I think I’m old and I’m feeling pain, you said

And it’s all running out like it’s the end of the world, you said

And it’s so cold, it’s like the cold if you were dead

And then you smiled for a second

—The Cure “Plainsong”

 

Something hurt suddenly deep inside Buffy, something acute. She frowned at the vampire prowling along on her left, loose-limbed and unconcerned. It was nostalgia, constricting her heart…The recall of smell, of patrolling in Sunnydale with Spike on a fine night. Somewhere nearby someone had lit a real cigarette and she could taste the oiliness of lighter fluid like cheap gin on her tongue, and the exhale of smoke sitting in the air, and the realization hit hard in her chest that all of this was lost to her, that walking to the Bronze to take out the baddies stopped at the door. She was never going back on the dance floor. She had her own threshold barrier now.

“Do you think that’s how it worked?” she asked Spike. “The first time, I mean. The Turok-Han didn’t need one.”

“What’s that, luv?” he gave her an indulgent smile, which just hurt worse.

“Why vampires have to be invited in.”

He gave her a shadow of his smirk. “’Cause we’re so bleedin’ polite, pet. If your Watcher ever got himself turned, he’d need a written invite an’ he’d RSVP.”

Buffy snorted and then had to clutch her arms around her chest. Oh god. Maybe this was how Angel had felt when his soul left him in that one moment of perfect happiness, a fleeting lightness followed by a horrible stab of guilt, and then…She should not wish to be anything like Angelus.

“Some magic-user, or a religious adept maybe. Someone brave, like…” she swallowed the tears in her throat and made herself say the name, “William. His human soul stuck around to the keep the demon from harming his family. Gave up heaven to bar the door.”

Not like William,” Spike shook his head and gave her a hard look. “Obviously. Prolly the answer’s in that book you never read.”

Buffy knew better than to bring him up. She’d didn’t really know anything about the man he’d been, about the soul that had saved the world. It was one of the many good reasons he’d denied her love. William was inscrutable…by Spike’s design, by her own willful ignorance. She could have asked him a thousand questions that night at the Bronze, when he’d wrapped up her death wish and presented it neatly to her, tied in a bow, and even if he probably wouldn’t have told her the whole truth he would have happily held forth, drawing the night out so his time with her wouldn’t end…She could have learned a lot by what he didn’t say, could have felt the cadence and the meter, even if she couldn’t read between the lines. Sitting on the porch steps, she knew he loved her, knew it even then.

In the beginning, Imaginary Spike yelled back at her when she used his Christian name. It was fair, she’d only ever used it to hurt him. Maybe being back in Sunnydale would bring back the fight in him, like it brought out the worst in her.

She changed the subject. “Angel’s following me.”

 

Buffy shoved her hands in the pockets of her coat and kept walking. His footsteps echoed, obvious and meant to be heard.

The last time she’d confronted him. Maybe this time he’d let her go.

It didn’t work. Buffy looked up at the wall of Angel’s chest and made herself meet his eyes. He looked surprised. “I thought you’d be…uh…”

“Blonder?” Spike suggested. He put a cigarette to his lips. “You know he saw you in LA, pet. He told you that.”

“Older,” Angel said finally.

Did she look younger now than when she’d first been called? It didn’t make any sense, she was a million years old, older than Sineya, she was looking back at him with dead eyes. In seventy days, a number she could count, a number that she could mark with the moon, she would be staring at him lifeless. With unkempt hair, without makeup, she thought she looked like a waif.

Angel put a gentle finger under her chin and tilted her head up so her hair fell away from her face. “I know what you want,” he said, just as gently. What the hell?

“You really don’t,” she answered, stepping back a pace. Spike was there, solid and steady at her back, growling at Angel over her shoulder.

Angel’s hand hovered in the space she’d been for a moment, then he snapped his fingers like he’d just remembered something. “Actually…” he stepped forward again and Buffy bristled at the coy man she’d met that night, handing out cryptic warnings like candy while softening her with cheap jewelry.

The one that hadn’t warned her about the Aurelians, his own lineage, the one that hadn’t even shown up for the Harvest…

“You want to kill them all,” Angel said.

Buffy didn’t retreat this time. “Just want to kill the one,” she said quietly.

Angel nodded his head like he understood what she was talking about. “The Master. Here,” he said, and took her hand and placed the jewelry box on her flat palm, and Buffy felt it burn where the cross inside it lay, felt it through the layers of satin and cardboard and velvet that made up the box, felt it in her palm where Spike’s hand had burned in hers, and felt it burn into the dead place in her heart. “You’ll need this.”

Buffy swallowed down her anger, and Angel slipped off his jacket and settled it over her shoulders. “You’re cold,” he said and gave her a soft smile.

“I am,” she agreed, heartless and heatless both, “I mean, I already have a coat.”

“You’re shaking.” He ghosted his fingers over her cheek before she could stop him, then turned to do his disappearing act.

“I don’t need a friend either,” she said to his back.

He didn’t turn around. “You’ve got one anyway.”

“Wanker,” Spike said.

Buffy was shaking. No no no no no…Where had this Angel been the last time? Sure, she’d shown up all sass and swagger, but he’d played it that way himself, played the mysterious card to lure her slowly in. Now that she was…

You could never be helpless or boring.

“Best watch your step around him if you’re gonna be like this.”

I could see your heart. You held it up before you for everyone to see and I was worried that it would be bruised or torn.

“Going to be like what? Some plain, innocent looking…” her voice dropped to a whisper, “that’s not enough to lift his curse…Is it?”

“Might wanna ask Dru that, yeah? You do look younger, pet. Fresh-faced an’ stoic…Think you remind him of someone.”

And more than anything in my life I wanted to keep it safe…

Buffy felt sick. Spike turned the screws. “He fucked Darla and didn’t lose the soul.”

I would have killed for him to be this way the last time, forthright and concerned about me and…

“’Solicitous’ is the word you want. He’s soliciting you, Slayer.”

It was my fault, he only ever wanted to help…

Buffy looked, and Spike was gone at her thought.

No you don’t. But thanks for saying it.

She was left standing in the street, blinking into the night…“Oh crap, Darla.”

 

Debarge was trying to slip in the back door of the Bronze. One of the perks of vampirism, Buffy supposed, once you’ve got the invite you don’t have to pay for cover, either. She didn’t bother with her ‘live in the now’ quip, just staked him and walked away.

“Would be a bit rich coming from you right now anyroad,” Spike observed.

‘Believe’ was coming through the front door of the Bronze and Buffy’s anger from earlier flared and bloomed. She’d never danced with Spike on that dance floor. Would it have changed anything if she’d dragged him by the hand to hold him in the spotlight with her instead of fucking him in the shadows up above?

“Think you know the answer to that,” Spike said, of course it fucking would and then, “Heads up.”

Darla rounded the corner of the alleyway, swinging her hips, skipping like the schoolgirl she was pretending to be, and god, how much of Angel’s young girl fetish was Darla’s fault?

Buffy stepped in front of Darla neatly, hooked elbows with hers like they were old chums…maybe in the sharkbait sense, although the jailbait sense worked too. Buffy put all her force into it and swung Darla around, redirecting her into the back alley. Here we go round the prickly pear.

Darla bounced off the dumpster with a dull thud and turned around in vampface with a snarl. She looked over Buffy once, twice…not quite seeing her, maybe, which was fine, great even, Buffy wasn’t really there, and then Darla must have realized there was no one else that could have done it. “You stupid little bitch,” Darla said, “watch what you’re doing.”

Buffy snap-kicked her in the chest into the dumpster again. It made a sharper noise. Maybe she’d realize it hadn’t been an accident.

Buffy cracked her neck and advanced on her. “Stupid…” she caught Darla in the chin with her elbow, “yeah, you’re not wrong.” Buffy grabbed fistfuls of Darla’s blonde hair, like hers was once, yanking hard and spinning her to her knees. “But I’m the biggest bitch you’re ever going to meet. Just ask Spike.” She slammed Darla’s face into the pavement. She would smash her fucking skull in. “Oh wait, you’re not gonna get the chance.”

She knew she should just dust Darla, that had been the plan, and stick to the fucking plan Buffy, but Darla managed to croak out, “Spike?” and then she gave a little laugh and rolled and broke Buffy’s grip and got to her feet because no one said his name anymore and for a second Buffy remembered that he’d been real once, that he was real now.

“You really are losin’ it, Slayer,” Spike observed.

Darla licked a trickle of blood from the corner of her mouth, and it was probably supposed to be sexy, and oh god had Spike found Darla sexy? Darla gave a little-girl giggle and Buffy a dismissive once-over. “What do you know about sweet little William? He does seem to go in for the damaged ones…”

Buffy’s fist shot out and broke Darla’s nose. “I know he’s not little.”

“Who are you?”

Daughter of Sineya, daughter of Regret, I am the start of the cataclysm, I am the end of the line. I am the alpha and the omega and I kill Aurelians. That is my birthright.

“No one of consequence.” Darla was still smiling even though her nose was gushing blood all over her white shirt, and Buffy quit wanting to dust Darla because Buffy saw red. Red like blood, red like fire, red like malice, and all she saw was flames, and she wanted to make Darla hurt, because she just now realized...“Did you fuck him?” Buffy’s hand went around Darla’s throat. “Answer me.”

“Think you know the answer to that, too,” Spike said distantly. He sounded disinterested.

“Did you?” Darla pried Buffy’s fingers away. “William was so young and pretty. So eager to please…We all enjoyed him.” She gave a little sigh. “Then he and Angelus started roughhousing, and…well. Angelus always did break his toys.”

I’ll show you fear in a handful of dust.

Buffy wielded her stake with so much force that it embedded in the steel of the dumpster, the metal reverberating around it with an echoing clang clang clang.

“It’s all right, pet,” Spike said, staring dispassionately at the dusty ground, “’twas a long time ago.”

Buffy looked a Spike like she hadn’t seen him in years. Well, she hadn’t, after all…She hadn’t been the only person to break Spike, but she’d been the last, and the most thorough.

What’s worse than a soulless killer?

“'I am the alpha and the omega',” she said, “'I am the one who alone exists and I have no one who will judge me'.” She looked at Spike. “Except you.”

One that fucking knows better.

He looked away. “Don’t do this, pet.”

“I have to kill Luke,” she said, and ran.

 





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