It belongs to this chapter, and it was one of the inspirations for the entire story. It feels good to be able to finally use it.
Buffy delayed this chapter as she didn't want to talk. That figures.
Chapter Nine – Memories in Monochrome
An unfamiliar paralysis of mortal dread greeted Buffy on the other side of waking. Frozen, she remained still, her hands balled into the pillow, gripping tightly to reality, as her sleep-weary mind tried to sort through the muddled images of nightmare and reconcile them with the sight of the murky sun through the gap in the curtain.
She’d had that dream again, the one that had been keeping her off balance for weeks. Too vivid for a normal night terror, but not tangible enough to be a memory, it nagged at her conscience through her waking hours, desperate for attention. A Slayer dream.
But this time it had a whole new twist.
Why did he have to grab the starring role in this dream? Why couldn’t he have made his big comeback in the kind of erotic masquerades he’d appeared in after her resurrection? Back then she’d enjoyed the guilty pleasure of those. He’d been a fantasy, a subconscious manifestation of her most wicked desires that she could indulge without the messy details of his reality or his big rude mouth. Those were the kind of dreams she wanted now, recapturing the fun parts of what they’d had without the messy details of the rest. Slayer dreams were supposed to be firmly in her past, and she didn’t to remember him vicious and evil. He was gone. Dust. He could go and haunt the dreams of the other slayers, the countless other girls carrying the burden, whose subconscious didn’t taunt them cruelly with what was lost.
Fully awake and back to her normal self, Buffy got up and trudged to the bathroom. It was later than she’d thought and she needed to get to the station soon. Blearily, she looked into the mirror, wiping away the condensation to get a better, if fractured view of her face. She inspected her skin; it felt dry and papery, stretched too thinly over the bones of her face by fatigue. For a moment, she worried that she might have a pimple or a wart or something on her nose. Then she rubbed at the mirror again with the sleeve of her pyjama top. It was just a spot of grime.
But the black shape behind her wasn’t. In the milky glass it loomed dark and featureless by the door. Dread crashed to the pit of her stomach. She whipped around, snapping into a fighting stance, ready to kick the ass of anything it might be, only to face the giveaway ripples of red stitching that patterned the back of the Andrew’s Darth Maul towel.
Buffy relaxed her position with relief. Dawn must have left his forgotten bath sheet on the hook behind the door, and she’d seen it everyday for months. How could she mistake it for something supernatural now? The stupid dream had put her on edge, that and her talk with Giles the day before. He’d jogged her memory with his oblique references, stirring up emotions buried so deep inside her she’d rather ignore them than acknowledge or face them.
She finished washing and pushed Spike out of her mind, padlocking him firmly away in her heart so that she could carry on with life, using the mundane routine of daily tasks to ease her disquiet. She still felt unsettled, but by the time she started to change into a heavy sweater and jeans, the feeling had started to fade.
She went downstairs and padded to the kitchen. Between meals, the room had become a makeshift office for whoever needed the space. Today, Willow had risen early and had upended yet another crate of Archives onto the table, covering it in a stack of papers now piled up to Himalayan proportions, a small remnant of thousands of years of Watching. There was everything, a K2 of photos and sketches, some distinctly unpleasant, sent a scree of scorched Personnel records and Watcher’s journals sliding down its mountainous side. There were peaks of parchment scrawled with demonic languages Buffy hadn’t cared to learn, and a high plateau of reports, hundreds of them, in manila folders crammed to bursting. Some were recent and had been printed out on white copy paper, now dusky with smoke damage. Others had been scribed in tidy, precise gothic on vellum shards, recounting gory tales of slaying past.
Behind it all, Willow sat at her iBook, in a small, clear Tibetan space of tranquillity, her brow furrowed in concentration.
She looked up with a bright smile as Buffy came in. “Hi Buffy, T minus one day to Brighton party goodness!”
“I’m not going, Will.” Buffy told her dully. “I have to go somewhere or other. Slayer business.”
Willow’s smile deflated, sinking into a small disappointed frown. “I thought that was all over? I mean, you still have all the Slayerness and all, but there are lots of other Slayers now, right?”
“I know, but the Slayer dreams apparently chose me.” Buffy started to pick idly at a small ridge of files that had subsided into a valley of expense slips. “Can you tell Dawn I’m sorry I couldn’t come?”
Before Willow could press for details, she changed the subject. “So, how goes the exciting world of Archiving?”
Willow shrugged with the world-weariness of someone in the midst of a Herculean task and returned to her cataloguing. “Okay, I guess. Still a lot to do.”
Buffy looked at the documents in her hand, mostly random scraps, some charred and fragile. She wasn’t really interested in them, but there was nothing else to fiddle with. She’d been doing that a lot lately, playing with things within her grasp as she avoided the pitied gaze of those she spoke to. She didn’t want to be scrutinised like something that needed to be fixed. Life had been unpredictable, dangerous and eventful in Sunnydale; it was time her life became a little more normal.
And that’s just what it was now. Routine. Dull. Unremittingly normal. And she was bored. She had to admit it, if only to herself. Get up. Wash. Go to work. A quiet patrol just to get out of a house that didn’t feel like home. Apocalypses were things that happened to other people now and she felt somehow empty without the edge honed by the constant need to fight for her life. New challenges of a more mundane sort had been promised. There were Slayers that needed training to save their lives. But she couldn’t get at them, dispersed as they were throughout the organisation. The news that the Watcher’s Council had finally found a building to house a Slayer Academy was great, but their glacial pace had been frustrating and it had dulled her enthusiasm. She didn’t care how new or undermanned it might be; the Council was still too slow.
As she picked carelessly at the pile again, something caught her eye, a modern photograph trapped underneath rolling foothills of minutes from a meeting held in 1925. Carefully, she slipped the glossy print out, her hand unsteady and her stomach doing a sudden nervous flip. There was no mistaking Spike in the photo - as if such a thing was possible - she knew the jut of that jaw and the sharp cut of his cheekbones, the Goth-punk hair and the lapels of that coat that she’d used to grab him, to make him kiss her, to make him shut that beautiful mouth, to stop him saying I love you and meaning it. She’d seen that face with a thousand and one expressions, murderous glee and utter despair, alive with ecstasy and broken with pain. She could shut her eyes and sculpt it now, the shape of him felt as if burned into her they very molecules of her fingertips like a muscle memory, every flaw, scar or mark she’d known and kissed. Seeing his face again like this, in stark photographic reality was much worse than the unsettling dream. It wasn’t even a good picture, just a fuzzy monochrome still from a Sunnydale Security camera, but seeing it amongst the scraps of Watcher’s records, it was almost too much to bear. He was out of context here - out of her life - and that hurt.
Buffy’s sharp intake of breath made Willow look up from her task. Buffy could almost see Willow’s heart sink when the young witch saw what Buffy was holding. She stared at the picture solemnly, before her face set to a hard mask to cover her pain. “Are there any more of him?”
"Some, not many. We were going to…"
“Hide them from me.” Not a question, a statement of fact.
Willow snapped her iBook shut. "Buffy? Do you wanna talk about it? You've never talked about him. Maybe some best friend one-on-one time would help?"
Buffy surprised herself by pulling out a dining chair and sitting down.
They hadn't talked about him since that night and no one had even mentioned him by name. He always been an outsider, never really part of their group, and in turn they had ignored this thing on the side of their group as if he’d go away if they waited long enough. Now it was as if a wall of silence existed where he should be, as if he hadn't saved the world and it seemed to be all her fault. But, to her surprise, she found she wanted to talk about him now, to give him the place he’d earned in their lives, to make sure someone else understood that he was a hero, and her Champion, the one she had chosen for herself. She wanted to be able to speak of him like Xander would talk of Anya, as someone they'd lost and missed, to let them know that there was a touch of someone she thought of as William under the demon. The real him. It would never have occurred to anyone but Dawn that he’d ever even had a softer side. He never let them see under the arrogant swagger, the crude humour or the hint of evil in his eye.
She focused her attention firmly on the photograph, trying somehow to absorb more from it than his image. It took a few moments to find the words. They came from deep inside her, and she got them out before she choked on them. "Would you think I'm a bad person if I said I miss him, Will? I mean, really miss him?"
Willow shook her head. "Oh no, no, no, Buffy. Don't think that. You have every right to miss Spike. I mean, we all knew how you felt about him."
Buffy looked up sharply. "You did?"
Willow nodded. "Sure. We all saw you, Buffy. Saw you together. There were lots of feelings there."
“How could you know that? How could you, when I didn't know myself?” Buffy wondered. Maybe she was so unused to the feeling of love, she no longer recognised what it felt like.
Willow gave her friend a comforting smile. “Hellooo, gay here! I know what it’s like to be caught up in a love you shouldn't be feeling.”
“Thanks. At least Tara wasn’t big with those dark vibes.” Buffy answered Willow with a small smile of her own, but the admission of all those feeling was still too much and she panicked. “But I never said it was love.”
Willow’s expression was all she needed to show that she wasn’t convinced. “You couldn’t miss it, Buffy. All that UST buzzing around.”
Buffy opened her mouth to reply, but she found she had nothing to say to that. After a moment she managed to say, “It wasn’t like that.”
“Okay, maybe a little,” Buffy sighed in defeat, the game was up, “but it wasn’t Angel kind of love. Spike was… different. It was complicated.”
Buffy paused, maybe she shouldn’t be comparing them, but nothing could ever measure up to the intensity of her affairs with the two vampires. Both doomed, both filled with pain and longing that was never fulfilled. Angel's dark, chaste, pragmatic denial of their deep, romantic love; both intense and tragic, that had hurt so much, was so different to Spike's fizzy sexual energy and unflinching fall through obsession and selfless passion to his sacrifice for her and the world. One she knew would have lain at her feet until the universe ended, the other would try to set her free as he walked away, tearing her young heart apart until it was a puzzle no one else could ever reassemble. They would both die for her, she knew that, but only one had proved it.
Her eyes started to tear as she remembered gripping Spike’s hand in hers, palm to palm. What no one knew, was how close she had come to turning back, to return and die with him. Turning and running had been almost impossible, but returning would have achieved nothing except a futile gesture to a love that had never had an opportunity to fully blossom. They couldn’t be together in life or death and it’d been his last wish that she should live. That's what she would have to do in his honour, while locking him away into a special place in her heart.
“In the Hellmouth,” she started, “when I touched his hand, I could feel it, feel his soul and it was beautiful. I knew who he was and he was a good man. In that moment I fell in love with him… And I had to let him go.” Buffy sniffed and Willow let her gather herself. “You know, after all that time trying to get rid of him, I was starting to get used to him being there… I thought he’d always be there.”
“I know how I felt when I lost Tara,” Willow said eventually. “And I did some stupid stuff. If you feel half of what I felt then…” Willow shook her head, as if trying to clear away the bad memories. “There’ll always be a great gaping hole in my heart where she was - okay, it’s more of a yawning chasm – but I hope you can find happiness again, like I did with Kennedy.”
“Thanks, Will. That means a lot.”
“So no more mopey Buffy?” Willow said hopefully.
“I hope so,” Buffy nodded, yet the dream still nagged at the edge of her consciousness. “But there was something else. These Slayer dreams I’ve been having, last night they were big with the Spikeness.”
Willow grinned. “You mean Spike has been making with the nocturnal visitations again?”
“Not in the way you’re thinking.”
“But that’s impossible, right? Slayer dreams are meant to be prophetic and he’s all dusty. Are you sure it was him?”
Buffy remembered the hunger that burned in his cold dream eyes too well. “I’m sure. But we’re talking evil flavour Spike.”
“That can’t be good. You don’t think...?”
“That he’s all undusty and up to no good? I don’t think so.” Buffy looked at the picture again. She had thought of him since his death, of course she had. Sometimes she’d hear songs that remind her of him on the radio. Love songs with lyrics that cut too close to the bone or trashy punk tracks she knew he’d have loved.
She turned them off.
She didn’t want to remember him like that, just nostalgia tied to a few passing bars of a song. She wanted to recall how fierce he was, how cruel he could be - because if she remembered all his dimensions, the man he’d become for her, how sweet and loving he could be, she’d fall to pieces never to be rebuilt, emptied inside of all the feelings he’d filled her with.
She had few happy memories of the time they were together, and she was glad for that. She could convince herself that she hadn’t lost anything, that she could be loved again. One day.
Once or twice, she’d even dared to hope that he might come back. After all, Angel had been returned to her against all odds. But she couldn't be that lucky twice in her lifetime. Could she? What did a remarkable, but insignificant, vampire matter in the scheme of things to warrant resurrection from dust? She wouldn’t risk that sort of hope anymore. “I spoke to Giles yesterday and he was on my mind. Maybe it’s just a imagination thing.”
“Let’s hope so.”
“I should get packing. Will?” Buffy stood, picking up the photo. She wanted to keep it. “Do you know how to get to a place called Little Darrow?”
Previous parts are here.
ETA: Oops. Forgot to thank hesadevil for the beta.