outside, the sun's gone down, Spike is waiting, there are demons to kill. There is my real life to get to and it calls to me so strongly I can barely fight it. The night, it wants me, sings to me like nothing else ever has in the past. It's like Willow's words have opened up whole new avenues in my mind, and the humanity I barely remembered before has been lost in a rush of new cravings, new needs that I don't have a name for. My dreams had been rich last night, a vivid and fiery red, and they unlocked thoughts that I had never truly considered before. I understood now what it was that I was, understood what I was made for. The kill, destruction, fields drenched in the blood of demons, the only force strong enough to fight them all back; this is the life I was made for. The other life, my life before, that was the life that I made, the one I fought for, and died for so many times.

Outside, Spike is waiting. I can feel him, like a prickling on my skin, a fresh burn. Steeling my nerves against the cacophony of love that is waiting for me in the kitchen, the heart of the house, I walk out the front door, shut it silently and leans against it, content to wait in the shadows that the porch is wrapped in. He'll come to me. It's been weeks now since there was even the hint, the menace, that one of them would not find the other. I don't know what he is to me, or me to him, but at least we have our rituals, the unspoken promise of the flesh. He'll come, if I wait, because, like me, he is addicted. He is as wrapped in need as I am, and unlike me, he had never shown any desire to fight it. He went willingly to this new curse, fell willingly in love with death and all its promises. It's only a matter of time till he comes.

In the meantime, there is watching the night drift across Sunnydale, the city's shadow self, a new creature damned to this half-life. I've become so used to shadows that I've given them names, like fallen constellations. From inside, I can still hear the murmur of voices, of laughter, but it's been muffled by the night. The two can only exist side by side, never as part of one another, not without a fight. Like the world underwater lives right against the surface of the earth, and yet is constantly forgotten, day and night can never truly meet.

"Love? You just going to stand there all night?" He smells like leather, like a fight, and just the faintest hint of fresh spilled blood. He moves like he's one with midnight, like he could never be anything beside what he is right now, a predator, a monster out of story books, Prince Charming gone bad, and yet still too charming.

I can feel my mouth stretch into an answering smirk. He draws the devil out in me, he always has. There were whole pieces of me that I had never found until I made him my lover. Until I stepped willing into the darkness. Careful where you walk, people say; the first step will kill you. I've met him on his on turf, his own rules, for far too long. Have turned my back on a human life to be a demon with him.

"C'mon, Buff, you just going stand there all night or are you coming?"

He has a way of saying things. His voice goes deep and dark, so that every whisper is filled with a promise he's already proven he can keep. Temptation sings in every one of my veins, every one of my nerves. I've never needed an excuse to want him, never needed anything at all but to look at him, to hear his voice. Everything before this was a lie.

Finally, as the silence stretches too thin and fine, she pushes off from the door and watches him watch her, his eyes dark with want.

"You come to me."

"Beg pardon?"

"Come up here. Come to me."

I've learned well from him, learned from the experiences he has given me, and I can make my voice as rich with longing as him. He's no more immune to the sound then I have ever been, and my call draws him like a lure.

Crossing the porch like it was a battlefield, he comes to me, presses the lean length of his body against me, and leans down to whisper in her ear, taunting, speaking sacred vows. "What, love, you want it here? Just say the word. Tell me what you want."

Tell me what you want. So many wants, so many needs, so many things that can never be said, so many things that can never be spoken. The night is one thing, it is part of time, part of the natural order of the world, a place for demons to hide and slayers to thrive. But secrets give a darkness all their own, and I've become more used to the shadows. Since my confession to Willow, my river of words spilled out into the night, the very air seems changed. I seem changed, a new creature, nameless, unknown, but not without purpose and duty. I can make something of this, I can find her own way to be.

Capturing his mouth with mine, I kiss him deeply, tasting blood, tasting smoke, tasting something that was just Spike, the flavor of poetry and bitter humor. At last, I let him go, look into his eyes heavy with need and breath against his ear. "I want you to come inside with me."

He pulls back, startled. "Thought that was the last thing you wanted, for all your so-called friends to see how you spend the night. Thought you wanted us to be secret." Try as he might, there's no missing the bitterness in his voice, the barely concealed anger. This is an old fight, a familiar fight. Spike has always had his pride, has never wanted to be good enough to do but bad enough to keep hidden. It's been near a year since he has felt any shame in his feelings, any need to hide them.

"I said to come into the house. Be with me. And them. I want you both."

He stares at me for a while, reading something in my face that I don't want to know. At last, he seems content, seems willing to do as I asked. Grabbing my hand in his own, he holds the door open like the gentleman he says he stopped being a century ago. "Mind if I ask what changed your mind so all of a sudden?"

"Willow told me what I am. I understand now, and I guess... I guess I can deal with it."

"So you a demon or what?" His voice is eager with anticipation, with a burning need for me to be like him, a creature with no connection to those around me. And in the wrong way, he's right. There's only one other thing like me in all the world. And that other is waiting for me in the kitchen.

I shrug, growing strangely comfortable with the idea. "Not a demon. Not a human. Just the slayer."

I arch a glance at him, laughter hiding in my face. Just a slayer, just vengeance coming for him. Luckily Spike has never been the shy sort, and if loving me will lead him to an early death, I have no doubt he will follow gladly. Just as I will. Our deaths are promised to each other now, and all the life we have between us.

He grins at my words, his usual cocky, king of the walk grin, and he pulls me close for a second, breaths in the scent of my life beating just under my fragile skin. "Kinky," he whispers. "I could get used to this."

I can feel the laugh explode out of me, a feeling that I have almost forgotten. For a second, it can even crowd out my demon anger, the difference that lies at the very heart of mer. Nothing is changed; nothing is different. My life will continue as it has been, my control gone, my darkness growing, but there is still room for me in the light. I can feel Spike's hand in mine, cold and rough, no human touch, and I take comfort in it, the comfort of the grave. Midnight still lurks in my blood like a poison, and the ways of humans drifts farther and farther out of reach, but maybe, just maybe, I can make this half-life work. Pulling Spike after me, I push open the door to the kitchen and greet the silence that my entrance has caused.

They're staring. Staring at Spike and staring at the bruises that I didn't bother to cover, some part of me having known before I did what choice I would make this night. I can see they're all putting two and two together, that they don't like the answer they're getting. But Willow looks almost relieved, and if she is surprised to see Spike in here, too, she's doing a good job of hiding it. No one else looks pleased, except maybe Dawn, but that doesn't matter. From now on, I'm making her own life. It's the only choice I have left, the only way I know how to be any more. I know without looking that Spike is next to me, standing tall and belligerent, daring the Scoobies to do their worst. We can take it, Spike and me. We can take anything.

No more secrets.

No more lies.

This was my life now.

By the rivers dark
I wandered on
I lived my life
in Babylon.

And I did forget
My holy song:
And I had no strength
in Babylon.

By the rivers dark
Where I could not see
Who was waiting there
Who was hunting me.

And he cut my lip
And he cut my heart.
So I could not drink
From the river dark.

And he covered me,
And I saw within,
my lawless heart
And my wedding ring.

I did not know
And I could not see
Who was waiting there
Who was hunting me

By the rivers dark
I panicked on
I belonged at last
To Babylon.

-Leonard Cohen "By the Rivers Dark"

The End