Chapter 2 - Issues


The microwave announced to Buffy that it had finished its job on her overdue dinner. She opened the door and stared down at the food on her plate. "Oh joy. Microwaved nourishment."

The tragic, re-heated meal somewhat matched the mood in the room.

Without any warning, Spike had ambushed them again with yet another dramatic turn of events that left them feeling totally blind-sided. To their discontent, a call to the UK monastery had confirmed Buffy's epiphany. Giles had, after one of his trademark nervous ramblings, put the überwitches on the job, and it hadn't taken them long to confirm their suspicions. The ensoulment of a vampire is an event that's big enough to leave significant ripples in the spiritual realm.

Buffy joined the others at the table, then started absent-mindedly poking her fork into the food. Her thoughts fluttered, mvoing through her head erratically, like lost butterflies.

‘Spike. Soul. Dammit. Spike’

After a while she stopped poking, and resorted to staring at the curry-colored chicken in the hope that it would provide some sort of miraculous food-related revelation a la ”Close Encounters of the Third Kind”.

"Well, Spike sure knows how to ruin a meal," Xander said, having decided it was time to lighten the mood, "Now I know why I didn't invite him to my rehearsal dinner. Oh, and I don't think the caterers had blood on their menu."

That statement, however, immediately lead to an equally uncomfortable moment when they all were briefly reminded of the wedding disaster. As he felt a sudden sting in his heart, Xander realized that he didn't want to discuss that subject at all.

Seeing the sadness wash over his face, Dawn was quick to take over the conversation for him.

"By the way," she said, "Blood Boy hasn’t resumed the crazy yelling. That's a definite plus.”

At that comment, Buffy slowly, almost unwillingly, lifted her eyes from the food to the stairs to listen, but there was no sound from the guest room on the second floor where Xander had reluctantly carried Spike on Buffy's orders after his little psychotic episode. It wasn't as if she couldn't have carried him herself, being Wonder Woman and all, but touching him would somehow have made the situation real, and that would have forced her to face the question of how to deal with him.

But, as she sat there at the table, staring blankly up toward the darkness that resided on the second floor, she felt Denial Girl slipping.

"I should patrol", she dropped the fork and promptly stood up, then stormed off to the weapons chest before the others could react.

Xander and Dawn were swiftly brought out of the uncomfortable moment at the table.

"No, Buffy!", Xander objected, as he stood up, then followed her quickly into the living room, "This has been a weirder than normal night, you shouldn't have to work! Or are you too good to just sit at home, feeling uncomfortable and awkward like the rest of us?"

"Hey, it's my job. I'm the Slayer, right?", Buffy picked up a sword and examined it, "So that is what I'm gonna do."

She added a well-used stake to her lethal equipment selection for the night, then grabbed her jacket and headed toward the door.

Dawn immediately realized her mistake in bringing up Spike. She stood up so fast that her chair fell to the floor behind her with a loud thump.

"Buffy," she called out, "we don't have to talk about Spike, we can talk about sports or movies or something! Or squirrels? You like squirrels right, all cute and twitchy and nut-o-holic!"

But before she had finished the sentence, the door had already closed behind Buffy.

* * * * * *

Buffy felt the thumps of her own footsteps echo through her head as she headed to the cemetery. She had walked this road so many times before, in so many different slaying moods. When she had been happy, slaying was relaxing. When she had been sad, slaying was comforting, when she had been angry, slaying was a means of letting off steam.

Tonite, she just walked on autopilot. The streetlights shone down on her with uninterested, sterile light as she passed through the empty streets. The wooden stake in her hand felt familiar in a comfortable way, and she held on to it as if it was some kind of morbid security blanket.

She sighed. Normal people were at home with their families by now, sleeping or watching "Survivor" or drinking cocoa or doing whatever normal people do. They weren't devouring pig's blood, turning undead people into dust, reading spells on top of pentagrams or cleaning demon
goo off the carpet.

Cocoa definitely beats demon goo any day of the week, she thought, yet here she was. Cocoa-less and on a killing spree.

After a while she felt the softness of cemetery grass under her feet, and the light from the street faded behind her as she walked among the gravestones of her office. She stopped and looked around.

"Vampires? Where are you guys?" she said hollowly.

She became quiet for a moment, and worked the spider-sense mojo.

"I've brought a fair blushing virgin here for you, all helpless and tasty," she twirled the stake in her hand as she slowly progressed through the graveyard, "And a bunch of preschool children, young and succulent. Mmm..."

She sensed it before she saw it. With a swift move, her fist made contact with the bumpy face of a vampire that jumped out of the shadows.

"Let me introduce myself," she fended off the blows of the fanged fiend, "I'm Buffy, and I'm going to be you slayer for the evening."

She heard a second vampire come up behind her, and she turned, tripping him with a low kick. She felt the adrenaline starting to rush through her body, an effective catalyst to her already boiling feelings.

"Hey!"she said with rising rage, "It's always death and feeding with you guys, isn't it? Kind of narrow minded, don't you think?"

She took a hard blow to her shoulder, and then felt the vampire behind her grabbing and pulling her backwards with the intent of making her his late night snack. She quickly turned and twisted away from his grip.

"I'll teach you to be an asshole!"

The vampire swiftly found himself pinned up against the nearest tree. Buffy began hitting him ruthlessly, her fist now bleeding from the force of her blows.

"Die! You son of a bitch!"

She felt the blood running down her arm, soaking into little pools of blood on the sleeve of her jacket.

The pinned vampire lost his smug look in an instant. Faced with her unexplained rage, he realized a little too late that the stories he’d heard about the Slayer weren’t just undeserved hype. He realized with growing horror that he wasn't going to be coming out of this undead. As he felt his body beginning to disintegrate around the stake in his chest, he heard the other vampire stumble away in panic.

Buffy stood still for a moment with her stake raised. Then she dropped it and ran.

* * * * * *

She slammed the door of the darkend room open and stared down at him, forming a motionless silhouette against the light of the doorway. The only sounds were quick breaths that revealed her anger and exhaustion. It was hard to make out any shapes, and she wasn't sure if he was conscious. Then she heard the soft sound of sheets moving, and her gaze suddenly made out the whites of his eyes in the darkness.

She couldn't see the expression in his face. She didn't want to.

"You think you're being a hero," she said with a hard voice, "don't you?"

Her right hand closed into a tight fist, and the blood from the battle wounds on her knuckles, startes forming a dark, spotted pattern on the carpet.

"All that suffering and pain to get a brand new soul, to throw on my porch like some kind of trophy. Am I supposed to be impressed?"

She looked at him with cold eyes. "It was all for nothing."

He heard words. They didn't make any sense, didn't come together. He could feel them hitting him like a hard rain, but he couldn't see them.

Was it her? Was she here? Did she see him?

Then suddenly he was alone.

The smell of her blood came crashing through the fog of his brain like a sledgehammer. That scent was something he could never forget. He had smelled it so many times. Sometimes shed by Spike himself, when he had repeatedly tried to kill her in the past. Sometimes shed by others during those times when he had fought beside her and watched her sustain countless injuries in the line of her work.

And flooding from her lifeless body while he watched her lying dead on the ground under the fluttering light of the closing portal.

For a moment, her blood pushed the confusion and insanity away, and with that, the mind-numbing pain and guilt that reality carried with it rushed in. With great emotional exertion, he slowly made it out of the bed, and finally knelt by the blood spots on the floor.

The color started to become painfully bright, buzzing through his mind like Technicolor static sparks. He hesitated, then touched the drops with trembling fingers, and for a moment it was all truly real.

As his body started shaking with sobs, bitter tears mixed with the blood on the floor.

* * * * * *

The morning after dawned in bright and bizarre contrast to the previous night's gloom. The context of the daylight, the morning paper and newly-made toast made the presence of the undead bloodsucker in their guest-room seem drastically unreal.

The morning routine proceeded without either sister touching the subject, almost like that would have broken the illusion of normality.

Xander stopped by before Buffy left for the Double Meat Palace. He sensed that the subject should be avoided, and kept to cheerful small talk before leaving to drop Dawn off at her school.

And then there was algebra and super sized fries.

* * * * * *

An askew square of pale sunlight fell at the floor in the hallway from the afternoon sun outside.

"Buffy!" Dawn yelled as she entered, "How was work?"

Xander closed the door behind them with his foot, dropping a couple of paper bags and a big cardboard box containing packs of pig's blood on the floor, while trying to hold back a few unmanly huffs.

"Greasy," Buffy yelled back from the kitchen.

"Oh, did you buy stuff?" she emerged from the kitchen to join them, "I like stuff!"

Dawn and Xander squirmed simultaneously at the thought of the blood in the box. It had taken quite some convincing by Dawn before she managed to talk him into stopping by at the butcher. Well, actually she had resorted to blackmailing him with threats of telling everybody they knew about the large collection of porn she found when he was babysitting her a few weeks ago.

"We went by the second-hand book store for some magical books," Dawn replied, "and the comic book store for some Dragon Ball Z…and the butcher. Sort of."

She grimaced, and quickly yanked a brightly-colored item out of one of the bags. It was a Pikachu-shaped lamp with a bulgy, yellow lampshade on top.

"Look what they had at the comic book store! Isn't it cute!" she carried it into the living room and placed it on the book shelf between a couple of ancient war-goddess statues.

"It brightens up the room, doesn't it!" she stood in front of the shelf, her arms crossed, and with a smile on her face.

Effectively thrown off the butcher subject by the corny animé item, Buffy frowned.

"You think I'm going to let you have a big porcelain Pokémon in our living room?", she exclaimed, "Take that away! And..."

Buffy's words drowned in the sudden noise of the door being kicked open.

"Anybody up for some vengeance?!", Anya yelled.

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