Home sweet home
Slowly the bliss of oblivion glides away. It gives way to a much more horrific feeling, and Buffy isn’t ready yet to face it.
So she squeezes her eyes shut, hoping to block the memory out like the light around her.
She realizes that it’s not only a vain effort, but in fact makes it even worse. Without something to latch her eyes on, they focus on the pictures in her mind; pictures so gruesome that her eyes fly open in horror of their own volition, only to see anything else.
As her eyes slowly get used to the bright morning light, they scan the surroundings. It doesn’t take long for her dazed brain to recognize the place - she’s lying on the ground in Spike’s cemetery; and all of a sudden the knowledge is back that it’s where she last patrolled. Before she met Spike, got in a fight with him and they were sucked into the other dimension.
As if a sluice has been opened, the memories sweep back in. The blackness, her meltdown, Spike giving her…she swallows; she doesn’t want to think about what exactly he gave her. She settles on comfort then, that’ll do. Spike giving her comfort. That’s still weird enough.
Then Spike binding her. Spike leaving her.
Being alone. Her fighting with the urge to succumb to the temptation. His pleading eyes in her mind. Still slowly losing the battle.
And then he was there again, literally in the last moment. She knows that, had he come only minutes later, she would have been gone through the veil. And as certain as she is about that, as well she knows that he saved her. She knows now, being back in her own world, beyond any doubt that he was right, that this wasn’t heaven. He tore her out of evil’s claws just as they began to close around her. And then he did something, after having uttered some half sentences that didn’t make any sense; did something to get her out of there, something with a crystal in their hands, and he said something; a spell…?
She shudders and a whimper slips out of her throat when she remembers the images she tried to shut out earlier, befalling her like a hurricane, paralyzing her. Remembers fear suddenly rushing through her veins and horror and guilt, so much guilt. A whirlwind of emotions and pictures, of screams and smells; blood and flesh, blonde hair and soft skin, no and help me and don’t; copper and arousal, love and disgust; running feet and hitting fists, grief and glee, loss and brutality and remorse. So many faces, so many bloodied throats; trust and distrust, love and despair, hope and sadness. Blood. Men, women, children; screaming, bleeding, begging, cracking. Tenderness and violence. All mingled together into the world’s most terrifying nightmare.
She pushes herself up on hands and knees and throws up, empties her stomach of the little that was still in there after all that time not eating or drinking, and then some.
When she’s done, she turns and crawls a few yards away on all fours, then lets herself fall down to the ground again.
She never in her whole life felt as horrible as she does now; she almost wishes the former numbness back. She has seen a lot of bad things since her calling, has done a few on her own. But nothing compares with what she experienced the moments after Spike did whatever he did.
She doesn’t understand any of this; she only knows it’s somehow connected to him, and it breaks her.
She lies on the ground of the cemetery, curled up into a tight ball, motionless, her hands clutching her head. She doesn’t even bother to wipe away the streaming tears, doesn’t notice, really. She briefly wonders where he is, Spike, her savior, her destroyer. If he’s a pile of dust, caught by the early sunbeams like she was, mingling with her vomit.
She doesn’t care.
She thinks she will never care about anything again.
She doesn’t know how long she lay there when she’s startled out of her nightmare by a hesitant hand on her shoulder and a cautious voice.
“Miss? Do you need help?”
Buffy reflexively turns on her back, squinting into the worried face of an elderly woman. She can’t stay here for the rest of her life, that much is clear. She sits up, wiping her face, trying to focus.
She knows of course the woman means well. But this question suddenly gets her furious beyond belief. How dare she ask such thing? Ask something so intimate, because Buffy knows what happened is intimate somehow, when she doesn’t have an answer? Can’t even remotely think of an answer?
She jumps to her feet, not caring about the dizzy feeling in her head from the sudden movement and from not having eaten for God knows how long. Glaring at the intruder, not caring about the shock on the woman’s face either. She wants to yell at her, punch her tiny glasses into her fear-widened eyes for disturbing her.
She doesn’t do any of this, of course. After a long while, she just turns on her heels and runs.
She runs all the way home, as if she could escape the images in her mind if only she was fast enough. She bursts through the door of her house, kicks her boots off her feet and races upstairs, barely taking the time to rip her clothes off before she dashes into the shower. She turns the water on, as hot as she can stand in and then a little hotter. She feels the water prickling on her skin, nearly burning it, and holds her head under the spray. She pictures the heat burning away all those disturbing images in her head she can’t get rid of, hopes fiercely that maybe by a miracle they get washed out of her brain, run down her body along with the water and vanish in the drain.
She has no idea how long she stands there, shaking despite the steamy heat, but at one point the water begins to cool down and she turns it off.
It’s hopeless; whatever those pictures, smells, noises are, they are burned into her mind as deeply as if they were recent memories.
She grabs a towel and dries her reddened skin; she sighs, resignation taking over. Apparently she’ll have to live with them; she might as well try to figure out what the heck they are. Maybe she can cope better if she understands them. They sure as hell aren’t memories; not hers anyway.
She frowns. Where did that come from? She can’t have someone else’s memories in her head, that’s just stupid, right? It’s just her mind playing tricks on her; cruel tricks, however.
Only they damn well feel like memories.
And then, just like that, she knows.
It was he who presented her with the horror show in her head.
It couldn’t be, shouldn’t be possible, but somehow, by some incident loads of old memories, memories of other people, of vampires, have been flushed into her. Maybe it’s something like slayer vision, she thinks. Maybe it’s something every slayer has inherited, together with their calling, only she hadn’t detected it yet; and by whatever Spike did with her in the portal it’s been brought to the surface.
She’s painfully aware that some of the pictures could easily be memories of his. Her insides churn; even though she knows he probably savors them, she doesn’t want him to have this kind of memories, not for his sake, and certainly not for hers. But she knows better. She knows a thing or two about the life he led before they met, always knew that he’d done a lot of evil in his day. But seeing shreds of what could be some of them, kind of reliving them is different, and she feels nauseous again.
Surprisingly a part of her also feels a twinge of compassion - the part that recalls feeling remorse and a lot of guilt. It’s the part not quite fitting to the mix, and she wonders if maybe those are emotions of Angel. He is very old after all, and had his soul for over a century. If what’s in her head are collected memories of random vampires, why not having those feelings of remorse he fought for a hundred years with too?
But the slice of compassion is silenced by another feeling quickly overlaying anything else. It’s the same that caused her to want to yell at the woman in the cemetery, an overwhelming fury, only this time it’s directed at Spike, who she’s sure somehow burdened her with a part of vampires’ inner selves. A part she never asked for knowing, and he never questioned to lay on her.
A burning sensation tears her eyes to her hands, which are rubbing the towel over her thighs so hard that her skin is sore and begins to bleed. She freezes, watching tiny little droplets of blood appear on her thigh, little dark stars on a red sky. Watches until her body violently awakens to motion. She lets out a cry of rage, throwing the towel against the next wall, wishing fiercely it was something hard and heavy that would collide with a bang, preferably breaking. She whirls around, forcefully wipes the board over the sink free from all the pots on it with her arm, relishing the noise they make as they clatter on the tiled floor. She raises her hand to repeat the work at another board, but suddenly breaks it off, her fury as quickly dissolving into utter despair as it had risen. Her hand flutters into her face, covering her mouth, trying to reign in the sobs pouring out. Her legs buckle, powerless all of a sudden, and she slumps down on the floor.
She doesn’t know how long she sits there, frozen, like an ice cube waiting to melt, ready to be washed away and flushed down the drain.
She’s surprised that she even hears the front door opening and then being slammed closed. She holds her breath at the brief silence, and then she hears her sister’s voice, warily, almost scared.
Buffy is amazed at how easily she snaps back into her old mask, puts the raging Buffy and the sobbing Buffy as well as the frozen Buffy somewhere in the background, out of sight, and she breathes out in relief. It’s her familiar shell, her smiling I’m-fine shell, cozy and smoldering at the same time. And although she’s clueless about what to tell Dawn, she welcomes the break she gained in all things Spike. She knows of course that she won’t tell anything of what happened with him, the thought alone of speaking about it, any of it, chokes her. Hopefully being with Dawn will distract her for a while.
She rises to her feet and wipes the tears from her face. She gathers the towel from the floor and wraps it around her, fixes it, and steps out of the bathroom. “Up here, Dawn,” she says loudly.
With closing the door behind her, she pushes the merry-go-round out of her brain and leaves it behind, locked up tight in the bathroom.
And with it every conscious thought about Spike.
Or so she hopes.
As if to make up for the short break he had, it’s soon all back with a vengeance. Louder, more glaring, much crueler.
What’s worse, there’s no task anymore to focus on, her face not the anchor any longer now that she’s safe.
The blessed knowledge that he’d done one thing right? It’s not soothing his soul for long. It laughs in his face quickly after getting back to his crypt, accuses him of trying to tip the scale to his favor, reminds him that it doesn’t work that way.
One good deed doesn’t outweigh his past misdeeds, there are too many of them.
“I know,” he yells, “fuck off! I know what I’ve done. It’s not why I saved her, to atone. Shut up already!”
But the voices never obey; why should they?
There are still so many faces, so many voices; screaming at him, reminding him, damning him; and nothing to hold onto. The accusations get more specific, the faces clearer. He sometimes can remember the exact day when he killed that particular person, no matter how many decades ago, recalls the exact circumstances, each cruelty he committed before the kill. The victim’s scent assaulting his memories, drenched in the stench of fear, makes his stomach roil, even though he remembers savoring it back then.
He begins to hate his soul, hates what it does to him, even as he acknowledges - the soul, that’s him.
His moments of lucidity lessen; maybe because while lucid, it’s even worse.
He tries to get rid of the soul, tries to rip it out of his chest, just like in Africa right after getting it. Only this time, there’s no more reason not to, so he tries, until his chest is a bloody mess, torn open to his ribcage. But he can’t find the sodding thing, can’t get a grip on it to tear it out.
That’s when he breaks down sobbing like a toddler and Buffy appears in his mind, but for the first time it doesn’t help. She regards him with cold eyes, and then she reminds him what he did to her, to the ones she loves; asks him if he really thought they were even now. Laughs at him. That’s the last straw; he can’t bear her laughing at him, not now, adding to the rest.
He passes out. At least he hasn’t to endure her any longer then.
She reappears, of course; she’s been the center of his unlife for far too long. She’s not always that cruel. Sometimes she just looks at him, and he can see compassion brimming in her eyes. Those are the rare moments he allows his conscience to take over.
But then he realizes that days have gone by, and she didn’t even show up once. And even though he hadn’t really expected her to come and look for him, it still hurts that she doesn’t. That she still doesn’t care.
It’s one of those moments that, for the first time, he thinks he should end his life. But he instantly knows, ponce that he is, he won’t be strong enough.
He begins to hope that she will.
She doesn’t go out for days.
At first she says she’s tired, which she is. Telling Dawn and then her friends what happened exhausts her, because thinking about it brings back the fear she had and, much worse, the inherited memories that she so fiercely hopes to forget rush back to the surface.
It also brings back all the confusing stuff that went down between her and Spike before he left, and that’s probably the most exhausting part
She doesn’t want to speak about Spike’s part in the story, doesn’t even want to think about him. Since she’s not prepared to come up with a convincing lie, she just tells the true story, only without him in it, stating that she has no idea how she got out in the end. Which isn’t exactly a lie, because she really hasn’t a clue what the vampire did.
She realizes that her story is a bit lame like that and that the Scoobies are a little skeptical, but none of them suspects her not to tell the truth; they are too glad that she’s back at all to really care about the how, and they don’t inquire of her too thoroughly anyway ever since they learned where they brought her back from. Only Anya stares at her in a weird way, but that’s not really unusual.
She retreats to her room as soon as possible, ignoring the bewildered and slightly disappointed faces. She feels a little like the night they tore her out of heaven; everything is too much. Voices too loud, lights too bright, and too many expectations. And even though she’s surrounded by those she loves most in this world, like then she feels utterly alone.
The next few days she only comes out to go to the bathroom or fetch something to drink and, if she can’t avoid Dawn, something to eat.
Once, when nobody else is home, she tries to watch TV. But it just reminds her of Spike, and after a few minutes she switches it off again and runs off to her room.
At first they leave her be, but after two days she can hear them quietly debating how to handle her, how to bring her back to normal. Willow knocks at her door after a while, then comes in despite not being invited. She means well, Buffy knows that, but immediately anger rises in her throat. She suppresses it, stays calm, says her I’m fine, tells the witch she just needs a break, a little time out, and that she’ll be okay in a few days.
After Willow leaves, she locks up the door.
Mostly she just lies on her bed, staring at the ceiling, trying not to think of anything.
Sometimes it even works for a little while.
Much more often it doesn’t. Then she alternates between weeping, throwing things when she knows she’s alone in the house, writing meaningless words on a notepad and tearing the paper in tiny little pieces right after, and then weeping some more. All the while contemplating the images she thoroughly hates, but still has to live with, wondering what happened in the other dimension, what happened to Spike. She remembers vaguely that he was behaving strangely before he yanked her out. Something was different about him, but she can’t put her finger on it, and her memories of these moments are a blur, disturbed by the ones she got from him a little later.
If only she knew how that happened, maybe she could get rid of them, she thinks.
But the only one she could ask is Spike, and she has no desire to see him. At all.
She doesn’t even know if he’s alive.
She’s not sure she wants to know.
She barely sleeps; as soon as she closes her eyes, the cruelties in her head ambush her. If she slips into sleep by accident, she has nightmares. She always wakes up screaming, her heart racing, belatedly trying to stifle the noise with her pillow. She answers the worried voices at her door that I’m fine, she just had a nightmare, or she flat out ignores them.
After four days, Anya is at her door. Buffy could hear that she’s determined by the way she rushed up the stairs, and she sighs.
“Buffy, open up.”
Quietly, but determined. Like she thought.
“Go away, Anya. I don’t want any visitors, I’m tired.”
“I have to talk to you, and I suppose you don’t want anyone else to hear. Willow and Dawn are in the kitchen, and I pretended to go to the bathroom, but they won’t be fooled for long.”
When Buffy doesn’t answer instantly, she adds, almost whispering this time, “It’s about Spike.”
Buffy reels back. If that was supposed to be a door opener, Anya was very wrong, because he’s the main reason she shut herself off for the last days. He’s the one thing in the world she doesn’t want to think about, no less talk about.
Then again, maybe Anya has the information Buffy needs. Tentatively she steps closer, and then she reluctantly unlocks the door.
The ex-demon is in her room in a flash. She closes the door behind her, and then she looks at Buffy, grimacing with disdain at her sight.
“My God, you look like crap,” she exclaims, clapping her hand over her mouth the next moment, afraid to have alarmed the other girls in the kitchen. She listens for a while for noises; when there are none, she turns toward Buffy, her eyes roaming over her body and face. “You should really eat something. And sleep,” she whispers conspiratorially, and Buffy rolls her eyes.
“Thanks for the tip,” she mutters, annoyed. If only she could, she thinks, her eyes travelling briefly to the abandoned cereals and pizza slices she brought to her room to placate her worried sister, but never could actually eat more than a few bites. “You didn’t come here to give me advice for my health, Anya. What about Spike?” She feels a nervous flutter in her belly in anticipation of the news.
Anya visibly focuses. “Right. Spike. I know Xander would kill me if he knew that I was at his crypt, he really doesn’t like Spike. I kind of do, though, he is…”
“Anya!” Buffy shouts, exasperated, and Anya winces.
“Geez, you don’t have to yell at me. I think you should go and check on him, that’s all.” She speaks matter-of-factly, not expecting any reaction other than a nod and an okay, maybe a why. What she doesn't expect though is Buffy paling and flinching, violently shaking her head, eyes wide. “What? Buffy?”
Buffy sees the expression on Anya’s face shift and understands that she’s bewildered. She has an inkling how she appears - horrified. Because she is. With an effort she brings herself to answer, her throat letting through not more than a hoarse whisper. “Why?”
Compassion settles in the ex-demon’s eyes, something Buffy rarely has seen. She wonders whether Anya feels for her or for him. “I think he’s sick. Can vampires get sick?” She looks a little unsure.
Buffy clears her throat, trying to regain her composure. Trying to rein the fear and the always present fury in. Trying to find her mask again. “How should I know? You’re the one who’s lived, like, forever,” she snaps. “Ask Willow to look after him. I’m not feeling well myself.”
And now, seeing Anya’s expression changing again, she’s suddenly sure that the girl knows more than she lets on. It’s the same weird expression her face wore when Buffy told the others the only half true story about her trip to the other dimension, which she now recognizes as disapproval. And she thinks she also detects a little anger in the mix, and that is even more bemusing. And then Buffy suddenly remembers that Anya was the one who corrected her when she told them about the Mahatma demon, knew that it was a Mala’hla demon. No one noticed, because she’s been a demon for a thousand years and knows a whole lot more than anyone else about them. But knowing it so quickly, without even hearing the description the Slayer gave them later, that was definitely suspicious.
“You know something.” Buffy struggles to keep the accusation out of her voice, but Anya seems unfazed anyway.
“What I know is that I really think you should go to him,” the girl insists, and then, seeing Buffy’s eyes flash in anger, tries to appease her. “Look, I was at his place. I tried to help him, but…I really think you should go.”
Buffy steps closer, grabbing the other girl’s arm. She’s getting really impatient now, and it doesn’t help that she can’t sort out her feelings anymore, because she realizes with a pang that she’s not only scared and angry, but also kinda worried. About Spike. However that happened. “Why would you even want to help him? What do you know?”
Anya’s eyes are round now, but she raises her chin defiantly. “I can’t tell. I promised.”
Something in Buffy snaps; rage seethes up like boiling milk, foaming, hundreds of small bubbles exploding. She’s the Slayer. If there’s something important going on with Spike, she ought to know. How dare she not tell her just because of a promise?
The rage pushes her forward, invading the other’s space, eyes blazing. “Promised? What? Promised who?” she hisses, every inch the pissed off Slayer.
Anya shrinks back, but then stands her ground. “See, that’s the promise. Not to tell. So I won’t tell you. I already kinda break it in telling you to go check on him. You won’t get me to feel bad for keeping my promise.” She straightens her dress in that nervous gesture of hers, and that’s what snaps Buffy out of it. She scared her kind-of friend; that’s not how it’s supposed to be. She should protect her from having fear, not cause it. Plus, she’s right; a promise is a promise.
She sighs, the tension slowly ebbing away when she realizes that she decided to go check on him anyway. She’ll see for herself. “Okay. I’ll go.”
Anya nods, relief apparent on her face. She rapidly turns to go, obviously keen on getting away from the intimidating Slayer, but in the door she pauses briefly and turns half back, throwing Buffy a glance over her shoulder.
“He really does love you, you know?” she says softly, and then she steps out and quickly closes the door behind her.
Buffy stares after her, thunderstruck. That was really the last thing she ever expected to hear out of Xander’s girlfriend’s mouth.
And she much preferred not to have to.