Authors Notes: Some dialogue in the first chapter is taken from Dead Things written by Stephen S. DeKnight
Dawn sensed rather than heard her sister come into the bedroom. Buffy rarely sought her out since her return and Dawn felt herself tense in anticipation of something bad.
"Hey," Buffy gently put her hand on Dawn's shoulder.
"What time is it?
"It's late. I just wanted…." Dawn held her breath, frowned and waited for the shoe to drop. "I love you. You know that right?"
Oh yeah, this was bad, it had to be. Buffy never used the "L" word even in the best of times. "What's wrong?"
Buffy bit her lip and mentally kicked herself. From the depths of her depression the self-accusations began to play in her head. No-one should think something was wrong just because someone said they loved them. This was her fault. Like everything since her mom had died she had failed and failed Dawnie the most. "I know I haven't been everything I should be, everything mom was but I do love you and always will."
Dawn gulped and her voice quivered as she demanded, "Why are you talking like this Buffy?" Was she going to leave her? Was she going to send her away?
"There was an accident in the woods. A girl … she was hurt. I hurt someone."
"Oh my God! Is she all right?"
Buffy felt the tears spill over, "No. No she's not Dawnie. I'm sorry."
Dawn sat upright and drew her elder sister into a tight hug trying to offer what comfort she could and fearing it would not be, never could be, enough to help her broken sister.
"I have to tell what I did. I have to go to the police."
NO! The police would take Buffy away from her again. What was left of her family would be torn apart. This time there wouldn't even be anyone there to help her cope! Giles was gone, Willow was a mess and had driven Tara away, and even Spike had not been around much since Buffy came back. Where would she go? Who would care? "What's going to happen? They'll take you away won't they?"
Buffy lowered her gaze not wanting to see the fear in her sister's eyes. "I'm sorry."
Dawn felt anger burst into flame from the direction of her overburdened heart. "No, you're so not! You're never here. You can't stand to be around me. You don't want to be here and now you have an excuse to be gone."
"That's not true!" Buffy felt a tinge of conscience hit her because she had to admit there was an element of truth to her sister's complaint. The idea of being jailed brought more a sense of peace than fear to her.
Dawn pushed Buffy away from her and gave her the coldest look Buffy had ever seen from the girl. "Then go. You're not really here anyway," Dawn bolted from the bedroom and ran down the stairs. It shouldn't have surprised her that Buffy made no effort to follow her, not really. Still it hurt.
'I'll call Giles. He'll know what to do.' Dawn reached for the phone as if it were her only lifeline and prayed the Watcher would still be concerned enough to respond. She heard the door click behind Buffy and tried not to be further hurt knowing her older sister hadn't even paused to check on her before heading out to throw herself on the sword of justice.
The bleak alley alongside the police station wasn't the best location for a lovers spat but Spike was determined. "You're not going in there."
He just didn't get it. She wasn't Faith; she didn't kill humans and blow it off. "I have to do this. Just let me go."
"I can't, I love you."
She really didn't have time for this, for his delusions. "No, you don't."
Spike was sick and tired of having her constantly deny his feelings. He hadn't lived over a century and not known his own heart after all! The bitch drove him crazy at times and all this push and pull was going to be the death of him. Life was so much easier when he simply hated her. "You think I haven't tried not to?" He could have predicted the punch. She always went for the face first.
"Try harder," she growled it out between blows but he could tell that his interference was only a blip on her radar. All she cared about was running to the safety of her black and white world. Maybe that was better than her desire to die like she had exhibited of late but it was running from life still and all. She was running from him, from all of them really maybe even from herself.
He grabbed her letting his demon come forth knowing it was going to be a battle and he'd need all his strength to keep her from ending her life this way. "You are not throwing your life away over this." He had to make her see, make her care.
"Not your choice."
"Why are you doing this to yourself?" Was it because she had allowed herself to sleep with him? To enjoy it? To feel? Was it something far deeper and scarier?
"A girl is dead because of me."
He almost replied that many a girl was dead because of him but had the sense to know that tonight that might just lead to a proper dusting. "How many people are alive because of you? How many have you saved? One dead girl doesn't tip the scale."
Oops … bloody bint read between the lines anyway. "That's all it is to you isn't it? Just another body?" And the fight was on.
At first it was merely Spike trying to prevent Buffy from leaving the alley and Buffy doing all she could to have her own way but as the fists flew at Spike at lightning speed he began to see that far more was happening. It was as if a dam had broken and all the pent up rage within his Slayer was pouring out. All her anger rained down upon him with her fists; at him, at the meddling Scoobies, at mothers who die too young and fathers who leave. Rage at having to come back to a world of fighting and pain and responsibility beyond her years and, yes, anger at herself for feeling all of those things and more.
He never hit her back; he could take it if that was finally what she needed. He'd let her dust him if it led to her getting the poison out of her heart and soul so she could be happy again. "Come on, that's it, put it on me. Put it all on me. That's my girl."
Wrong words. Using her fists to punctuate each word she yelled in his face, "I – Am – Not – Your – Girl!"
She was atop him now and not in a good way. Maybe she really was going to dust him. The blows were continuous now and fierce, no holding back. He let his human face come to the fore, no reason to draw on the demon when he had no intention of fighting back. "You don't have a soul! There is nothing good or clean in you. You are dead inside. You can't feel anything real! I could NEVER be your girl."
He looked into her pain filled eyes and knew, he KNEW. It was herself she hated the most right now. She was the dead thing who could not feel. All these months and she was as dead as before she returned to him. Nothing he had done or said had helped one bit, maybe it never would. He was all out of clues on how to get through to the girl he once knew and would always love.
She was still pummeling him as he felt everything going black. Soon he'd be unable to even help himself and, frankly, maybe that was okay with him too.
The walk back from the police station had been no more cheerful than the trek to it had been. She supposed she'd have to listen to Spike crowing about having been right after all.
The lights were all on and the whole gang was in her living room. Dawn had clearly been busy. Well too late for another intervention there was nothing to answer to them about … well nothing they were going to know about anyway.
"So, Buffy, wanna spill on the whole 'I killed a human and didn't even get a tee-shirt,' story? Dawnie didn't have too many details." Xander looked tired and his boss was going to have a piece of his hide tomorrow if he didn't get to bed pretty soon.
She told them the story, about the demons and how time went wonky before Katrina seemed to die. Of course she left out all the Spike parts .. not that there'd been any Spike parts.
Willow had started pulling out books as soon as Buffy had mentioned a demon.
Buffy pointed to the colored plate that was an exact depiction of the demons they had encountered. "Yeah, that's it."
Anya looked over her shoulder and nodded knowingly. "Ah! The Rwasundi, very rare. It's presence in our dimension causes a sort of localized temporal disturbance."
For once everyone remained silent urging her on with their expressions. It made for a nice change. Even Xander hadn't told her to shut up!
"No wonder everything seemed strange. See human perception is based on linear chronology. Being exposed to Rwasundi for more than a few seconds causes vivid hallucinations. These things just made you think you killed her. She was probably dead long before you stumbled across her."
Does this mean you aren't going away," Dawn was still angry but that didn't mean she wanted Buffy gone.
"Yeah I'm not going anywhere."
"So the question is who summoned these guys and killed the girl," Xander didn't add, 'and can this possibly wait till tomorrow,' much to his credit.
"My money, what little there is of it, is on Warren and his two stooges. The girl was the one Warren was dating until his robot girl came to town last year. Too much coincidence to stumble on her body of all people in Sunnydale not to mention all the games they've been playing with me for months now."
"But murder?" Willow looked horrified. "I just can't see the Jonathan we all knew from school being a part of that."
"I don't know if it was all three of the unholy trinity or not but we need to find Warren Mears. Whatever they've done, they're not gonna get away with it. I'm pretty tired of being their favorite target for their fun and games. I probably should have turned them in as soon as I saw they were the ones who stole that diamond."
"Um…. Buffy," Dawn looked wary. "I think you should know that Giles is headed back. I kinda called him when you decided to trade down to ugly orange jumpsuits."
"Great," Buffy was in complete sarcasto-girl mode. This was anything but great. Giles left because he thought she was not stepping up to the plate and now was coming back because she had proven him right. Buffy wasn't too sure how her Watcher was going to see the things that had been going on. She was going to have to make certain he didn't get a whiff about her sexcapades with Spike!
'Oh God! Spike!' Buffy paled at the memory of how she had left him. He wasn't in any condition to get back to Restfield on his own. She quickly glanced out the front window and cringed at the sight of the morning sun happily shining down on an unwary Sunnydale. If he hadn't found cover he'd be a pile of alley ashes by now.
"Guys, gotta go check something. I'll be back." Buffy nearly ran out of the house tearing up the pavement that she had slowly trudged just hours before. 'Just let the jackass still be undusty,' she prayed to no one in particular; after all what deity did one pray to for a Vampire?
Buffy stared at the large pool of Spike's blood and felt the bile rise in her throat. She knew it was his, she had caused it to flow right there on that spot. Of Spike himself there was no trace. No suspicious dust pile on the already filthy ground, no drag marks to indicate he crawled or was pulled from the now sunny, dumpster crammed alley. "Okay, no reason to think Spike is anything but pissed off somewhere. He'll probably show up and try to play my guilt to get some warm fuzzies from me." She really wanted to believe her words and the lack of clear evidence made it easier than it should have been under the circumstances.
"Lots of things could have happened. No reason to expect the worst. Besides Spike is unkillable! The idiot's lived over a century even having to drag a lunatic all over the world with him. Then there's all his grand plans that always blow up in his face … none of them's gotten him dusted. Besides, my luck isn't that good." Inside she felt herself cringe at the coldness of her last thoughts.
"God I sound like a cold bitch! I mean Spike helped out when I was … there … and he's … we've … whatever. There must be something wrong with me! I had to have come back wrong to …" Buffy decided to track down Tara before going home and see what her confidant had discovered about her condition. "I didn't even think to check on him when I left the police station. There has to be something wrong with me, something bad."
Tara took in Buffy's strained face and tear filled eyes and fought the urge to gather the Slayer into her arms to comfort her. Buffy would only be embarrassed and, after all, they were only just beginning to get to really know one another as individuals. Hugs just didn't seem possible right now even if they were clearly needed.
"So give it to me straight. How screwed up am I? I feel about five cats away from crazy, do I need to get fitted for a jacket that ties in the back?" Buffy shot her a false smile and prepared to hear the worst.
"I double checked everything about the spell, about you, and there's nothing wrong with you." Tara returned with a completely genuine smile hoping that Buffy would begin to feel better at the news. To her surprise the Slayer began to sob.
"Then why can Spike hurt me?"
"Well you are different. Shifting out of … from where you were sort of funneling your essence back into your body altered you on a basic molecular level. It's probably just enough to confuse the sensors in Spike's chip. It's all just surfacy physical stuff. It's more like bad cellular sunburn."
"I didn't come back wrong?" Tara nodded, again smiling. Buffy felt a part of herself break at the realization that her actions, her choices, her coldness and depression were simply her and not some cosmic accident of her resurrection. "You must have missed something. Please check again," she sounded desperate even to herself.
"I promise you, Buffy, there is nothing wrong with you."
"There has to be! This can't be me, it isn't me. Why do I feel like this, why am I doing the things I'm doing, letting Spike do those things to me?"
Tara began to worry. She had no idea that Spike had actually been hurting Buffy! This wasn't good.
"You mean he hit you?"
Buffy looked at her with wide-eyed horror and clear guilt shone from her tearing eyes. "He lets me," she whispered.
"Oh Buffy," Tara had no idea what to say. She had read volumes from Buffy's guilt ridden face. She rather liked Spike and hated to think he had been abused owing to Buffy's current emotional condition.
"He's everything I hate. He's everything that I'm supposed to be against, to kill. But the only time I ever feel ANYTHING is when …."
Tara decided the need outweighed the potential awkwardness and pulled Buffy into a tender embrace soothing her with small sounds of comfort.
"No one can know! The way they would look at me … I just couldn't." She was the picture of shame.
"I won't say a word," Tara reassured the sobbing girl.
"Why can't I stop? Why do I keep letting him in? Right from the time you guys brought me back it was Spike I turned to, Spike who made me feel some peace."
"Do you love him?" Tara recognized the fear on Buffy's face and put two and two together. "It's okay if you do. He's done a lot of good and he does love you." Seeing Buffy close off, "It's okay if you don't too."
Buffy sniffled and dried her tears, "Um, why did you ask if I loved him?"
"It just seems that the Buffy I know doesn't get involved unless she at least cares a bit. You aren't the kind of girl who does that. If you two have gotten physical more than one time there must be something there besides just sex." Tara looked at her shyly, "And because I've watched the two of you together ever since I met all of you. There's always been a spark between you. You seem to have some kind of extra vibe in the air when you are together. It was easy to believe you were a couple last year with the bot. I think it almost felt inevitable."
Buffy blinked in surprise. Had it been there all along, even before she died on the tower, this strange pull, this connection? Was it something she had been building to instead of some weird side-effect of being resurrected and utterly depressed? Did she love him? Could she?
She was a fish let off the hook to slide back into the river Nile by Tara quickly filling the silence. "Like I said though; it's perfectly okay if you don't. You're going through a really hard time and you're…"
Buffy snorted, "What? Using him? What's okay about that?"
"Well I doubt it's that simple. Besides he is letting you use him. Maybe he thinks it'll help you to adjust and he knows he's strong enough to take whatever you dish out.
"It is wrong. I'm wrong. Tara I may have killed him, I don't know. I … God … I beat him senseless and never looked back and now I don't have a clue where he is or even IF he is. How could I do that?"
Tara searched for anything to try to help Buffy cope. "Well Spike can push all your buttons. Not that it's okay to beat anyone to a pulp but I'm sure he'll turn up just fine and you can apologize and never do it again."
"Oh God! I hope it's that simple," Buffy began to cry even harder. "Please don't forgive me, please don't." She wasn't sure if she was talking to Tara or the missing Spike. More than likely it was said to herself as much as it was to either of them.
The week passed in a routine way. Still no sign of Spike although Buffy had stepped up her search to include the parts of town that mainly catered to demons. She had left enough bruised and battered of them to make the point of how important information on the missing vampire was to her. If anyone had a clue they weren't letting her in on it though.
Today was a day she was dreading. The only birthday gift she truly could hope for was to finally discover her missing vampire. The guilt was eating away at her and costing her sleep. She hated to admit just how worried she really was.
Maybe he'd turn up tonight at the party Willow was putting together. Knowing he wasn't wanted should spur him to do just that. He'd come with some lame gift and a boatload of sexual innuendo that would cause her no end of panic with all her friends there and everything would get back to normal.
Buffy was also building a case against the trinity of evil who had plagued her ever since her return. They had all gone to ground which made sense given their last big caper had resulted in the death of Katrina.
Hopefully Buffy would have enough human approved evidence to just let the police and justice system deal with this particular threat to humanity.
Talking to Tara had really helped quite a bit. Buffy was starting to see that she was only fighting herself and her depression and not something mystical and beyond fixing. That made her feel both better and worse; better because when she needed to be she was good at doing what needed to be done in the end and worse because there would not be a quick fix.
Probably a good thing she didn't need a magical cure since Willow had gone cold turkey. Her friend was a shell of herself without Tara as well as her magic but she was hanging in there. At least now Buffy was noticing. Maybe Giles would be proud of her for that at least.
She and Dawn had a little better understanding too. Dawn had pointed out that Buffy had loved her enough to die for her but what she really needed was for Buffy to love her enough to live for her. Her little sister always asked the hard stuff from her! Still, Dawnie was at least trying to help out and cooperate better and that was a kind of magic Buffy could live with.
One more pass though the cemeteries to clean out the riff-raff and poke around looking for a certain black clad menace and then home for the annual mess known as Buffy's birthday.
The birthday from hell, Buffy's annual gift from the mouth of said hell itself, was nearly over. The boy Xander had brought as a blind, as in blind-sided, date was headed for the hospital. Buffy doubted she'd ever see Robert or Ricky or whatever his name had been, again. She comforted herself with the admission that real boys break easily. It was a miracle Xander himself was still alive!
All through the endless night Buffy half expected Spike to show up. It might not have been too bad if he had shown up to share in the non-stop hell-mouthy fun known as Buffy's birthday party. He would probably have pestered her endlessly, teased her mercilessly and made the endless time fly. Taking down the demon would have been easier too, fun even. They fought well together.
She and Tara talked again as the other guests were crashed out on the floor and on every horizontal surface available at casa Summers. Tara seemed to really accept the idea that Spike was a part of all of their lives. Funny, after all these years it should be obvious to them all really. Tara knew what Buffy's frequent glances at the front door meant. "Any sign at all?"
"That's a big no," Buffy sighed. "I've dropped by the crypt every night after patrol and so far I've run off a group of Goth teens getting high, two Grixnar demons measuring for drapes, a homeless guy doing something disgusting in the corner and Spikes poker buddies. No sign of Spike at all. He's missed his regular poker nights each time this week and apparently owes a litter or two of kittens to some really ugly demon with a pink horn in the middle of his forehead."
Tara looked distressed. "I even hate to ask but is there even any way to know if he … um … didn't make it out of the alley?" At Buffy's look of horror she quickly added, "Or, you know, maybe someone helped him up and took him somewhere to heal?"
Buffy was crestfallen. "I don't know! Maybe I finally pummeled him one time too many and he just left town."
"I doubt that," Tara comforted her. "Spike really loves you and he's not easy to shake either. He even stayed here while you were .. you know … not here."
"Everyone has their breaking point."
"Well that's true but what about Dawn? Spike wouldn't have gone without letting her know at least. They got really close last summer."
Buffy sat on the bottom step and sighed. "I told him to stay away from Dawnie after we started, well whatever it is we're doing. I didn't want her to clue in."
Tara nodded, "I get why you were nervous about some of us but I think Dawnie would be over the moon if she thought you two would get together."
"Yeah she's a fan club of one. I can just see the reactions of everyone else."
"I've been okay with it haven't I?" Tara reminded her.
"You don't have the same history with Spike that everyone else does though. You don't have any reason to hate him or be afraid of him either."
"I don't know about that. He could get kinda scary last summer! His emotions were all over the place and we'd piss him off plenty of times." Tara smiled remembering some of Spike's more colorful critiques of their patrolling abilities. "I just mean that he's not too easy to drive off."
"If anyone can do it I can. My dad … Angel … Riley … Giles; they all leave. They all want more from me than I can give. I've tried to figure out what it is that makes every one of the important men in my life jump ship and it all just comes back to me. I'm not good enough the way I am or something. There's something lacking in me. I know it's true right now because I'm hollow inside … there's not even enough me for me."
"I'm sure it must feel that way Buffy but I'm also sure you're wrong." Tara took a seat next to her on the steps. "Your dad abandoned all of you, that was a character flaw with him. Any man who leaves his kids and doesn't even support them is a looser, you're supposed to take care of your children and not all dads' do. Mine didn't do right either but in a different way from yours. Neither of them were good fathers."
"Okay, I guess I have to agree. I mean he hasn't even bothered to see how Dawn is. Even though she's not really his daughter, HE doesn't know that. I know from the phone calls with mom last year that dad had memories planted too. She's just a kid!"
"There's my point! It isn't you that made him leave just like it isn't Dawn. It's him."
"Okay, I'll give you that one."
Tara put a comforting hand on Buffy's arm. "I wasn't' here to see your relationship with Angel but from everything Willow's told me that wasn't anything you did wrong either. It's not my place to say a lot about that situation but it seems that the problems you had weren't because he was a vampire or really even just about the curse. If he had wanted to he could have worked to find a way to get rid of the danger, find a way to be with you even if you couldn't ..."
"See!" Buffy winced, "He didn't want to. I know that deep inside. He didn't want me; want us, enough to find a way to work it out."
"Again I don't think it was about you, not really. You know first love is a funny thing especially when you are so young. People change as they get older, you know that. I have to wonder just how much you two really knew one another at all and he could hardly reject you if he didn't know you could he?"
"I've never loved anyone like I did Angel," Buffy sniffed. "He was so …" The silence grew and Tara raised her eyebrow.
"If you're having trouble finishing that sentence it should tell you something Buffy."
Buffy snorted, "The only word that came to mind was mysterious. He'd pop in and warn us about trouble then disappear to his bat cave. I never knew what he was thinking; we didn't talk much. He always seemed so self assured though, confident."
"Well he was a couple of hundred years old," Tara giggled.
"True." Buffy giggled along with her. "I guess he was my mature older man."
"Much older man," Tara teased.
"As for Riley, well I was there and it seemed like you wanted to want him but the feelings just weren't there, not the kind you can build on. You can't force feelings," Tara reminded her. "I doubt you could have been what he seemed to need anyway. Riley always came across as a guy who wanted to be the strong white knight to his lady and you're not cut out to be anyone's wilting violet."
"Not like I got the chance to learn, to compromise. He left! He cheated, demanded I forgive him immediately even though he put us all in danger and then he left! I had major stuff going on and yet he left!" Buffy felt the indignation rise, "Men!"
"You're preaching to the choir Buffy," Tara giggled.
"Giles is coming back, Dawnie called him," Buffy whispered after the laughter died down. "He's going to be so disappointed in me. He said I needed to accept responsibility and instead I've just made a mess of everything."
"Why don't you wait till he gets here and ASK him how he feels instead of expecting the worst. He loves you too Buffy. He felt so responsible for you dying, it kinda broke him."
"Kinda broke me too."
"Yeah, about that," Tara bit her lip and tried to pick the right words. Maybe simple was the best in the end. "I'm so sorry, Buffy. Sorry we didn't check into things more, sorry we pulled you from your reward; sorry we haven't always been the friends you deserve. You've gone through so much and we've all been too busy to notice you having problems. I'm sorry."
Buffy gave her a weak smile, "It's okay. You guys thought you were helping me, you did what you thought was right. I forgave you all a long time ago."
"I know but still."
"I haven't exactly been all honesty girl either. Haven't let you know the problems, how wrong everything feels since I've been back."
"We should have suspected though. You lost your mom and nearly lost Dawn and that was before you died. You've got the whole world on your shoulders every night and now you have a teenager to raise and a mountain of bills. None of that was news to any of us, we should have seen it."
"You know, you and Spike are the only people I've been able to talk to since I got back. Neither of you are all judgey or expecting me to be 'good ole Buffy' right away. That's how it all started with Spike. He let me just … be. I didn't have to pretend with him. I could be completely quiet or angry or goofy or whatever I was truly feeling and he was okay with it. He seemed to get that I was not adjusting too well," She let out a short laugh. "Mr. Observo, that's Spike. He knows me better than I do at times. Anyway he was my safe place; may have been a dark one but it felt safe."
"I'm glad you had one," Tara nodded. "I'm sorry he's missing now too but I really think he'll turn up. Buffy he loves you, he wouldn't abandon you."
"That's what haunts me. If he wouldn't abandon me but he's gone; then where is he?"
They both started at the light knock on the front door. "Probably the police wondering why Rocky got stabbed at a birthday party."
"Richard," Tara corrected absently as Buffy headed for the door.
"So," Willow put a restraining hand on Tara's arm, "Spike and Buffy huh? How long?" Willow did not look very pleased even though her tone of voice was even.
Tara raised both eyebrows and moved from her girlfriend's touch. "How long have you been eavesdropping?"
"I wasn't. I was headed to the kitchen for a glass of water and overheard." She dropped the pout and sighed. "I guess I should have noticed especially living in the same house."
"I don't think they've hung out here, Will."
"Still. Buffy's my best friend and now she doesn't even share."
"You haven't exactly been yourself in a while sweetie-pie." Willow looked like a whipped pup. "I know you're trying, that's why I'm here. Buffy just needed more than you could give at the time."
"I could've," Willow began but stopped when she saw the look of skepticism on Tara's face. Her shoulders sagged. "You're right. But I should've."
"We all should have. Buffy has been hurting. She also has been afraid, afraid like we were when we became a couple and worried about how it would go over; if we'd be rejected."
"I'd NEVER reject Buffy!"
"I know that, but maybe you need to remind her of that too honey. She deserves some unconditional love."
"I will, I promise." Willow frowned, "So what's this about Spike being missing?"
"Long story and it's not mine to tell but he's not around and Buffy's worried."
"Maybe I could do a locat … er … or not," Willow looked contrite. "I have to remember not to just rush to magic. I promised and I am really, really trying, honest."
"I know you are sweetie," Tara embraced her gently and kissed the top of Willow's head. "Your heart was in the right place too but we'll figure out another way to help Buffy find him, okay?"
"We'd better hope Xander doesn't find out though or he'll explode."
"I think he's going to just have to get used to it, Willow. It really isn't his business is it?"
"Still gonna be 'bits-o-Xander' all over the place when he has to face facts."
"Maybe we should try to help Buffy that way. Convince Xander to back off so that Buffy doesn't have to deal with his hissy fit."
"I'm afraid that WILL take magic," Willow shook her head and wondered just when life had become so complicated.