Let Me Be Lonely
It’s been another hard night – shakes and need and nausea. Not that the day was any better, though it’s hard to remember anything except the call of the magic and snatches of conversation she thinks she did a passable job of pretending to listen to.
A bitter voice inside whispers that she gets away with the act only because no one really cares as long as she doesn’t make trouble for them. She’s been fighting that voice from the beginning, telling herself it will get softer and then go away.
It never does.
Maybe it’s even gotten louder. She’s not sure because it was pretty loud to begin with.
Okay, what is she doing in the cemetery? She doesn’t even remember leaving the house. Wasn’t she just vomiting up her minimal dinner? And hadn’t she been in her pajamas? But she’s dressed now, isn’t she? Yeah. Jeans, t-shirt, jacket. No stake, though. Why didn’t she bring a stake? Because there’s a vampire staring at her. It takes her a second to realize that she knows him.
Oh. It’s Spike. “Hey,” she says softly. “Fancy meeting you here.” She tries hard to sound cheerful and perky – just like she’s supposed to. Be a good girl and don’t make anyone worry. Not that Spike would ever worry. She’s pretty sure he doesn’t care one way or the other as long as she doesn’t hurt Buffy. Speaking of hurt… “Did you get in a fight?” His face is bruised and there’s some blood at the corner of his mouth. It never occurs to her to wonder if he got his bite back. She knows he’s wounded.
He just stares, sullen. It’s a long way from when… Huh. Maybe not. Because even when Buffy was dead, they had never gotten very close. She’d meant to try and be a better friend to him, but there was always Dawn to worry about and Xander to console and Tara and… Yeah, one more failure for Willow. “I guess you’d rather be alone so I’ll just…”
“Magic too much for you?” he spits out, venom in every word.
She shakes her head. She doesn’t need this. “I’m going, okay? Sorry I trespassed in your precious cemetery.” She turns to leave but is stunned into stopping when he grabs her arm. When was the last time someone touched her?
It wouldn’t take much to get away seeing as how his chip keeps him from hurting her – physically, anyway – but she stays. Maybe he just wants to snark at her, but at least he wants her around. Funny, but that means something all of a sudden. She waits for the voice to say something, but it’s strangely silent and the wind whistling softly through the trees is the only sound she hears. “Are you okay?” she asks, turning to face him and trying again.
This time he shrugs. “It’ll heal,” he says and even though she knows it’s true, she realizes he’s lying – not about his face, but about something. Why aren’t they friends? If they were friends, he could tell her… and she could tell him, too.
Instead, she says, “Yeah, time heals everything.”
A snort of laughter echoes off the gravestones. “Believe that, do you?”
“No,” she admits, “but everyone says it, so…”
“Then everyone’s a bloody useless wanker.” She nods because, really, he’s right, isn’t he? Time doesn’t do anything except pass.
“I should probably go home,” she says again, uncomfortable with the honesty – and oddly, with the way things have changed in her head. Getting used to this would be bad.
“Think they even know you’re gone?” The venom is back.
“No. But I have stuff to do tomorrow.”
He snorts. “Yeah. You better rest up for that fat lot of nothing.”
What the hell is his problem? “Look. I’m sorry about Dawn, okay? How many times do I have to say it? Because I’ll say it that many more times if you want. And if I could go back and do things differently, I’d do that too. But I can’t. And I’m sorry.”
There are tears in her eyes and she feels weak and silly, but she’s tired – okay? – and she’s feeling the loss of that dinner in the emptiness at the pit of her stomach.
She hears him say something softly – something she’s pretty sure he didn’t want her to hear at all. “Going back. That’d be nice.” There’s a bitter longing in that near-whisper and she wishes she could ask him what it means. “Let’s go,” he says, suddenly, this time out loud, and he grabs her again – her hand this time – and drags her along as he heads in the directions of… the center of town? Why are they going there?
Obviously he knows what she wants to ask, but he just picks up the pace and she’s out of breath just trying to keep up with him and not wind up sprawled on the ground, so she can’t ask it.
A lot quicker than she’s used to, here they are. The Bronze. It’s closed and she realizes it’s later than she thought. Boy is she losing time. Looking back on her day, she has about an hour and a half of memory and she’s been up since six this morning. Or would that be yesterday morning? “Why are we here?” she asks once she’s caught her breath.
“This is where…” He stops. “Saw her here for the first time. You too. I remember you. Pretty sad excuse for a dancer, I’d say.”
Great. He just wants to insult her in a different venue. “I never got much chance to practice.” It’s a half-hearted defense, but she’s winded and tired and the emptiness of not-magic is whistling through her bones so it’s the best she can do.
He gives her a long look and she tries to understand what he means by it, but before she can, he’s rummaging through the debris in the alley. “What are you looking for?” she asks, kind of pointlessly since it seems he’s found it. A crowbar. With which he jimmies open the door.
They’re breaking into the Bronze? Why…?
“You need some dance practice,” he explains, and she doesn’t bother wondering if he read her mind. She’s too busy worrying about silent alarms and having to explain being arrested to a bunch of people who already think she’s evil. “Worried about the cops?”
“As a matter of fact, yes,” she says, wishing she’d either not said it or thought of a wittier version of it or something because now Spike will probably laugh at her.
“I’ll take the rap.” Should she be worried about her own naïveté? Because she believes him and she realizes that might be the stupi… okay, second stupidest thing she’s done this year.
He opens the door with an exaggerated flourish and motions for her to enter – she does, because it would be pretty rude to say no after he’s gone to all the trouble of committing a felony. “Thanks,” she says automatically. Guess part of her is still good, or something like that.
And there’s still silence where that whisper used to be.
He disappears into the darkness, but then he’s back and there’s that dim, nightclub light and she wonders how he knew where to find the switches. Her head hurts, though, when she tries to think. Perhaps that’s because she’s been trying so hard not to think lately – like about where Buffy really is at night since patrol and slaying never took so much time before and she’s not exactly ready for the Old Slayers Home yet, or about how everyone smiles just that little bit too broadly when they talk to her and Willow knows it means they’re still afraid or mad and just don’t say it, or how she’s expected to keep count of every day without magic and even though it’s supposed to make her feel accomplished it just makes everything harder, or… how Tara never commits to… committing again and Willow’s starting to feel this big, horrible fear that the whole ‘we still have a chance’ thing is a carrot at the end of a stick so long Willow will never, ever reach it.
Now her head really hurts. And Spike said something. Something she missed. Like she misses practically everything lately. “I’m sorry,” she says, before he can call her on it. “I kind of have this concentration problem. It’s not you. Really.”
He’s staring at her again and she realizes that he can see a lot better than she can. “Maybe it’s because no one’s paying attention to you.”
For sure he can see the tears in her eyes – the way he can see with more than his own eyes. She sort of almost hates him right now. “They do,” she argues weakly, not the least bit surprised when he starts laughing.
And she’s still wondering why he brought her here when the dancing thing was clearly an afterthought and a way to blame her for committing a violation of California Penal Code section… is it 459? It is 459, right? Commercial burglary? She knows this. She read the Penal Code for fun one summer.
“You keep telling yourself that.” He pauses and then approaches – no, ‘approaches’ is the wrong word. He’s stalking, moving towards her like some panther. She can see the bruises on his face still glowing in the dim light as they grow closer and closer.
A second later he’s up against her, one arm around her waist. “What…?”
“Teaching you to dance,” he says. He’s humming softly and she tries to put a name to the tune. It’s something she thinks maybe she heard in an old movie – something with… was it Doris Day? That’s it, Doris Day, only maybe she’s wrong because she’s seeing James Cagney in her mind’s eye and… They weren’t in a movie together, were they? Or were they?
“I’d rather be lonely than happy with somebody else,” he croons softly in her ear, and tears fill her eyes. That’s exactly how she feels about Tara. Then she remembers the pain that had never left his eyes the whole time Buffy had been dead.
“You know,” she whispers hoarsely, suddenly thinking that Buffy is so foolish for not giving him a chance.
“Yeah,” he chuckles, but it’s a bitter sound. Guess she can see why. His hand must be scorched from the torch he’s carried for so long.
“Someday,” she says, trying to be kind and hoping she’s being honest, “when things calm down and she’s ready, Buffy will…”
Now the laughter is a loud burst of something raucous and acid as he drops his hand from her waist. Willow pulls back, not sure what she feels. Betrayed, maybe, though she can’t quite understand why. For the second time tonight he grabs her hand and drags her somewhere, this time to the balcony. She wants to hold back, stand her ground, because the balcony is full of memories of Amy and magic and a road to this Hell of her own making, but she lets him lead her up the stairs. He guides her to stand at the railing, looking down, and he stands behind her.
“Remember when you all were here? The other night? Xander making an arse of himself and you wondering where Buffy’d gone off to?”
Willow tenses and she tries to turn, but Spike is pressed up against her and she forgets about the chip as she lets him trap her right where she is. “We were up here. She stared down at you the whole time. If you’d just looked up, you’d have seen…”
Oh god. They’d been… Oh god. “Those nights,” she says, her voice shaking, “the nights we thought she was out slaying, she was…”
“Shagging me.” His voice is an odd mix of preening triumph and painful shame. Neither is the sound of a man whose dream has come true.
“She never said… I just… Why?”
“Why what?” he spits out. “Why was she with me?”
Now she manages to turn and face him. “No! Why didn’t she tell us? I mean, you guys are a couple now, right? Did she think we wouldn’t accept you? Because hey, it’s not like she’s never dated…” She stops herself before she finishes the sentence, but it’s too late and she knows it. Angel is here now, solid and immobile and forever the brooding Romeo to Buffy’s uncomfortably-pining Juliet. “He’s gone,” she lies, “and you’re here. And just for the record, I am totally okay with you guys dating. I think you’ll be good for her.”
Whatever reply she expected, it wasn’t uncomfortable silence, but that’s what she gets and she doesn’t understand. “I mean it,” she adds, hoping it will fix this broken thing she can’t quite pinpoint.
“It’s not like that,” he says and there’s a finality that Willow knows she should just let be except… she can’t.
“But you love her.”
She sees a flash of yellow before she’s whipped around again, bent forward against the railing, breathing hard because she realizes she might just have hoped he was going to push her over and it had never occurred to her before now that maybe she… no, she doesn’t want to die, but she’s not too repelled by the idea of it either. A moment later, he’s pressed tight against her, thrusting, and it’s a lot scarier than the thought of dying was, that’s for sure.
“Feel this?” he asks, and she’s horrified that he’s hard, even though she has the oddest awareness that it has nothing to do with her.
“Y-yes,” she stammers out.
“That’s all she wants,” he says as he stops moving and lets her stand straight again, the words sounding broken and sad and nothing at all like those spoken by the yellow-eyed demon who’d molested her a moment ago.
What? Now she wants to cry again, not for herself, though. She can’t imagine what it would be like to love someone and know they only wanted you for what was between your legs. That, she realizes, would be even worse than being alone. “Love me or leave me,” she croons tunelessly from the song Spike had been singing a few minutes ago.
He turns her around, gently this time. “Sorry.” His eyes are downcast. “Shouldn’t have treated you that way.”
“You’re hurting,” she says, and it’s true. She more than forgives him – she feels everything but the compassion melt away as if it was never there. She focuses on that and not on the fact that her best friend, who she’s always put on sort of a pedestal, is doing something that’s maybe as bad and wrong as her own transgressions with magic.
“Not an excuse.”
What she wants to do is wrap her arms around him and tell him that she understands and that he doesn’t need an excuse because it was the only way he could tell her something so awful and she’s not mad. The words, though? They’re stuck. But she manages the embrace.
He clings to her like he’s drowning and she’s the only thing that can keep him from going under and it’s this good, terrible, sad, wonderful thing because it’s been a long time since anyone’s seen her as something pure and whole and rescuing. She guides him over to a couch and they don’t let go of each other as they awkwardly sit.
There aren’t any tears, none that she can detect, but sadness pours out of him anyway and she lets it inside, taking it from him, feeling it flow through her veins like blood.
After a time, he lets go and stands up, holding out his hand to her. “We better go. It’ll be sunup soon. Anyway, don’t think our luck will hold if we stay here.”
“No. And I don’t think my parents will pay my bail.”
Her hand in his, they head downstairs and out the door.
A block away she remembers that he forgot to turn off the lights, but it doesn’t really matter, does it, since the broken lock pretty much gives away the fact that someone broke in. Still… all that wasted electricity is environmentally unsound. She thinks for a moment of running back to turn them off and then…
“What’s that for?”
“I… you know the lights you left on? I didn’t think of turning them off with a spell. Well, I did now, but only in a ‘not thinking of doing it’ kind of way and…”
He’s smiling now and it tugs at this place in the pit of her stomach that’s sad and happy again. His hand is still around hers. “I’m proud of you, pet,” he says and it’s as sincere as anything anyone’s ever said to her.
There’s silence after that, real silence still, but the walk seems short anyway – to the cemetery, not the house. It’s close to daylight and besides, she doesn’t want to deal with what Buffy’s reaction would be if she saw her with Spike. “Thanks,” she says as they arrive at the door to his crypt.
He chuckles and kisses her cheek before his expression turns serious. “Thank you,” he says…and then he’s gone.
She leaves. As she heads back to - home? Buffy’s house? – wherever it is she sleeps and washes dishes and vacuums and babysits Dawn, she realizes that she still has so many questions: What about the bruises? Does Spike want her to help him with Buffy? And most of all, why did he trust her with his pain?
Guess she’ll have to ask next time they talk.
As she reaches the door to the house, she has no doubt that there will be a next time. There’s a silent peace inside that’s all Spike and she knows now that even if Tara never comes back to her – even if Buffy never realizes that loving Spike would be the best thing she ever did – she and Spike won’t have to be lonely at all.