Chapter 1. All My Days Are Trances
Thou wast that all to me, love,
For which my soul did pine—
A green isle in the sea, love,
A fountain and a shrine,
All wreathed with fairy fruits and flowers,
And all the flowers were mine.
Ah, dream too bright to last!
Ah, starry Hope! that didst arise
But to be overcast!
A voice from out the Future cries,
“On! on!”—but o’er the Past
(Dim gulf!) my spirit hovering lies
Mute, motionless, aghast!
For, alas! alas! with me
The light of Life is o’er!
No more—no more—no more—
(Such language holds the solemn sea
To the sands upon the shore)
Shall bloom the thunder-blasted tree,
Or the stricken eagle soar!
And all my days are trances,
And all my nightly dreams
Are where thy grey eye glances,
And where thy footstep gleams -
In what ethereal dances,
By what eternal streams.
-- From “To One In Paradise”, by Edgar Allan Poe
Spike came to with a full-body shudder and immediately regretted his state of consciousness. Vampire physiology rendered him immune to the elements, true, but some things still chilled him to the bone. Looking about to try to get his bearings, he realized he was fully clothed, a right mess sliding off of his favorite armchair, the one perfectly angled to watch both the telly and the front door. Judging by the soft light filtering through the window, it must’ve been close to sunset.
He tried to suss out what had happened. Mind a blank. Tried to get vertical. Legs wouldn’t cooperate. Felt the broken ribs, the punctured lung, and the busted knee then, among other souvenirs, courtesy of...Glory’s tower. Oh, sodding buggering bleeding FUCK! A deluge of memories of the final battle poured forth from behind a broken dam, and the impact, unbraced, left him gasping for air, as if a man drowning. Oh, Buffy… He had planned to go down fighting, lay down his unlife for her, for little sis, except when had any of his plans gone any way but bollixed all to hell? Couldn’t even dust right. And now--now, she’s-- Buffy’s--
He shook his head in an attempt to unhook himself from that thought. Not going there; not yet. How long had he been out? He clearly hadn’t been feeding, or the mending pain would’ve long jolted him awake. Candles long gone out. Crypt smelled unlived in, undisturbed. Craning his neck, he noticed that the door had not been latched from the inside. Huh. Did the Watcher man and Harris boy bring…?
Should’ve been touched, the Slayerettes taking care of Old Spike, he thought, with just a hint of bitterness. Would’ve too, had there been anything left where his heart should be. Oh, Buffy… No circulation system to his name, yet he still suffered headaches--ain’t that a laugh. This one, by the pounding of it, was express delivery straight from hell.
He forced a leaden hand up to soothe his throbbing head and paused, when he caught, from his fingers, a whiff of her, of their combined spendings, from...before. Gave that knife lodged right in his heart another turn. He was already Love’s bitch, did the Powers That Be really have to make him their punching bag, too? His eyes stung then, full of tears for her, for them, for the dream that almost was but would never be again and the nightmare of his reality. He had finally had her, hadn’t he, held her in his arms, in her bed, pliant and satisfied and so, so sweet. Smiles radiant and body overheated and heart hammering and passion burning--
But no more. How he was going to endure the rest of eternity in the darkness, after such a brief yet dazzling encounter with sunlight, he had no idea. His inner William chose that moment to rear his timid Victorian head and wax poetic over the impossible romanticism of it all and quote Tennyson--Tennyson, that wankstain!--only to be shoved back where he belonged. Anyone who thought it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all did not truly love, not the way Spike did. And was a simpering pillock, a sodding poncy poof, a rat-arsed berk. He rattled off a few other choice words in English and for good measure, piled on more curses from a half dozen demon languages.
Oh, Buffy… He kicked the coffee table, hard, in a bout of impotent rage, and set off a cacophony of bottles clashing to the crypt floor. He surveyed the damage: must’ve been a dozen JD bottles there, another piece of a clue to his lost time. A closer look revealed a half-full bottle. He plucked it out of obscurity and tipped the bottle over his eager mouth.
Willow gently pulled Dawn’s bedroom door closed behind her and tiptoed down the stairs to join an anxious Tara on the sofa.
“How is she?”
“Finally asleep. Your valerian and passion flower tea did the trick. Well,” Willow amended in a small voice, “I may have magicked it to boost its potency.”
Tara reached for Willow’s fidgeting hands and covered them with her own. “She’s going through a rough patch. Picking out a burial outfit for Buffy was too much for her, but therapeutic in its own way. The crying was a form of release. Magic shouldn’t be necessary. Just give her time.”
At Tara’s touch, Willow’s tense frame visibly relaxed. She laid her head on her girlfriend’s shoulder. “But it’s been a week, Tara. What if she doesn’t get better? What if the nightmares never go away? What if she still wouldn’t leave her room?”
Tara smiled and put an arm around her. It was just like her Willow to want everyone happy. “Well, at least she’s no longer just staring into space, which is a definite improvement. My mom always said to trust in the healing power of Mother Earth. Gaia provides us with herbs like valerian, passion flower, and chamomile to ease anxiety, calm nerves, promote relaxation, and enhance the body’s innate capacity for self-preservation. It’s more reliable than magic and always benign, because its source of power comes from Nature. Other than that, we’ll love her and be there for her.”
“But what if--”
“Shhh. Let’s not borrow trouble.” She started gently rocking Willow, like a mother rocking a child in distress. “It took me a long time to stop crying every day after my mom passed away. And I didn’t have to deal with guilt. Dawn needs to grieve and come to terms with her emotions, and we need to let her.”
Feeling Willow’s nod on her shoulder, she turned to her. With her eyes closed, Willow almost looked peaceful. But Tara needed to ask, because she knew, from experience, how much bottling up emotions hurt in the long run, how crucial it was to accept grief, live it, share it, and let it go. Willow was grieving clearer than if there were a neon sign declaring it above her head, but she was rejecting and hiding from it.
“And how are you holding up?” Voice low and calming, Tara watched her girlfriend for a reaction.
“Fine, I guess.” Off of Tara’s arched eyebrow, she reconsidered, turning to face her. “Not fine fine, obviously, but okay, given...everything. It’s just that--” she sighed, then shook her head, “forget it.”
Tara pushed Willow’s hair out of her face to look into her eyes. “Hey, it’s okay if you’re not ready to share. When you are, I want you to know that I’m here for you. Just to listen.”
Willow bit her lower lip. “Okay. Do you ever think that if we were more powerful or--or knew the right spells, that maybe we could’ve saved Buffy?”
Ah, survivor’s guilt. Tara gave her girlfriend a long look. Willow had said “we”, but Tara knew she blamed only herself.
“More powerful...like an army? There was one, the Knights of Byzantium. They crumbled away in the presence of Glory, like clay figures in the rain. Or more spells, like those used by the monks?” She sent a glance in the direction of Dawn’s door, “They magicked millennia-old trans-dimensional energy into a flesh-and-blood human, with memories to match. That’s unheard of, Willow, but even they couldn’t hold off Glory.”
Willow looked unconvinced, so Tara continued, trying hard to temper the wavering of her own voice, “Buffy was the first, the only one to defeat Glory. In the end, it wasn’t muscle or magic that counted--it was love.” Her voice was breaking, but she pushed on, undeterred. “It was Buffy’s love for Dawn, for this world, and for all the little anonymous people living in it.”
Willow had started to sniffle and wipe at her eyes. She couldn’t look up, couldn’t face the sadness in Tara’s eyes, so like her own.
“It was love for people like you and me, Willow, who could not have done what she did. Who can only remember, and live, and love.”
Willow’s head jerked up at that. The last word was barely a whisper, but like a ray of sunshine piercing through fog, it penetrated through Willow’s gloom. “And love,” she parroted, leaning into Tara’s hand, which had reached up to wipe away her tears, and stayed to cup her face. She closed her eyes to concentrate on the warmth of Tara’s hand, but it was not enough, not nearly. So she threw herself into Tara’s waiting embrace, wrapping her arms around Tara’s waist like a little kid. She let her body go slack and her tears fall unchecked, the wetness seeping into Tara’s shirt to tickle her skin underneath.
Holding up Willow, Tara’s own heart was breaking, the feeling painfully familiar. Death could never be anything but devastating, and they’d all seen so much of it on the Hellmouth. How much more could they take?
Giles let the pen slip out of his hand onto the notebook below and pinched the bridge of his nose. Detailing the death of his Slayer was undoubtedly the toughest part of his duty as a Watcher. That her passing should be unmourned by the world at large, which she died to preserve, seemed the worst injustice of it all.
For nearly five years he had watched over Buffy, guided her in her sacred duty, honed her fighting techniques to the edge of her innate ability, stood by her through vampires, demons, a hell god, ex-boyfriends, a vampire ex-boyfriend turned soulless killer, a secret branch of the American military that experimented on demons, annual apocalypses and good Lord, American high school. He had even killed a human for her, because she couldn’t. And throughout it all--at first without realizing it--he had loved her and tried to protect her like the father she didn’t have, the father she desperately needed.
In turn, she had challenged his and the Council’s authority from the beginning, pushed the boundary on recorded vampire lore and demonology, surpassed his highest expectation in serving the mission while living life to the fullest, and even managed to survive an earlier death to split the Slayer line. Not to mention her final act of self-sacrifice to save a dimensional Key of a sister, who had been nothing more than green energy a year ago. Perhaps most unusual of all, absolutely unprecedented, she had had not one, but two master vampires fall in love with her and turn to the Light, including a notorious unsouled vampire, William the Bloody, aka Spike.
On that thought Giles reached for the bottle of Glenfiddich in the bottom drawer and poured himself two fingers’ worth. As a Watcher, this was the life he had chosen, since taking an oath to protect the world. His steel-forged courage in the face of the ever-present threat of death did not, however, offer him protection from heartache. The past week had been proof enough. Grief-stricken, he had, as Xander accused of him, “lost his cool” and come undone in the company of Buffy’s friends. He might’ve been uncharacteristically cold and uncaring towards Dawn as well, openly resenting her, perhaps undeservedly, for Buffy’s death.
No doubt his subsequent absence at 1630 Revello Drive had been conspicuous, but he simply could not muster the requisite strength and courage to confront the painful reality of Buffy’s death. To enter her house now, without her. That Dawn, Buffy’s sister and the reason she gave her life, was in need of care and a guardian, he chose to ignore for the moment as well. He rather resented having to be the adult in Buffy’s inner circle and with all the responsibilities already heaped upon him, the one everybody expected to pick up the pieces. Every. Single. Time.
Neither had he been by the Magic Box, the hat of enterprising proprietor never having particularly fit him, and seemed exceedingly ludicrous at the moment. Taking a long sip of his drink, he knew he needed not worry, for Anya would be there to handle the store front. And because Anya would be there, he had no wish to present himself there as well. They were all witnesses to that unbearable crime, the one that ripped Buffy from her young life. In his mind, that made all of them accessories to murder, co-conspirators in her death. He simply did not know how to face any of them. Had death always hit him this hard? He thought back to the beginning of his career, of his stint as Ripper, those days marred with loss but always resilient. He was getting too old for this. He needed a caretaker, not be one. He needed healing. He needed time.
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet
Good Lord, he thought, T.S. bloody Eliot. I am getting old.
In his head he replayed the obligatory phone call he had placed to the Council shortly after Buffy’s demise, mulled it over. To have to relive the worst day of his life to an unsympathetic Quentin Travers through the distortion of five thousand miles of telephone wires, and the fatigue of eight hours of time difference and zero hours of sleep, only to be met with the curt request for his post-mortem report on their last Slayer, stat, unleashed a fury in Giles he didn’t know he still had, so long after his Ripper days.
“Her name,” he had said through gritted teeth, “was Buffy Summers. The Slayer title lives on. For Heaven’s sake, Quentin, show a little respect! A girl just gave her life so that you and I and six billion oblivious people may live!”
“Precisely,” came the even-toned reply, and Giles thought he could detect a trace of boredom within, as if Travers were a schoolmaster repeating a well-rehearsed speech, and him a particularly dimwitted pupil. “Miss Summers did her duty. Her bravery is an example to us all. But pray tell, Rupert, how are you carrying out yours these days?”
Giles was too busy counting off spells of a non-friendly nature that very moment, with that particular Council Director being his imaginary favored target, to come up with a retort.
Travers, satisfied that he had restored the proper stoicism to their conference call with a well-applied measure of his stiff upper lip, continued with a subject of his interest, “I wonder, with the Slayer line split, whether a new Slayer will be called? Or will that continuation fall to Miss Lehane?”
Finding the suggestion of Faith’s death, so close to Buffy’s own, nauseatingly distasteful, Giles mumbled a safe wait-and-see-approach as his reply, and ended the phone call with the excuse of having last-minute details of Buffy’s funeral to arrange.
“That insufferable, arrogant git!” Trying to shake off the memory of Travers’s smug voice, he took another draft from his glass, and returned to his diary, which, unfortunately, required him to consider the other loose end of his tenure in Sunnydale: Spike. That he had reformed, Buffy had been adamant. Giles was no fool. Well-trained in reading people and especially good at reading his Slayer, he could tell when her attitude towards Spike had taken a 180-degree turn. There was respect for the strength and prowess of a fellow warrior, admiration for his torture-tested loyalty, and trust--the kind with absolute conviction, wagered in life and death. There were times when he suspected that Buffy was beginning to reciprocate Spike’s feelings, consequences be damned. They paired splendidly in fighting, sought each other out in a group setting, either intentionally or subconsciously, and Council teaching or not, there was something poetic, in a yin-yang balance kind of way, about an alliance between the Slayer and the Slayer of Slayers.
And what had they talked about during that brief reprieve on the Winnebago, just before the knights’ attack brought both of them rushing out from the back bedroom to jump into the fray? Not to mention, at the final battle, when they had returned from weapon retrieval at Buffy’s house, the way they looked at each other...
Well, it was all moot now. Buffy was gone. That ended that, thank God. But it would be immensely irresponsible of him to leave Sunnydale without getting a clear picture of Spike’s intentions and plans going forward. Giles downed the rest of his drink. Bollocks. He was going to have to pay the chipped vampire a visit.
“Then I said, ‘You call this satin, but you know as well as me that this dress is made of second grade synthetic polyester and not premium Chinese silk, which makes the price you charge highway robbery--’ Xander Harris, have you heard a word I said?”
“What?” Caught, Xander’s mind raced to come up with a reply that proved his attentiveness. “Synthetic silk? That’s uh, what exactly is synthetic silk?”
Anya huffed. Men. Couldn’t even rely on them for good dinner conversation. How were you supposed to put up with one for life without either calling on a vengeance demon for backup or turning him into a troll yourself? It had done wonders for her career, sure, but now that she was newly human, it was hardly all puppies and sunshine.
“Nevermind that.” She stabbed a pearl potato on her plate and waved her fork in Xander’s face. “You’re miles away. How could you not be emotionally invested in our wedding, and by extension, my wedding dress contestant number five?”
“I’m invested. I’m the Warren Buffett-level investor. I’m--” having just processed everything, he puzzled over her last sentence. “You have contestants for your wedding dress?”
“Sure!” she beamed, now that Xander was finally with the program. “Reality game shows are the new, hot American thing. Nowadays, it’s almost as American as consumerism. And I thought, why not do my patriotic part and combine the two? So I started running a competitive game show for the best wedding dress in my head. Simon Cowell is a judge. He never means to be rude, but he’s ruthlessly blunt and uncompromising.” She sighed longingly, “I owe him so much.”
“An…” Xander rubbed his temples. He didn’t want an argument. The funeral was in two days. He had had a tough day on the job, foregoing his hour of lunch break in an effort to make schedule, and still landed himself on the manager’s shit list for requesting time off in the pre-summer construction crunch. In contrast, what occupied the thoughts of his girlfriend--scratch that, fiancée--seemed neither appropriate nor consequential, given...everything.
Not known for subtlety, he had no idea what to say to not hurt her feelings. He nudged a pearl potato to the side of his plate only to watch it roll back. The slice of steak he just swallowed--medium rare, cooked to perfection, just the way he liked--somehow did not go down easy. Well, at any rate, something was lodged in his throat. He had no idea how to placate Anya, so he aimed for straightforward, “It seems hardly the time to be fussing over wedding details. Buffy’s funeral--”
“Buffy’s funeral, Buffy’s funeral...is that the only thing you care about? She’s gone now, and still manages to pull your strings from beyond the grave!” She pushed her plate back and pouted all the way to the sofa, where she threw herself down, crossing her arms and legs in a battle stance.
Shit list? Meet doghouse. Xander wanted to go to her, appease her with a mumbled apology followed by a heartfelt kiss, and engage her with a question about the tablecloth or centerpiece for the wedding reception. He didn’t give a damn about such things, but she did, and that was all that mattered. In turn, Anya would relent, and melt in his arms. She was quick to anger; but her temper, like showers in April, never lasted, and she wasn’t one to hold grudges. He loved that about her.
She seemed to take his silence as a sign of tacit agreement. Her temper flared. “And I spent two hours cooking your favorite meal. Would it have killed you to pay me a compliment? ‘Way to a man’s heart is through his stomach’ my ass.”
“Where are you finding these 1950s housewives to take relationship advice from?” He knew it was the wrong thing to say before the words left his mouth, but he couldn’t stop himself. It was like watching a trainwreck about to happen in an out-of-body experience. He briefly considered if such a thing had happened in Sunnydale, literally.
That did it. Anya shot up and came at him so fast he felt the rush of hot air before he saw her towering over his slouched form. “At least I’m trying!” her voice was breaking. Not good. “Being human is hard! I’m learning, for you. For us.” She frantically gestured the space between them. “The least you could do is to not mock me!”
He sprang into action then, and gathered her quaking body into his arms. “I’m sorry, An. I’m an idiot. Open mouth, insert foot--that’s me.” He pulled back to cradle her face between his palms, wiping at the streams of tears with his rough fingers, “Please don’t cry.”
Anya dabbed her eyes with a tissue, but the tears wouldn’t let up. “I get it that you’re grieving for Buffy. I am, too. She was a sweet girl.” She hiccuped, her sobs easing as her fury turned to sorrow. She was genuinely upset, but seemed to draw strength from it. “But it just reminds me that human lifespan is so short! We need to live each day, and enjoy it, as if it was our last!”
They stood there for a long time, motionless except for an errant sob that escaped from Anya every once in a while, clutching each other tight, like two people drowning in a river of sadness. Silently, Xander blinked away what felt suspiciously like tears. He loved Anya, didn’t deserve her, and wanted to devote his life to her happiness. But Buffy’s passing had set up house in that dark corner of his mind, and he wondered if he’d ever be happy again.
~ To Be Continued... ~
A/N: Thanks for reading! Please let me know what you think by leaving me a review. I’m writing this for your entertainment only. Tell me I’m not shouting to an empty room. :) Your feedback helps me keep going and helps the story take shape!