Chapter 9 - Move Along, Nothing to See Here

Dawn and Xander were sitting by the kitchen table. The silence in the room was the tangible variety that one could almost reach out and take hold of. It was dense and thick, and so highly-charged that it could fulfill a small country's energy needs for a year if the scientific community only had the means to harvest it.

Dawn was a creepy mannequin, complete with pale complexion and dull, non-blinking eyes. The hospital clothes completed the bizarre look, the green hues in the outfit making her look even more ill than what could, quite accurately, be blamed on her recent near-death experience. On the other side of the table, Xander was squirming. There was an uncomfortable feeling growing in his gut, a nasty physical symptom of the denial that was fighting for domination in his overwhelmed mind.

"It's not like it would have mattered anyway," he blurted out. "I mean, so what if I would have chopped Spike's head off? He's dead anyway, right?"

He looked over at Dawn for reassurance, but she was too lost in her guilt-induced trance to respond to his questions.

"Yep, dead alright," Xander spoke a bit louder now, answering his own question. "That would have been like a tiny advancement on the general scale of aliveness. An inch on the existential ruler or something."

He crossed his arms over his chest and tried to look convinced.

At the other side of the table, Dawn slowly lifted her head to look at him, her eyelashes clumped and coated with tears. Suddenly, she got up from the table and ran into the hallway, heading for the shelter of her room upstairs.

Xander followed and caught her at the base of the stairs, grabbing her arm in a soft, but determined, grip.

"Dawn," he said. "It's not your fault, you know that!"

"I'm a monster!" She yanked her arm away and sat down on a step, hiding her face in her arms. "I tried to kill my own sister! Don't look at me!"

"Remember what Anya said?" Xander squatted down next to her and placed a hand on her shoulder. "He stole our souls. Not even Buffy could fight it, and she's the Slayer. We're the sidekicks, we're supposed to break under pressure."

"Really?" Dawn lifted her chin and looked at him, her eyes filled with anger and distress. "Spike had no soul when he let himself get tortured by Glory to save my life... or when he fought side by side with us all last summer when Buffy was dead!"

Xander was annoyed that Dawn had the nerve to defend Spike, but he did his best to sound neutral and pedagogical as he spoke.

"Spike did most of those things for selfish reasons, and you know what he did to Buffy before..."

"Shut up Xander!" Dawn interrupted him sharply. "Don't you think I know all that? That's not the point. Yeah, Spike was bad, but he did good things too, even though he didn't have a soul!"

"And," Dawn resumed her sobbing, "I didn't!"

"Dawnie, nothing happened," Xander embraced the small, shaking figure. "Nobody killed anybody, ok?"

At that moment, Xander heard the door to the guest room open, and as he looked up he saw his ex-fiancee standing at the top of the stairs. He let go of Dawn and stood up, searching her face for news.

Anya hestitated for a moment, choosing her words.

"He's not dust yet," she stated frankly.

"Well..." Xander replied, ", that's great."

Now Dawn stood up too, wiping her tears away with her sleeve.

"He's going to be ok, right?" she asked.

"I'm not very good at magical stuff, but as far as I can sense, his unlife is pretty much hanging by a thread." Anya wasn't going to soften it for them. "I'd guess that it's about 50/50. All the life-force is sort of sucked out of him. If there are some kind of last rites for vampires, it's time to call the priest by now. Or probably not a priest. Or anything involving holy water or crosses."

Xander looked over at Dawn. Her horrified expression was painful to see.

"Okay, we get the picture," he said, trying to cut the deathdiscussion short. "There's nothing we can do - we just have to wait and see."

Dawn let out an indistinct whimper of distress, ran up the steps, passed Anya without making eye contact, and disappeared into her room.

"He's a strong fella," Xander shouted after her. "I'm sure he'll pull through..."

But before he could finish the sentence, he heard her slam her bedroom door shut behind her, leaving the two ex-lovers alone on the staircase.

Xander and Anya looked at each other, then he climbed up the stairs to meet her.

"So, about Buffy," Xander tried to keep things on neutral ground. "Any sign of her planning to leave the bathroom any time soon?"

"Nope, doesn't seem like it," Anya sighed, "but she can't stay in there forever, you know. There's no food, unless there's any actual fruit in those fruity soaps by the sink."

"She seemed really upset," Xander cast a concerned glance in the direction of the bathroom, "I hope she'll be okay."

"Well," Anya theorized, "You guys have no experience in being evil. It takes some getting used to."

"Really? Getting used to?" Xander felt a sudden boldness coming on. "That's what happened to you? Cause it seemed easy enough to make the choice to turn evil again."

"Hey!" Anya snapped, revealing that he'd managed to stir her anger yet again. "That was all your fault!"

"Oh really?!" Xander was done with hanging his head. "I don't remember putting a gun to your temple!"


"What! Ever!"

The starircase was completely silent for several minutes, as the two of them glared at each other, waiting to see who would take the next shot.

Finally Xander started to squirm.

"Listen," he said, looking away, pulling his arms tight around his body. "I'm.. I'm sorry that...I'm sorry about what I said earlier. You know, when I was soulless. And..."

Xander took a deep breath, then said it.

"Thanks for saving us all."

"Yeah," Anya shifted her weight, studying the patterns on the wallpaper intensely, avoiding his eyes. "Without me, all of you would still be total psychopaths. And half of the rest of the country too."

"Half the rest of the country?"

"Long story."


"I'm..." Anya tensed up, then continued. "I'm sorry I tried to exert evil vengeance things on you. That's... not polite."

"Right," Xander said with a tired voice.

"So, what do we do now?" Anya finally looked at him. "I still like you. I know that you called me a slut and that I tried to kill you, but that's doesn't have to mean that we can't be together."

"Eh...?" Xander looked confused but hopeful. "I thought you hated me. And yes, Anya, that's usually the kind of stuff that would keep couples apart."

"Well, only if they have watched too much Oprah," Anya said mopily. "By the way, that bitch has destroyed the vengeance scene for a decade now. I should sue her, like those meat farmers did. I mean, she has dissed vengeance much more than animal carcasses through the years!"

"Eh..." Xander sighed. "If that makes you happy, honey, sue away. What I mean is, a lot of things have happened, and it would take a lot of hard work to get this thing between us to work again."

"Yeah. Sure."


"Hey, Xander," a tiny smile spread across her face. "Wanna go to your place and have sex?"

"Eh...Anya, we can't just..." Xander paused for a second, considering, then smiled back. "Well, yeah!"

* * * * *

Buffy was sitting in the steamy bathroom with her back against the door. Although she'd wrapped herself in a couple of bathroom towels, she was still feeling cold inside and out. Looking down at the small spots of blood that had dripped from her hands to the floor earlier, she forced herself to take deep, slow breaths as she blinked through the memories that once again flooded her consciousness.

It was like she had been watching one of those lousy soap operas where the evil twin leaves the good one tied up in some lonely storage room that nobody ever uses, then takes over her life.

She pulled the towels tighter around her shivering body.

She hadn't even fought it. The darkness had taken her over.

And it had felt good, it really had.

She stifled a sob as that realization hit her. She had never really been able to put herself in Angel and Spike's position before, but now she understood - being bad tasted good. It was freedom, complete freedom, and she had thrown herself into it without hesitation when it came for her.

She'd never had much interest in the mythologichical history of the slayer phenomenon, but she understood that there was an element of darkness in the power.

From time to time, she had felt it.

She had felt it pulling at her, whispering her name, telling her that her nature wasn't beautiful and bright, but she had always pushed it away.

I'm not beautiful and bright, she thought, and her eyes once more were drawn to the dried spots of Spike's blood in front of her, and the tears came again. Nobody knew that better than him - that she wasn't all meadows and bird song. The way she had treated him...

It had been all about her, of course.

She hadn't allowed those thoughts to show their ugly faces before, even when they were screaming loudly inside of her, trying to catch her attention. All those times she had hit him, yelled at him, called him names - he was the mirror image of everything she hated in herself.

And now he might be dying.

He did the white hat thing - got a soul, tried to help them, and now he might be paying with his life for trying to make things right. She gasped as the image of the sword that she had shoved through his body burned itself into her fragile mind.

She had tried to kill him. She almost...

Buffy felt overwhelming grief filling her, taking her over, causing physical pain. She closed her eyes tightly, as if to make the reality go away, but she wasn't that lucky.

The scorpion on the tortoise's back.

That's what he had said when she had asked him why he did what he did. But now she wondered - when she had treated him like dirt all those times, perhaps that, after all, was her nature, too?

Like him, she tried to keep the darkness from surfacing, do the right thing, fight the good fight. But in the end she couldn't run from her nature.

When the demon did his evil mojo, she was the first to succumb.

She was the Chosen One and yet she had turned evil in a heartbeat.

She was suddenly pulled out of her deep thoughts by the sound of loud crying in the next room.

Oh god, Dawn.

Hoping her legs would carry her, she crawled out from the little nest she had created and shuddered as the cold air hit her. She looked over at the wet pile of clothes that lay on the floor of the shower, then reached out with shaking fingers for the bathrobe behind her.

As she unlocked the door, she was surprised to find the house quiet except for the sobs from Dawn's room. Where was everybody? Where was Xander and Anya. And... Spike?

They'd stopped the banging at the door and the yelling of cheerful phrases like "I'm sure you didn't mean to become a psycho killer!" and "Don't listen to Anya, she's certifiable!" an hour ago, and after that, she hadn't payed much attention to what was going on outside her Dungeon of Self Loathing.

Now the house felt empty and creepily silent.

She crossed the hallway to Dawn's bedroom. As she pushed open the door with the big note saying "Keep out, or I'm SO gonna stake you!," she found the room was dark, lit only by the moonlight falling through the window. Hearing the sobs stop suddenly, she took a deep breath.


There was a long moment of silence.

"Buffy..." Dawn's voice was faint. "I'm...I'm sorry."

Buffy reached for the light switch.

As the light flooded the room, Dawn squinted, then blinked in surprise. She was sitting on the bed, her legs pulled up under her. Her eyes were swollen, and her face had the smeared remains of what once had been makeup.

Afraid to break something fragile by coming closer, Buffy stayed in the doorway.

"I..." she whispered, not sure of what to say, "I hurt you. I'm supposed to protect you, and I almost killed you!"

Then she slid down the door post and started to cry.

Dawn was horrified. A semi-parental person couldn't freak out. They weren't allowed to. They were supposed to keep their cool and pretend that everything was ok. Freaking out was totally reserved for people under the age of 18. Not that Buffy had been able to pull off the super-grownup thing before, but still...

"Well, yeah," Dawn pulled up her legs under her chin. "Um... but things were kind of crazy. Apparently some kind of binge-eating demon guy wanted our souls for dinner."

She shifted a little bit.

"Kind of creepy, huh?" she added.

Buffy was crying even harder now, and Dawn felt her own eyes tearing up again. She got off her bed, walked over, then sat down shoulder-to-shoulder with her upset sister, looking straight ahead. They sat there for a few minutes, not looking at each other or speaking. Finally Dawn turned toward Buffy and placed a hand on her shoulder.

"Hey," she leaned her forehead against Buffy's, then moved her hand to stroke Buffy's hair. "I'll forgive you if you'll forgive me, ok?"

Buffy lifted her head and looked at her.

"Of course I forgive you, Dawnie!" she said. "I don't really know what happened, but you were obviously under the influence of something evil."

"Anyway," Buffy smiled a half-hearted smile and tried to sound cheerful. "At least it wasn't hyenas this time, huh?"

Dawn managed a little laugh.

"Yeah," she replied. "I remember that. That was totally bizarre!"

Then her grin turned into a pout.

"Except, I don't really remember that, since I was only a ball of energy back then."

"Our lives," Buffy wiped her wet cheek with the sleeve of the bath robe, "are pretty weird, huh?"

"Yeah," Dawn responded, still looking sad about the fakememory thing. "Good thing Spike and Anya figured this last weirdness out or we would all be in deep shit."

Suddenly, Buffy stiffened, remembering.

"S... Spike," she whispered, more prayer than question. "Is... is he ok?"

"We don't know," Dawn sighed. She had forgotten about that for a moment due to her sisterly heart-to-heart. "He's pretty much the same as when you... um, dashed off."

"Where is he?"

A few minutes later, Buffy stood outside the guest room, staring at the door as if she expected it to grow teeth and bite her. After a minute, her need to know overcame her uncertainty, and she reached out and slowly turned the door knob. She pushed the door open and found herself looking into a dark room.

She hesitated again. What was she afraid of?

Certainly not Spike.

When she finally made herself step into the room, she immediately made out his still form on the bed in front of her. She stared down at him, hoping to spot a small movement or hear a faint sound, but there was nothing.

Taking a shaky breath, she went to the bed. As she drew closer, she could see the features of his pale face, and she felt cold.

He looked so... so suffering.

It was almost like the pain still haunted him even in this unconscious state. She remembered when he had met her eyes the day before. She couldn't really remember ever having seen pain like that before.

She slid down to the floor and reached out her hand, stroking it slowly over his cool forehead.

"I'm so sorry," she whispered.

* * * * *

Tiny droplets of awareness came seeping through the darkness, bursting into small flashes of uncomfortable sensation from the dull ache in body, mind and soul.

He tried to gather his thoughts now and then, but it all seemed like a confusing shadowplay. The thoughts kept bleeding together and overwhelmed him, drowning those few moments when he was almost aware before slipping back into the nothingness.

Was her scent real or did his mind make up stories?

Sometimes he thought that he felt wet cloth against his sore skin. Sometimes he thought he heard her speak...

He couldn't make up his mind if that scared him or soothed him.

How long had he been lying like this?

Darkness. He heard breaths. Were they his? Fingers. Something damp. Was there someone else in the room? Slowly the confusion started to release its iron grip on him, but it was quickly replaced by nausea and dizziness. He became aware of the soreness in his limbs and the burning feeling in his chest. Piece by piece the memories of the last few days started to fall back into place, fueling his fears. The demon. What had happened? Had Anya...?

There were heartbeats. They echoed through the room. Made his head hurt, made him nervous.

"Is someone there?"

A realization came seeping through his broken mind.

"Buffy?" he whispered.

The pace of the breaths from the other side of the room sped up. For a long moment, there was no reply. Forcing his eyes open, he noticed some movements in the shadows.

When she stepped out into the moonlight he was shocked to see how torn she looked. He could see that she had been crying, and there were small spots of blood on the t-shirt that she was wearing. Her hair was pulled up in a loose ponytail that left several wispy strands of hair hanging by the side of her face.

As Spike looked up at her he suddenly felt like a deer in the headlights of a car. His own reactions surprised him. Once it had all been so easy. There had been five, maybe six, emotions to keep track of, and they had all been stored in neat little boxes, clearly labeled. In that moment, Spike understood that it was never going to be that easy again. He hadn't had a soul in a long time, but he seemed to recall how much more complicated things were back then. Not that he had been altogether nuanced then either, but at least his emotional life had been more subtle than "hungry," "horny," "pissed." And here he was, looking at the woman he had yearned after for ages, and he was suddenly struggling with more emotions than he could count. He closed his eyes for a moment, trying to gather his thoughts.


His eyes snapped wide open at the sound of her voice. It stirred something deep inside of him, something he didn't want to remember. How she had pushed him into the living room wall. How she had abused him. How she had shoved the sword through his body. Her voice sliced through his body and left pain in its path. She had broken him. He had bared his throat to her in his fragile state, and she had torn him apart. His mind said that it wasn't her fault, but that didn't stop his heart from breaking.


She had taken a couple of steps, and now she was standing still in the middle of the room. She seemed so tense, so hesitant.

"Are you... feeling ok?" Buffy's eyes fell on the wound and remaining discolorations on his tortured chest.

Spike moved his hand over his body, seeking an informed answer to that question, and he drew in a sharp breath when he touched the open wound.

"I'm not in mint condition," he didn't meet her eyes, "but I think I'll be ok. At least the pain... is... a sure sign of that I'm alive."

Buffy bit her lip. "Good."

"The demon?" he asked tensely. Buffy didn't seem soulless anymore, but magic was, after all, unpredictable.

And it always had consequences.

"Um... I don't really know what this whole thing was about. I was kind of busy being evil..."

Buffy paused for a moment and looked to the floor, hiding.

"But Anya smashed something," her voice shook as she continued. "The demon guy went poof, and then everybody un-lost their minds."

Spike looked away, not sure how to continue the discussion. He had everything and nothing to say to her. And he didn't have a clue about Buffy's intentions, which made him uncomfortable.

He was pulled from this thought by the sound of sobs. When he looked up, he found her looking back with raw pain in her eyes. He hadn't seen that expression on her face since those few fleeting moments after their lovemaking when she wasn't on her guard enough to cover up the sorrow that filled her.

"I'm horrible!" she covered her tear-filled eyes with her hands. "I did horrible things to you!"

Spike was stunned.

"You know, he took your soul," he said with a low voice. "There was nothing you could do."

The subject of soullessness and responsibility suddenly hung in mid-air between them. Neither of them had planned to go there, but now it was too late.

"I should have been able to..."

"No, Buffy," Spike said softly before she could finish the sentence. "Don't compare us. It's not the same."

"But..." she finally lifted her eyes to meet his.

"You were right, you know," he said. "I was a serial killer in prison. I was... gettin' rehabilitated a little bit, but... I know that you think I did a few things that weren't completely selfish. But all the tiny specks of humanity I have," he tilted his head a little bit as he looked at her, "I got from you."

Buffy bit her lip.

"It's not just yesterday's deeds I'm talking about," she sounded small and scared, like a child. "You know that."

Spike closed his eyes for a moment.

"Yeah," he said hoarsely. "I know."

"What I did. It was worse than..." her voice faded away. "It was worse. I had a soul. I had a conscience."

She was silent for a moment, waiting, but he said nothing.

"I hurt you," she continued, studying his face, trying to make out what he was feeling.

"Yeah, you did," he said simply, looking at her with eyes full of sadness.

It hit her in the belly with full force. Now, for the first time, she realized that he was becoming a person to her. Not just a random, annoying, fanged being. Evil or not, he had reached out his heart to her, and she had crushed it. That he had been a serial killer in prison didn't make it right. It only made her just as bad as he was.

"I just..." she tried to continue, the words floating on tears. "I try so hard to believe that I was good. That the darkness inside of me wasn't there. But when this soul-sucking thing happened to me, it didn't really feel like something was taken away, it felt like I succumbed to something that was already there."

Anguished, Buffy searched Spike's eyes to see if he shared her contempt, but she wasn't sure what she saw there.

"I felt it with Faith," she confessed, "She pulled me into it. Into the dark side of the slayer's powers. Ehm... I didn't finish taking Psych, so introspection isn't my good side. But when I stabbed her, it felt like I stabbed myself, or... you know, those sides of me or something. But it didn't help, they're still there, and I can't hide from them."

"You know what your problem is, Slayer?" Spikes voice suddenly had that trademark snarky tone that she hadn't heard him use since he had come back. "You've always been bloody full of yourself."

Buffy looked at him in confusion.

"Yeah, that's right." He leaned forward, narrowing his eyes. "You've always thought you were kinda better than the rest of the human race. Or that you should be, at least. Of course you have dark sides. Comes with the `being human` package."

"You think Manson needed some `dark side of the force` crap to go wonkers?" His voice softened some. "Or that Hitler fella? Human's got both sides, and that means making bloody lousy choices from time to time. What makes you think you're any different? What makes you think that you are the fair angel of goodness and light just because you can pound a Morah demon to pulp in twenty seconds?"

Buffy stared. Spike sighed.

"Anya told me," he said, "that she thinks being good is a work in progress, not a label. Think she's right about that. Not like her to be all Yoda-like, huh?"

They looked at each other is silence.

"How do I forgive myself?" Buffy whispered the question.

It sounded over-dramatic, but Spike knew that it was a very realistic concern. As he watched her cover her face in her hands and noticed how her body started to jerk from the heavy sobs he felt almost like her pain echoed in his own chest. Being in that room with her after all she had done hurt him, but so did her pain. For a moment he hesitated. A part of him wanted to run from her, from the emotions she brought out in him. But she was hurting, and she needed him.

Ignoring his aching body and the lingering dizziness, he pushed himself up from the bed and walked over to the crying slayer. As he pulled her into his arms, he felt her cold tears falling onto him, comforting his bruised skin.

Soon his own tears were moistening the golden hair that brushed against his cool cheek. As her arms encircled his aching body he suddenly noticed a small flash of warmth inside of him. It wasn't of the sexual or romantic type. After a moment he recognized it. It was a small experience of healing. They had seen each other's pain in close-up, seen the cause of their actions. And in that moment it was almost like they met in a mutual understanding.

"I dunno, love. How we forgive ourselves, I mean," he whispered through tears as he pulled her closer. "But I think that, too, is a work in progress."

The End.

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