But here is at least the next chapter. 18 posted, one to go...
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.
Awake my soul
(Title from a song by Mumford and Sons)
He lands right in front of her, so close that she could touch him, feel him, if it wasn’t for her bound hands. He stares at her hungrily; hungry for her blood, but not just that. She can see that he also hungers for the kill.
The growl turns into a vicious snarl, the most animalistic sound she had ever heard from him. It should scare her to death.
It doesn’t. She’s eerily calm.
“Spike,” she says. “Look at me.”
Which seems redundant, really, because he does. He devours her with his eyes. They narrow dangerously, then glide along her face, down to her neck; his lips are drawn back, his fangs on full display. Eyes glued to her pulse point, he suddenly darts forward, his hands grab her by her shoulders and pull him closer to her, but it’s not her neck he’s going for. It’s the shallow cut on her cheek. His tongue laps up the blood that trickled down a few inches and hasn’t dried yet, and for a moment, the growl fades into a contented purr. And then it grows louder, greedier, his head moves eventually down and she feels his teeth on her neck, ready to sink in.
“Spike.” It’s not much more than a reflex that she says his name again, and yet she never doubts that he listens, the knowledge that he always does too deeply rooted in her subconscious. She doesn’t speak loudly or sharply, it’s just her saying his name.
He stills. The growling doesn’t.
“Spike, look at me,” she repeats. She feels him tensing against her and his head comes up, and for the first time she detects something like confusion in his demonic face. But after a brief glance into her face, his eyes wander back to her neck.
“No, not there. Look up,” she says. “Look at me.”
His eyes snap back to hers; the growl stops.
“Now listen.” She inhales deeply, holding his eyes with hers in a tight grip. “I know you. You won’t hurt me.”
“What?” Distantly she hears Warren shout at them. “Yes you will! Of course you will. Hurt her! That’s all you want to do!”
She feels Spike straining to look at the boy, but she doesn’t let him. She holds his eyes with everything she has.
“I know you. I’ve seen you, for longer than I wanted to admit. And I know you won’t hurt me. Because you’re in there, and you’re strong.”
“Kill her already!” Warren howls, put out that it takes that long for the vampire to attack.
She doesn’t listen, and she feels that Spike doesn’t either. He’s riveted to her. She doesn’t know where the words she utters keep coming from, but the second they fall from her lips she knows they are true, and she knows it’s what keeps him with her.
“You’re strong,” she repeats, “Stronger than the demon. You’ve always been. It’s your humanity. It’s not the soul. You don’t need the soul for not wanting to kill me. All you need is you, and you’re still there. Nobody can take that away from you. I trust you, Spike.”
The game face melts away, and he still stares at her, with his eyes completely blue. His lips move, but no sound comes out. She still knows what he says.
“I’m here,” she says. “With you.”
And then the vampiric face is back again, and once more he growls.
“That’s right. Kill her!” Warren yells.
And Spike turns to the left, to the side where the boy stands cheering him on, and lunges. He goes for his neck in a heartbeat, throws the boy down to the ground and practically sits on him while his fangs sink in deeply. Instead of drinking from him though, he rips a large piece of Warren’s neck away, diving in again and again. She sees him jerk away repeatedly, zapped back from the chip, the constant growling and snarling turning into agonized howls, and she sees him shaking in pain; but after a few instances he always ignores it and continues to rip Warren’s neck apart. Blood splashes around Spike, but he’s not interested in it. He only seems to care about the screams he elicits, the fear he can smell and probably taste, too, and when the screams are beginning to quiet down, when the arms thrashing around are getting weaker, only then does he slow down.
That’s when she hears music. A quick glance tells her it’s panpipes blown by Andrew, and she’s shocked to realize that he seems to be using it to control the demon she completely forgot about, but which is still standing just a few steps away from her and now begins to move.
Andrew pauses with the flute, and now she can see how shocked he is too. Tears are streaming down his face at the view of his dying friend, but a desperate fury has mingled into his fear.
“Go! Stop him! Kill the vampire! Kill him,” he yells, and then he blows the flute again. The demon does as he’s ordered; he stomps over to Spike and with just one hand grabs him at his duster and lifts him up without any visible effort.
“No!” She shouts from the top of her lungs, but the demon doesn’t react. He hurls Spike away from Warren’s writhing body and follows him with a few long strides. Buffy tries to yank her hands free with all her power, but to no avail; even with all their arguing these boys still managed to tie her to the post in a rather unbreakable fashion.
But Spike’s back on his feet again, if still shakily. When the demon attacks, it’s received with a blow in its face, and a roundhouse kick against its head follows. It strikes back, and Spike finds himself, again, flying through the air, landing some feet away. He struggles to his feet and charges the next second, and the demon retaliates. The demon attacks and Spike fends it off as well as he can. There are flying kicks and blows and headbutts, but whatever Spike tries, the demon stands steadfast.
Buffy can see that Spike’s losing power; he’s not back to his full strength yet, additionally the merciless chip weakened him considerably, and the demon is exceptionally strong. The longer she watches, the more her stomach turns into stone and her hands clench into fists, because Spike is fighting for his life before her eyes, and she can’t do a thing.
When she feels someone at her back, at first she thinks she’s imagining things, wishing so strongly to be free to join in the fight. Then she realizes it’s real - there’s someone fumbling at her ankles.
“Yeah, it’s me. I think it’s best when you’re free again. You know.”
He briefly looks up, but averts his eyes instantly when hers meet them. He cuts the bonds piece by piece until she’s free again. She straightens and jumps into the fray, and not a minute too early. She can see that Spike is at the end of his tether. His face is bleeding from multiple cuts, some of them new, some of them reopened cuts from the beating he took from Warren. He also seems kind of dizzy; he shakes his head to clear it, only to start the next attack.
But this time, Buffy’s there. She rushes the demon from behind, jumps high in the air and lands multiple fast, good kicks against his head. When she lands back on the ground, Spike takes over and punches the demon in the guts. He buys Buffy time to grab the two-by-four Warren used earlier and, with all her force, drive it through the demon’s chest.
It topples like a felled tree.
She sees Spike slumping to his knees, as if the only thing holding him up was the will to survive. Now he has a hard time to even stay upright. He’s still in his vampire disguise, never lost it even for a second; all she sees, though, is that he’s still there. She sees him tremble, and she’s sure it’s not just exhaustion; it’s the man fighting the demon within. The next moment, she’s also on her knees, though she can’t remember when she fell down, and approaches him with her hands outstretched.
He snarls at her ferociously, snapping his fangs in her direction, but she just ignores it. She’s not afraid. Not of him. She’s never been.
She catches his hand that tries to grab her and holds it still. She reaches for his other hand, takes it in hers, and for a moment he doesn’t resist.
“Spike. I’m here with you. Come back.”
He answers her with a growl, his head snapping toward her, and he’s again on the edge of attacking her. Her hands are suddenly empty, because he yanked himself free from her grip, and just like earlier he grabs her shoulders, hauling her toward him.
But before he can lower his head toward her neck, her hands come up and cup his cheeks, and at her touch he freezes. She holds his face between her palms, dipping her head to search for his eyes until the golden yellow meets bright green.
“Spike.” Again just his name, and again with that tenderness she’s slowly getting used to hearing in her own voice.
A shudder runs through him, and then she sees what she never thought possible - from one demon eye, like from a deep cavern, leaks a tear.
That’s when several things happen simultaneously. She hears Warren mumbling something, which she can’t quite catch but sounds like ‘kill them’ and ‘bastard’. Andrew, who had been captivated by the drama in front of him, lets out a squeal and darts to his friend whom he probably presumed to be dead. The Mala’hla demon, also not dead yet, recovers enough to pick itself up. Spike’s head whips around, and before Buffy can comprehend a thing, he jumps to his feet and takes in a fighting stance, instinctively positioning himself between Buffy and the staggering demon. But instead of following Warren’s orders, the demon turns and staggers to where one boy lies and the other hovers over him. It grunts, shoves Andrew out of the way, falls to his knees and grabs Warren’s head between its large hands. And then it twists.
The sickening sound of a breaking neck echoes through the darkness, and then the demon falls over the corpse of the boy and lies still.
And into the complete silence that follows, Buffy hears a new voice.
“Oh my God!”
She turns her head and sees Xander and Dawn, wide awake, both still tied up but sitting, staring at the scenery, her sister shell-shocked.
She hears a whimper beside her. She looks at Spike and sees the same shock she just saw on her sister’s face, his amber eyes flitting from the demon to Xander and Dawn to her. For a second, their eyes meet.
This time, it’s his turn to run.
Dawn’s emotions are all over the place afterward. She flings her arms around Buffy’s neck, glad to have her back. She’s concerned about Spike, shocked about Warren’s death, yet super pissed about his evilness at the same time. She’s never seen a human behaving so ruthlessly and viciously before, and Buffy doesn’t think her sister is the least bit sorry about him being dead in the end. She makes a mental note about talking to Dawn later regarding the wrongness of revenge and the purpose of human laws.
Mostly though, Dawn is apologizing.
“I’m so sorry, Buffy! It was our fault, we brought this on! We should’ve been more careful with the orb, more secretive, you know? We didn’t even think to thoroughly check the place for nosy spectators before we opened the portal!” She sniffles, not letting go of her sister’s arm. “But it took us two days to get the damned orb. Anya told us not to worry, that time runs much slower in this dimension, but we didn’t really know, right? I’m so sorry!”
Buffy wraps her arm around Dawn’s shoulder and gently steers her toward Xander’s car. “It’s okay, Dawnie,” she soothes. “You did right. You couldn’t know that they would try something like that. You saved us!” She smiles at her upset sister. “Today, you are my hero!”
A tentative smile lights up Dawn’s face. “Really?”
“Yes, really. Without you, we never could have left the portal. How did you even know?”
Dawn hesitates; she knows her sister too well to think she’d forget that she ordered her to stay at home and opts for skipping the leaving-home-disobeying-Buffy’s orders part entirely.
“I saw you two in the portal, and I saw them close it. I ran like hell back home and dialed Xander’s number about a thousand times until he finally answered the phone.” At the sharp look Buffy shoots her, she hastens to add, “I know I should’ve just called the others, but I couldn’t reach any of them! So what, I should’ve just sat around growing my hair? And it was good that I went after you, right? Otherwise you’d be stuck in there forever! Or, or maybe they would’ve opened the portal and killed you, right? I couldn’t lose you again, Buffy! I couldn’t.”
Her face contorts to a mask of desperation, and Buffy is rendered disarmed. She suddenly knows that Dawn is right; she’s not a kid anymore. She can’t expect her to sit around and do nothing, not with everything she’s already been through. And she did everything right. She was brave enough to follow her to investigate and smart enough to not get caught and get help instead.
Buffy feels something rise in her that she hasn’t felt toward anyone for a long time. And with sudden clarity she knows who is responsible for kicking that particular door down.
She slings both her arms around Dawns shoulders and pulls her into a tight embrace. “I told you already, you did right, Dawnie. I mean it. You had a decision to make, and you made the right one. I’m awfully proud of you.”
“What?” Dawn struggles to break free from the hug, keeping her sister at arm’s length and eying her warily. “Are you okay?”
Buffy grins at her. “Yeah. Well, at least I’m getting there. And I really mean it.” Her face turns stern then. “That doesn’t mean that you’re going to go on patrol with me. But I guess it couldn’t hurt to show you a few moves. Only to protect yourself, of course,” she continues to dampen the squees her sister lets out.
She catches sight of Xander’s expression and is surprised by his approval. For a moment, while she pushes Dawn into the car and gets in herself, she wonders if she should feel so happy about it. Then she shrugs it away; she simply is, because it felt nothing like fulfilling someone’s expectations. And Xander respects her decision. She’s not even sure he really likes it; she just feels he understands and approves, no matter what he thinks would be right. That is new, and it feels – good.
Half an hour later, Dawn is asleep and Xander is back with some beer for himself and soda for Buffy. They sit on bar stools in the kitchen, and Buffy waits.
She knows he’s going to ask, and surprisingly she’s okay with it. Something shifted between them, and she doesn’t think it’s only her. So she waits.
“Dawn’s asleep?” he asks, fiddling with the bottle’s label.
Buffy nods. “Yes.” She braces herself and then dives in, head first. She stills his hand with hers and catches his eyes. “You don’t have to beat around the bush, Xan. I know you want to ask something. Go ahead.”
Xander looks at her for a moment, surprise in his face, then he gulps down some of his beer and resumes fiddling with the label again before it bursts out of him.
“What the hell happened back there, Buffy?”
“What did you see?”
“I was being held by the ugly red chunk and saw Dawn handing Warren the orb. And then I woke up, bound at hands and feet, to the sight I always warned you about. He attacked you, Buffy.”
She sighs. She tilts her head back and throws a glance at the ceiling, then closes her eyes to collect herself. She draws in a deep breath and turns back to Xander.
“You trusted him, despite everything you know, and he thanked you by attacking you.”
He’s surprisingly calm, and she wonders whether he revels in having been right. But then she detects the uncertainty flickering in his eyes and she pulls herself together. He has no clue of what really occurred tonight.
“You have seen what happened after that.”
He drinks again and turns his confused face to her. “And that’s what doesn’t make any sense,” he says, furrowing his brows. “I feel like I should wonder why he stopped, but actually I wonder why he even started in the first place, what with the eternal love for you he always professes, and with the chip in his head going wild, you know? Man, he’s neutered, right? I have to say, even though I never forgot what he was, I kinda got used to him being harmless and being - being there, you know? A pain in all our asses, but harmless, and - harmless. And then suddenly he attacks you of all people. And later…” He trails off, shrugging helplessly. “What happened, Buffy?”
“They forced him to.”
“Forced him? I didn’t think anyone could force Spike to turn against you, after Glory.” He frowns bewilderedly at that concession to the extent of the vampire’s feelings for her coming out of his mouth, but he lets it slide. So does she.
“No, I didn’t either. And what’s more, I’m pretty sure he didn’t ever expect someone could.” She leans a little closer. “And I know nobody would even have to think about trying without the help of magic.”
Xander’s brows go up. “Magic? Oh.” He averts his eyes, but she still sees the hint of disappointment that scurries over his face before it’s gone. “Okay, I guess that explains it. But the chip would’ve zapped him back anyway, and the scumbags knew it. Dawn told me Warren found out and beat the crap out of him before he shoved him into the portal. Why did they even bother to try?”
Buffy sighs; it’s time. She knows she can’t hold it back any longer. She is done with the whole secrecy thing, and she hopes she’s ready to deal with the fallout. She inhales once more, and then she looks him in the eyes.
“Because they also knew that the chip didn’t take with me anymore. They saw us fight right before we got caught in the portal the first time around.”
There it is again, that urge to run and hide. But she doesn’t. She waits, silently, nervously picking at her fingernails.
“Wait, what? The chip didn’t work with you? Since when? Buffy, we have to do something about it.” He grabs her arm, clearly on the verge of jumping into action instantly.
“Since you…since I came back.” She chuckles unhappily. ”But I didn’t come back wrong or, you know, a demon, or some such thing. Just an itsy-bitsy smidgen different. Just so that the chip couldn’t read me as human. We found out after Willow’s forgetting spell.” She peels his fingers off her arm and cradles his hand in hers. “He never attempted anything, Xander. Even though he had countless opportunities. He never even vamped out when we –“
She stops, suddenly aware of what she almost let slip, unsure whether she’s really ready for it. Or Xander for that matter, who flinches the instant he realizes what she just stopped at. He looks at her, and she hates to see the expression on his face, this mixture of suspicion, incredulity and hurt. “When you - what?”
He speaks slowly, quietly too, as if not sure if it isn’t a mistake, if his hunch doesn’t come true when he asks louder. Only when he sees her leaning away from him, seeking physical distance to him, he asks again, and now it’s urgency she hears loud and clear; the urgency not to tell her the wrong thing. “When you what, Buffy?”
She shudders. And then she decides to finally jump off that cliff.
“When we slept together.”
It comes out as a whisper, but Xander backs away from her as if she’d yelled at him, his expression turning to one of utter disgust for a moment. He glides off his stool and stands behind it, using it as a shield between them to fortify the distance. For a moment she thinks he’s leaving. Leaving her behind with the shards of their friendship.
But he stays.
When he speaks again, his voice is hoarse, as if not used for days. “Why the hell would you do that?”
He’s not angry. He’s disappointed, she sees that, but not as much as she dreaded him to be.
“For brief periods of time, he made me -- feel again,” she whispers, and she can hear how pathetic that sounds.
“Made you feel what exactly?” The anger that wasn’t there before begins slowly to creep in his voice, and she wonders whether it’s directed at her or at Spike. She doesn’t answer immediately, doesn’t know how to explain what she herself doesn’t understand in its whole crappy mess. And then suddenly the anger is there, in his eyes, in his furrowed brows, in his steps around the stool to grab her shoulder. “Tell me what Spike made you feel, Buffy. What he could give you that none of us, of your friends, could’ve given you, too.”
“Anything,” she whispers and hesitantly meets his eyes. She reels back at the sheer fury she’s hit with by them and shrugs his hand off her shoulder. It’s then that it finally bursts out of her. Like a tidal wave it crashes over them, and now she’s not whispering any longer.
“Spike made me feel anything, Xander! Something I couldn’t on my own, after you pulled me out, and he was the only one who saw it! My friends were expecting me to be grateful, to be happy that they had saved me, and even after they knew where they had torn me from, they never made any attempt to be really there for me. To help me get used to this world again. Not one of you, Xander. You were much too preoccupied by feeling guilty, making it impossible for me to show what I really felt like. The only times I didn’t have to hide were when I was with the vampire I used to hate.”
She pauses, almost panting from her outbreak, and watches his face change.
“And Spike took advantage of your trust.”
“No, Xander, he didn’t!” She all but yells, not caring about her sister sleeping upstairs. “He never was anything but a friend to me. I was the one who took advantage of him! I took advantage of his love and his devotion! I was the one who jumped his bones!”
It’s completely quiet after that, the thunderous silence after a storm, and it leaves them both stunned. Xander stares at her, shocked by her outburst as much as by her words, and watches while all the anger drains out of her and leaves her like a deflated balloon.
It takes him a long while to find his voice again, and when he does, it’s not much more than a whisper. “Why didn’t you tell me?” he asks, and she sees he’s more wounded than anything.
“You wouldn’t have wanted to hear it,” she says.
“You never even tried me,” he replies softly.
She looks at him, and suddenly she knows he’s right, and Spike was too. She never tried one of her friends, because she was so sure they couldn’t deal. Maybe it was a mistake, she thinks and nods. “Well, you know now.”
He swallows. “Were you…were you in love with him?” He looks awfully like he’s in a trial, like he’s not sure he gave the right answer, only it’s her response he’s not so sure will be right.
She shakes her head and closes her eyes for a moment. “No. I only used him.”
Xander snorts, and for a moment, he’s exactly the Xander she expected him to be after the bombshell she just dropped. “Jeez, I bet he was happy to be of service.”
She’s not surprised, and she knows it’s mostly a diversion tactic disguised as sarcasm, to not be forced to look closer at her part in that whole ordeal, but it irks her nonetheless. “No, Xander, he wasn’t. I hurt him. A lot. And I don’t mean just physically.” She sees something shift in his face, sees him reluctantly allowing himself to maybe consider his one-sided view of things, and closes the distance between them, both by stepping closer and by talking.
“I know you don’t want to hear it, but he loves me. He did last year, and he still does. It never mattered that the chip didn’t work on me anymore. He would never intentionally do anything to hurt me. You saw that tonight, didn’t you?”
He tries to draw back, but she doesn’t let him. This is too important to her, that he finally hears the truth and doesn’t leave her after. That he accepts seeing her climbing from the pedestal he put her on and still calls himself her friend.
He swallows. It’s a lot to take in, and she can see him struggling, fighting his impulse to throw it back at her. He tries, and she’s grateful.
“I saw him attacking, and then he stopped,” he whispers, “and I have no idea why. Please, Buffy, tell me what happened.”
“I never doubted that he’d stop,” she says quietly. When she continues, her voice gets hard. “They did a spell to bring forth his demon, and to take away his humanity. Everything that makes Spike who he is, the way he thinks, the way he feels – they took that away from him. What was left was not much more than an animal. But they underestimated how strong the humanity in him still is. How strongly he feels.” She doesn’t notice that the tone of her voice changes again, unknowingly glides into the well-known tenderness. “How strongly he loves. I only had to remind him. That was all it took to break the spell.”
Xander is visibly taken aback. “He broke a spell placed on him? In that condition? That seems unbelievable.”
“You saw it yourself, Xander.”
“I don’t know what I saw, Buffy. That’s just it, I…”
“Then trust me,” she interrupts him, her eyes boring into his, urging, pleading. Trust me, even after everything I just told you, they say. He’s silenced. Then he bows his head.
“I do. What you just told me is hard to believe. But I do trust you.”
“That means a lot.” She feels tears of relief forming in her eyes; it’s been so long that one of her friends, especially Xander, trusted her not just with being super-heroy, but also with her day-to-day decisions, especially her decisions concerning her personal life. All the more since all things Spike have always been a sore spot with Xander anyway.
But then he lifts his head again and meets her eyes head-on. “And now tell me what you mean with ‘we got caught in the portal the first time around’.”
She completely forgot the story she told them back then. She’s tempted for a second to backpedal, tell him that she misspoke and meant her, not them. She thinks of Spike; who risked everything to save her, who forfeited his nature, just for her, and she can’t.
“We got caught in there together.” She speaks calmly, despite the turmoil inside her. And suddenly she realizes – it’s important to her that Xander knows. What’s more, if he doesn’t like it, she can live with that. She just hopes he can, too.
From then on she feels liberated. She’ll tell him what happened; it’ll be his decision what he makes of it. “I couldn’t leave it, but he could. And he figured out a way to get me out. He left, but only to come back later and save me.”
She pauses, but Xander interrupts the brief silence. “You never told us how you got out in the first place; and now you’re telling me that he saved you? I don’t understand,” he says, and she can tell that, even though he tries to make it sound challenging, he’s more surprised than anything.
She laughs, again that unhappy sound. “You and me both. I still don’t how he did it. But I know he’s not been cursed. He did something else to get it.” Worrying her lower lip between her teeth, she loses herself in thought for a moment. She remembers the images she got from Spike when they fused their souls, and she realizes that she does know. “I think he fought for it.” She’s startled when Xander reels back.
“You mean…” He can’t even finish the sentence.
Oh, right, she hadn’t mentioned the soul part yet. “Yes.” She grabs Xander’s hands, clutching them like a life line, her hands betraying how deeply shaken she still is by what this vampire did for her. “Xander. He did it to save me from the portal, but I think that’s not the only reason. I think there’s more to it.”
There’s a long silence before Xander dares to break it. “You mean he got his soul? Willingly?”
“That’s exactly what I mean,” she says, and she can hear it herself, how tiny her voice sounds all of a sudden.
“Wow.” He leans back and breathes out. And then they are both quiet for a long time. Until again Xander is the one to break the silence.
“That’s a little like a demon turned human,” he says softly, “only…better.”
She looks at him, not trusting what she heard. “Xander?”
Xander stares at his bottle for a while, then downs the rest of the liquid in it. He stands up, walks over to the fridge, takes out another bottle. He discards the empty bottle, opens the new one, takes a draft. Then he finally sits on the bar stool again. During all that, Buffy quietly observes him, dreading his next step.
And then it comes.
“Are you now?”
That’s even worse than she dreaded, because of course she knows what he means. But he misinterprets her silence, her round eyes.
“You said you weren’t. Past tense. Are you now?”
She stares at him, still at a loss for words. He sighs.
“Buffy,” he says, his voice soothing like one would use with a frightened child, “a blind man could see that something changed between you two. You changed. So, let’s pretend for a second we haven’t been best friends for almost 6 years,” he says, “and more importantly, let’s pretend I haven’t been majorly wigged out by the bleached vampire from day one. Say I’m a total stranger who doesn’t know anything about vampires and slayers and stuff at all. Say I’m this dashing stranger, who is totally going to take your secrets away with him on his long and winding road. What would you tell me?”
She pulls her shoulders up, rubs her hands like she is cold. How can he do this to her? Ask her these questions she doesn’t know the answers to, she doesn’t want to know?
He grabs her hands, taking them into his big, warm ones. “Buffy.”
“What?” she whispers.
“What would you tell that stranger?”
“I don’t know…”
It’s barely audible, and she’s sure it tells him more than shouting the unknown truth could have told him.
He gently lets go of her hands, takes in a deep breath and straightens, and then he grins. A good old Xander grin, albeit a little strained. “If I were you, I’d go looking for him. He did seem a little out of it when he dashed away. Maybe he’d like to hear that you don’t know. “
“What? You’re not giving me the whole if-he’s-not-the-guy speech again, are you?”
He looks at her, and she can see that a lot happens behind those eyes. “You hit me, on behalf of Spike of all people.” She cringes; they never really talked about it, and it hurts her just like him. “It hurt. Not just physically. It hurt in here.” He snatches her hand back and places it on his chest, and she feels his heart race. That’s when she knows, he is as much on unknown territory as she is.
“It was Anya who built me up again. She also said some cryptic things about Spike and you, things I didn’t understand then. But I think I do now. I think she helped him somehow, to do what he had to do to save you. When Dawn yelled something about a portal and you and Spike vanishing in it, Anya just shrugged and began to use her contacts to get this orb thingy. I guess it wasn’t the first time.” He pauses, and she doesn’t dare make a sound. “What I want to say with this is - something struck me when she told me those things, and now I know. It was one demon turned human helping another one with it. Well, not turning human, but, you know. Buffy, she understood him in ways I never even tried. They have something in common that I will never understand. But – I love her. And I trust her.”
Buffy sits very still.
“I held back much too long with what I felt for the ex-demon in my life. For a long time, I didn’t see the efforts she made to adjust; at the very least, I didn’t appreciate them. I’m not making that mistake again. If Anya sees something in him worth caring for, I’m gonna trust her on this.”
He squeezes her hand still placed on his chest before laying it back on the counter beside them.
“But what’s more, if you think there’s something in him worth hitting me, I’m gonna trust your judgment.” He smiles sadly. “I’m not going to make this mistake again either.”
She’s speechless for a long while. Then she draws in a breath like being on the edge of drowning, and she also feels like that. But slowly, breathing is getting easier.
“So you basically send me on my way to do, what?” Her eyes are rooted to his face, big and round and kind of helpless. But he just smiles that sweet little sad smile again.
“I’m not sending you anywhere, Buffy. I just try to accept that it’s your life you’re living, not ours. Even if we were the ones forcing you to live it again. Especially then.” A look of guilt washes over his features. “Buffy, -”
“Don’t.” It’s her lifting her hands to cup his this time. “Nothing to feel guilty for. Not anymore.” Her eyes drift away from him, somewhere in the distance she knows he can’t follow. They follow her mind’s eye that is flooded with images she didn’t yet talk about, and she knows she’s not going to. She sees herself clinging to Spike in the portal, shaken by fear to give in to the pull. She sees the makeshift ties he bound her with, remembers the smell that kept her grounded enough to not crawl through the veil. Sees him in the crypt, nearly insane, and feels again the fear she felt then, the fear of losing him, even when she didn’t know yet the reason for his insanity. Sees him struggling to keep his humanity, even though some monsters put a spell on him to get rid of it.
She feels relief coursing through her, and she chuckles quietly. “I guess I’m over it.”
She looks up to her friend again, and she feels that something profoundly changed. Between the two of them, but more importantly inside herself. And it’s not just the newfound will to live her life, to finally view it as second chance.
She rises to her feet and steps beside her friend. She hugs him fiercely, until he gasps and reminds her that, again, she lapsed at controlling her strength. “Thank you, Xander.”
He wraps his arms around her and holds her, and it feels so good, so much like coming home, that a contented sigh escapes her. When they separate after a while, Buffy feels one more piece of herself slip into place, just like that.
Xander clears his throat. “I’m gonna call it a night and head home,” he says, and she gets it. It’s a lot to take in, and she can see that he’s not entirely at ease with what he just decided; she finds that she doesn’t care. He made that decision, that’s all that counts. She nods.
“Yeah. It’s late anyway. I’m gonna turn in, too.”
He nods, gulps down the remaining contents of the bottle, dumps it in the trash can and follows her to the front door. He snatches his jacket from the hook and hugs her again.
“Sleep tight,” he says.
They both know, neither of them will.