Length: >100,000 words
Disclaimer: Nothing is mine. Only the plot, one demon and the veil are.
Setting: Right after 'Dead Things'
Summary: The night after, all he wants is talk.
The night after, there’s nothing she wants less than talking.
And suddenly they find themselves in another dimension; one that Buffy can’t leave. There’s only one way to get her out. A way with consequences.
Of Monsters and Men
(Title from a band of the same name)
She runs without thinking, aimlessly.
Her feet are pounding on the streets and the sidewalks, faster, faster. She tries to outrun the thoughts pursuing her, chasing her; clutches her ears as though that could hold them back from entering her mind. Her breath goes like a steam engine, because she never in her life ran as fast as now. She practically flies, fleeing from thinking. All the while she tries desperately to hold in the scream that threatens to break out of her throat, ragged whimpers the only sounds escaping every now and then. Don’t think. Don’t think. Faster, faster. She runs and runs, until she feels as if she had never done anything else in her life. She focuses on her feet hammering on the asphalt beneath her, on her burning lungs, on her aching muscles, and after a long, long while, she finally succeeds in feeling the once so detested detachment again.
She runs until she finds herself in front of his crypt, breathing heavily, her hand already raised to push the door open. That’s when she realizes that her feet automatically took the path the most familiar to her, or maybe, she concedes reluctantly, the path that promised the most ease at its end.
Only that he’s not in there to provide that ease.
She snorts a humorless laugh. It’s kind of funny, she thinks; she’s fleeing from him as fast as she can – directly to his place.
She sighs deeply, and then she pushes. Still enwrapped in some of the protecting numbness, she enters the dark room just as the first rays of sun filter through the bushes, and a startled look flashes briefly across her face as she realizes how very much aware she is of the sunlight and the threat it poses to the vampire. Despite the surge of fear this thought causes she pointedly closes the door firmly behind her, as if to shut out the danger, although he isn’t here.
Which is good, of course, that he isn’t here. She ran away from him after all. Would be kinda silly to run into his arms then.
It’s kinda silly anyway that she’s here at all. But it still feels weirdly right.
God, what is wrong with her? She can’t stand to be with him, only to run to where she can pretend to be with him? How sick is that?
She paces back and forth, not knowing what to do now that she’s here. Why the hell did she even come here? What did she hope to find, in his crypt of all places?
She absentmindedly picks up a candle, turns it around in her hands and sets it back, then resumes her pacing. She feels like a caged animal, even though she could walk out of here every minute; it’s as if the cage is inside her head, not holding her hostage, but trying to protect her, still fighting hard to keep the thoughts out she’s not ready to think. Probably will never be ready to think.
And yet, here in his crypt, it takes only moments until they catch up with her; she feels them seeping in, cold as ice water, spreading in her head like ink on a blotting paper; taking roots and birthing new ones, inexorably.
She plops down in his ratty armchair and puffs out her cheeks with an exasperated breath. She feels as if her head’s going to explode from racing thoughts within seconds, and she tries to at least steer them in a proper direction, or in any direction at all, but it’s futile. Words keep tumbling around in her mind like a drunken crowd dancing to a punk rock song, stumbling one over the other and then the next, leaving only a mess. Not one of them makes any sense to her right now. Not yet.
She stares at his blank TV screen for a while, then she looks around. She sees signs of a fight, of her fight with the demons attacking Spike, while he was crouching in a corner in the basement, hoping for them to return and kill him off.
Because he had his soul back and was suffering.
And all of a sudden it’s there at the forefront of her mind, that one thought that is the mother of all thoughts she fled from.
He has his soul back.
She gasps; she feels like drowning in snow, smothering and freezing her at the same time.
Somehow he got his soul back.
She leaps up as if sitting on the pointy end of a knife. She can’t. She can’t let it in. Not yet.
Her feet begin to move of their own accord and she thinks she’s fleeing again, but only for a second, then she notices she’s on her way downstairs instead. So not the place to go now, but apparently her feet are making the decisions for her today.
She stands there for a long while, frozen. Her eyes scan over the place, taking in the damage she’s done only a few hours ago, by fighting the demons, by fighting him. Even in the dim light she can still see the shards of glass and the dried puddle of blood from when he batted the glass out of her hand. When he wanted to die.
Memories of the hours with him down here flood her inner eyes, and despite everything, her heart aches for him.
That’s when at last she lets it in.
And she instantly wishes she hadn’t.
For months, all she had yearned for had been to feel something again, feel anything. But now, when she finally does, she wonders why she had so desperately wanted to.
Because it hurts like hell.
She’s reminded of that one time when she was little and on a winter vacation with her whole family. She’d been outside without gloves for too long and had formed snowball after snowball without caring that she couldn’t feel her hands anymore. Later, though, when the blood had flowed through the blood vessels again, melting her frozen hands, it had hurt so much that she’d cried for what felt like hours.
It’s a little like what she feels now. Only now it’s much worse.
A hurricane of emotions rolls through her, melting away the protecting walls in a rush.
She drops to her knees, her legs not strong enough all of a sudden to support her weight, and cries.
She cries because it all makes sense now.
Back in her room her mind put the pieces together, this puzzle of all those senseless fragments that suddenly fell into place all by themselves. She understands now what he did after he left her in the portal; hell, why he left her there in the first place. His strange behavior when he saved her; what he did then.The memories thrust into her mind, the buttload of emotions coming along. His refusal to feed, to live; the conviction not to deserve it, the crushing guilt he feels.
He went and got his soul.
She winds her arms around herself, protection from flying apart.
He sought it out. The thing he despised with a vengeance in Angel; that he scoffed about, ridiculed whenever it was mentioned. The thing that he must have known would be nearly impossible to reconcile his very nature with. That would make it impossible to go on living like before. The thing that would almost certainly force him to give up everything he loved, irrevocably.
Except for her.
Needed it…For you.
Her he would save with it.
She shudders when she thinks of all the images that had been poured into her mind when he linked their souls; all those atrocities she was forced to relive over and over again, that kept her from sleeping and gave her nightmares whenever she fell asleep against her will.
She cries because that had been his memories. The weight of that knowledge forces her down, down to the dusty ground, pressing her face into the dirt. Drenching it with her tears that won’t stop to fall.
She cries because she thinks of the vampire she trusted enough to protect her family and she took refuge in when she had no one else she could stand to be around. The vampire she had sex with. Often. The vampire she put all her hate upon, the hate she felt for herself; and he took it from her without batting an eye, because he somehow understood that she needed it, and because it was all he could ever get from her.
The one that, just some hours ago, she had admitted to herself she was terrified to lose.
That was his past.
She’d known that, of course. But it hadn’t appeared as half as unbearable to read about it like actually seeing it, hearing it, feeling it. Living through it. It makes a world of a difference.
She shivers violently and then forces herself to sit up on her knees, inhales deeply in a futile effort to stop the tears from flowing and to fight back the nausea that is suddenly attacking her.
How could she even let him touch her, with those hands that did such unspeakable things to countless innocent people?
How could she touch him?
And yet, here she sits in his crypt. Taking refuge in his place yet again.
Yearning for his touch again.
God, what is wrong with her?
She hesitantly rises to her feet, stands on shaky legs for a moment before she walks over to his bed. She sinks down on it, slowly, not sure if she really wants to sit there, but her trembling knees give way before she comes to a decision. As soon as she sits, though, her hand sneaks onto the sheets covering it, stroking them cautiously.
He was so full of pain all those hours she was here with him. So full of despair. He’d needed her so much. How could she even think of adding to his agony by not wanting to sit on his bed anymore?
She sees his eyes again, the moment she could see his soul, for you, and she falls to pieces. She collapses on his bed, clutches his sheets, buries her head in them and lets her tears wet them.
She cries because she remembers the wounds on his chest, and it’s then that she understands. Too much, wanted it out. Don’t need it anymore. She’s safe now. He couldn’t bear it any longer. He’d tried to cut his soul out of his chest. Spike, the strongest person she ever met, had given up. Not before he’d saved her, of course.
He suffered hell for her. Still does, probably. How is she supposed to live with that? She saw the agony he was in all those long hours, knows it was like that for at least days, maybe a lot longer, judging by his starved appearance; saw him eventually fighting then to go on with his unlife. And again he did it only for her, she suddenly remembers, and she cries a little harder. He had given up the fight already, had tried to let it end. Until she came along and forced him with her breakdown to reconsider.
Oh God. Shame colors her cheeks; she forced him to endure the pain longer for her, the pain he was in only because of her, without stopping even once to question her action. Because she didn’t want to lose him. She, who never had done anything but take from him what she needed, had refused him peace for selfish reasons.
She was no better than her friends when they tore her out of heaven.
And yet – had she been confronted with the choice to let him go now, she feels that even knowing all that, she wouldn’t, couldn’t decide differently. Can’t tune out completely the tiny voice that whispers something about deserving either.
She burrows her head a little deeper into the sheets and lets the tears flow, eventually giving up the effort to stop them. She has so many reasons to cry; yet in the end, it all comes down to one.
She cries because he was right.
She cries because the world of black and white she’d built over the years came tumbling down around her the second she understood, and she has no idea how to build a new one.
Has no idea how he fits in now; even worse, has no idea how she fits in.
She’s standing on shaking ground with nothing to hold onto, and it scares her more than anything before.
She lies on his bed, terrified, clenching her fists into the linen, and, just for one second, the ghost of a timid smile flits through the tears as she realizes that she is holding onto something. Even if it’s just his bed sheets. She squirms a little deeper, melting into the mattress, and lets his scent wash over her; and despite the turmoil in her head she feels herself getting a little calmer. She dimly wonders how it’s possible that she gains strength from his scent when it’s him causing her breakdown in the first place; she thinks maybe it’s because she never had to be afraid of his judgment. It’s a kind of safeness she only ever felt when being with him; the safeness of being just Buffy, no mask whatsoever necessary.
She’d always thought she’d felt that way because she just didn’t care what he thought of her, but now she knows that’s not it; it’s because deep down she always knew that he loved her. And that nothing she could do would change that.
The tear stream slowly ebbs away, the trembling ceases, breathing gets easier. It’s eerie, but in all the craziness, with everything she knows now, it’s still him who provides her refuge, who sets her a little at ease, even though her head keeps spinning, her stomach still feels like a big stone and her emotions are all over the place. She has no idea which one of them is the strongest - the gut wrenching guilt she feels that he’s suffering because of her; the indescribable horror at knowing he had done all those cruelties, at reliving them over and over; or the fear of not knowing how to handle soulful Spike, or how to handle herself around him that threatens to suffocate her. And yet, lying on his bed covered in his scent calms her down enough to let her slowly drift away. The realization of how silly it is to stay here when she really, really doesn’t want to see him yet hits her too late, only moments before sleep overcomes her.
Despite the war that is raging in her head, within seconds she is fast asleep.
He stands shell-shocked for a moment, staring at the doorstep she just crossed. Then, like a deflating balloon, all the energy leaves him, his shoulders sag and he slumps against the window sill, slowly gliding down the wall until his butt hits the floor.
Although he’d known that she’d react exactly like she did, running off when it was getting too personal, he couldn’t stop himself. The glory old ways are too deeply rooted; he lived too long after the rules of hunt, threaten, kill, to shed them so easily.
He could tell the moment she got it. It wasn’t her retreat that gave her away. It was her eyes. First he saw the horror dawning there, and the next second the veil went down, to shut herself off to him again. That’s when he knew she knew.
And the old ways took over, providing him with the familiar protection he created them for in the first place.
At least that had made it easier for her.
Now she’s gone, chased away at last. And he still doesn’t understand her.
Big help the soddin’ soul is.
He feels cold, as cold as he shouldn’t feel, vampire that he still is. It’s not cold from outside, though. It’s the cold of being left alone again by the one thing that gave him a little warmth in his misery.
He sighs as he pulls his knees up to brace his arms on them, burying his head in his hands. She stayed with him through so much during the last days; was there for him when he needed her most, like no one ever before had been there for him. And then she chooses the exact moment to bail when she understands the one thing that was supposed to make things easier between them.
He knows why she ran, of course. Same reason why he didn’t want her to know what he’d done in the first place.
He took away the recurring theme of her rejecting him, I could never be your girl; you’re an evil, soulless thing. By gaining his soul, he eventually blurred the lines between black and white to such an extent that even she couldn’t deny a certain in-between any longer. Not only did he strip her from the only thing she had left to hold on to - her belief in black and white - but also she’s certainly convinced that he did it for the sole purpose of proving himself worthy of her, because she knows he would do just about anything to gain her love.
She probably will never stop to consider other reasons for him than selfish ones.
He doesn’t know what he expected, though. He might have toyed with the thought himself; that she’d sink into his arms, admitting her undying love for him, so why shouldn’t she? That was before, of course. Before he had that thing inside that makes him see clearly. Makes him finally see what she’d been seeing all along. That he’s a monster and not worthy of her love. Of anyone’s love, for that matter.
He’s glad, for his sake and also for hers, that this wasn’t what drove him to Africa. That it wasn’t even the saving-the-damsel-in-distress mission; not really. That he worked on gearing up the courage for that step long before the incident with the portal. That when he understood at one point that he’d tried to help her the wrong way for months try on my world, see how good it feels, he’d known he’d have to play it a bit differently.
His eyes fall shut and he groans. All he ever wanted was to help her, help her find her smile again. Put her mask at rest. Instead…
Instead now she’s seeing all his cruelties, reliving them in her dream. God, he hates magic. Had he known that this could be a side effect of the spell, maybe he could’ve taken precautions. Could’ve prevented her from having to see this. Having involuntarily added to her suffering, with his soul at that, makes his heart twist with agony; this is so far away from what he wants for her.
His arm shoots up and aside, his clenched fist hitting the wall with a satisfying bang. The relief it provides is only short lived, though, anguish too dominant in him.
He warily casts an inward glance toward the figures hovering in the back of his mind, silent for once. He’s too preoccupied with what he did to her than to care about his own torment for now. He wonders suddenly whether she only sees his past in her dreams or…A shiver runs down his spine when he remembers all of a sudden the flood of weird images and unknown emotions invading his mind when he linked their souls together. They stand before his mind’s eye as clear as day, like his own memories do. Feel just like them, in fact.
And then, with an almost audible click, something registers that is so blatantly obvious that he wonders how the bleeding hell he, even in his jumbled mind, could’ve missed it before.
It’s not only her who’s got insight in his past and his emotions now; it works the other way round as well. He knew, of course; that’s how he suddenly understood what she’d been dreaming of earlier. But it’s only now that he catches on to what that means.
He sits very still for a long time then, breathing hard, his eyes wide open with horror, as he, for the first time, lets the inherited images sink in.
Images that, in their cruelty, compete with those she probably got from him. Only in a much worse way. Because it’s not about what she did. It’s about what was done to her.
He struggles to bring a semblance of order into the whirlwind of images and emotions that had almost overwhelmed him when he got them, so much so that he shoved them aside and chose to ignore them, too focused on his own misery. But now that he opens himself up to them he realizes that it’s different from what she obviously received from him. Judging from what she dreamed of, she mostly got images of his deeds. No wonder, seeing that it’s the souls that are linked, and his is keeping itself busy with being tortured by exactly those.
What he discerns as hers is completely different. There are pictures of what seems to be her past as well; a lot of pictures of events that must have occurred in her childhood, pictures of Joyce, of Dawn and a man, probably their father. It’s the feeling of security that dominates those memories of her early years, of warmth and love surrounding her; a feeling that apparently didn’t leave her during the first months of slaying, when she developed her surrogate family consisting of the Scoobies and the Watcher.
It’s the smallest part of what he got from her, though.
The rest, by far the biggest part of her emotions, is tinted in a blue so dark that it resembles black.
Pictures of Angel whirl through his mind, and Angelus. The prat Parker is there and Captain Cardboard. He feels agony rolling through her, through him, feels her world shattering around her, him, feels abandoned, left behind, feels herhis heart break again and again. He can almost feel something breaking in her, something she was never capable of restoring.
More and more he feels the burden of being the Slayer weighing on herhim, the burden of ultimately carrying the weight of the world alone. Feels the light being sucked out of, the blackness closing in on them, penetrating more and more the walls they have erected around their heart for protection.
And then there’s a bright light shining into them, warming them, holding them secure again.
He knows it’s when his own emptiness engulfed him completely; it’s when she jumped. For her it was a jump into salvation, the relief from the life as the Slayer, knowing she saved the world, saved the ones she loved.
He feels the peace surrounding her, him, the warmth, the love she talked about that day in the shadows. The completeness.
And then he feels it shattering around himself, herself. Everything that was bright around her, in her, turns into darkness, black and cold, sweeping upon her, into her.
He lives through the suffocating horror of finding herself in her grave, relives his own awakening too, not quite sure which is what, both equally terrifying. Sees her coming back to the world, feels, like her, that it must be hell.
Sees her so called friends closing in on her like the blackness before, suffocating like the soil above her grave. Black, black, everything is dark. He feels her searching for the tiniest ray of brightness, but there’s none.
And then there is. Not brightness, really, more of a little less blackness from time to time. And every time this occurs, there’s his face. Why are you always around when I’m miserable? He feels a tiny sliver of the lost peace settling into her each time he’s there, and he can feel the longing for it increasing, rising in her like a snake rearing its head, and then grabbing it, plunging in, plummeting into an even deeper abyss, drowning in hatred. And he knows that’s when she jumped him, and destroyed the little she had before, irrevocably.
What remains is only pitch black darkness.
He leans his head against the wall, fighting off the tears that are, again, pricking behind his eyelids, and feels as helpless as ever. How is he, how is anyone supposed to help her out of that deep hole of despair?
But he had once helped her, hadn’t he? Had succeeded when nobody else had. Knew I could get a grin. And, judging by the images poured into his mind, he hadn’t been entirely wrong in his assessment of hers. He had given her a shred of the much needed light once in a while.
He lifts his head, straightens and stands, crossing her room on legs still trembling from weakness, and sits on her bed.
If he could do this then, without the benefit of a soul, who said he couldn’t do it again?
Because she sees now what you really are, you git, an incessant voice inside him whispers, a monster.
He shakes his head, partly to get rid of the voice taunting him, partly because he knows it’s not the entire truth. Because she didn’t run off when she understood what it was that she was dreaming about. It wasn’t the monster that chased her away. She knew exactly what she was dealing with even before. It may repulse her, but it’s not all that new to her to scare her away.
He shivers violently when he realizes it was the part of him she recognized as making more of a man out of him that frightened her so much.
That is new, and that is what doesn’t fit.
And all of a sudden he understands.
That is not what she needs him to be. Not a man.
She needs him to be the monster.
All those hours in his crypt and later in her room she was insecure. She felt that something profound had changed, and even if she couldn’t pinpoint what it was, it left the ground under her feet shaky.
The moment she understood where the images in her head came from, she found herself on solid ground again. Much more solid than it had been for weeks, because finally her world was right again in that twisted way she’d learned to live with. Finally she could see him as more of a monster than herself again. And that was what she’d needed to find her footing. You’re an evil, soulless thing. Not her, but him.
He remembers the night in the alley again, when she pounded her fists and her fears into him, and he understands now what he’d missed before. He’d thought she’d needed him to be a man when she spat her hatred against herself over him; instead, she’d needed him to take the burden of being the monster. But he didn’t oblige. Even then, he was more human than she felt herself to be.
He righted that wrong for her when he gave her the nightmare of his past. But then he went and took that away from her the very next moment; when he bared his soul to her, literally.
The tears he fought off before spill now, gliding down his cheeks unnoticed.
He failed her again.
Even when he does everything right, he still fails her.
He sinks down on her pillow, breathes in her scent; caresses the linen, then clenches his fists into it.
He doesn’t know if she still wants him to be here, on her bed no less, but he knows he’s too weak to leave yet, can’t even stand on his feet long enough to go down to the basement. When he feels sleep slowly rolling over him, he gives in without hesitation.
Despite the war raging in his head, within seconds he’s fast asleep.
Had he known he was mimicking the Slayer in his crypt to a T, his sleep certainly would’ve been much brighter.
There’s always laughter.
He’s never quite sure whether it’s him or them laughing; it sounds suspiciously like his voice, though.
Also, he remembers always laughing with glee, feeling the blood, the fear, flowing between his lips, seeing the light in their eyes breaking by frightened inevitability, sensing death sneaking closer, paralyzing the bodies in his arms just before they were getting limp.
The noises he always heard of them were different. Screams. Pleas. Whimpers. Cries. He knows; he’s been hearing them enough since Africa.
And yet, suddenly he knows they are laughing, too. Layered upon the screams and whimpers, there are their laughs, as painfully gleeful as his own always had been. He lets go of the lifeless body in his arms to jerk his hands over his ears, to shut the hurtful noise out, but it’s futile. They are in his head, he can’t shut them out.
“Not half as funny being on the receivin’ end, is it?” Her voice drips in his mind like the blood trickling from his chin, a faint echo of his words to her; once upon a time.
“No,” he cries, his hands frantically digging in his head, trying to reach the laughing voices and hers, rip them out.
No, not hers. Hers he wants to keep. Even when she’s mocking him. She hurt him more and he bore it, right? He can bear that, too; even when he did this for her.
But he can’t reach the voices anyway, so no use to think about what is worth keeping. He tries something different then, begins to beat the bodies down like demons, batter the laughter out of them. He slaughters them, one by one, good times. But the laughter doesn’t end; rises higher, surrounds him, thunders down from above. It’s eerily paired with the empty staring eyes beneath him, the bloody limbs piled around him.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers, but the laughter drowns it out. There are too many of them.
He feels a hand in his then, dragging him away, away from his victims, out into the sunny day. There’s finally silence, nothing there but sun, and he feels it sizzle on his face, his hands.
“I can’t be here. The sun,” he whispers, “burns me.”
He feels her hand on his cheek then, caressing. “No, it doesn’t,” she says. He looks at his hand, and in wonder he sees that she’s right. He can feel it, the sizzle of the sun, but there’s no fire. “It hurts,” she says, “but you’ll get used to it. I should know.”
“Why are you doing this?” he asks. Laughter again, but it’s hers this time, bubbling from her lips with mirth. Soothing his sore ears and mind.
“Because I heard you,” she says softly, and he believes her.
He looks up and sees her then, and he shrinks back a little. She’s covered in blood. Blood from his victims, he knows. She’s sitting beside the pile of limbs he left, sinking her arms in, cupping them at their torn apart ends to collect the blood and smears it on her legs, her breast, her face. Her sun lotion.
When she looks up, he sees bright traces from her eyes down to her chin, white tracks within the red. “I only try to soften the brightness,” she says.
Red drops are raining down on her collar, leaving more and more light tracks on her face. He can see that it hurts her.
“Where there is a monster, there is hope,” she whispers, watching his hand reaching out for her. They both see wisps of smoke rising, watch the flames erupting from his skin.
And then his hand crumbles to dust.
But when he looks at her, he sees her holding it, tightly pressed to her chest.
The last thing he hears is laughter.
It’s a rush. It’s the strongest, richest blood she ever tasted, and it makes her feel euphoric. She looks down on the beaten corpse of the young Chinese girl, and for a split second, she’s almost sad that the dance already ended. But then pride takes over again; the girl was a bloody great fighter, the best she ever fought with, she knows that. Slowly she lifts her finger to her lips and watches it, when she hears a sound. She whirls around to see herself standing at a pillar, her face contorted in disgust.
“You got off on it,” she hears herself spitting, and then answers with Spike’s voice, “Well, yeah. Suppose you’re telling me you don’t?”
And then he’s there. “I’m a vampire,” he suddenly snarls at her, “I’m supposed to be treading on the dark side!” And he shoves her hard, and then he straddles her as she’s lying on the floor. “What’s your excuse?”
“They brought me back wrong! It’s not my fault! I’m not responsible!” she yells, but he’s not there anymore. It’s Tara’s face looking at her now, with pity clearly written in her eyes.
“I’m sorry, Buffy, but you are. You’re not a monster. You only behave like one.”
“No,” she cries, “Spike’s the monster. He’s just a thing. He can’t feel anything real!” She feels strong arms around her then, his arms. She yearns to sink into them, fall down into him and never come up again. “Come with me to the dark side. This is where you belong,” his silken voice whispers into her ear, and oh, she wants it. So much. But she can’t, because her friends would never let her go. Not with him. They tore her back as the monster she is now, but they won’t allow her to be one. “You’re supposed to be there, with me. Be a monster, just like me,” he whispers.
She turns around, and they both stand on the campus. The sun is glistening in his bright hair, and his eyes sparkle with joy. She can’t move; she’s frozen to the spot. “But you’re not a monster anymore, are you?” she whispers trembling.
The sun sets rapidly, and they both watch silently, until he suddenly slumps to his knees, staring at the spot the last rays of sun had shone on a second ago, leaving the world in never ending darkness. “Yes, I am,” he says, and he sounds completely heartbroken. “I’m the worst. I killed them all.”
“No, you didn’t,” Tara’s cheery voice is suddenly there, and when she turns, she can see the witch right in front of her again, her face now graced with an encouraging smile. “There’s nothing wrong with you, I double checked. You’re the same old Buffy, always hurting the ones you love.” She smiles with friendliness, even when she begins suddenly throwing her fists into Buffy’s face. It hurts like hell, because she’s visibly putting a lot of anger into it. Only that it’s herself beating her up, on the wet ground of a dark and dank alley. She knows she’s strong enough to counter the blows, to throw the other Buffy off of her, but she doesn’t. She takes the blows, and she feels her heart twisting at seeing the pain on the Slayer’s face. She wants to catch her in her arms, hold her until the pain ebbs away, give her a reason not to go into that building and throw her life away, but she knows Buffy won’t listen to her. She tried everything she could, and this taking the beating is all the Slayer is able to accept. So she lies still and takes it, encourages her even, “lay it all on me.”
In a blur, she shifts into the position above him, above Spike, and between her punches he always seeks out her eyes, pleading with his. “I know that I’m a monster. But you treat me like a man. And that…” It’s barely understandable what he mumbles, his lips are split open and swollen. “You’re dead inside,” she yells, “I can’t treat you like a man. You’re a monster because I treat you like one. I should know, because I didn’t come back wrong.”
“Oh, baby, of course not,” a soothing voice whispers in her ear. Loving hands lift her up, embrace her. “You saved the world. A lot. How could you be a monster?”
She cries into her mom’s shoulder, waiting for Joyce to kiss it better. “Mom, “she cries, “are you in heaven? Are we in heaven?”
“Of course we are. Look around.”
She turns, and everything is bright and warm and safe. “You belong with me, in the light,” she hears and spins around. Spike is there, holding her by her hand, warming her with his gaze. She sees a thin whisk of smoke rising from his cheek, then another.
“Spike,” she shouts frantically, “you can’t be here, with me! You belong to the dark!”
“Is that so?” he asks, smirking. “Maybe I can learn to live in the light, if you help me. A man can change, you know?” And then he crumbles to dust before her eyes, and with that, the light fades away, until she’s in utter darkness. It’s so dark then that she can’t see a thing, and she barely can breathe. She feels around herself and realizes that she’s in a big box. She tries to open the lid, but it doesn’t work, no matter how forcefully she pushes. The air she sucks in with difficulty tastes stale, used somehow, and she knows instantly that she has to get out of here if she doesn’t want to die. She pushes again, and now she feels the soft fabric beneath her fingers. She’s in a coffin. Her coffin. Panic sweeps over her; she’s been buried alive! Or dead, she corrects herself, and torn out of the light. Into the dark, into her coffin. She pushes and rips and punches. The skin on her hands splits open like Spike’s lips, and then dirt rains into her face, her eyes, mouth, nose, everywhere, and threatens to suffocate her. She punches again, and her hand suddenly snaps through the wood, and she can feel the cool night air on her skin. Or is it cool skin on her skin? A hand that grabs hers and pulls, and then she’s out, and she is pulling him out, out of her grave.
“Knew I could get a grin,” he smiles, and she’s relieved beyond belief that she’s not alone out here this time.
“Why?” she asks, and she doesn’t know whether she means why she is here or why is he. Or, maybe, why doesn’t she feel so cold anymore. She feels his hand on her cheek, feathery light.
“Told you I could change.” His eyes lock with hers, connect them, solidly, but at the same time as light as his touch. “For you,” he says.
She nods. “You are…you are here, with me. And that is…” He only looks at her, and she nods again. “Thank you.”
They turn toward her back yard, sitting on the stairs of her porch, bluely lit by the moon.
Silently. In peace.