Title: Melting Fire
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.
Chapter 2: Promises, Promises
They land on their backs, hitting the ground with a bang. It doesn’t take them long to pick themselves up again though, taking in defensive stances, positioning themselves back to back without thinking. The portal is still open, but now they stand on the other side, the graveyard visible through it like a window. The huge demon, however, is gone, as suddenly as it had appeared.
Spike lets his eyes roam their surroundings, which look a little less dark than they did before now that they find themselves within. Only at the far end opposite the portal threatens darkness so pitch-black that it almost hurts the eyes to look at it, and involuntarily he shrinks back a little until he hits the Slayer’s back.
It’s then that he feels her trembling, and he knows she’s still on the verge of panic. Since there’s nothing to fend off in sight, he turns around, stepping around her in the process to watch her face-on. He tips his head down a notch to catch her gaze. “What’s with you, Slayer?” he asks, bewildered, but without sparing him a glance or any other indication that she heard him, she slowly turns her head away from him. Her eyes latch onto the darkness that looms like a veil in front of them, and then she doesn’t move anymore. For a moment, he thinks that she’s fallen into some kind of trance. It reminds him with a pang of the day in the gas station, when she went catatonic after losing Dawn to Glory.
“Bloody brilliant,” he mutters under his breath, and then addresses her once more. “Slayer? Buffy, you’re with me?” he asks, emphatically, yet surprisingly gentle; seeing her in fear tugs at his heartstrings in a way he’s not used to. To his relief that’s all it takes to snap her out of it this time. Her head spins toward him, her eyes wide, and he realizes instantly that instead of having gone catatonic, she’s in full blown panic mode now.
“We have to get out of here, we have to get out of here,” she mumbles between ragged breaths, and then screams, “We have to get out of here!”
Spike stares at her, completely taken aback. Sure, getting shoved into what he suspects to be an unknown demon dimension is not his favorite way to pass the time either; but they both have faced worse, some of it even together. And she never had been scared, not even a little. At least not on her behalf. She’d been calm in the face of danger, resolved, pissed off maybe, yeah. But never scared. He’s not sure what to do about it, since this is unknown territory for him, and he wonders if catatonic Buffy wouldn’t have been the lesser evil. Every instinct tells him to take her in his arms and embrace her reassuringly while whispering soothing words in her ear. But he’s not fond of the thought of getting his nose broken right now, and that would be her natural response to an embrace of any sort; coming from him, that is. So he settles on the only other way he can think of to bring her back to her senses; he slaps her in the face, belatedly realizing that her response to this solution will probably be the same.
Except it isn’t. She just goes still, silently staring at him, an expression in her eyes he can’t fathom. When she doesn’t move for a while nor says anything, he begins to get antsy, his mind racing in search for anything else he might do about that state of mind she’s in. And then he sees tears welling up in her eyes, and that eventually throws him entirely. He doesn’t think anymore, just pulls her into his arms, holding her tight, trying to infuse her with his strength.
He is very aware of the fact that she lets him hold her, recognizing it as proof of just how scared she really is. “We’ll get out, pet. We’ll find a way.” When he hears himself soothing her, he rolls his eyes and clenches his jaw; the way he speaks, he could as well have told her how much he loved her, because his low and tender voice did exactly this, only without using the actual words. And after last night, he really isn’t ready to make a fool of himself again so fast. But then he feels her shiver, and he doesn’t care anymore. “It’s only a soddin’ demon world, right? Nothin’ we can’t handle. We’ll be outta here in a wink.”
And then she speaks again, and his stomach drops. “I don’t know if I want to,” she whispers flatly.
Fear grips his heart like an ice cold claw.
“What?” is all he manages to get out. He loosens his hold on her, grabbing her shoulders and holding her at arm’s length. He stares at her, trying to figure out why she said that; he sees her head slowly turning toward the darkness again, and has to fight an onslaught of panic himself now at the view of the dreamy, almost enchanted expression on her face.
“What do you mean, you don’t know?” When she doesn’t answer, he shakes her, just once, to draw her attention. “What do you mean, Slayer?”
When she speaks again he feels the instant need to drag her out as fast as he can. “It’s heaven, Spike…” she says, her voice as dreamy as her facial expression. “I can feel it, and it wants me. It pulls me there. It’s hard to resist.” But then her head snaps back to him, her face frightened as before. “But I can’t! I can’t go there, Spike! I…I have to…Dawn! And, and, and Willow, and I‘m the Slayer! I have to…I can’t!”
The last words come out as a desperate outcry, just as her eyes are already drawn back to the darkness. Spike stands dumbfounded, and when he doesn’t react immediately, her voice becomes longing again. “But I want so badly…” She pauses, narrowing her eyes, contemplating. Again her head spins around to face him, and the longing is replaced by a pleading look. “No, I… I don’t want that anymore, right?” She grabs his arms now, gripping them tight, holding on for dear life. “That’s what I found out, right? When I was invisible? That I don’t want to be dead anymore, right? A small part of me, anyway... but that’s something, right?”
Spike doesn’t know what comes more as a shock to him; that she still yearned to be dead up to this day, or that he hadn’t realized it. He had known from the beginning how miserable she felt; had known at some point that their affair was a desperate attempt to break out of it. He had also known that her way of coping didn’t really work out as she wanted, had repeatedly tried to show her other ways; tried to help her accept and embrace the darkness within her he knows is there, but is firmly denied by her. He’d done everything he could think of to make her feel better.
But despite her outburst last night he hadn’t known that the biggest part of her still had such a strong death wish. Yet, when he sees her head swiveling again, wistfully eyeing the darkness, he knows it’s true. And the small part of her that apparently began to find a way out of it won’t be enough to hold her back for long. Not with the temptation of peace and warmth and completeness right within reach.
He wonders whether it could be possible; whether maybe some power had made up its mind and wanted to fulfill the Slayer’s wish. If so, he has no idea how to react, not sure if he even has the right to hold her back. If any part of that was Buffy, I wouldn't let her… It’s still what he thinks, what every fiber of his being feels. But after seeing her so miserable the whole time…He only can hope it’ll not be his call to decide.
He reaches out into the blackness with all his senses, trying to decipher what could be waiting for them there. At first, there’s nothing. But then, letting his senses dive in deeper, he suddenly reels back, gripping Buffy tight to not lose his hold on her.
He doesn’t know what it is behind the veil of darkness, but one thing he is sure about – it’s not heaven.
It most definitely feels a lot more like hell to him.
Breathing heavily, he forces himself to focus on the task at hand, which would be keeping her from giving in. He clutches her shoulders a little tighter and turns her around, so that she can’t see anymore what she discerns as heaven.
“Look at me,” he urges, locking his eyes with hers. “That’s not heaven, Buffy. You can’t go there. I’ve no bloody clue what it is, but it’s not heaven, okay?” He holds her gaze, and when she doesn’t answer, he repeats, barking this time, “Okay?” When she nods, he backs away as far as he can, grabbing her arm and tearing her with him. Relief washes over him when he sees her relaxing a little, but it’s only short lived.
After walking backwards only a few yards, he feels as if crossing a threshold, the air around him getting a little cooler, a little less tight, and he knows he entered the portal again. For a moment he wonders why it’s still open anyway, but the second she reaches it, he no longer cares. It doesn’t matter, because he can’t pull her through, no matter how hard he tries.
Her eyes widen in fear again at the realization that Spike can go further, but she can’t follow; that there is a barrier she can’t cross. “Spike?”
He hears the panic creeping back in and grips her arm a little tighter.
“Don’t know what it is, luv. But we’ll suss it out, right?”
Her head turns backward, trying to catch sight of the alluring darkness once more. “I have to…”
“No!” he bellows, cutting her short. He cups her cheek and turns her head back to him, calming down with an effort and catching her gaze again. “Don’t even look there, Buffy. You don’t want to go there, trust me.” He takes a deep, somewhat shaky breath, and then one more. “And you said it yourself, you don’t want to be …in heaven anyway. Not anymore.”
He feels that it costs her a lot to let her eyes stay glued to his, but he can also see that, after a moment, it seems to strengthen her in return. When he breathes in and out deeply again, he sees her eyes drop to his mouth briefly before they snap back to his eyes, and then she adopts his breathing rhythm. He doesn’t know if it happens unconsciously, but it obviously helps her to focus on him, away from the veil.
After a long while, eyes locked, breathing together, she regains some of her composure; she’s not trembling so badly anymore, and the breathing gets easier.
“You better, Slayer?” His low voice gives away how concerned he still is. His shoulders sag a little in relief when she silently nods, releasing a bit of his tension.
“Spike?” She sounds exhausted.
“Why can’t I go further?”
He looks beside him and up, watches the glowing portal he still stands in. “Buggered if I know. But it feels like…you know, not invited in.”
“Oh,” she says. He sees an expression scurrying over her face almost as if something just dawned on her. “That’s what it feels like?”
“Well,” he replies, “Figure it’s like that. Not half as funny bein’ on the receivin’ end, is it?”
“No, it’s not,” she admits quietly, something akin to regret flickering in her eyes. He raises one brow. Is she feeling sorry? She must be pretty shaken then.
“Yeah, just a shame that no one’s here to say the magical words.” He looks through the portal, and on the other side he can still see the cemetery. “The demon seems to be gone. Look, I should probably find out if I can go through entirely. I could find Red to get you out with a spell or something,” he suggests, but as soon as he feels her tensing he knows that it’s not going to happen. Her hands are clutching his duster in a second, the barely suppressed fright blazing in her eyes again.
“Don’t,” she blurts out, but then she shrinks back a notch, her eyes sliding aside for a moment, embarrassed about her clinginess. “I still…I still feel the pull, you know? It hasn’t gotten any less. And if you’re not here to keep me with you, I…I don’t know how long I can resist.” She swallows, apparently fighting an inner battle; but then she makes up her mind, her fear winning over her pride. “Stay here and help me, Spike. Please.”
His eyes soften, but he doesn’t reply immediately. He considers her silently for a long while, thinking about his options. He sees the difficulties she has to keep focused on him instead of giving in to the pull. He tries to imagine what could happen to her if she let herself go there; if he let her go. He remembers what he felt earlier, reaching into the blackness, and he shudders; if what he’s done in his unlife was evil, he knows there doesn’t exist a word for what is expecting her behind the veil. And he has no idea whether, once she crossed the line, he’d still be able to bring her back.
He casts a quick glance through the portal, noting that it’s still open, that the cemetery is still waiting. He wonders if, come daylight, there will be people who are gonna find the opening, maybe even enter. For a brief moment he feels the hope flaring inside that maybe the Scoobies will come looking for her, that they might find a way to get Buffy out. But the hope dies down the second he catches sight of a little mouse that seems to be frozen amidst running across a grave. That’s when he knows that, for whatever reason, time doesn’t pass by outside.
They are trapped.
Well, she is anyway; but there’s no way in hell that he’s gonna leave her here.
They can’t get out, but they can’t go inside either.
They are truly buggered.
He presses his lips on her hair in a light kiss, amazed that she doesn’t draw back.
“’t’s okay, pet. I won’t leave you alone.”
In the end he still leaves her.
Another promise he breaks, he thinks as he casts her bound form a long glance, biting his lip until he draws blood. It hurts so much, the feeling of failing her again, that he has to conjure another kind of pain to distract him, if only for a few seconds.
It hurts even though he knows that at least this time, he’s doing the right thing.
It’s the only possibility he can think of.
If he’s not wrong about the kind of demon that brought them here, that is. If he’s mistaken, however, then they aren’t on the doorstep of the dimension he thinks they are. Then time won’t pass by differently in here as he hopes it will either. Even more important, he’ll have no bloody clue how to find her again.
And if he really found her, he probably would be too late.
But it’s all he could come up with, and her ideas either didn’t work out or weren’t even worth a second thought.
They sat for what felt like hours on the floor in the small space between the portal and the veil of darkness, contemplating their options.
Only there weren’t any.
“We could try to, you know, not go through entirely? Just poke our heads in and sneak a peek?” Buffy tentatively suggested, but was cut off harshly.
“Absolutely not! Only over my dead body. The dusty kind of dead.”
“I knew there had to be an upside,” she quipped, not fazed at all by the glare he gave her. She was too relieved that for now, the panic had subsided enough to feel a bit safer for the moment. She knew whom she owed this smidgen of safety to, as well as maybe even her life. It wasn’t exactly the first time that had happened; in fighting together they had saved each other’s lives on more than one occasion and they were both pretty much used to it. The feeling of safety around him wasn’t that new for her either, even though she would never admit it. He still knew; he also knew that she needed to make her jokes about wanting nothing more than to stake him to muster some of her courage. It was part of her disguise. She had shown fear, downright panicked, asked for him not to leave her. Begged for his help even. If she needed the quips to find her footing again, he would be perfectly content to give it to her; as long as she stayed out of that evilness behind the veil from head to toe. Quipping Buffy was just fine by him.
He hadn’t liked seeing her in fear anyway.
She sighed. “Fine, no peek. What about you carrying me through the portal?”
He arched an eyebrow. “What, you think the soddin’ portal is just not into human feet?”
“It’s worth a try. Me wrapped into the stinkiness of your duster - it might not recognize me as the Slayer.”
“My duster doesn’t smell,” he replied indignantly.
“Does too. All whiskey and smoke, and, and…Spike all over.” She frowned slightly, because it was supposed to sound disgusted, but she knew it came out differently, and he had to suppress an amused grin. She hadn’t been that way toward him since she had been invisible, and before that…when they had been out together, after her Retail Hours that Wouldn’t End at the Magic Box. And then she had been drunk.
He didn’t want to risk her losing that spark of what he recognized as her fighting instinct and acted without thinking twice. He jumped to his feet and scooped her up in a fluent movement. Rushing directly toward the portal, they violently bounced back from it when they bumped into the barrier. His eyes went wide with surprise when he found himself back on the ground, sitting on his butt with Buffy splayed over him. “Wha…?”
He must have had a really funny expression on his face, because Buffy, initially disentangling herself and turning to watch up at him in righteous anger, suddenly began to snicker when she saw him. Although secretly pleased that he had brought a laugh out of her, even if not at all intended, he snorted, pretending to be in a huff. ”Oh brilliant! Yeah, that’s a good one, right, Slayer? Put the Big Bad on his arse like a toddler tripping over his feet. Care to tell me what’s so damn funny about it?”
“Aw, come on, Oh Evil One! It’s nothing extraordinary. You dumped on your ass is funny all in itself. And you totally left out the duster wrappage, that’s why it couldn’t work.” She grinned at him, blinking innocently. He grunted, but shrugged off his duster to do as she’d asked, gently enveloping her shoulders in it. She grabbed the lapels and shoved it over her head, giving him her best you’re-not-the-smartest-one-are-you look. Then she wrapped herself in the black leather, and although her face was now hidden, her small sniffing, inhaling his scent was not lost on him, and the faintest smile tugged up his lips. His hands came up, proceeding to enclose as much of her as possible in his duster, and then he scooped her up once again, slowly this time, careful not to let the coat slide open at the seams. Thus prepared he tried again, cautiously approaching the portal.
He hadn’t believed for a second that it would be that easy; but when he felt the resistance of the threshold, he still was disappointed. He stepped back and sat her on her feet.
“Sorry, luv,” he said and gingerly peeled her out of his duster, slipping into it himself. He eyed her warily, and he could see the hope leaking out of her, making room for the fear that slowly snuck back in. He gently tucked her hand in his, pulled her down to the ground again. It was easier to sit; easier for her to not give in to the urge of passing the veil. Easier for him to hold her back, too. To his surprise she huddled against him, hugging her legs tightly. She was clearly seeking the safety his closeness provided, and his arms encircled her on their own volition. He felt her slightly relax into him, and amidst all the craziness of the situation they were in, he still found himself reveling in the slice of happiness he felt at being able to get her to relax, in his arm no less.
“We’ll find something, pet,” he whispered soothingly, his mouth close to her ear.
“We could always wait for the others to find the portal and figure something out from outside, right? I mean, it’s still open, and they will come looking for me when I don’t show up all night.”
He inhaled deeply, well knowing that her hope was futile. Time didn’t pass by outside; for all he knew, they could sit here for all eternity. Not that this was the worst he could imagine, sitting here with her forever; but it was certainly not what she wanted. And it wouldn’t work anyway. They would have to eat at one point, since in here, they weren’t in a time vacuum. But he couldn’t destroy her hope; not yet. So he held back with that tidbit.
“Yeah. We could do that,” he conceded quietly, tugging her a little closer to him.
There was a moment of mutual silence, and he realized with a small pang of regret that it almost felt like the first weeks after she came back. When there was silent understanding between them that had gone awry with their first kiss. It made him consider digging a little into her head. Even if for now the subject of inquiry had changed, it was what he’d gone out tonight to find her for, after all. He just wasn’t sure if he was willing to destroy the comfortable silence so quickly.
“Slayer?” he asked when curiosity eventually got the better of him, which, of course, was only a short while later.
“Why are you so scared?”
She turned to look at him for a brief moment, but then hid her face by turning away from him.
“You were the one who told me there’s only evil in there. Who wouldn’t be afraid to end up in hell?”
He waited to hear if there was still more to come, but apparently there wasn’t. He thought about leaving it there, since she obviously wasn’t willing to talk about it, and she certainly wouldn’t appreciate being pushed by him. Then again, they hadn’t really anything else to do than talk. And he had the feeling that, if he could understand what scared her that much here, he maybe, maybe would finally understand her a great deal better than before. Even if this was only a tiny chance, it was his chance, and he was not going to waste it.
And he had nothing to lose anyway. So he prodded a little.
“True; but that’s not it, right?” He didn’t look at her; his words were pushing enough. Also, he felt her tensing without looking just fine.
He gave her a few moments, and when she didn’t respond, he went on. “You were scared the second the portal opened.” His voice was soft, matching the touch of his thumb on her arm, a feathery caress both of them. “You thought it was heaven then.”
She remained silent for several minutes, but she didn’t jump up to get away from him, and she did not turn away either. She withdrew her arm from under his caressing hand, but she stayed right there, securely leaning against him.
When she eventually spoke, her voice sounded raspy as if she hadn’t spoken for days. Yet, despite the despair underlying it, she managed to also give it a ring of disdain, and he wondered if it was a sentiment solely meant for him.
“You wouldn’t understand.”
He held back a frustrated sigh. “Try me,” he said instead, and he was embarrassed about the desperation lacing his voice. God, why the bloody hell did she have to have the uncanny ability to turn him into a pathetic prat even without saying anything?
She must have heard it too, though, because she rolled her eyes and let out a small moan, telling loud and clear how much she didn’t want to do that at all.
He didn’t expect her to answer, not really; but once more she surprised him. “It would be just another failure of mine,” she said, so quietly that he barely could hear the words. Because if he almost didn’t hear them, it was like almost not having said them at all. Which was the closest to being silent. He got that. “The ultimate failure.”
He looked at her, stunned. Another failure? If this was her attempt at an explanation, then she wasn’t being very successful, because he was more bewildered than ever.
“Another…another failure…of yours?” he spluttered. “When have you ever…”
He was cut short by her angered voice. “I told you, you wouldn’t understand.” She wriggled out of his arm, jumped to her feet then, and he was too baffled to hold her back, forgetting about the temptation of the darkness for the moment. It registered half a minute later though, as he saw her drifting toward the veil; subtly in the beginning, not so subtly after a few moments. He, too, jumped up and caught her wrists, hauling her back.
“Oh, Bollocks! You don’t get off that easily. You don’t get to throw me some cryptics like this and then refuse to explain it to me. What the bloody hell are you going on about? Why would you think you failed?”
“Because that’s all I’m doing lately!” She yelled at him now. The words tumbled out of her mouth, held back for too long to rein them in any longer, now that he’d heard her anyway. Could as well hit him with them; the least she could do to punish him for at first pushing cracks into her shell and then prying them wide open. “I'm failing because I'm not supposed to hate the world I'm forced to live in, but I do. Because I'm not supposed to hate my friends for bringing me back into it; but I do. I’m monumentally failing at not hating them for expecting me to be grateful, to be okay, and most of all to be their hero. I’m failing at feeling the things I’m supposed to feel. At being forgiving. At being happy already.”
As if to demonstrate how very much not happy she was, tears were streaming down her cheeks, and she was shaking so hard now that her knees almost buckled; but she didn’t stop listing all her failures. She couldn’t. Her truth was pouring and splashing out of her like the water of those damn broken pipes weeks ago; unstoppable.
“I’m failing my mother, because I promised her I’d take care of Dawn, to love her like Mom loved me, but I don’t! I can’t love anymore! I’m failing Giles, because he trusted me to be able to handle things on my own, but it turns out I really can’t. I can’t handle anything. Dammit, Spike, I’m not even a friend anymore! I don’t care about the others, and I’m going to the pain-in-the-ass vampire I hate for refuge from them! I’m failing at being worthy to be alive again, because I don’t feel like being alive! I’m fucking failing at being me! Even though I am! I am me! I didn’t come back…Oh God!”
Her knees finally gave out and she collapsed to the ground, as if someone had pulled her spine out of her; her shoulders sagging, her head sinking until it touched the floor. She lay completely still then, like a pile of clothes.
Spike stood shell-shocked. His hands holding her wrists had jerked away from her at one point, almost scared by her outburst.
Oh God. He had done her so wrong.
He had known she was miserable because she’d turned to him, kissed him, jumped his bones. But he’d thought her refusal to accept what she did was only due to her inability to accept that she felt drawn to his darkness, to accept the darkness within herself. When in reality a big chunk of her problem was that she felt guilty for seeking him out instead of her friends, because he’d been kind and gentle when her friends had come over her like a thunderstorm. Because he’d listened when her friends had felt the need for her gratefulness. Because her friends expected her to be as she always had been when he was just there, glad to be where she was.
She felt guilty for resenting them when she was expected to be glad to be brought back, for hating them when she should love them. Because, of course, despite what she’d just said, she also did love them. Even if she couldn’t quite feel it right now, she knew she did. She just couldn’t stop hating what they did to her.
She felt like living in hell and her twisted brain turned it into something she was responsible for, accused herself for feeling miserable.
He felt that there was still something lost on him, something he still couldn’t grasp. But even without that missing piece his heart broke for her, just like the day she’d told him she was ripped out of heaven. To the hell she had to live in she had added her own hell of guilt. And when all she was striving for was a little bit of light, he had tried to pull her even deeper into the darkness. And had pushed her to a much darker place than he ever imagined.
He’d told himself that he did it to help her, that he was the one who should show her, who could make her see that the darkness felt good. That he helped her to feel better. It was easy to believe that when it fit right into what he so badly wanted. Now he couldn’t deny any longer that he’d been a selfish prick who’d shoved things around in his head long enough till they matched his desires.
He stood wide eyed, frozen, and took her in, her form slumped to the ground, motionless; and some of her words rang in his mind again; I can’t love anymore! I’m failing at being worthy to be alive again, because I don’t feel like being alive!
And then it slowly began to sink in.
I touch the fire and it freezes me. This isn’t real, but I just want to feel. She’d told him. But he’d been too mesmerized by the notion that she’d turned to him again, that she’d kissed him, that she made him feeling alive again after such a long time of being dead, that he hadn’t realized that she was seeking the same thing. He just hadn’t cared to listen closely enough. You are dead inside! You can't feel anything real! It hadn’t been him she’d yelled about that night, he’d felt that. But he hadn’t gotten it then that she was referring to herself. That she was the one who couldn’t feel anything real, even though she’d told him before.
And instead of helping her feel alive again not only with her body, he’d pressed and pushed and torn at her. He was no better than her friends.
A hot wave of guilt and regret and shame washed though him; all he’d done was add fuel to the flames. He’d wanted to help, and he’d made it worse.
Christ. What had he done?
And then he heard more words gushing out from under the heap that was her, muffled, but piercing his ears nonetheless; and if he had thought his heart had broken for her before, he knew better now. Now he felt it splintering into thousands of tiny little pieces.
“I wanted to go back to heaven so badly. I feel its pull ever since I…since they brought me here. Nothing but that, actually.” A bitter laugh gurgled out of her. “But I resisted, because, how could I be so weak, so selfish, and disappoint all of them? Dismiss my duty as slayer? Just go away, only because I didn’t like it in this world? But here…it’s so strong here, Spike. And I’m so terribly afraid that I can’t resist any longer and in the end I’ll still fail them…”
She had sacrificed her supposed shot at happiness, day after day, minute after bleedin’ minute. Fighting against the temptation, until there was nothing left. Alone. For her duty and the happiness of those who had stolen it from her. Had been strong, as everyone always expected her to be. And the weight on her shoulders, all those expectations she thought she had to measure up to, but couldn’t, the doubts she had about herself were about to eventually be too much, to break her like a twig.
Fear gripped his heart when he thought about what she maybe would’ve considered as a real help all those weeks. He knew that he would’ve failed her anyway, because even if he’d known, he would’ve never encouraged her to let go, no matter how strongly she wished for that kind of help.
But he could’ve been there for her differently.
He wasn’t aware that the same kind of tears were running over his shocked face as over hers when he fell to his knees. Trembling hands hesitantly reached for her, hovering over her still form, crumbled on the ground in a lifeless heap. ”Buffy…” He wasn’t even sure if he’d really said it. She didn’t react, so maybe he hadn’t. His fingertips tentatively touched her, so lightly that he didn’t know whether or not she felt it. Palms followed fingers, always waiting for the inevitable fist connecting with his face; and when she still didn’t move, he shifted a little closer first, gliding down then, curling his body around her, his arms encircling her. Giving her shelter with his whole self.
It was when life came back into her. It started with a soft tremble, and within seconds it erupted to body shaking sobs.
She cried for a long time, whimpering, howling, sobbing. He couldn’t remember that he’d ever witnessed someone crying like that, and he knew it was the crying she’d held in for months bursting out now.
He felt incredibly helpless. All he could do was be there now, and it didn’t by far feel sufficient; felt suspiciously like too little, too late. He pressed his face into her hair, holding her, trying to surround as much of her as possible, until finally the crying ceased.
“I’m so sorry.”
And he was. The evil vampire, well known throughout the supernatural world for ruthlessness, mayhem and slaughter, felt so sorry for the girl in his arms that his guts churned. For what he had done to her and for what he hadn’t; for what she was going through; for her having friends that were so smart that they found a way to bring her back, but not smart enough to know from where. For not being the man she’d needed him to be, but only the monster instead. Most of all he was sorry for the one time she had trusted him, and he had failed her. Had he not failed her that night, she wouldn’t have had to jump.
It was the mess he’d made that she had to live through now, and he was so incredibly sorry.
He said it so quietly that he didn’t know if she’d heard it.
It didn’t matter. He’d needed to say it.