TITLE: "Faraway, So Close" (1/1)
AUTHOR: mcee (mcee@fangy.net)
SITE: http://fangy.net
ARCHIVE: List archives; others just ask.
SPOILERS: "Normal Again"
PAIRING: Buffy/Spike
SUMMARY: "She's not coming back home, Will . . . I'm sorry."

* * *

William watched the grey SUV pull into the driveway across the street. He counted calmly to ten and back before dashing out of his house, clutching a meagre bouquet of flowers. The lawn-to-lawn journey was one he'd done thousands of time ever since he'd been old enough to cross the street on his own. For the last six years he'd done it every Tuesday afternoon with various degrees of urgency depending on what the news had been the week before. But today was different. Today she was coming home.

Mr Summers slammed the vehicle's door behind him and regarded the young man coldly before disappearing without a word into the house. William, who had long ago given up trying to please his girlfriend's father, hurried happily to the passenger side. But his heart sank at the sight, and his smile fell.

Joyce sat limply, cross-legged on the pavement, squinting up at the midday sun. At first she failed to notice his presence, but then her blank gaze wandered briefly over to him and fell back on her own hands in her lap. William pushed down the lump in his throat and sat next to her with his back against the Jeep's hot metal, folding his skinny legs awkwardly under him.

He smiled kindly, his voice unexpectedly raw. "Hi, Mrs. Summers."

She smiled back, but it was more heart-breaking than comforting. "Hello, Will."

William couldn't remember the last time she'd smiled for real. Maybe Buffy's fourteenth birthday, right before things had started going badly. It had been a good year, up until her first lapse that winter. But that night, on her birthday, he and Buffy had holed up in the Summers' basement, along with half a dozen of their closest friends from school, and had eaten cake all night, watching videos and playing Twister, spin-the-bottle and other questionable games that made 'going steady' even more interesting. That night seemed a lifetime ago to William, and he wondered idly where all those friends were now, where they'd gone to when they'd found out the coolest girl in the gang was a nutcase and that her boyfriend would rather stay by her than move on with the rest. William's fingers tightened around the wrapped stems of the bouquet and his expression hardened with a mix of anger and pain.

A hand crept onto his and squeezed gently. "She's not coming back home, Will . . . I'm sorry."

He didn't really need to hear the words to know. A girl with pretty blond hair hadn't bounced out of the car and into his arms, laughing in his ear, her legs wrapped around his waist and her arms around his neck. She wasn't here to kiss him in that awkward way they had once kissed because they'd been each other's firsts and hadn't known better. She wasn't here to make the rest of the world fall away and make her mother roll her eyes fondly before leaving them alone. She hadn't been here all this time. She'd missed everything. William felt his eyes water, and his stoic disguise dissolved along with his frail hopes.

He didn't cry often. There had been a time when he had, every night. By the third year, he could go two days without, but it only came out worst later. By now the pain had hardened; it was worse, but he knew how to live with it, day in day out.

But this . . . expecting to see her sunny smile and instead being faced with the same truth he'd had to deal with for all of his adult life so far . . . If nothing else, he wanted to be in there with her. There were times where she had seemed happy in 'Sunnydale', and her absent smile had made him smile too, while his fingers had stroked her hair as though it had been any other night of them being together, huddled closely on his parents' couch or in one of the café's booths, surrounded by the people who had once liked them, as long as they weren't crazy or crazy in love.

He wished he could be in there, for her. So she wouldn't be scared. So she had someone she could count on. Someone who loved her. Someone who made things easier just by being there for her. That was his job.

He wished. But he supposed it was too much to hope for.