She isn't sure how she ended up with Spike as her houseguest. Willow understands why Buffy didn't take him in and it's probably for the best that Xander is nowhere near him right now. Still, housing a mentally unstable and recently souled vampire with a powerful witch recovering from a recent bout of being evil doesn't seem like the best idea.
When it gets bad –and with Spike it gets really bad—she breaks down and calls the only person she can think of who'll know what he's going through. If Spike were in his right mind, he would seriously object to her calling Angel for help. If Spike were in his right mind, though, she wouldn't need to call Angel for help. Funny how that works.
Right now he looks vacant and hollow standing in the corner. He isn't ranting and doesn't seem dangerous, but that wasn't the case ten minutes ago. Ten minutes ago… There are times that Willow forgets that Spike has a killer instinct, especially when it comes to knowing where to verbally strike. He's has her number since shortly after they met and even though that number has changed he still knows exactly what to say to draw blood.
They're in the kitchen –her with a mug of tea and him with a mug of blood. He seems so lucid; his voice is clear and his tone conversational. The first question seems innocent enough.
"Where's the slayer and her fix-it boy?"
If it were just a year or so ago, Willow's convinced she would have sensed the danger –she would have known that Spike wasn't in the mood to play nice. But he's here for her to take care of and to watch out for, not to guard against.
"They're both at work."
She thinks nothing of it as Spike rises from his chair. Her eyes remain on the drink in front of her, not on his fingers as they run along the table, and she is listening to the remembered voices of the witches from the coven back in England, not to his boots as he ever-so-carefully steps around the table. So it's not until he stops right beside her with his finger tapping out a steady rhythm beside her elbow that an alarm goes off in her head.
"Tell me, pet, do you think they left you in charge of me because you can handle me if I get a bit… dangerous? Or is it maybe because they're hoping we'll kill each other off?"
His words are unsettling and when Willow looks up at his face, she feels a chill go through her. This is a Spike she has never faced before. He's cold and calculating and she isn't sure that she trusts the smirk he is wearing. No, she's sure she doesn't trust that smirk. She slowly stands up, mentally scrambling for a way to talk him down from whatever he's planning on doing.
"S-spike. Nobody's killing anybody off. I'm the one staying with you because the others have to work."
Though she knows it would be useless if he decides to attack, Willow can't stop herself from backing away from him. This only makes his smirk grow, and he looks entirely too pleased as he casually moves the chair she was sitting on to the side. He tilts his head and gazes at her through hooded eyes before starting to advance on her.
"Poor little Red. They put the weight of the world on your shoulders and then those ungrateful bastards have the nerve to act shocked when you crack under the strain."
Willow's retreat is brought to an abrupt halt by the kitchen wall at her back. She can't stop the gasp that leaves her at the jarring impact. Spike bites his lip as his hands go behind his back and he glances –first at the floor—and then back up at her like some morbid mockery of flirtation.
"I bet you were a sight to behold, all dark and powerful, weren't you?"
He is far too close to her when he stops, still watching her almost speculatively, and then he touches the tip of his tongue to his upper lip.
"Bet we could've had ourselves a real good time if I'd stayed in town. Really showed 'em all new levels of pain. Still can if you want to."
Spike leans slightly forward and his left hand rises to rest on the wall right above her head. His face looms in her vision and the air from his words ghosts over her lips as he stares relentlessly into her eyes. What he sees there must confirm something for him because the grin that stretches across his face is a very pleased one.
"I'm right, though, aren't I? My Red is a very bad girl."
She doesn't want to hurt him. However, she needs him away from her and so –without conscious thought—she pushes with her magic. He doesn't do anything as dramatic as fly across the room or go crashing into the table. However, when he hits the floor he quickly scrambles to the wall and huddles against it.
Gone is the calculating predator who casually brought up her evil deeds and spoke as if the dark was somewhere she would ever want to revisit. The worst part, though, is that he might have been right: something in her wants the vision he offered. She wishes she didn't want to lash out at everyone –and that the thought of having him at her side encouraging it wasn't tempting. However, the fear she sees in him now turns her stomach and reminds her that, of the two of them, she is the more dangerous. He's just far better at spotting vulnerability and going for the jugular with unerring precision.
She can't hate him for what he said. Not now. He's lost and in need. If she's completely honest with herself, she'll admit that helping him helps her forget how very lost and in need she is. But it's still too much for her to handle alone. She understands guilt –she could write a whole series of treaties on the varying levels of guilt; from 'I ripped the tag off the mattress' to 'I flayed a man alive and then tried to end the world'—but what she doesn't understand is the pain from having a soul again. Only one other person can understand that.
Willow is brought out of her thoughts by the sound of a car pulling to a stop in front of her house. She's at the door in a flash and has it open just as Angel is raising his hand to knock. She drags him inside towards the couch and is blurting out something about how much pain Spike is in before she realizes it. Maybe she's a bit more stressed about the whole situation than she thought. When she looks at his face to see if he's going to remark on the lack of actual greeting, she's struck by the look of confusion on his face.
She's used to dealing either with people who can't feel more than the average human or people who already know what to expect when they get near her. Apparently, when you've absorbed a large amount of dark magic and then raise a satanic temple to try to bring on an apocalypse, it leaves a bit of a mark. She can feel the shame and guilt crowding in even before she opens her mouth to explain.
"I had a problem with magic. Then I sort of tried to end the world."
Out of all the reactions she would've expected had she speculated on how Angel would take her foray to the evil side of the force, laughter probably wouldn't have even made the top ten. However, laughter is exactly what she's getting. She stares at him, completely bewildered, until he tries to explain even as he's still laughing.
"I'm sorry. I just would have thought you'd have learned from me that ending the world never works."
And suddenly she's laughing along with him. Willow nearly bringing about the apocalypse has been a topic that none of her friends have really broached without looking like they're afraid she's going to break if they say the wrong word. Angel, however, is making a joke of it because he gets it. Maybe he assumes that –since she hasn't already broken –she won't break now. Whatever it is, it feels good to laugh. The laughter, however is more than a bit on the hysterical side and quickly gives way to tears. Yeah, maybe there's still a chance of her breaking after all.
She finds herself in Angel's arms without remembering how she got there. He's large and his arms feel like they can keep the world at bay for a while. It doesn't last long, though. Maybe she's still not ready to mourn…
The name alone hurts her, but she feels that Angel deserves an explanation as to why his arms are full of sobbing Willow. Judging by the expression on his face, though, it doesn't explain anything. Before she can clear up his confusion, Spike's monotone voice beats her to it.
"Willow's girl is gone."
It shouldn't hurt this much. He isn't saying it like that to be mean, so it shouldn't cut through her like a sharp blade. Angel and Spike are talking, but Willow isn't really paying attention; she's too lost in her own pain. It's not until Angel turns to her, the accusation clear in his voice when he asks, "You?" that she realizes what they've been saying and that Angel thinks Spike got his soul back for her.
"No. I'm gay. It was…"
She can't finish the sentence. How do you explain to the guy who can't be with the girl he loves that a vampire who hates him has fallen in love with that very girl? Fallen hard enough so that he'd get his soul just to try and prove himself good enough in her eyes. She doesn't need to say it. His voice is flat when he says Buffy's name. She isn't sure if she is expecting him to get angry, attack Spike, or just walk out. He manages to surprise her yet again.
She doesn't mean to sound like he is questioning her sexuality when she answers, but she can't help the defensive tone in her voice. She doesn't know why she expects him to judge her. Or maybe she does. He hasn't judged her on trying to end the world –not really –and she's left still waiting for the disappointed look she had been sure he would send her way when she told him. There's a word for it. Projection, possibly. If she was in regular contact with her mother, she could ask her about it.
"She was your girlfriend. Tara, I mean."
When she answers, it's in the past tense. Tara was her girl; not is –never again is, no matter how very much she's alive in Willow's heart. She's momentarily lost in the pain of revisiting that awful truth. Spikes voice, when it interrupts her thoughts, is clearer than it has been. Of course, that makes his words strike all the harder.
"She left you."
She can feel the grief and anger crawling deep under her skin when she argues, "She was murdered."
Spike continues to talk –twisting that painful knife deeper into her gut—and she somehow responds to his every verbal assault. Maybe assault is too harsh of a word. Maybe he doesn't mean to make her insides bleed with the memories he throws at her like darts. But he does so with an uncanny accuracy and it makes her want to cry and tear at her own hair and scream for him to stop, please just stop, she'll do anything to make it stop…
This is why she really called Angel. She can handle the ranting and almost incoherent mutterings. She can even handle when he seems ready to get violent. It's when he gets personal and almost seems to revel in her pain and grief that she just can't take anymore.
It's a relief when Spike's no longer talking to her. Though she really is interested in what Angel has to say when Spike asks him how he lives with it. She isn't sure if he means the soul or the guilt, but she wants to hear Angel's answer either way. He doesn't offer up some grand kernel of wisdom for either of them, however, and she can't help but feel like someone popped the balloon of hope she hadn't realized was in her chest. She'd anticipated something Zen but instead she gets 'just deal with it'. The giggle that she lets out is unexpected, especially with the tears that she can still feel threatening to escape.
"I'm sorry. I guess I just thought…"
And Angel understands what she had been thinking, even without her having to elaborate. It doesn't stop her from hoping that he still has something up his sleeve and then feeling a bit lost when he confirms there's nothing he can offer them in the way of advice. Apparently, Spike feels the same.
"You're not much good at inspirational speeches, are you?"
This is almost the Spike that she knows. Maybe it's like the Spike from the summer when Buffy was dead. Grieving but still trying. She liked that Spike; trusted him even. The illusion of sanity doesn't last very long – Willow watches, horrified, as he puts out the cigarette he had just lit on the back of his hand. Angel grabs the cigarette and she snatches the lighter. Her voice is shocked and accusing when she shrieks at him, demanding to know what he was doing.
"Needed to feel."
Oh goddess save her, there doesn't seem to be an end to the ways that she has ruined everything. She can feel a small rush of anger through her as she stares at Spike's almost blank face.
"That's right. It's all my fault. I brought her back wrong and everything that happened is my fault. Is that what you want me to say?"
The anger can't last, though, because it's true. She is the reason Buffy used Spike. She is the reason that Buffy can't love him. The weight of that guilt brings her to her knees in front of Spike. She finds herself crying again a she reaches out for him with 'I'm sorry' tumbling from her lips as if saying those words enough times can make it all better somehow.
Spike's hold isn't like Angel's; it doesn't feel like it can keep the world at bay. He's broken and jagged in some of the same ways she is. The arms he has around her don't feel safe and protecting, but they feel like comfort all the same. While her spine is turned at an awkward angle and Spike's embrace threatens to smother her, wrapped as it is around her head, she can't bring herself to abandon this moment of almost peace.
Though she doesn't see his hand, Willow can feel Spike's shoulder move under the weight of Angel's touch, which jars her into remembering that she and Spike aren't alone. Great. She's called Angel up and dragged him into this house of grief and guilt and almost forgotten he's there. Apparently feeling guilt over the really big things doesn't stop you from feeling it over the small things as well. Even though she knows Angel won't get what the apology is for, Willow can't stop herself from shifting her head enough so that she can look into his eyes as she says she is sorry.
Soon enough Willow's spine begins to protest and Spike seems to have had his fill of comfort. Detangling is an awkward effort, but no one is inclined to laugh. Willow isn't sure how long the silence goes on for, but she finds herself wishing it could have gone on forever when Angel asks the question she has partially been dreading.
"Does Buffy know?"
It's a question more loaded than even Angel can realize, and part of her wonders if handing Spike back his lighter when he asks for it is such a good idea.
Her response when he says that Buffy doesn't care is quick and automatic. It's a knee-jerk reaction and she isn't really sure she believes it. It's obvious that Spike doesn't. Buffy is a dangerous topic of conversation for both of them –all of them really—so she does her best to steer the talk elsewhere. The only thing she can think of to do, though, is thank Angel for being there. He doesn't respond, but there is a spark in his eye that Willow chooses to believe means that he's glad he came, or at least that he's not mad at her for summoning him here.
"She could be a demon, y'know. She's like us."
Spike's comment comes out of nowhere, and if it weren't for the hand patting her knee she wouldn't even know who he was talking about. Part of her wants to be offended –she's part of the Scooby gang, she isn't supposed to be like the demons—but another part of her just feels a painful relief at belonging with anyone. When Angel leans forward to look past Spike and assess her apparent demonic worthiness, she sees nothing but acceptance in his eyes. Like he feels it's not beyond the realm of possibility that she could be one of them.
Angel's still staring between her and Spike with an ever-shifting look in his eye –lingering too long on something akin to anger or jealousy for her taste—when Spike lays his head on her shoulder. They were never really close before –not emotionally—and the last time they were in this position Spike was drunk and crying over Drusilla and Willow was terrified for her life. However, now it feels completely natural to reach her hand up to stroke his hair. At any other time she would be bothered by the smoke from his cigarette, but at this moment it seems like such a small thing in the face of all the pain engulfing the room.
The silence has gone on too long in her opinion, so she frantically searches her mind for some bit of small talk to fill the air. She was never good at this in high school –her babbling always went too long and tended toward oversharing—and age doesn't seem to have improved her skills.
"I flayed Warren. He killed Tara."
Well, at least it isn't babbling. Angel's soft 'oh' doesn't really help move the conversation along. Spike seems to have no problem getting right to the heart of the matter though, and he speaks with his head still on her shoulder.
"Are you sorry?"
She wants to say yes. After all, a good person would be sorry for doing something so obviously wrong and evil. But she can't really bring herself to lie—not here and now; not to them. Even with the compelling need to tell the truth, she can't seem to answer above a whisper at first. Quick on the heels of that, and in a normal voice, she asks them both not to tell Buffy. Some habits die hard.
Angel agrees and Spike says it's none of Buffy's business. And he's right, but…
"She's my best friend."
The statement should come out strong. Once upon a time she would have believed that meant something – meant the world, in fact. But now… So much has changed, and Willow isn't really sure where she and the Slayer stand. The Slayer. Before the battle in the Magic Shop, Willow would have never thought of Buffy as the Slayer. Are they even past being enemies yet, or are they still stuck in that moment?
Angel seems ready to leave well enough alone –with her at least. Spike isn't so lucky.
"You still love her."
It should be a question, and it would be, if Angel didn't know Spike. But anyone who has spent any real amount of time with Spike knows the answer. Of course he still loves her. Spike is built to love, to hold onto it at all costs, no matter how much it destroys him. So he doesn't deny it, and his voice is clear and strong when he replies, "Suppose so."
"She's like that. People love her."
Willow's mouth opens before she knows she is going to speak, but the words are true all the same. She should feel jealousy, she thinks. Instead, all she can feel is pain and sadness even as she continues to stroke Spike's hair –more for her own comfort than his. It's right that people should love Buffy; she deserves it. But Willow…
"People love you, too."
She can tell Angel is trying. She's pretty sure he even believes it. But he hasn't been here; he hasn't seen all that she's done and how she's hurt everyone.
"They used to. Not anymore."
She can't help the tears that gather in her eyes. One of her greatest fears has always been losing what precious few friends she has. She can feel the absence of those friends, even while they try to pretend it can all be okay again. Maybe Angel realizes that he's out of his depth because he quickly changes the subject.
"Now might be a bad time, but I really ought to thank you."
As non sequiturs go, it's a doozy. Willow quickly racks her brain, but she can't come up with a single thing she's done that he should be thanking her for. She dragged him back to Sunnydale –so close to the girl he loves but can't be with—and he is thanking her?
He almost seems stunned that she asked, but he answers simply, "My soul."
The almost casual dismissal of his thank you comes naturally. After all, she goes all out for her friends, doesn't she? She learned long ago not to wait around for a thank you that isn't coming. Angel doesn't seem ready to accept that, though –and maybe it's the same thing that kept her from lying about a remorse she doesn't feel earlier that now keeps him from accepting the implied lie in her words.
"You've done more for me than anyone ever has."
His words send a hot rush of pride and embarrassment through her. This is what she craves, what the magic gave her once upon a time: recognition for what she does for the people around her. Quick on the heels of that thought comes shame. That kind of pride and… and narcissism is what led them to where they are right now. She craved that attention, that acceptance, and it eventually led her to ruin everything.
Willow is so wrapped up in her conflicting emotion that Angel's sincere sounding apology catches her off guard. This time around, however, she is too exhausted by her own inner conflict to question him. Even now, the feel of Spike's head on her shoulder and his hair under her hand seems to sap her of energy. Breaking contact with him, she leans against the wall wanting nothing more than to be invisible again. Though, obviously, that isn't really true. She's already proven that if she really didn't want them to see her, they wouldn't be able to.
Spike grabs hold of her hand, perhaps not ready to let go, and Angel rests his hand on Spike's knee, which seems to trigger yet another round of thank you and you're welcome variations. Willow begins to wonder if they can keep this cycle up all night when, but then Angel mentions Tara. It's the usual 'sorry for your loss' platitude –the same one her friends don't seem to think she's ready for. Right now, though, she can't stand the lie of it. This is the house of pain, after all; no lies allowed.
"You mean you're sorry I tried to end the world."
Angel's voice when he answers is filled with conviction. His words wash over her and he is suddenly giving voice to all her deepest hurts. He wasn't here, so how can he know how alone and abandoned she felt? She's still Willow, however, and she can't let an implied slight against her friends go undisputed. She tells Angel about Xander stopping her, sure that it would end the delving into her personal pain. However, Spike has been here, and he doesn't seem inclined to let her hide from her pain.
His aim is unerring as he strikes right at her heart and asks, "Where was he when Tara died?"
The pain is as swift and as brutal as it had been when she watched Tara fall. After she whispers that he was in the hospital with Buffy, she can no longer hold back the sobs. Is this what it feels like to truly grieve Tara? She had done so much in her anger that she still needs to beg forgiveness for that she hasn't had time to feel the loss. Angel's arms are around her once again. It's been so long since she's felt like she deserves to be comforted that she's surprised she hasn't pushed him away already. Before she can try and calm herself enough to do just that, she feels Spike's hands rubbing her back.
He's telling her it's okay, and she knows it's not true. But hearing the words feels good just the same –not because she can ever believe them—but because he cares enough to try and lie to her even knowing she won't believe.
Soon she's calm enough to pull away. She's comforted by the kiss Angel presses to her forehead –an act that would seem out of place between them at any other time—but she's still driven to apologize. Spike and Angel answer in tandem with a quick, "nothing to be sorry for," that leaves them all awkwardly laughing. It's an ill-fitting moment, but it is theirs just the same. When Spike follows it up with random nonsense that reminds them all that he isn't completely stable, Willow chooses to ignore it. Given his silence on the matter, she can only assume that Angel has chosen to do the same.
Willow has never been one to truly abide silence, comfortable or otherwise, and she inevitably chooses a very awkward way to break it.
"I guess you'll probably want to go see…"
She doesn't finish the sentence, but they both know how it would have ended. She can feel herself tensing in preparation for a fight between Angel and Spike– hadn't he gotten into a fight with Buffy's last boyfriend? Not that you can really call Spike anyone's boyfriend. Of course, there doesn't seem to be a word for what went on between Spike and Buffy. It doesn't really matter, though, because the fight never comes.
"No. It's easier to love her from a distance."
The words don't make sense. Not strung together like that, and not coming from Angel when he's talking about Buffy. Angel will always love Buffy and always want to be near her. It's a law of the universe. If that's no longer true –if Angel and Buffy's forever love is allowed to fade –what hope is there for the memory of the love she and Tara shared?
She isn't hearing what Spike and Angel are saying to each other, and right now she doesn't worry that she should be paying attention. She is lost at sea; the rock that is Angel and Buffy's love story and that has been her surety in the world has disappeared without her realizing how much it was holding her together. She just needs to know…
"You still love her."
She meant it to be a question, but it sounds to her own ears more like a command. When his answer comes, however, he doesn't sound sure at all. She can feel panic set it. He has to be sure! If he isn't, then how can she be sure that she can always hold onto Tara? Like a pronouncement of doom, Spike's voice rings out clear and sure from her side.
"You'll find someone."
The thought alone is enough to turn her stomach. There can never be anyone else. How can she ever let someone else in when all she is belongs to Tara? How can she try to find someone if doing so means letting go of Tara even a little bit? Loving someone else meant letting Tara's face fade from her mind.
"I don't want to."
"Not now, no, but…," Angel chimes in, clearly not understanding. And how can he understand? The love of his life –who he apparently isn't even sure he loves anymore—has been brought back from the dead. How can he understand what it means to be the only thing keeping the woman you love from completely fading from this world? Her voice is firm when she tells him, "Not ever."
Spike knows her, though. He has always known too much and been able to divulge the truths you never wanted let out into the world.
"Someone will find you, then. That's the way of things. You and me –love's soddin' bitches, we are. Bound to happen."
His voice is as bitter as his words are cruel. Love is pain and he's just forced her to face the fact that she will suffer again. She's so wrapped up in the misery of the idea that she almost doesn't reach up to cover Spike's mouth in time when he starts his next sentence with, "I wish…"
"Never say those words, Spike."
They are all in the exact wrong emotional and mental state to be making any wishes on the Hellmouth. Spike still seems to need to get his point out, and begins speaking again.
"Yeah, you're right. But still, it would have been better if I'd been sober when I kidnapped you."
It's a sentence she honestly never imagined Spike would say. However, the idea is planted in her mind, and she can't help the images that blossom from it. He would have turned her if he had managed not to kill her outright, that's a given. And, as abhorrent as she finds the idea of being a vampire, she has to admit that she would've probably caused a lot less damage than she ended up causing as a witch.
They're silent for a while and Willow once again breaks it with an attempt at small talk –as small as this trio can manage, anyway. They talk about Spike's mental wellbeing – or lack thereof – and that somehow leads to them all holding hands again. The touch of their skin against hers makes this place feel like home, even though it hasn't been her home in a long while and it was never their home. Speaking of…
Angel answers, "It's… it is," which seems very vague. However, before she can find a way to get him to expand on the state of L.A.'s being, he throws her for one heck of a loop.
"You…both of you…you can move there…with me. You're always welcome."
It's not something she's ever come close to considering – leaving Sunnydale – but suddenly she can see it and it's all she wants. Reality comes crashing down, though. She can't run away. She has to face down her metaphorical demons –and there will probably be literal ones as well. She knows there is something brewing on the Hellmouth. That's what brought her back, after all. Angel seems to know the moment she lets the brief spark of hope go, because he stands up and says he'd better go.
A part of Willow that she's never paid attention to chooses that moment to speak up in her mind. That truly selfish part of her that wants to have a chance at living a life outside the Hellmouth. The same part of her that's kept the acceptance letters from all the other, better colleges in a box at the back of her closet in this very house; keepsakes of an escape she had blocked off from herself. That part of her asks 'Why not?'
After all, she's a witch who can't really bring herself to do magic. What good can she do anyone here? Why couldn't she take Spike and leave with Angel. After all, don't they both need a break from this place? Wouldn't they both recover better away from the Hellmouth and away from Buffy? Before she can change her mind, she stands up, dragging Spike along with her by his hand.
"We'll come with you."
Angel, for all that he looks shocked, simply nods and leads the way to the car. He doesn't bother asking if they want to grab anything; maybe he realizes that any delay could lead to Willow thinking better of the idea. It never occurs to Willow that Spike might object. He's in her care, and he seems willing to go along with whatever she wants. For the time being, at least.
As she crawls onto the Plymouth's front bench seat and settles in the middle –part of her yelling about passenger safety laws the whole time—she deliberately ignores the voice – that other 'good girl' voice – inside of her listing all the reasons why she can't leave. Spike rests his head on her shoulder once more and she reaches for Angel's right hand. The tires give a squeal as Angel pulls away from the curb far faster than he needs to. Maybe he knows that they have to outrun her guilt. Or maybe he just knows that this fantasy of running away has an expiration date and it's already living on borrowed time.
For now, however, the only thing that matters is that they are all together. Sure they're all broken and running, but they have a long night and a fast car to run in. And maybe it will be just fast enough…