Post-The Girl In Question (This replaces Power Play and Not Fade Away-- that is, those events happen a little differently.) R Joss owns 'em, I just love 'em up when he's too mean to them
"Xander thinks I'm feeling guilty because I didn't call."
"Call whom?" Giles looks up from his paperwork, annoyance gradually fading on his face. He's annoyed at the bureaucracy, not at me. He's got all these forms to fill out before the slayerette can come here– forms making me her temporary guardian, forms enrolling her in summer school, forms so her FICA gets paid to the right account (yeah, they even pay slayers-in-training now... and I think of those years when I did it all for free– of course, the $100,000 lump sum I got last year kind of compensated). It sure was easier to be a Watcher when there was only one slayer, and you didn't have to educate her, because she wouldn't live long enough to need learning. "Call Dawn?"
"No. I call Dawn every week."
I still can't say his name. "You know. Last year. After you told me Andrew had seen him."
"Oh." Giles knows what I mean. He gets up to pull the drapes shut. The late afternoon sun is streaming in from the west, yeah, but I can tell mostly he wants to turn his back so he can take off his glasses and rub the lenses without me making fun of him. "Yes. Well. I thought you'd want to know. Or that you'd blame me if I knew and didn't tell you, anyway."
"I thought he should call me. Since he was the one who came back from the dead. It was his responsibility."
"He did come to see you when he was in Rome, Andrew said."
I brood on this for awhile. "I don't know why he didn't just stay a few hours. Wait for me to come back."
"Perhaps staying wasn't an option. Angel was with him, I recall."
Yeah. And I can just imagine how quick Angel would make his exit. I can just imagine what he'd say -- She's with someone else now. She doesn't care about you. She doesn't care about the past. Let her go and be happy and normal. Don't be selfish. Be selfless like I was. I let her go. You should too. Only he'd probably put in some insults, like you moron and you idiot.
Angel would make it seem like what I felt for Spike wasn't worth reviving. And I suppose Spike wouldn't have much evidence to prove him wrong, would he?
"I was going to call him after that. But --"
But I wanted to break up with the Immortal before I did. And you don't break up with the Immortal, see. You get him to break up with you. It took several weeks of being mildly obnoxious and boring before he gave me the sapphire bracelet goodbye gift that meant it was now safe not to be the Immortal's inamorata.
And by that time, Giles was back on the phone to me, with the news of that last battle. Spike was gone again. Died again in an alley. I guess no one even saw. No one swept up the dust. No one had a memorial service. No one cared, from what I could tell. If Giles hadn't called trying to find Wesley, Angel wouldn't even have bothered to tell us that they were both dead.
No one saw.
Maybe he didn't --
Now Giles is talking like Xander. Talking about moving on, starting over. About what Spike would have wanted for me. Happiness. All that. About the garden maybe being an omen of some kind, an omen of the bright future I have ahead. I nod and smile and all the time I'm thinking -- no one saw?
I wait until Giles leaves to file the guardianship papers at the courthouse. And then I go to my laptop and boot it up and open my email program. And there in a folder of saved mail I find it, a year-old note from that girl Anne, the one in LA, the one who ended up running a teen shelter -- just a quick note saying that Charles Gunn had survived the last battle and was staying with her until he recovered. In case, I guess, I wanted to send a get-well card to this guy I barely knew. My mother brought me up to do things like that. But I didn't. Like I didn't call Spike when I heard he was alive. Mom would be so disappointed in me.....
Underneath Anne's name was her title (Director) and the shelter's address and phone number. Before I can change my mind, I dial the number, and when a woman answers, I say, "I'm trying to track down Charles Gunn."
And just like that, she says, "Hang on." And I hear her yelling, "Charles! Phone!"
Then he's on, and it takes me a minute to regroup. "Charles," I finally say. "This is Buffy Summers."
"Oh. Hi." He sounds confused. "Good to hear from you."
"I didn't realize you were there. At the shelter."
"Yeah. I work here now." Now he's abrupt. "What can I do for you?"
I did this too quick. I don't have anything planned. Finally I just blurt out. "Look. About that last battle. I just wanted to know about --" And then I say the name I haven't said in a year. "Spike."
"Spike." And there's something in his voice. Sorrow, maybe? And for a second I feel better about something I haven't let myself feel bad about --about Spike being friendless there in LA. Stuck there with Angel who hated him, because he didn't have anywhere else to go. But Charles Gunn says his name with something that sounds like – affection. Like he sort of misses him. So maybe Spike wasn't so alone those last days -- "Yeah. Well. What did you want to know?"
I take a deep breath. "When he died. Uh, was he alone?"
Charles was silent for a moment. Finally he said, "No. I was there. And Angel."
My chest starts hurting with the loss of a hope I should never have had. "You saw him die."
"Yeah. Dusted." He pauses again, and says, "I saw it. Sorry."
"No. No." I try to keep the quaver out of my voice. "I'm just glad he wasn't.... wasn't alone. That you and Angel were there for him."
He echoes, "There for him." He makes some noise that almost sounds like a laugh. But it can't be a laugh. "Right. That we were."
"Okay. Thanks." I have to get off before I start blubbering. "Uh, well, say hi to Angel for me."
Another moment. And then, "I don't see Angel anymore. So I can't."
"Oh." I understand. For a long time after the Hellmouth was closed, Xander and I couldn't see each other either. Now we're friends again, but it took awhile before we could look at each other and not see the ending. So I say, all in a rush, "Well, then, give my best to Anne." And then I hang up before I say any more stupid things.
In the evening, I have another date with Josh. I wait till he orders dessert before I tell him I can't see him anymore.
He's confused. I don't blame him. I mean, just a couple days ago, we were holding hands and talking -- in a theoretical way– about which Cleveland neighborhoods had the best schools. "But I thought we were --" He stops and puts on his concerned face, the one he uses when he's interviewing a laid-off worker. "What's wrong, Buffy?"
I stick a fork into my chocolate mousse cake and break off a triangle. Then I squash it with the fork tines. "I really like you." I lift the fork and squash it down again. "But I realized today that I was..." Using you. I don't want to say that. "I wasn't really ready for this. I'm... I'm sort of still in recovery. And -- and you deserve better than just a rebound."
"Rebound?" He reaches over and takes my hand, and I have to drop the fork. "Buffy, I know you were badly hurt, but you know, high school was a long time ago."
"High -- " He's talking about Angel. My high-school boyfriend. The one who broke my heart. I did tell him about Angel, not the vampire/curse/Angelus thing of course, but about the dark and dangerous man who loved me and left me.
I never told him about Spike. I wouldn't even know what to tell him. There was this guy, see, and he loved me a lot, and then he died. And then he died again. So naturally he thinks that I'm still mooning over some guy in high school, because that's the only guy he knows about. I clear my throat. "There was someone else. But he died. It's been a year, and I thought I was over it, but something happened today and I realized I'm... not. Over it."
Josh squeezes my hand. "That's okay. That's what I'm here for. To support you. It won't make me jealous or anything if you talk about him."
"I don't want to talk about him!" That came out too vehement. I dial down the intensity. "All I mean is, I can't really be a good girlfriend yet. And you deserve that. But I can't...." I can't love you. That's what I mean. But when I say that, I hear myself saying it to Spike. Only it was I can't love you because you're an evil soulless thing. I can't love you because you're a monster. Ask me again why I can't love you.
I'd never say anything like that to Josh. I say it the other way, the kind way. "I can't love you the way you deserve. It's not you. It's me. I just don't have it in me."
He still has hold of my hand. He says, "This reminds me of that old song. That old Meatloaf song." And very softly, he sings, "I want you, I need you. But there ain't no way I'm ever going to love you. But don't be sad. 'Cause two out of three ain't bad."
I just stare at him. I can't believe he's singing here in the middle of a restaurant when I'm trying to break up with him. Finally he lets go of my hand. "Couple years ago, when I was about to graduate, I bought that CD and played that song for my girlfriend. I wanted to break up with her, but I didn't want to hurt her, you know? So I played that song and I said, that's the way I feel." He shakes his head. "It still hurt her."
I don't know what to make of this. Finally I say, "So you know what I mean."
"Sure, Buffy. I know what you mean." He calls for the check and gets out his wallet. "Most relationships don't work out. No big deal. Still friends, all that."
And that's it. He takes me home, gives me a chaste cheek-kiss, and says with a grin, "Call me if you hear of any news." Then he drives away.
He took it well. It's a relief. Really.
All of a sudden it hits me. That's what love is like, out here in the real world. You don't get in too deep, because you have to be able to get out again.
No one is ever going to love me like Spike did.
Boy, that sounds selfish. Like I deserve to be loved that much again. Like I merit that sort of sacrifice. Like I'm due some unconditional love.
That's not what I mean. But... but I realize that it was pretty rare, Spike's kind of love. Not many people love that way. I don't know anyone else that does. Most people are more sensible than that. They know better than to love that hard and give that much. Hurt that much.
I know better. Knew better.
Maybe only demons love that way.
No wonder he didn't believe me. That last minute, when he was about to die at the Hellmouth, I tried to say what he wanted to hear -- "I love you"– but turns out he didn't want to hear it after all. He wanted to know it without hearing it. He wanted to know it in every fiber like he knew I knew he loved me.
In the end, I think, he didn't even want that. It hurt too much to want that. So he just gave up wanting.