When "Never" Came by pfeifferpack
The battle's done and they've kinda won, so what now? After Chosen, Buffy hears a tale from Xander that alters her direction and they both are left with ghosts of all those "I'll never" moments now that never has occurred.
Warnings: Character Death
Buffy stood at the crater's edge, not certain of what she was feeling. No, that was not so. She knew she was feeling too much, much too much. For a girl who preferred ignoring the emotional side of her life, she was in extreme emotional overload.
Her life was one big hole in the ground. Her home, the place she and her mother had turned into the one place on earth where Buffy felt totally safe, was rubble buried under rubble. Within it were the bits and pieces that made up her entire life. All the mementos, heirlooms, cherished reminders of events and people-some also gone forever. Buffy remembered how survivors of disasters always put a brave face on their loss with comments like, "At least we're alive. That's what's important. It's only things."
"You're an evil disgusting THING with no good in you!"
Things. Turns out things matter and that not all "things" are just things.
Buffy sighed deeply and realized someone had just spoken to her. Giles was wondering what had caused the extreme destruction they were overlooking. She didn't even to turn to look at him as she answered, "Spike."
Buffy slowly became aware of the conversations surrounding her. Where to go from there, how relieved they were to be alive, to have won the day. Lame jokes, the sort that people make when in shock-at least she hoped they weren't all so callused that the humor meant a lack of feeling.
No, had to be the shock. Willow would never have a pebble for Tara's grave again, no long talks with lost loves in the cool of the cemetery. Xander would no longer have Anya to fight with and be embarrassed by and love to distraction. Lives and livelihoods were in that deep hole. Dreams and hopes sucked into the pit of hell that still belched the odd gasp of smoke as the debris crumbled.
Spike had been the savior. She could see him in her mind's eye now as he smiled in resignation to her latest run from emotional commitment and headed to her back door. "We'll go be heroes," he'd said and so he had done.
She supposed he had expected to perish from the moment he accepted that awful gaudy necklace and pledged himself to be her champion. He hadn't said a word. No complaint, no hint of fear. Even looking over the edge to the masses of Turok Han roiling like demonic meat boiling in hell's cauldron, he hadn't shown the terror he had to have felt. The damage done to him by just one of those beasts was enough to put fear into anyone when faced with them again. Spike had looked upon his torturer times a million or more and hadn't fled.
In the end, the great sharing of power, the dandy new Slayer toy that could slice and dice and hide in solid rock for millennia, the battle-eager new Slayers…all of that had not the power to stop the apocalypse at hand. The best they could have achieved would have been to slow down the demons as they spilled out of the Hellmouth, maybe kill a few hundred if they were lucky. It was Spike and his self-sacrifice that did the job. What had Angel said that necklace would do? Oh yeah, something about scrubbing bubbles. Well, it had scrubbed all right, scrubbed the Hellmouth clean and closed it up at the cost of Spike.
She had seen him as he started to dust and had not looked back to watch him crumble. In the end, she had finally realized what she felt for the vampire who loved her at such great cost to himself. She admitted what she felt, HAD felt for much longer than she imagined possible. It had startled her as the feelings came out in that one sentence: "I love you." A sentence spoken too late to matter much, if at all. Her frozen heart had finally melted, but the heat that did it was the burning body of her love.
"If I do, Spike, it wouldn't be you. It will never be you."
Buffy could see him in that alley now. So many alleys filled with bad memories were in that hole. Alleys where she had beaten and bruised and verbally flayed the vampire who just kept coming back for more. It was like the only answer he had to any of her abuse was, "I love you." Well, sometimes, "I love you, bitch!" Never came and it WAS him after all. Now the band was buried, complete with seventy-six bloody trombones, and the dancehall closed. The only dance partner she wanted was gone to dust and buried beneath actual things.
Just before the battle Buffy had still been trying to deny the depth of her feelings for Spike. Angel had come and she had leapt on the chance to tell herself that she still loved Angel too much to be in love with Spike. If that had been true, though, she would have denied her feelings for Spike when Angel asked. But she couldn't and Angel could tell.
Buffy wasn't kidding herself; had Spike survived this battle she would likely have done the same dance she had been doing for years. She would pull him close, refuse to let him move on but withhold any promises herself. Her fears were still too much a part of her emotional make-up. You let a guy know how much you care and they leave! Her dad, Angel, Giles…the list went on and on and now fate handed her the final joke by having Spike leave her life right after those words left her lips. This time wasn't quite the same. Spike left saving the world, but in the end he still left.
She remembered several times over the years when Spike had said, usually as a joke, that he wanted to save the world. He finally did just that. He'd been helping to do that for years, long before he reclaimed his soul. The hero potential had always been there. In a sense, he was another of the Potentials that came into his own just as the girls had done. Buffy smiled.
"So, where to now?" Buffy wasn't sure who had asked that and only half-listened as different ideas were discussed. Giles finally spoke as de facto leader, "I would suggest we get the wounded to a medical facility. I imagine the authorities will believe any story we care to tell…a large sinkhole perhaps. With Robin along, we will have no trouble explaining our presence on a school bus. I suggest a pose of befuddled confusion. It will be expected. We will need to keep Faith hidden until I can arrange for her pardon and official release."
Plans were discussed and preparations were made, all while Buffy stood smiling down at the ruins that represented her life, her love. She was proud of Spike. Proud and so much more. The anger would come, anger that he hadn't escaped, would never be there in her life again. That was one of the stages of grief, according to the counselor she had met with briefly when her mother had died. Yes, there would be anger in time, but right now she mostly just felt numb.
She remembered another time as her loved ones sang hand in hand, "The battle's done and we kinda won…." It felt that way now. Spike had gone then too, but he'd been alive enough for her to chase down and kiss that time. Now…well, now just didn't bear thinking about.
"It would NEVER be you, Spike."
But in the end, when never came, it WAS Spike and likely always would be in her heart of hearts.
Everyone had reboarded the school bus and were making ready to leave. Buffy continued to smile down on the crater, lost in her thoughts and churning emotions. Xander edged up to her side, his remaining good eye able to watch her peripherally.
His words died on his lips as he took in her tear-filled eyes and trembling smile. Much as he hated to admit it, Xander knew that losing Spike had not been easy for his friend. They needed to leave, but Xander understood the pull of the crater, the need to remain a while. Anya was down there as well, after all.
Xander was fairly sure he would never be able to fully express all that Anya had become to him. She had come into his life as almost a consolation prize after he had lost Cordelia. His losing Cordy had actually been the entire reason Anya WAS. She had come to curse him for Cordy and ended up dying to try to save the world. It was a long journey that he had failed to fully appreciate for too long.
He had focused so much on his own fears that he never understood just how frightened Anya had always been. Frightened yet brave, that was his girl. As geeky as Xander had been, so Aud had been in her own time. The human that had become a demon was a misfit even in her own world. The only time she ever felt confident had been as a vengeance demon. She knew what she was and what she was doing then. It was the human day-to-day stuff that threw her for a loop. Still she just kept trying, even when not given credit for it.
Ever since he had bungled his wedding to Anya and driven her away from her own humanity again, Xander felt like he had aged centuries. 'I feel as old as any vampire, only not so powerful or buff,' he thought. Seemed like everything that happened after losing Anya just added up to more and more pain. Things had just started to look up a bit before this last battle and now Anya was lost to him forever.
Somehow it all seemed anticlimactic to lose her this way. Anya had been born long before even the oldest vampire Xander knew, older than the Master even. She had been human three times and a demon twice and now was nothing more than one of many bodies buried beneath a town that never appreciated her many charms.
She hadn't run this time and Xander wished she had. He smiled as he remembered the first apocalypse after her return to humanity. They were taking on Mayor Wilkins, Snake King, and Anya had told Xander that she did not want him dead in that blunt way she had of expressing her deepest feelings. Well, he didn't want her dead now either!
Before the battle, they had started to become friends and that was a first. They had jumped right into being lovers the first time. This time, even with the sexcapades towards the end, they had actually connected on other levels. All those Anya things he had never bothered himself to even ask-like "Why are you afraid of bunnies?"-had become topics of conversation.
Xander was astonished now to realize how little they had valued the wisdom of her centuries of living. Anya had a thousand plus years of experience in multiple dimensions, even ones with lethal giant rabbits. She had firsthand experience with things and beings the entire Watchers Council library barely touched upon, if at all. It was bad enough that none of the Scoobies, even Giles, had ever used her remarkable insights and information, but downright shameful that he, who claimed to love her, had not either. Too late now.
Xander had worried that he would be just like his father, and so to avoid hurting Anya, he nearly destroyed her! Now he could see that he was maturing well beyond the point his father had stopped and there was no Anya to share the journey. Maybe she would never have trusted him enough to ever get back together again, but Xander had come to hope. Xander would like to think she would have noticed the subtle changes in him.
Xander looked over at Buffy and felt his heart break for her too. Spike had never been his favorite person in the world, but the fact that he even thought of the words "person" and "Spike" as synonyms revealed a radical change in thought. The bleached wonder had come through for them all; even Xander had to admit that.
Funny, it was seeing Spike with a soul and noticing there were few differences from the unsouled version that made Xander re-evaluate the vampire. Hindsight and a bit of mature compassion on his side had led to a new understanding of Spike and of Buffy's attraction to the vamp.
Poor Buffy, her love life was as bleak as his, Xander decided. He could see that empty look in her eye, like the look she'd had just after graduation when Angel did them all a favor and moved to L.A. Somehow Xander thought this loss might cut her even deeper in the long run.
Thinking of Anya again, Xander remembered his rash conjuring of the song and dance demon. He tried not to think of that too often because it opened up a big can of worms that led to thoughts of the not good. Still, he remembered their retro pastiche song and dance number with a wistful smile. "I'll Never Tell" had sounded silly as their secrets spilled out in song.
Anya had a deep fear of rejection and that was exactly what he had done to her by leaving her at the altar. She didn't have to worry about aging and losing him; he had walked out when she was young and beautiful and in her prime!
She was so afraid of aging, losing her appeal. Sad to realize she felt her worth was her face and body, but then when had he ever made her feel otherwise? He winced as he thought of how often he had asked her to be quiet or had corrected her manners. No wonder she didn't think he valued her mind or spirit! She really had come to think her only importance to him was in the orgasms she gave him.
Death terrified her too. She hadn't had to even consider death and possible afterlife all the while she was a vengeance demon. Being human made her feel so vulnerable. Funny, they all acted as if Anya was tough, strong and not all hurtable, but she was really quite fragile.
Xander didn't want to think too much about that afterlife part. He had the same visions of heaven and hell most people pick up from Western culture and knew there were real hell dimensions from their experiences on the Hellmouth. Buffy had sworn she was in heaven too. Xander hoped Anya's sacrifice had earned her points towards a get-out-of-hell-free card. He even wished the same for Spike!
Anya had never expressed any remorse for her deeds as a vengeance demon, except for those frat boys at the end. In fact, her often gleeful stories had repelled them all over the years. She never seemed to regret any eviscerations, maimings, killings or torture that she had caused. They hadn't even embarrassed her. She seemed more amused than anything about the chaos several of her granted wishes had caused.
Funny how none of them had ever held her accountable. Xander thought he might have been "correcting" the wrong things with Anya. Instead of telling her not to talk of disgusting things, he should have explained why they were disgusting to him. Rather than just telling her to shut up, he should have explained the offended morality of her listeners. Maybe that way, instead of just being critical, he could have helped her learn how to deal with being a human.
Even Spike with no soul had shown some remorse, at least when someone he loved was hurt by something he did or said. Anya was only starting to learn social graces. Maybe it wasn't the soul at all, just a difference in viewpoint from demon to human. Now Xander would never know.
The fears Xander had of not measuring up had poured out in that song too, but not clearly enough to warn Anya in time. The dark demons that wore his father's face and spoke with his father's slurred speech had tormented him all his life. Every time Xander did something he wasn't proud of, it seemed to confirm to him that he was a chip off the old block after all.
Now Anya was gone and all Xander wanted was one more chance to hold her, to talk to her. He wanted to explain why he left her on the day she should have felt nothing but joy. He wanted to tell her that he had learned that he didn't have to become a copy of his drunken dad. He wanted to say all those things that he said he'd "never tell" and throw himself on her merciful love.
"Looks like 'never' came and there's no one to tell after all," he said with a tragic sigh.
"What did you say?" Buffy looked at Xander like a deer caught in headlights.
"You okay, Buff?" Xander was a bit worried, because she had paled at his comment. "I was just thinking about something with Anya and talking out loud."
"I thought you were reading my mind, Xan," Buffy whispered. "It gives me the wiggins we're both thinking with the same words."
"Come on, fearless leader, the bus is about to leave us here in the literal middle of nowhere," Xander grinned and put a hand to Buffy's elbow, encouraging her to leave the gaping hole in their collective world.
"So I'm a leader again?" Buffy asked. It still stung that they had abandoned her and distrusted her abilities just before the battle. She loved her friends but would never feel quite the same about them after that. In fact, if Giles thought she was going to happily skip off to England and help rebuild the Council, he had another thought coming to him. She could, and did, forgive them all, but some things were easier forgiven with some miles between.
Xander had felt her stiffen as she asked and felt the guilt sweep over him. It had not been fair to blame Buffy for his loss of an eye. With the sort of lives they had all lived for years, it was a wonder they weren't all like the one-eyed, one-eared, one-legged dog answering to the name 'Lucky'. Buffy had never forced any of them into battle and never been reckless with their lives. Yet another lesson learned too late. Xander could feel the distance between the Scoobies and Buffy like a physical thing.
"Yes, Buffy, you always have been a leader. Sometimes your followers kinda went off in another direction….." Xander gave a weak smile and a shrug.
They had arrived at the bus and Buffy preceded Xander aboard. "Let's get everyone to the hospital who needs it and find a motel for the night. I need a bath and some serious sleep," Buffy ordered.
"What direction would you suggest?" Giles asked, showing his desire to let Buffy be general again.
"I guess towards L.A.," Buffy said with a tired sigh. "There's a couple of decent-sized towns with hospitals between here and there. Besides, Angel was going to set up a second front. We need to let him know the bad guys are toasted."
"Along with some of the good," Xander muttered as the bus slowly pulled away.