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Safe In My Own Skin

Chapter Text

Seven



Looking down on empty streets, all she can see
are the dreams all made solid
are the dreams all made real

all of the buildings, all of those cars
were once just a dream
in somebody's head

she pictures the broken glass, she pictures the steam
she pictures a soul
with no leak at the seam

let’s take the boat out
wait until darkness
let's take the boat out
wait until darkness comes

nowhere in the corridors of pale green and grey
nowhere in the suburbs
in the cold light of day

there in the midst of it so alive and alone
words support like bone

dreaming of mercy st.
wear your inside out
dreaming of mercy
in your daddy's arms again
dreaming of mercy st.
'swear they moved that sign
dreaming of mercy
in your daddy's arms

pulling out the papers from the drawers that slide smooth
tugging at the darkness, word upon word

confessing all the secret things in the warm velvet box
to the priest-he's the doctor
he can handle the shocks

dreaming of the tenderness-the tremble in the hips
of kissing Mary's lips

dreaming of mercy st.
wear your insides out
dreaming of mercy
in your daddy's arms again
dreaming of mercy st.
'swear they moved that sign
looking for mercy
in your daddy's arms

mercy, mercy, looking for mercy
mercy, mercy, looking for mercy

Anne, with her father is out in the boat
riding the water
riding the waves on the sea



London, present day


Sunlight streamed through the trees, dappling the two playing in the courtyard. Two heads bent in concentration, the timbre of Spike’s low voice countered by the baby-soft babbles coming from Connor.

Buffy smiled as she watched them.

He might play at being tough and hardened by life, but she knew differently.

Knew the poet’s soul that hid behind the facade.

Knew how he ached for her.  For Connor.

He still fought guilt.  Fought shadows and demons only he could sense.

Believed himself guilty of a crime he hadn’t committed, blaming himself for all those that followed him into hell.

Buffy knew differently.

The guilty one – the devil who’d destroyed them both  – was to blame.

Not Will.

Mock explosions filled the air, Connor’s laughter startling the nearby birds to flight.

Her smile widened.

Despite their start, and the heartache that bonded them, life was good.

Connor whirled around, twirling and laughing, catching sight of her.  “Fee!”  He screamed, running straight for her.

“Fee!  Nook!  See twuck!”

Spike shook his head as the almost three year old wrapped his arms around Buffy’s knees, nearly knocking them both to the ground.

Buffy dropped down, caught up in the baby’s enthusiasm.

She looked over Connor’s head, her eyes unerringly finding Spike’s.  Mouthing ‘I love you’, Buffy hugged the toddler, then opened her arms to beckon her man closer.

They tumbled together on the grass, a tangle of limbs and laughter.

And Buffy knew life was good.


@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@


Sunnydale, two years in the past

Drained, spent, still feeling raw and exposed, Spike drew Buffy closer into his embrace.

His muscles jumped and shook, relaxing only when she clung to him.

“Don’t you see . . . if ‘d said somethin’, anythin’. . .”

Her finger brushed over his lips, silencing him.

Tears glinted in her eyes, though a tremulous smile played over her lips.

“No.  Don’t say it.  Don’t even think it.”  Her forehead dropped, replacing her finger.  “It was so not your fault.”

Silence washed over them as he tried to draw air past the lump in his throat.

“I found stuff. . .   Pictures and . . .  He’s been doing this for a long time, I think.”

Buffy straightened, looked into his eyes.  “We have the same monster.”

He could feel the rage building – the need to lash out – to bash and batter and utterly destroy surging through him.

“There was a girl with dark hair and pretty eyes and he took a picture of her, while . . . did stuff and . . he. . .”   She stopped speaking, trying to stem the tears.  “There was a date on the back.”

Spike reached up, forcing his hand to gentle, his fist to open and cup her cheek.  “Go on.”

“It was 1986.”

“Holy fuck.”  He didn’t want to ask.  Really, truly didn’t want to know, but he couldn’t hide anything from her, not anymore.  “What else was there?”

“Some other things.  Jewelry.  A couple of notebooks.  Um. . . a weird looking action figure.”  She shrugged, idly running her hand over his chest.  “A soccer jersey.”

Buffy sat up when he stiffened, her eyes searching his.  “Oh, no.  No.  Oh, Will.”

Something foul and inky dark. . .  a viscous, putrid, stinking mass of anger and hurt swirled in his belly, burbling and growing, threatening to overtake him.  He felt used and abused, his body remembering far more than his brain did, how the touch polluted him.

Will shied away from her, flinching as the sound of her hiccupped crying reached him.  He couldn’t stand to be so exposed, so . . .  His eyes closed and he fought his own tears.  Didn’t want her to see his weakness, his failings.  Couldn’t. . .

He pushed her away, exploding off the bed and into a flurry of agitated movement.  Can’t let her see . . .  Can’t.  Can’t show it. . .  Won’t show.  

A startled, pained yelp from the girl on his bed stopped his pacing.  He turned sorrow filled eyes to her, an apology rushing to his lips when he saw her.  “Oh, fuck, kitten.  ‘M sorry.  So sorry.  ‘S all m’fault.”

His hands righted her, helped her to sit and he didn’t dare look into her eyes, didn’t dare face the recrimination and disgust he knew would greet him.  Will sprung away from her before she could recoil, avoiding her too-knowing gaze.

He stood at the doorway, body poised for flight, chest heavy and gasping for untainted air.  Trying to flee from memories and her censure. . . to flee from himself.  He paused, more afraid to turn and face her than to run.  

He’d been running too long.  

Running from his pain.  Running from his memories. . .  wanting to hide the shame and fear and bury it in a hole.   

But he couldn’t leave her.  Couldn’t tear himself away from her.  

“Will?”  

Creaking and complaining, the bed squawked its protest as she moved and he flinched, hunching his shoulders.  Braced for her rejection and anger, he waited.

“Will. . . please, don’t. . .” Her voice cracked, faltered.  “Please, don’t leave me.  I. . . Will? Look at me, please?”

She was closer than he was comfortable with, standing right behind him.  Her hand reached out, brushing against his.  Of their own volition, his fingers captured hers, squeezing them.  

“You aren’t . . .   You have to stop blaming yourself.  He was a sick, twisted bastard long before you.”  The words were heated, vehement, and for all that, matter-of-fact.  

Will stared down at the floor, his mind blank, listening for once, to his heart.

If he walked away from her now, he’d never be this open again.  Never share with another person what he’d been through, what shaped his pain.  

And, he was suddenly afraid, he’d hurt her irreparably.

Gathering his courage, Will turned to face her.



@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@


Buffy couldn’t let him think he was the first.  Wouldn’t let him think that.

The list of things she’d found in a storage box in the attic creeped her.  Raised the flesh on her arms and the back of her neck, like ghostly fingers running across her skin.  It just confirmed everything she knew about him.

Liam Angelus.

Her sister’s husband.

Her tormentor.  

The sick, twisted, depraved demon who touched her.  The man who hurt and damaged everything he touched, tainting everything with his foulness.

She’d seen him when she was younger, smaller.  When he’d first appeared in their lives, tutoring her sister, who’d been home sick with mononucleosis.  Watched him warily as he fooled everyone. . .  Especially her sister.

Darla had been just stupid enough to believe him when he lied to her.

Even stupider when he swore he’d love only her.

And worse, when she turned a blind eye to what he did to her.   

So she told Will. . . told him about the pictures, the things – the trophies he’d kept.  Had to make him understand that he wasn’t the first, that her pain wasn’t his fault.  Would never be his fault.

Never, ever be his fault.

Wasn’t then, wouldn’t be now.

She hadn’t expected his reaction, though, when she told him about the soccer jersey.  Hadn’t realized . . . hadn’t even made the connection.

But, oh God, the look in his eyes, when the words left her mouth.  The pain, the . . .  Pain.

She couldn’t imagine how much it cost him to admit what had happened.  To be a man and to say the things he had, to have lived through what he had. . .   Buffy couldn’t . .

His pain constricted her heart, made her ache and weep for him.  

She wept, because she couldn’t not cry for the loss. . .  Couldn’t contain it inside.  Needed to shed the tears because he wouldn’t.

Her tears sparked something in him, set torch to some part of him that smoldered and burned, igniting him to fierce movement.  He exploded, shoving her roughly away, so hard she bounced, teetering on the edge of the mattress.  

Broken wrist halting her fall, Buffy yelped, though she tried to suppress it.  She rolled to her side, cradling the injured limb between her breasts.  Pain, lightening sharp and quick, lanced through her, blocking everything.  

Will was at her side in an instant, apologies tumbling from his lips, even as his hands sought to soothe away the pain.  His words meant nothing, not when her body, conditioned to accept a blow instead of a caress, flinched and shied from his touch.

“Oh, fuck, kitten.  ‘M sorry.  So sorry.  ‘S all m’fault.”

Too late she realized how her involuntary action wounded him.  Damage had already been done.

He stopped, paces from the door, poised and ready to flee, every line of muscle screaming with repressed anger and hurt.  

Oh God, he’s gonna leave me. . . and I can’t face this alone.  I can’t let him think that he’s nothing, that he’s worthless. . . that what happened makes him less than what he really is. . .  “Will?”

Please, don’t go. . . She moved, trying to get up before he fled.  “Will. . . please, don’t. . . Please, don’t leave me.  I. . . Will? Look at me, please?”

Buffy knew she was begging and didn’t care.  There was no way she was going to let him run. . .  Not when he’d taken on her shame.  Not when he’d saved her.  She reached for him, needing to share the strength he’d given her.  

Her fingers brushed across the back of his knuckles and let out a relieved sigh when his fingers grabbed hold of hers.

Searching for something to say, anything to make him understand . . . to help him believe that the fault wasn’t his, none of it, Buffy held onto his hand tighter.  Without real thought, the words tumbled from her, her voice, for once, not broken and wavering.  

“You aren’t . . .   You have to stop blaming yourself.  He was a sick, twisted bastard long before you.”  

He froze, unmoving and solid, absorbing the words of her declaration.  Buffy held her breath, hoping beyond any other hope she’d ever held, that he listened to her.  That he more than heard what she was saying.  

The breath whooshed from her when he turned, his red-rimmed eyes searching her face.  “You almost make me believe it, kitten.”

A nervous twitter bubbled up.  “Almost?”

Buffy poked him, right where his heart beat.  “Believe it, buster, coz it’s the truth.  He’s a sick, fucking bastard.  And I hope he rots in hell for a hundred years.”

From somewhere, Will managed to dredge up a chuckle.  “Only a hundred?”

“Um. . . I wouldn’t be all sad if he rotted forever.”

“Christ, kitten, you are bloodthirsty.”  He wrapped his big hand around her finger, pulling her close.

 
Buffy didn’t shy from the contact.  For some reason she wasn’t going to question, he didn’t scare her, didn’t make her feel dirty and diseased. . . and she liked his touch.  She leaned into his chest, her good arm wrapped around his waist.  “Only sometimes.”

Neither one moved for long moments, not until a hearty yawn cracked her face.  Will carelessly dropped a kiss on her crown.  “C’mon, my fierce kitten, let’s get back to bed.”
    

@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~@



Sunnydale, present day

Some of the files were big, thick and weighty with information.  A few of them had nothing more than bare bones.  

There was no rhyme or reason why some of them stood out more than others.

DNA evidence had been run on the items stored in evidence, revealing more names, some that Charles Gunn had been shocked to see.

He’d joined the force as soon as he could, following in the steps of his father . . . but nothing had prepared him for the sheer volume of . . .  For the number of victims attached to this case and for the particulars of it.

Liam Angelus had been one sick mother fucker.

As far as he could tell, the first victim had been a dark-haired girl, identified only as ‘Jenny’ in a picture dated 1986.

Not for the first time, he wondered what had happened to her. . . What her story might have been. . .  Had she suffered the same fate as some of the others?

Had he killed her?

Unfortunately for his case, Gunn had no way of knowing.  Angelus had led an interesting life.  Born in Ireland to a Greek father and Irish mother, he’d lived in both countries.  And as a professional soccer player, he’d traveled.  Extensively.

The Irish government had been very helpful, ferreting out information and providing him with files on some of the victims.  Two males and three females had come forward, giving statements about Angelus.

But Gunn knew that was only the tip of this iceberg.  

They’d identified at least seven victims in Sunnydale, one he’d never expected to see at all.

It all made sense, though, now that he had more of the story.  Why William Pratt had fled  in their junior year, never to be heard from again.  Why he refused to give Gunn any of his details.

Why Darla Summers had married the bastard. . .

Why Andrew Wells had committed suicide four years ago. . .

Why Andrew’s older brother, Tucker, had changed overnight from a Harvard-bound student to a drug addict and small-time criminal. . .

But it still didn’t explain what happened to Buffy Summers. . .  

Or Connor Angelus.

Gunn hoped with every fiber of his being that when William Pratt had disappeared again two years ago – he’d somehow managed to rescue Buffy and Connor.  That even now they were safe, hidden away somewhere. . .

Free from Liam.