Part Six of Ten
"Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in."
"I should have called it
Something you somehow haven't to deserve."
Robert Frost, The Death of the Hired Man, 1915
"I don't get it, Spike. How could you come here again? How could you make a unilateral decision tototo throw yourself away"
"To give the boy another chance! To give him back to you! I'm the one that fucking broke him, so it was my responsibility to fixanywayI'd have been better off in there."
"In hell? How d'you figure?"
"S'what ... s'what I deserve. What I've bloody well earned."
This was the effect of the soul. The soul, which had failed to restrain their son.
She'd never wanted Spike to have one. At least, not since way back at the beginning, when she was still looking for reasons not to love him. She'd long since made her peace with his casual attitude towards his own past violence. He didn't worry about what he'd done before the Initiative chipped him, and that was that. But since, his hands were clean.
"That is so full of shit I'm not even going to explain why."
"Don't you get it! His kills are on me! Had to make good on that, any way I could! S'too late for me to ever be clean again, but not for him!"
"Spike ... what he did, he did. Yeah, everything happens because something else happened first, and yeah, we were both monumentally stupid about letting Drusilla be out there loose all this time. But Johnny killed those people, not you. The people you killed ... you've been atoning for, more than thirty years. And you'll go on atoning for them. You've saved so many lives, Spike. Maybe more than you ever took, by now. Mine first among them. You don't belong in hell. Not on his account and not on yours."
He sneered. "Who appointed you St Peter?"
"I don't have to be St Peter. I'm the Slayer. That gives me dominion over the demons, pal. I say who walks."
"You'd have had Johnny back. My filthy existence for his precious life."
"Oh God. Oh God. Spike, I don't want that. I only want you. I always want you."
Her head was full of bees, enraged killer bees on the attack. She hit him again, because her muscles were singing with unexpended energy. Spike sprang to his feet to get out of her way; she leapt up and went after him with fists flying. "Youstupidvampiredon'tdon'tdon'ttakeyourselfawayfromme! GODDAMNIT! I need you!"
His roundhouse sent her sprawling in the dank dry weeds. They were scratchy, and dusty. She sneezed.
She could imagine pounding him into pulp, if she didn't stop now. She stayed down. Started to cry. He stood a ways off; she felt more than saw him, it was so dark. "I remember what I said in Londonthat you should punish mebut not like this. Please. I am sorry I went with Saleem, but I was never going to leave you. If you leave me, I will die. I will die."
"Christ, Slayer. Didn't come here to punish you."
His voice was hollowalmost disinterested. It terrified her.
"I don't know that. I don't know what you are. You won't talk to me. You have a soul, and I see that it'sit's tormenting you, changing you. Making you think things about yourself that are wrong. Spike, we need you, Jemmie and I, we need you."
He was crying, but when she came near him, he hit out again, so she spun around and fell, her face hot and shocked. It was years since he'd struck her.
"I don't want to fight you. What's that going to accomplish? I want to comfort you, Spike, I want you to comfort me, our boy is really dead now and we need to mourn and yet you take yourself away from me without even saying anything!" Getting up was a struggle. He didn't come to help her. In the past, she'd never have had to wait to be pulled into his arms.
He didn't love her anymore. The other night, when she'd said it by the hotel pool, and he hadn't contradicted her, it wasn't quite real. She might've only meant, you don't like me very much right now or you're numbed out from your feelings about me.
But after this, denial was fraying.
Spike said, "He deserved another chance. He could've made good, if ...."
"Spike, he already had another chance. He got a soul. And what did he do with it? He went back to Drusilla, he staged a massacre, he nearly murdered Tara, and"
"I know! Because we didn't"
"We didn't what? We didn't lecture him enough? We didn't lock him up? ... I'm afraid he might've been, I dunno ... a bad seed." Saying this out loud made her want to vomit. How long had she thought so? How was it possible? Yet it was true. Her child had chosen to be a savage.
"I'm the bad seed. Me. Everything I sow, it's rotten ...."
"Will you stop this!" She stamped her foot, to keep from hitting out at him anymore. "Stop feeling sorry for yourself! It's not true, and you know it's not true! What about Jemmie? Who could be sweeter and better than her? She adores you and takes after youeven if you don't care about me anymore, could you imagine what it would be for her to lose you now?"
He didn't answer. "I can't believe that a soul would make you selfish. But that's what it is, when you decide to throw yourself away like this."
A breeze kicked up, wafting the stink of the weeds, and an echo of the horrid stench on the far side of the portal. In the silence, Buffy heard the sound of her ragged breathing, and his. He had to breathe to cry. She drew the air down deep into her lungs, and hiccuped.
"Buffy ... I'm afraid."
"I know you are. Oh Spike, I know."
She crawled to him. He didn't resist when she pulled him into her arms. He smelled of The Conduit, the meaty smell of fear and despair.
"I don't know how to live with this." He struck himself in the chest.
She took his fist in her hand, pulled it away. "Don't do that. There's too much pain already."
"I deserve it."
"No. No, Baby, you don't."
"He's dead an' damned. Why him, an' not me?"
"Because when he had a soul, he chose evil."
"You sound so bloody sure."
"I'm not. I'm not sure of anything. Except that we should get out of here, and never return." She rose, pulling him up with her. "C'mon."
She'd come in Xander's car, which he'd lent her. Afraid to let Spike out of her sight, Buffy left it. Someone could come back here later, in the daylight, to retrieve it. Not either of them.
As she drove, Buffy couldn't think of anything to say that wasn't some variation of I'm sorry. How had this happened? It was easy to say she hadn't loved her son enoughor that Spike had somehow never managed to find the right way to be with him, once he hit his teens, a way that didn't make Johnny embarrassed or angry. But there had to be moreor maybe less to itthan that. That he'd fall in with Drusilla, knowing what he knew, didn't surprise her much. It was what came after the return of his soul that burned her deep inside like a flaming brand. To have that lodestar within oneself, and deliberately ignore its guidance. She couldn't understand it ... the mere idea shamed her.
Maybe it shamed Spike, too. Maybe that was why he'd tried to choose oblivion, to undo that stigma. On Johnny and on himself.
"He ... he came on to me." The words slipped out before she'd really decided on saying them.
"Johnny. Came on to me. Said ... gross things. I told him I'd never tell you, but ... that doesn't seem to matter now. He ... there didn't seem to be anything inside stopping him. From doing whatever vile thing occurred to him. He wasn't like you, Spike. There's no comparison."
"He was my son."
She wasn't sure what he meant by that. A refutation?
"He was ours."
Slumped in the passenger seat, Spike flexed his empty hands. They felt parched. His joints ached, every muscle knotted. The burns he'd sustained a day ago were only half-healed; the skin itched and crawled and stung. Inside the maw of the Conduit, he'd been like a fly in a spider's web, immobilized, shimmering in an agony that allowed for not even the merest twitch or groan. It was nothing to pay, to watch his son's reconstitution, soul and body and mind fused back together. The young man was about to step out into the world when instead, the slayer stepped in.
Stepped in and dashed his hopes.
That she was rightabsolutely and irrefutably rightdidn't make it any easier to let go. He'd wanted to give her back the little human boy she'd grown in her womb, not the vampire incubus, foul and riddled with guilt, who'd tainted her life for too long already.
But she'd chosen the incubus, and now she was dragging him back into the worlda world where he couldn't blink without experiencing the sense-memory, visceral, compelling, of some atrocious acta world where all that was left of his second child was a bottomless sense of failurea world where his marriage was in shreds and any love coming to him was as repulsive as sunlight.
She'd called him selfish, and yeah, fucking right, he was. Exhausted, confused, steeped in self-loathing, selfish.
The urge to feed was like the gloating of his demon: you'll never transcend this. Never be anything more than a bloodsucker, tormented by a soul.
He could understand it, what made Johnny bolt.
Buffy pulled the car over abruptly, cut the engine.
"What're you doing?"
She turned to him, slipping out of the seat belt. "I should've brought blood for you, but there was no time."
He held her off as she tried to climb into his lap. "No."
"You drank from me yesterday, when you were burnt."
"Only because I was too out of it to refuse when you shoved your arm into my mouth. Christ, I can't be swilling slayer blood at every turn, it'll make me into"
"What?" Her eyes snapped. "What will it make you into? C'mon, Spike, you think I don't see that you're hating yourself, and that you're well on your way to hating me because I'm not sharing the loathing? Can't we skip that, and get to the part where we pull together and forgive each other and mourn?"
"Can't fucking skip it."
"... yeah. Well, thought I'd ask. Because ...." She broke down again then, her face silver with tears in the dashboard light, until she covered it with her hands, hunching into the steering wheel.
It wasn't an act, he knew that. She wasn't trying to manipulate him into pulling her into his arms. She wasn't crying for him, or at him: she was grieving because she was a mother whose child had died after sending others to hideous deaths.
He remembered how she'd cried that night in London, after Johnny's birthday dinner that hadn't come off. She'd offered her neck to him then too, and when he'd refused it, she'd offered the cask of her quim instead. He'd pleasured her then, with disdain, because she imagined that he was so heartsick for her that such a thing could overcome betrayal.
That was just a few weeks ago, and while the enormity of the betrayal as a thing in itself was no less, yet it seemed to have happened to another Buffy, another Spike. A pair who had the luxury to build elaborate card-houses of suffering for one another, because their lives were so very static, so comfortable.
He'd relished his cruelty to her then. The look on her face when he refused to look at her, the smell of her chagrin when he walked away.
Curled beside him now, her slender back trembled as she wept into her fists. What point was there, anymore, in being unkind? It was himself he condemned, not her.
"Petal. Sssh." He stroked her hair, and when she looked up, awash and bewildered, he reached for her. "Come here. Come to Spike."
Awakening was like walking out of shelter into a choking fog of rain that was her sadness. Jemima tried to hold her mind very very still. Her heart was beating so hard she wondered that she'd slept at all. She was aware of Angel, large, cool, unbreathing, lying behind her, not quite spooning, but near. Her thighs were stuck together, she ached all over. Her whole body felt heavy, half crushed. Had she really made love with him a few hours ago? Had she really set her brother on fire? Had she really been pregnant just a few weeks ago, and ended it? Inside of herself, she was still the eight year old girl who was entrusted by Mamma to hold her infant brother, to walk him up and down while he fussed. Johnny had been a colicky baby. She could feel herself, small and skinny, lying in her narrow childhood bed in the early morning, hearing the radio playing below in the kitchen, Mamma singing tunelessly with it as she assembled breakfast. She would wait for Papa to come in and wake her up, even though she was already awake. More awake than he was at that hour, a vampire resisting his nature.
They were happy then, all of them. The bad time, when Mamma lost her leg and ran away from home, was over. In her memory, those days of her brother's infancy were steeped in gold. School was easy, she had lots of playmates, and when she came home Papa was always waiting for her on the porch. No one had a father like hers, or a mother who was a superhero and gave her eskimo kisses in bed after she returned from patrolling.
Maybe a happy childhood was, in the end, a liability. Early happiness didn't toughen you up sufficiently for what came after, so that you'd find yourself at thirty with your guts ripped open, adrift amongst those who were so much stronger and better equipped than you were.
Milo used to say that her parents shouldn't have been parents at all. Even as he claimed to love her, to be her rescuer, he could talk by the hour about how her birth defied all the laws of the supernatural universe; she was a prize given to the wrong partySpike and Buffy were cosmic cheaters at the Great Game. Not really good, and so not really deserving of the good.
He'd only courted and married her because he wanted to take something away from them, something they'd miss.
Thinking of him now made her cringe inside, but it was still easier than thinking about her brother.
She should think about Angel, whose bed she lay in, but her mind shied from the enormity of what she'd done last night, with such apparent ease. It might be another of the many many mistakes she'd made, one after the other all her adult life, like someone who can't take a step without tripping and falling. Probably it was a mistake. She didn't seem to know how to do anything else anymore. Her psyche was all bruises.
Headache tightened behind her eyes. She had to get up, go to the bathroom. But that would mean talking to him, and she wasn't ready. Little by little, she recalled the things she'd said to himbold as brass. Committing herself. Oh God. The government should issue a warning: Trauma and grief were like alcohol. When you had too much, you lost all your inhibitions, and did stupid things.
He shifted then, and his cool lips touched her shoulder. "Good morning."
She stiffened all over, and winced when she realized he would feel that, could feel her tension, smell her misgiving. He could probably almost read her mind. Tears seeped from her eyes.
Angel said, "Jemima, it's all right."
She didn't know what he meant. Nothing was all right, not from any possible angle. If her parents knew she was here, they'd be incredibly angry. Not like when she went with Miloa million times worse, because Milo was only a mistake, compared to Angel. Angel they would see as a ... a ... a perversion.
She slid out from under the sheet, without looking at him, and stood, wobbly and naked. She didn't want to be naked in front of him, but short of snatching the sheet off him and wrapping herself in it, there was nothing else to do.
Crossing to the bathroom, she wondered if he was watching her.
When she came out, wrapped in a damp robe, he was gone.
She found a note on the dresser. Heard from yr mom, she and Spike are OK. Sent Noel to the Bel Age to get your luggageyou'll have it shortly. Don't stay here if you don't want toyou may want to go to your aunt. We'll talk later, but don't worry about us meanwhile.
This was undeniably kind. He'd made the bed, which was kind too; either he was just very neat, or he realized she didn't want to be re-confronted with the evidence of their lovemaking. Sitting gingerly at the foot, Jemima checked her messages. A text from Buffy saying they'd be back that night. Messages from Dawn and from Willow, about meeting later at the hospital.
The luggage came. She dressed and went back to see Tara.
The room was shoddy and smelled funny. They'd made love in a lot of little holes like this over the years, as if theirs was an illicit affair rather than a marriage. Spike didn't want to be here now, but he couldn't not follow Buffy's lead. She yanked the slippery bedspread down with one sharp tug, started shedding her clothes, as if they only had the room for a few minutes.
Her eyes were large, hungry, full of foreboding. He didn't know how he could touch her. The unfathomable bitterness towards her that had clogged his mind for months and months was gone, replaced by a sense of his own futility and error. He wanted to leave and drive into the sunrise. He could see that she felt it, his reluctance and revulsion large as a house, and that it terrified her.
"I need you. Spike, I need you so much." Sitting on the side of the bed, she drew him to her, opened his jeans, took his limp cock in her hand. "Please. Please be with me." She kissed the head, drew it into her mouth. Buffy never lowered her eyes from his; her face was white, shocked, eyes pleading so he was flooded with shame, even as he went hard between her lips.
She should have loved the mage Saleem, with his white magic and his purity of soul. But Spike understood in that moment that she'd only ever been intrigued by him, the way one is intrigued by a seemingly insoluble puzzle. But she'd never loved the bloody bastard, and never could, because Buffy couldn't love what wasn't dark at the center. She'd learned on Angel, and practised to perfection on him.
She could love him, though it was impossible that he love himself.
Luckily he didn't need to, to do what she expected right now.
They strained togther, bumping and bruising. She was wet, swollen, at a peak of desperate arousal though he'd barely touched her before they came together. Sweat poured off her as she thrust up into his downstrokes, her whole body sensitized, singing like a wire. This was their reunion, what she'd been waiting for, begging for, and it wasn't working. Spike was in her, but not really there. She ground harder, grunting the way she did in childbirth, caught in a similar effort of trying to achieve something that would not respond to her will alone. She needed to break through to him, to pull him with her into climax, and so into being hers again. He shied away from looking at her. She shook him.
"No! Be with me! Please!"
She squeezed until his body bucked, then froze. Spike convulsed, biting her neck with blunt teeth, letting out a long lowing cry that she'd never heard him make, and never wanted to hear again. She flushed, caught in a rush of heat and stink that made her shudder. He pulled away, staggering up. A moment later he was being sick in the bathroom. She lay still on the wet sheet, her arousal already turned to cold glue, listening to his retching, followed by the running of the shower.
She went and got into it with him. They washed without speaking, backs turned.
There was still enough of night left to get back to LA. At the hotel where Dawn and Xander were, they took rooms on different floors, and parted.
Sunlight streamed in the windows of her hospital room. The light made Tara feel safe, even as she chided herself for being afraid overnight. The worst had already happened. But she still felt weak, and faint. This was too close a call. The kind of thing that made you question your life, even as you clung to the miracle of it.
The bite wound itched, and the rest of the day was going to hold a lot of tiresome talkor tiresome silencesleading up to Johnny's funeral that night, and Wesley Wyndham-Pryce's the next. These people, the former Scoobies, were her friends of years, of course. But distant ones, now. She seldom left San Francisco; Johnny and Jem were the only ones who'd visited her with any regularity over the last decade. None of them knew her friends, her concerns, the patterns of her days. She missed her not-quite-girlfriend, wanted to get back home and turn that affair into something more solid.
She was far from home, and tired. There was nothing quite so likely to make you feel old and fragile than being nearly emptied out by a vampire who used to be someone you loved.
Here was Jemima in the doorway, her face nearly obscured by the enormous vase of pink flowers she carried. She didn't seem too steady on her pins. "I brought you these. Are you better today?"
In that first glimpse, she saw Jemima with a freshermore criticaleye than she ever had. And it occurred to Tara, with a strange turning in her mind, that she was angry.
Tara had always appreciated Jemima's soft, affectionate nature. They were alike that way, and she appreciated how, despite the troubles Jemima stumbled into, that sweetness never hardened. But this troublethis wasn't making and clinging to an ill-fated marriage. This was life and deathTara's own. How could the girlexcept she was not a girl, she was thirty, old enough to know betterhow could she be so fond, so foolish, as to bring a vampire of such dubious motives in among them without calling for help? She was the slayer's daughtershe of all people should've known the risk.
"I'm better. I'm all right really. They're going to release me in a little while, after a last check."
"Are you really okay?" Her voice rose, quavered. She hesitated at the foot of the bed, the flowers a large and silly impediment. "I'm sorry I was so stupid."
"Well," Tara found herself saying, "You were."
Jemima clearly wasn't expecting such straightforward agreement. She stared, frozen, and for a second it looked like the vase of flowers might come crashing down.
"I know ... I know I was. You're right to be mad at me."
"You know what they used to say, trust but verify. You didn't verify."
"Everything I was taught about what it means to have a soul ...."
"Yes. That's why I let him into my home when he came there. But this time" Tara sighed. "You just refused to believe the evidence."
Jemima set the flowers on the windowsillthere was already an arrangement, sent by Dawn and Xander, on the bedside tableand fussed with them, her back turned. Her mortification was a sickly-colored aura.
"I still love you, though." Admitting her anger eased it. The last thing she wanted now was to quarrel with those who remained. Anyway, she didn't have the energy. From head to toe she felt delicate, friable as old newspaper. "Jemima, I forgive you. You're a loving body, and that's still better than the opposite."
She turned slowly. How pale she was, how furtive and unhappy. Tara held out her arms. "Come here. I haven't said yet how sorry I am about your brother's death."
Jem gave herself to the embrace with the fervor of reprieve.
"I think Papa went to try to stop it again. Mamma went after him. She sent a text saying they were all right. I think that means Papa failed."
"That's better, don't you think?" The sternness of her own voice surprised Tara a little. All of this reminded her why, though she loved these people and considered them family, she'd had to put some geographical distance between herself and their ever-cropping dramas.
"Of course I do. I couldn't lose Papa." She shivered into tears. "Oh Tara, I shouldn't burden you with anything else! But I didn't go after him like I did the first time! I ... I stayed with Angel." Trembling in Tara's arms, she lifted her face. "Papa will be so angry about that. And Mamma too."
"Because you didn't follow them to the Conduit? I think neither of them would want you to be anywhere near that place ever again."
Jemima shook her head. "Nothey won't like it that I stayed with Angel."
"That youoh. Oh. We're talking stayed in the sense of"
Her blush was more blotchy than girlish. It was then that Tara associated the girl's swollen mouth and tired eyes with something besides a sleepless night of worrying about her health. Well.
Jemima didn't answer. She drew away, composed herself, took a tissue from the box on the nightstand and dabbed at her face. "If they're letting you out today, where will you go? You can't drive back to San Francisco on your own."
"I'm not going home yet. There are the funerals."
"Oh yes." The reminder seemed to stun her.
"Willow will take me in. She has an apartment here. She's dealing with some of my paperwork now."
"Staying with Willow, while you're still feeling punk!"
Tara laughed. "Oh, don't forget, we're old friends."
"I wouldn't have brought these flowers if I knew you were leaving already. I thought they'd keep you here another night."
"Maybe I'm too strong for my own good."
"Oh Auntie Tara, that couldn't be!"
"They're beautiful flowers, Jemmie. Why don't you give them to someone else along the hall?"
"That's a good idea. I'll do that now." She picked up the vase again, and pretending to inhale the aroma of the blooms, murmured, "I'm in love with Angel."
"I thought you might be. You sound worried, though."
"I'm not worried that either of us will be too happythe others will hate it enough! Except that I ... I am very happy. In the middle of all this ... terrible ... misfortune. Last night ... he made me so happy." She was in tears again, the inconsistent fall of a spring rainshower. She looked at once bewildered and exalted, her wet lips quivering. "Here you were in the hospital, and my parents gone off toand that's what I did. Made love with Angel."
Impossible to resent this. It was lifeit was life reasserting itself. Tara wasn't surprised.
"Will you support me, Auntie?"
Jemima hadn't called her auntie in speech this way for years and years. It was telling. "I support you, if he's what you want. What do you want?"
"I want to be with him. I want to be necessary to him. I haven't really thought about it beyond that yet." She was at the door. "I'll be back in a few minutes."
Left aone, Tara smiled. Amidst her apologies, Jemima had been rather ruthless about asserting her own concerns. It was charming, even refreshing, to see her behave like any other young woman in love. Tara's own heart was stirred. She'd tell Kate about this; it would make a thrilling story, and a good prelude to her own plea that they end their uncertainty, and just plunge.
The nurse had changed her dressing for a smaller, neater one. She was on her feet, combing her hair, when Willow appeared.
"You look just fine."
Tara turned from the mirror. "Not as good as you."
"Hey, who's making comparisons?"
"Do you ever let anyone see the real you? Do you ever see her yourself anymore?"
"What are you talking about? This is the real me."
"I guess it is, by now, at that." Tara said. Did Willow's girls have any idea how old she was? The question suggested its own answer. She put the comb away, glancing around for anything she might have forgotten. "I'm ready to get out of here."
"You're supposed to go in the wheelchair. I'll get the nurse."
"I can walk."
"You know they won't let you, so you might as well sit down, and let me wheel you out like the Queen of Sheba."
"Jemima is coming right back. I want to wait for her."
"Oh? So what am I, chopped liver?"
"Of course not. I told her I'm going to stay with you." Tara seated herself, holding her chin up at the requisite queenly angle, in the wheelchair. "But I need her to strew the rosepetals in our path."
Jemima returned to the Hyperion in mid-afternoon. Her footsteps sounded loud in her ears as she crossed the lobby. The place seemed deserted; she scanned the loggia, wondering if Angel might be watching her from the shadows. She'd seen her mother for a few minutes at Willow's, where Tara, Xander and Dawn were gathered to wait out the time until the funeral. Mamma's eyes were red-rimmed and haunted. She'd barely spoken, and when Jemima asked her about Papa, she only said, "I think he's asleep. He wasn't feeling very well." Her hug was detached.
No one came out to intercept her. Despite what she'd said to Tara, Jemima wasn't sure of her welcome here. She wasn't sure of anything. The world was prickly, outsized, menacing. She didn't feel firmly situated in time: memories lashed her like rain-squallsher brother's sulky voice. Milo, imploring her to come home. The flat white light of the abortion clinic's treatment room. Angel's big hands on her body.
She ached all over, with a congested soreness between her legs. Last night she'd liked how small and delicate and full she felt beneath him; now she couldn't quite believe what she'd done. Given herself to someone who'd had her mother, her father. The last man either of them would want her to touch, to look at. And how could she love him when she didn't even know him?
In Angel's suite, she opened her suitcase. The bright new clothes she'd bought in Los Angeles were wrong for funeralsthey felt wrong for her at all, too bold, too assuming.
The thought of shopping for something new literally floored her. Sinking down beside her strewn suitcase, she began to sob.
Then he was there, pulling her into his arms. "I didn't want to crowd you, but it killed me to hear you in here crying all alone."
She curled against him, her heart surging. She couldn't speak, but it didn't seem necessary. He demanded nothing. She remembered how much she liked him, how comfortable he was. His big arms were bulwarks.
After a while, calmer, she put a hand to his face. "You make me feel teensy."
"You're what they used to call a Pocket Venus."
The massive brow furrowed. "It's a thing fellows used to say in London ... couple hundred years back or so."
"Oh. I'm not usually like this."
"Distant. And obscure. Like I was when we got up. I'm not in the habit of making my lovers sorry the morning after. My ... uh, purely theoretical lovers."
"I couldn't be sorry for last night, not even if I had to be. I just thought ... you might be. You've got plenty of reasons, I know." He shifted as if to separate from her, but she held on.
"It's just that ... when I woke up ... I remembered everything. I wished I could sink back into oblivion, but it doesn't work that way. Life just comes on fast."
"Maybe too fast," he said. "Jemima, the last thing I want is to hurt you."
"I don't think you have. I was only crying because I have nothing to put on for the funeral." This was only a small fib. "It's just ... it's just all too much."
"I think I can help with a dress. Wait here."
He went out, and returned a few minutes later with six black dresses on hangers. "I hope you don't think this is too morbidthese were Constanza's. She had the visions before your brother. She'd certainly have lent you something to wear, if she was here."
She began to look at the dresses, to cover her embarrassment. Three of them were low-cut vintage 1950s cocktail dresses of watered satin, silk, tulle. Two more were gothic constructions dripping with laceMiss Havisham as a flamenco dancer. The last one was a Capezio shift with a stand-up collar, three-quarter sleeves, high waist. It was short, but at least it was simple. "Thanks."
"You should keep all of these if you like them."
"I don't know ... wouldn't it be odd for you, for the others, to see me in her clothes?"
"She loved collecting them, wearing them. Talking about them. She'd wouldn't want them to languish unworn."
"I'll think about it. You should tell me about her some time." Now. Now would be a good time. She was ready to grasp at any distraction.
"Have you heard from your parents?"
"I just saw Mamma, at Willow's. They're all there, except for Papa. I don't know what's going on. Mamma said he didn't feel well. Maybe he got injured at the Conduit. Or maybe he just can't deal, and wanted to be alone until we start for Sunnydale, for the funeral." A new worry rose to uppermost. "He's going to know about us, though. Papa will know."
Angel dropped his gaze, stepped back from her. "Yeah, he will. But it can just be ... we can decide it was just ... a thing. That won't have a sequel."
He said we, but she realized, looking at his carefully guarded face, that he meant you. Under that impassive mask, he was already committed.
And still trying, at his great expense, to be kind to her.
All her misgiving of the morning was gone, like mist burned out of a valley. The thought of denying him, of walking away from this sweetness flowering so unexpectedly in the midst of their mutual crisis, made her cry again. "Do you really think I would say yes to that? Do you really think I would go to bed with you if I wasn't sure it meant something to me?"
Angel wore his look of a Newfoundland dog. "It might mean something one day ... and something else the next. That wouldn't make you a bad person, under the circumstances. After what you went through yesterday ...."
"No. No. I am not like that." She didn't go up to him, because she needed the distance so as to look into his face without throwing back her head. That made her feel girlish, and she needed to impress him now as an adult. "I'm sorry you had to feel that, even for a few hours. Oh Angel, I am sorry for this morning. When I woke up, I did regret ... but it didn't last long. And I don't think it'll recur. I would have liked to make love to you again, and lie there with you and talk. That would've been so much better."
The tension went out of his shoulders. "We could still do that. There's a few hours before we have to leave ...."
When he heard the knock on his hotel room door, Spike rose quickly, hoping it would be Buffy. He'd given up on any hope of falling asleep, and wanted to talk to her. He couldn't think of anything except how destroyed she'd looked when they parted a few hours ago. He hadn't wanted the sex, but he had meant to comfort her, certainly not to add to her desperation. Yet when they got into it, something physically happened to him that he didn't understand. He still felt the after-effects.
It was Xander at the door. Disappointment bloomed and died in a moment.
"Buffy said you weren't feeling well, but the undead don't get headaches. So I thought maybe you might want to talk, mano-a-mano."
Xander wore a suit, ready for the funeral which Dawn and he had arranged. His handsome face drooped, and he carried his shoulders high.
"Yeah, c'mon in. Fancy a drink?"
When they were sitting with their glasses, Xander talked a little about the preparations, and what they might do afterwards. Johnny's remainswhich were to be represented by a small, empty urn, as there weren't anywere to be interred next to Joyce Summers in the cemetary in Sunnydale. Dawn had negotiated with the cemetary management to have the service after dark. Since none of them lived in Sunnydale anymore, there was a question of where to go after the service at the gravesight.
Xander moved his glass around so the ice cubes clinked. "Think we'll want to get liquored up? Or will we just want coffee?"
"How did Buffy look just now?"
Xander started. Spike noticed, as if for the first time, how though his hair was full and dark, his sideburns were more than half gray. He was getting on. After all, the boy had just turned twenty-one. Twenty-one, that significant birthday, after which one was supposed to be a man. Why twenty-one? Why not twenty, or twenty-two? Something to do with three times seven, no doubt. Seven was one of those mystical numbers. There was a song about being the seventh son of a seventh son, how that made one invulnerable. Being the son of a slayer ought to make one stronger too, but it hadn't worked that way.
"How did she look? She looked ... gutted." Xander squinted at him. "Like you do."
Spike meant to say, it's nothing, but it came out "I'm nothing."
"Don't talk like that."
He frowned. "Xander ... something happened. I wish you could tell her I didn't mean it. I couldn't control my ...."
"What?" Xander rose and came to sit beside him. Spike was grateful for that closeness; Xander wasn't touching him, but he could feel the warmth of his body. Spike felt in his soul that everything alive ought to revolt against him, but he was still glad that Xander was here.
"I don't know how to live with any of this. I tried to get the boy back, and she came an' stopped it. She was right to stop it. Suppose she was. Then afterwards ... I humiliated her. Didn't mean toI swear I didn't! She wanted ... she wanted me, an' we were in bed ... something happened to me, I don't know what. I came over all queer an' ill, I sicked up ... she thought it was because of her."
"She already thinks I don't love her anymore. Whereas ... I think I love her more than ever. But it's no good, because of what I am."
"Hey, listen," Xander said. "You're grieving. You've had a terrible shock, the worst ... I think it must be the worst thing, to lose your child. Now isn't the time for you to be passing judgement on yourself. Why not put that aside, and be guided for a while by the people who love you?"
"No one should love me."
"You sound like me now, circa 2000. Xander the vampire hater, hating the idea that Buffy loved you. But I changed my mind about you, and I've never for a minute thought about changing it back. You'd better just trust me now, Spike. Getting your soul back can only make you an even better person. I get that it hurts. But don't cast yourself out."
Xander was ... Xander, all kindness. But he didn't understand. "What happened when I was with herwas like my soulan' the whole bloody universetellin' me to get off her. Felt this flash of heat, like I was on fire inside, like I was gonna be torn apart. Sure seemed like proof to me, that I'm not right with ... the world. Or the Powers That Be. Or, anything." Describing it made the sensations almost come back; his vision darkened, blurred, and he shivered at the memory of that weird heat. "I was tryin' to give her what she asked for, poor girl thought I was still angry at her, an' I'm not." He rose, began to pace. His muscles felt jerky, he was missing his usual sense of his own physical grace. The force that animated him, that was always so smooth and full and strong, was blocked, staticky. "Xander, will you tell her? Will you tell her I'm sorry? For everything?"
"I think you should tell her yourself. Let's call and get her over here. There's still time before we go, you two can talk."
"I can't talk to her. What, make excuses? I'm sick, I'm sick inside, an' I can't do anything." This was it, the soul-sickness he'd read about in old novels. It wasn't entirely unfamiliarhe'd suffered it before, at Cambridge, at home in London, before his death. Terrible pangs of self-conscious shame and revulsion at his failures. But what then had he really had to regret? Little, little things, nothings. Whereas now .... "I can't stay here. I've got to go."
"You're going to walk out on us? On her?"
"Please tell her ... tell her she had nothing to regret, that she did nothing wrong. None of you did. Tell Jemmie too. It's me that's wrong, an' can't be a friend, or a father or a husband."
Xander was on his feet now too, blocking his way towards the suite door. Spike laid his hands gently on Xander's arms, squeezed them. "Don't. I know everything you'd say, an' it's all a credit to you, heart an' head, but I can't. I know I'm a cowardshe said so too. But I'm no good to her or Jemmie or myself." It was right, it was better, for sick things to crawl off alone. He wasn't sure exactly that he wanted to diehe wasn't sure of anything, except that he couldn't face Buffy again, or his daughter, or stand through the funeral service and the gathering afterwards. If he was to wrestle with his soul, he had to do it on his own, with no one near to impart useless consolations.
"Spike man, don't do this." Xander's eyes were large and sad. "You're in no condition to be by yourself now. Stay with us."
"Look, if you don't want to go to the funeral ... I'll hang here with you. We can get toasted and talk about Johnny. The others will understand that. Afterwards, you and Buffy can"
"No. No. Please, Xander" He imagined the one good roundhouse that would drop Xander like a stone, leave the way clear for him to walk out, leave the way clear for Xander to say, He really is the same nasty fuck he always was. Instead he pulled him into a hug. "Tell her not to worry. I'm not gonna do myself in. I just ... I need time. Can't figure out what I am with all of you around me, believing you already know. Do you see that?" He drew back, looked into his friend's face.
For a moment, Xander wouldn't meet his eyes. When he did, he looked miserable, his mouth a thin line. He was making such an effort to be fair, to see all sides, that the lines of his face looked queasy. "Yeah, I get it. Only you know Buffy will blame herself."
"Say I said not to. Say I know she'll be unhappy, only it'll be worse if I'm there, whether she thinks so or not. I know. Tell her I don't want her to be hurt anymore."
"Spike, I wish you'd think this through a little more. If you still want to leave, you can leave tomorrow."
"Don't let her go back to Reykjavik on her own, if you can help it. Bring her to stay a while with you an' Dawn."
"An' tell her I'm sorry for it all. Every last bit. Tell her."
Xander's eyes were red. He lifted his hands in a gesture half violent, half resigned. "I'll tell her."
"Are you in there?" Smiling, Angel brushed the tousled hair from her eyes. "There you are. Ah, look at you." He drew her up to him, kissed her swollen mouth, her fluttering eyelids. "Lovely Jemmie, the belle of ... of ..."
"Not of York, please, though it was my last address. I'll be the Belle of the Hotel Hyperion."
She heard a hint of brogue in his voice that she'd never detected before. She remembered a high school girlfriend telling her that if you once gave an Irishman a blowjob, he'd be yours forever. Well, he's mine now. She smiled back, and curled her hand around his cock. It was half-hard again already, though he'd come twice in less than an hour; it excited her the way she remembered being excited about toys as a little girl. Certain playthings were so involving that she could not be pried away from them for anythingnot for meals or baths or sleep.
"You like that, do you?"
"It likes me." She could still scarcely believe it. Holding it in both hands, tugging gently, caressing the tip with her thumb, Jemima watched it rise and fill.
"It does. I do. You're a sexy little thing." His own hand found its way between her sticky thighs, pressed the good spot that made her wriggle. He caught her again in a kiss, then lifted her to straddle him.
They'd fucked once already, not waiting to undress or pull down the bedclothes. She'd come almost as soon as he was inside her, her whole body jolting in surprise, and went on erupting in deep ripples of pleasure, wrapped tight around him, flexing and panting, as his own movements went faster, wilder. Something about his great size and strengthhe held her as if she weighed nothingfreed her from all self-consciousness. Her desire for him seemed to spring from a deeper place than any she'd ever felt before. Orgasm fed it, like an underground well, leaving her, after pleasure, satisfied, yet wanting more.
She'd never yet in her life had as much of this as she wanted, and the intimation that now she might, with him, made her dizzy.
Sat on his belly, she looked at him, stretched out beneath her, with awe. Knowing that this same view, and all the others, were shared by both her parents, she wondered if they could have experienced this level of titillated delight and adoration. A little voice in the back of her mind still warned her that this was wrong, he was wrong, because of his past, because of her parents, because of all sorts of things she didn't even know about. But he was smiling at her, one hand tucked behind his head, the middle finger of the other working in where her splayed pussy met his own smooth taut skin. She pressed down against it, the smallest movement making her bubble.
"You should see yourself," Angel said. "Pretty Jemjust the sight of you makes me hard." She flushed with pleasure at this praise. Then she heard, as if he was right there with them, her brother's insinuating voice in her ear: ... not so pretty, really, are you? You're kind of plain. Mamma and Papa and I, we're the pretty ones. A wave of confusion washed over her; she closed her eyes. Then Angel was sitting up, his arms coming around her to hold her there. "Don't. Whatever it is, don't. Stay with me."
She opened again. "There's so little time."
"No, there's all the time." He stroked her hair. "There's all the time, and it'll get better. I promise you."
She was grateful that he seemed to know her thoughts.
Beneath her, his erection sprang tight and hard against the seam of her body. She shifted, taking it in her fingers, guided it to the slick place that wanted it. As she sank down, with an exquisite sensation of stretching and giving way inch by inch, Angel lay back again. He took her hands, held them up and apart. "There you are, radiant as a fairy queen on her finest charger."
She felt like oneat least, a queen who'd never tried to straddle such a large and spirited horse before, and was caught between exhiliration and panic. She exhaled a giggle. "Remind me to tell you some time, about the first time I tried to ride a horse. Oror maybe not."
"Ride me now. Gallop me hard, girl." He shifted under her, thrusting up. It was like a massive carousel starting; Jemima hung on tight to his hands and laughed out. Everything was just a little too much, bigger and more intense than she thought she could handle. She had no control. Except that in the back of her mind she knew that she could curb him with the smallest look, and this sensation of being filled to bursting, off-balance and overwhelmed, was what she wanted most in the world right now.
It was over too soon, and then the clock said they could only lie there a few minutes more. The air smelled of the sea-foam of their exertions. She wanted to grasp onto each minute as the digits melted into each other.
"You're glowing," Angel murmured.
"I'm never going to ask you if you love me as much as you loved my mother." The words came out before she realized she was saying them. She wouldn't have been able to speak them at all, except that she was lying with her head on his chest, and couldn't see his face. "And I'm not going to ask about your affair with Papa. I think I understand it, and if I don't ... I'd rather not talk about it anyhow. But I know it's over and that it doesn't matter to us."
"Jemmie." He held her face now in his hands. "Look at me."
"I see you." His palms were so cool against her burning cheeks.
"Maybe this isn't the right time to say this ... but I want to now, before ... before we see the others. You know you're not the first woman I've loved ... and I can't promise you'll be the last. But I love you with all my heart."
She felt this assertion in her body, a suffusion of joy that flowed through the grief and worry like ink in water.
"Now I've dared that much, I'm ready to dare it all. I want to give you everything I have. I want you with me every day. Will you stay with me? Live with me?"
"Oh Angel. I"
He put a finger to her lips. "On second thought, no. Don't answer now, Jemmie. Tell me later. I want you to feel free."
She knew he meant, free to change her mind against the onslaught of disapproval that would come when her parents learned about this. "I don't need to feel free. I'm"
"Sssh. Not yet. Hold it here," he said, cupping a hand over her chest where it vibrated with her thudding pulse, "and tell me later."
Bathed in the calm fervor of his tone, understanding suffused her: what her husband had for her all those years was not love, because this was love, and she'd never felt it before, not from a man to her as a woman. Passion like this was something that Mamma and Papa had, and that most other people only fantasized about. She'd always imagined it wasn't for the likes of hershe couldn't quite remember when it was that she'd decided her lot in life wouldn't include it, but it was an old feeling, so old she'd never questioned it. Now it was here, she was almost afraid she'd drown in it.
The clock ticked over to the top of the hour. With an effort, Jemima sat up, twisted around to kiss Angel's mouth once more, and rose, unsteady as a newborn fawn. On her feet, the rest of her life crashed back on her, with a hard cold slap of a massive wave breaking. This new happiness would have to coexist, maybe for a long time, with sadness and mourning and loss.
In the bathroom, she looked at herself in the mirror, trying to see the radiant fairy queen. She saw only herself, lips swollen so they were almost pouty, the skin around them reddened by the force of his kisses, blotches of same on her neck and shoulders and jaw, hair all everywhere and eyes misty. She could still feel his hands and mouth on her tender breasts, her pussy throbbing with a soreness that was an echo of pleasure.
Had Johnny not been turned, all this would never have come in her way. She closed her eyes and her fists against that realization, which felt like a blasphemy, pushed it firmly out of her mind.
After her shower, she carefully did her hair and make-up, seating the garnet barrette at the side of her parting like a totem. As she stroked on the mascara, she realized that she knew something she hadn't known a few moments ago. As she blinked at herself, she knew it more firmly, in more detail.
She came out, still wrapped in the damp towel. Angel had showered elsewhere, and was back in the room, half dressed. There was a thrill in seeing him, barefoot in his dark trousers, rummaging in his dresser drawers for a clean undershirt, his moist hair stood up with gel. She slipped panties and bra on under the towel, laid it aside and pulled the Courreges dress on over her head.
"Zip me?" She blushed as she turned her back to him, felt his hand at the nape of her neck. There was an intimacy to this dressing together that was deeper to her even than making love. It seemed like the right moment to speak, as he planted a kiss behind her ear.
"Some kind of very large demon with three tusks sticking out of its head is going to give birth to a whole bunch of other demons with three tusks, and they're going to want to eat people to get strong. In Venice Beach, it looked like. Thursday night."
Angel caught her by the shoulders. "What?"
She turned to face him. "I just ... that's it. I don't know how, but I feel very sure of it. I should be able to show you exactly where, if we go there together."
"Shit. Shit. Are you all right? Do you feel sick?"
"Why should I? I'm fine." He looked so thunderstruck; she took his face in her hands and kissed him. "I'm fine."
"But you had a vision." There was a pleading in his voice, as if he longed for her to contradict him.
"Did I? ... oh. Do you think so?"
"Does your head hurt? Do you feel off-balance? Like you might have a seizure? Pass out?" He was holding her now as if he expected her imminent collapse.
She shook her head. "No migraine. No seizure. I just ... while I was in the shower, it just ... came to me. Like something I remembered."
"Jemmie, my God. This isn't what I wanted for you. I'm sorry."
"Sorry for what? ... oh. Does this mean I'm The One With The Visions now?"
"I think so. But it's supposed to hurt."
"Oh, but I can see those things, remember? Mystical openings. I have since I was seven. Maybe that's why."
"And you're really not in pain?"
"From the vision? No. I've got enough else ...."
He was kissing her again, hungrily and sadly, as if he could extract this new detail by sucking it out, like a poison.
"Angelit's all right. It's all right. It only means I'm meant to be here, doesn't it? It means my place really is with you."
"This doesn't change what I said. You're still free to choose"
His earnest anxious face made her smile. She caressed his cheek. A flare of fear rose in her: in a little while this affair, so delicate and personal, would be opened up to her parents. Opened up at the funeral of her only brother, amid their already crushing anguish. What would happen? She shied from imagining. It was too late to change it. It was too late when she came back here with Angel after Wesley's death. It was probably too late before that.
"I've chosen. The choosing's done. I meanhello? How could I give you up now?"
To fill the place left empty by Spike, Willow and Tara rode down with them, instead of in Willow's car. Dawn, still treated by them all like the youngest, with the fewest privileges, had to sit in the middle of the back seat, but there was plenty of room between her sister's slender haunches, and Willow's. All the way there, Buffy held herself apart, as much as she was able, her head close to the window.
Jemima had called to say Angel would drive her down. Dawn wondered about that a littleAngel hadn't explicitely been invited to the funeral, but then, why wouldn't he come? Johnny's last home, if you could call it that, was the Hyperion, and Angel was completely involved in all this mess. Recalling how the two of them remained behind in the hospital lounge the other night, standing at an odd angle to one another beneath the harsh fluorescents and yet appearing, in that glimpse, to be at ease as if they'd known each other for a long time, Dawn wondered how it could be. Her niece had never met Angel before all this trouble began. Though Buffy still considered him a dear friendand confided in him, as Dawn knew, things she didn't even tell to Spikenonetheless she'd kept him carefully on the outside margin of her life. But now Jemima spoke of Angel as of someone accustomed, I'll be coming there with Angel. It struck Dawn as odd, though when she passed it on to Buffy, her sister didn't react at all. Not that there could be anything between Angel and Jemima. Dawn was embarrassed at herself for even thinking of it, at a time like this. And she knew that neither of them was at all likely to be attracted to the other, even aside from all the other considerations.
No. Angel was acting out of friendship to Buffy, to the family. He must feel a sense of failure over Johnny's fate as well. Spike came to him for help, and Johnny slipped past them all.
Getting out of the car at the cemetery, Dawn took deep breaths of the sweet evening air. All the way down from LA, she'd felt stifled in the heavy silence. Her sister didn't speak a word or make a sound; her face, carefully made up, was nevertheless grey and still. For the first time ever, Dawn thought she could see Buffy's fifty years etched there. Spike's absence was a palpable hurt. Dawn couldn't remember a time since they'd moved on from Sunnydale when her sister was so shot full of holes.
As terrible as it was to lose their mother, Johnny's death, Dawn could tell, was worse for Buffy. None of the other losses in the years between: their father, Faith, even Giles, devastating as that was, came close.
Xander squeezed her hand as they walked through a light drizzle to the gravesight. They could see it from far off, because a couple of lights on poles were set up there. Dawn squeezed back. Her other arm was hooked through Buffy's, who was supported on the far side by Willow.
When they were near enough to see the stone, and the opening in the grounda small black square, just wide enough to accomodate the urn, that yet seemed to yawn like the mouth of some terrible animalBuffy stumbled, dragging on their arms. A high, terrible wail rent the air. If not for them holding her, she would have fallen to her hands and knees.
But they couldn't hold a slayer who wanted to get free; she broke from them, and flung herself on her knees near the hole, digging her two hands into the small pile of earth. They hurried after her; Dawn got there first, grabbing her shoulders. "Buffy, don't! Don't do this!"
Her sister craned around to look at her; her eyes so wide that white showed all around the iris. "There's nothing left of him! My baby boy and there's nothing!"
"That ... that isn't true. We all remember him. We all think of him, and that's what's important." Dawn didn't know that she believed this, and was amazed at herself for coming up with it so smoothly. She tugged. "Buffy, please stand up."
"He's gone. He's gone ... gone," Buffy babbled. "Spike left me. Everyone always goes ... am I so terrible, am I really so terrible that I drive them all from me?" She started. "Where's Jemima? Why isn't Jemmie here?"
"Here she comes now," Xander said. He'd opened an umbrella, was holding it over them as the rain came down more heavily.
Dawn turned, in time to see Jemima break from Angel's side and start running towards them. Her face and legs glowed, and she seemed to bound along, very light and quick. Dawn wasn't sure why she noticed this so much, but it struck her. Then Jemima reached them, kneeling beside her mother and pulling her into her arms. They swayed together, Buffy weeping and Jemima silent, until Angel reached them. Then Jemima looked up, not at Angel but at the rest of them, and asked for her father.
"He's ... uh, not here," Xander said. "He asked me to apologize to you, to both of you. He"
"Your father can't bear the sight of me," Buffy said, her wide mouth curdling as she spat the words out. "My touch is repulsive to him. He's left me."
"Wh-what? What?" Jemima looked up at each of them in turn, her eyes full of horror and questions.
"That's not it," Xander said. "No. He's ... he's in a bad place, and ... I told him it wasn't true, but he felt it was better all around if he not be here with us. He has to figure himself out. He's in a very bad place." Xander stumbled over the words, as if he didn't really believe them, or was making them up on the spot.
"And I'm in a very good one," Buffy said. She rose so fast that she almost knocked Jemima back, and threw herself with sudden force against Angel. He caught her, astonished. "You left me first. After my father. You left and got it all started."
"Buffy, that's not true!" Willow stepped forward, stretching a hand towards her, but Buffy retreated, pressing herself against Angel. The others chimed in too, saying that it wasn't true, Spike hadn't left in the sense of never coming back, and weren't they all here with her, closer than ever after all these years, and wouldn't it be better if she tried to calm down? She hid her face in Angel's shirt, sobbing and shaking. He held her, but tentatively, as if he wasn't sure what to do or how to do it. Dawn saw him look towards Jemima, and saw Jemima turn her face away.
Which was odd.
Next she spotted the minister they'd engaged to say a few words, standing off to the side under a large black umbrella held over them both by a cemetery worker. He was shifting from foot to foot, and when he saw her looking, gave a questioning gesture at his watch. She nodded, and turned back to Buffy.
"Sweetie, we have to get started now." There was something as terrible to Dawn in seeing Buffy's retreat into Angel as in seeing her plunging her hands into the dirt a minute ago. The sight of Buffy's distress, her weakness, frightened Dawn at a level below speech, below conscious feeling. Buffy was the strong one, so when she was broken, anything and everything might break in a moment.
Jemima's voice, wavering, then strengthening, spoke across them. "If Papa isn't here, I'm sure it's because ... because ... he's doing the best he can. So are you, so are we all. Mamma, we're all hurting. Let's not be angry at each other."
Buffy allowed herself to be drawn away from Angel. With one arm around her daughter and another around Dawn, she let them position her by the open hole, as the minister stepped up and greeted them, his book already open in his hand.
Xander put an arm around her from the other side. "I wish he'd written it down," he whispered. "I mean, when he told me what he felt, it made sense. But I just made a hash out of telling it."
"It's really okay, honey." A surge of love for him came over her, so that tears pricked at her eyes. Xander Harris. Xander Harris. Xander Harris. He steadied her. Made life sweet.
The service began. Apart from an occasional hiccupping sob from Buffy, they were all quiet, listening to the minister, or probably not listening to him. Dawn didn't listen. She thought about Johnny, how when he'd come to visit them for a week last summer, he and Xander got into a video game tournament that ate hours and hours of daylight every day, while she tried to roust them out to go do something in the sunshine, for heaven's sake. The pair of them had cackled like evil hens over their play, as the beer bottles piled up on the coffee table. They'd really enjoyed themselves.
Suddenly she found herself remembering Buffy's wedding. That crazy weddingshe'd surprised herself and all of them by the vehemence of her objection, when Buffy and Spike first announced their intentionbut vampires can't get married! They'd all stared at her like she'd grown a horn. In the silence she'd felt the hairs prickle on the back of her neck, until Spike said, in his inimitable low growl, "Big Bad always does just what he pleases."
And he had. He'd put on a dark slim-cut suit, and real shoes, and worn a flower pinned to his lapel, and looked prouder and happier than she'd ever seen him when Giles walked Buffy towards him, arrayed in that clinging white chemise, flowers in her hand, her hair and skin shining as gold. She'd still had the artificial leg then, but you'd never know it, so smoothly did she glide towards him, borne by happiness, and the dress was slit up the good side, so her shapely tanned leg flashed out of the white satin. They'd married themselves, like Quakers, speaking their vows while the witnesses stood around them in a circle in the open air, the treetops stirring so the moonlight dappled the glade where they'd gathered.
They'd all danced afterwards for hours, there in the park, while Jemima ran in and out of their small crowd, laughing and tripping over her long dress. A couple of vampires tried to crash their party, but Buffy slew them with the wooden sticks she'd worn to fix her french twist, and didn't even muss her dress.
It was that night when something happened as she danced with Xander, though she'd been dancing with him, one way or the other, for yearsthe monks had given her memories of standing on his shoetops, gripping his hands hard as he pretended to waltz her around the Summers living room, when they were still new in town, and he was a tenth-grader. Something happened, something sultry and mysterious, and when the party broke up, she went home with him, and there it began.
In all that time, she and Xander hadn't wanted to marry. Maybe it was that they each came from homes where the marriage was brokenor should've been. It felt luckier not to take the risk. Buffy and Spike had promised each other the usual things, although because of who they were, the vows they'd exchanged had a tinge of the miraculous to them. To love and cherish, come what may. To take care of one another, respect one another. To be faithful. To be one another's best confidants. To be inseparable.
And they were, Dawn thought, they were all those things, for a long time, as their children grew and Buffy's face and body stayed impossibly girlish, time washing past them both without erosion. Then something broke. And in a mad rush, as if an airlock opened, they were swept apart, and everything was tumbling around, bruised and torn.
Dawn tuned back in to hear the minister say, "... would like to say a few words about StJohn Grieves Summers?"
"I would." Tara stepped forward. "I ... I just want to say that I don't think I could've loved Johnny more if he was my own. He was a lovely, intelligent, affectionate boy, but he was someone who maybe found things harder ... harder to accept, to cope with, in his life than ... than some of us. He ... made some bad choices, and I'm not going to pretend they weren't choices. We all have darkness within ourselves, and most of us resist it. Johnny, for reasons we can't really fathom, couldn't, or wouldn't resist. But ... I just want his motherand his father, though he isn't hereI want them to know that for my part, I forgive him. I forgive him, and I'm thankful I had him in my life, these last twenty years. I'm going to remember him not as I last saw him, but as he was when he would come to stay with me in San Francisco. I like to think about him, romping around with my dog in the backyard, healthy and energetic and happy. He'd play with Hecate and get her all worked up, and then come in and eat me out of house and home." She smiled then. "I'll think about what a miracle it was that he came to be, that we had him with us at all, and be grateful for that."
Buffy was crying again. The others spoke one by one, and Dawn tried to think of what she would say when it was her turn, but she was fixated on Spike, on what must be going on in his head that could be bad enough to keep him from his son's funeral. She remembered how he'd been the summer after her sister's death. Coming to the house almost every night to sit with her, and how often she'd see him cry, and how unself-conscious he was about it. So that he was the only one she could talk to about Buffy. She'd ended up telling him all about her that summer. Things she was sure Buffy would've hated him knowing, but it made it better to talk about her, and Spike's eyes shone through tears as he listened.
She wished she could be with him now.
Suddenly they were all looking at her.
"What? Oh! I ... I'm not ready. I ... I loved Johnny ... like you all said ..." She looked around at their faces, but because of the umbrellas, and the starkness of the one pole light, all she could see were glimmers of eyes and lips. It was eerie. Dawn's heart churned. She squeezed tighter on Xander's hand. "... he's gone, and we won't let him out of our hearts and minds ... so he'll always be with us as long as we're here ... and we're all alive, so ... we need to live ... and maybe I shouldn't say this now, but ... I want you all to remember it's not just death. There's death, and there's also life. New life. I ... Xander and I ... I just found out for sure. We're going to have a baby."
Spike hadn't ridden the boxcars since long before he'd met Buffy, but some things never changed. The decision to travel the vampire wayand thereby re-enter the twilight world of demons he'd stepped away from so long agocame with a pang. Failure hung 'round him like the fogs of his London youth, impenetrable, seeping into his every sense. And the last time he'd secreted himself on an empty freight car, Drusilla was with him. She loved the ever-changing scenery seen through the half-open car door, loved preying on the hobos, who sometimes defended themselves amusingly with knives, and whom no one missed when they were drained. The endless rocking of the car always made her amorous; they'd while the daylight away fucking to its rhythm, and she'd smile into his eyes, immersed in happiness.
She was dead now too, and as he got settled in the darkest corner of an empty car, Spike found a little sliver of sorrow in himself for that. Much as he hated her, and wished he could've had the slaying of her himself, his lover's heart couldn't altogether forget what she'd been to him, for so long. Ripe, wicked plum. He raised his bottle of vodka to her memory, and took a long swallow. He'd fallen into her hands because he was a fuck-up, and she'd overseen most of his fuck-ups since. Was kind of fitting, that.
As the train moved south into the night, he got drunk. Hunger started as a gnawing in the belly, creeping out to his extremities. He made no move to sate it, though he was aware of rats sharing the space with himand already knew that rats would be his only food on this journey. He deserved to be empty and weakened and humiliated. The more he was, the better.
From the cemetary, they ended up at a diner on the outskirts of Sunnydale, near the freeway on-ramp. There were large booths in a side-room, meant for six; the waitress placed a chair at the end of the table for the seventh. Jemima found herself against the wall, with her mother beside her and Tara, Dawn and Xander across. Angel, always the odd one out with the Scoobies, wound up in the only chair; huddled on it, he looked outsized and gravely awkward. Jem tried not to glance at him too much, which meant she barely glanced at him at all; judging what was too much was beyond her. The combination of grief and her delicate new happiness overwhelmed her; she could barely keep her eyes open, and her head ached. She hated herself for being glad that Papa wasn't there to learn her secret. She wanted him, but knew that he wouldn't have been in any frame of mind, knowing about her affair with Angel, to offer or take comfort from her. Apparently he was in no frame of mind for that anyway. She couldn't remember when she'd ever felt so separated from him.
Each booth had a jukebox selector set into the wall; as they waited for the waitress, Jemima looked through the choices, which were on cards that flipped by turning a knob. Some of the song titles were printed, others hand-written in faded ink. "This must be very old. I've never seen anything so ... mechanical ... like this."
The others were chatting, and didn't seem to hear her, but Buffy, who had been staring at the paper placemat, which showed various lurid-colored alcoholic drinks with umbrellas and celery stalks and swizzle sticks blooming from them, turned and focused on it.
"Oh, I remember this. It was here when" She stopped.
"When what, Mamma?"
"When ..." Buffy raised her head and looked around the room. "... when Spike and I ..." The tears brimmed over her eyelids; her face twitched as they dripped down her cheeks. She kept looking around, her mouth opening and closing. "Oh baby, it was here, right here, where we made our plans for you."
"We talked about bringing you here to show you, but I guess we never got around to it. When I was pregnant with you, and we were afraid to go ahead and have you, you know, we've told you this story over and over, we were afraid becausebecause we thought it would be too dangerous ... Spike thought all the demons in the world would try to get you." The tears came thicker, but she spoke without sobbing. "While we were hashing it out, your father brought me here, made me eat when I thought I wasn't hungry. And then the next day, when we'd finally made up our minds that we couldn't bear to part with you, that we'd take the risk ... we came back here again, and we were so happy. You can't imagine how happy."
Jemima squeezed her mother's hand, and thinking of how she felt about Angel, all her excitement and turmoil and pleasure, said, "I think I can."
"Some time you'll know," Buffy said, slipping an arm around her shoulders. "You'll have a child, and you'll feel that too." Her fingers combed through Jemima's hair. "Baby, I hope you'll have a happy life now. It's very important to me. You've had such a hard time. I'm so sorry for how things turned out. That you had to"
"II'm all right." Jemima blushed. She didn't want Buffy to have to refer to what she'd done, how Johnny tricked her, how she set fire to him. She glanced at Tara, who gazed at her steadily, with her large calm eyes. Tara knew about the new thing in her life, a love that sprang up green out of a burnt-over field. All the time she looked at Tara, and cuddled with her mother, she was aware of Angel at the end of the table, sipping at a cup of coffee and talking to Willow in a low voice. Their conversation contained lots of pauses. Sometimes Xander put a word in, but he was still stunned by Dawn's news. They were all stunned and awkward. Johnny was gone and would never be with them anymore, and there was this new person forming, who would be with them in the future, whom they didn't yet know. This made them all feel as if they were floating in time. For herself, Jemima was ashamed of her secret. She should have been thinking of nothing else but grief, but instead her mind shied away from that, and she thought greedily of Angel, of when she could next be alone with him. She was looking forward to showing him where the demons would rise.
Buffy was still smoothing her hair, looking at her with wide, sad eyes. "This is pretty," she said, touching the garnet barrette. "I see you've been wearing it every day. It suits you."
Jemima blushed harder. "It was a good find." She was amazed that Buffy could notice such a thing now, but she supposed her mother was as eager for distraction as she was. The terrible grief hovered around them; Jemima knew it couldn't really be bypassed, she must experience it. Yet she tried to push it away, and felt that her mind was divided, between sorrow and joy.
Xander had an arm around Dawn, and her head rested on his shoulder as she picked with a fork at a piece of cheesecake, spreading the strawberry gel on top down the sides and onto the plate. She was smiling absently, her eyes unfocused and far away. Was that how Mamma looked, Jemima wondered, when she sat here with Spike, thirty years ago?
She'd missed that pleasure in her own pregnancy.
And there would be none of that with Angel.
This occurred to her for the first time, with a jolt. Again, she shoved it aside, to think about later. It wasn't important now. Nothing was important except him.
"Where are you going to go now?" Buffy asked. She wiped her eyes with her napkin. It was obvious that she was trying to pull herself together, to appear normal by talking, even as her eyes filled again.
Jemima stiffened. "What do you mean?"
"You're not going back to Yorkshire, are you? Will you come home with me for a while? to Reykjavik? I'd like to have you there."
"I think Papa will come back," Jemima said, her voice sounding too loud in her ears. "I really don't think he'll stay away from youus."
"I'm talking about you," Buffy said. "What will you do? I want us to be together."
Xander leaned across the table then, put a hand on Buffy's wrist. "Spike hoped you'd stay with Dawn and me for a while. We'd like that. Don't go back to Iceland. Iceland is the last kind of place you need to be right now."
"So Spike left instructions before he abandoned me? That's nice." Buffy's lips curled. "What other instructions did he give you for me?"
"Buff ... it wasn't like that. He was distraught. Look, you know I'm the last guy who's gonna cut anybody any slack for hurting you ... but he ... I think he was really thrashed. Sometimes ... sometimes there's just nothing a man can do but ...."
Buffy sniffled, swabbed at her eyes with the crumbling napkin. "I know. I know. Anyway, I brought this on myself."
In the parking lot, Jemima didn't know how to detach from her mother, and didn't want to, so she got into Xander's car with her, and let Willow and Tara go with Angel. He didn't come near her, but when they were exchanging goodbyes all around he stepped forward to hug Buffy, and then he hugged her. "Call," he murmured. She nodded against his chest, and stepped back.
"That was quite the Anya move," Xander said. "I had a little flashback, there." He was in bed, watching appreciatively as Dawn moved back and forth in front of him, from her suitcase, to the dressing table, into the bathroom, and out of it again in her silk nightgown, hair brushed and teeth cleaned.
"I had no idea I was going to do that. I know it wasn't the right time. I just couldn't suppress it. But you're glad, aren't you?" She flashed a smile that showed she wasn't really in any doubt of it.
"You are an amazing woman." Xander held his arms out; she sprawled across him. "When did you find out?"
"Yesterday. The stick died. I mean, the rabbit turned blue. Maybe I shouldn't have said anything. It's so soon, and I'm so ancient ... maybe it won't work out."
"I defy pessimism." He combed her hair with his fingers. "You're not ancient. I mean, the glowing green energy part of you is ..."
"I'm forty-six. I'm amazed I even got pregnant without help."
"Without help? What was all that in-and-outing I did, then?"
She gave him a light playful slap. "You call that helping, do you?"
"Hey, I live to serve."
Dawn frowned. "What if it goes wrong? I mean, what if our child turns out like Johnny? I don't think I could bear it. Could you bear it?"
"Don't think about that. You don't know what'll happen, but this is a good thing. Now that's it really happening, I've got no doubts. How do you feel?"
"I feel terrific. I feel like I dropped twenty years. And I'm all juicy ... are you juicy? Or do you want to go to sleep? Maybe it's not right to fuck after a funeral."
"Are you kidding? That's when a lot of quality fucking happens. This I know." He curled a hand around one breast through the silk. "Not sleepy. I'm up ... I mean, I'll be up, uh, shortly. Hey, are these going to get bigger?"
"I think they already have." She smiled, leaning into him. "They're tender, so play nice with them."
"If they hurt"
He took his hand away, but she put it back, brought his thumb to rub over the nipple.
"This feels really good. Really good." She wriggled in his lap.
Xander caressed her, and mouthed the other breast through the cloth. "I'm so lucky. We're so lucky. It feels kinda wrong, right now."
"But you're not turning it down, right?"
They kissed; she prodded her thigh against his burgeoning erection.
"So" He broke, taking a deep breath into his lungs. "Do you think we should get married?"
Dawn started. "What? Really?"
"I know we've never wanted to, but, I dunno ... with a kid and all. I'm willing."
"We don't even live together."
"I think we should certainly do that. I don't want to commute to see my baby. Don't you think so?" A wave of emotion came over him; he pulled her in tight, rocking her against him, kissing her forehead and her hair. "You knock me out. You just ... God, what did I do to get such a girl?"
"Oh, you only went with me because you couldn't get Buffy." This was an old joke between them; her eyes sparkled as she said it. They joked about it because they both knew that once it might have been true, but that now it wasn't, and couldn't be. It was their way of congratulating themselves, for what they found in each other.
"So, what do you think? Should we dah dah de dah, dah dah de dah?" Xander said, singing the Wedding March against her ear. Dawn shivered, and giggled.
"You're right, it's wicked for us to be so happyBuffy's crying right now, and here we are"
"What about it?"
She sobered, and looked into his eyes. "Of course we'll live together now. But can we ... sort of table the marriage thing for a while? I mean, you and me forever, no matter what, right? But I need to think. Anyway, it would be more fun, if we decide to do it, to wait until I'm scandalously huge, right?" She puffed out her cheeks and made a belly shape with her arms outstretched.
"Sure," Xander said. "Sounds good."
"It's all good."
They kissed some more. Her hand slipped beneath the sheet, curling around his rising cock. Xander rolled them over.
Suddenly Dawn said, "Do you know, I had the funniest feeling before, that there's something going on between Jemmie and Angel. Isn't that strange? Why would I feel that? It's impossible, but I did."
"Angel and Jem?" The mere suggestion was a buzz-killer. "Nah. She wouldn't go for him. And he ... he wouldn't dare. I mean ... would he?"
"That's what I thought. I dunno. I must've been making it up. I kept thinking I'd see Tara and Willow giving each other the glad eye, too. Which is stupidI mean, they broke up thirty years ago, and I've never stopped wishing they'd be together again. Like I used to wish my parents would get back together. I knew they never would, and that it'd be rotten if they did, and yet"
"It would be rotten if Jem looked at Angel. Was she looking at Angel? Did you see her looking at him? Was he looking at her? Because he has no stinking right to look at her. She's Buffy's little girl."
"Hey." Dawn laid a finger across his mouth. "Don't get all worked up, honey. Not like that." She prodded him with her thigh. "Forget it. I was just seeing stuff that isn't there, as usual. Let's do the thing now."
She sat up, raising her arms so he could pull the nightgown off. "I like doing the thing with you," he said.
"Yeah? Is that so?"
"Yeah. I'll like it when you're big as a house, and I'll like it if you're Mrs Harris, or if you're not, and I'll like it when we have to do it really quietly because the kid's asleep in the next room. I'll always like it."
She lay back, arms and legs open, beckoning. "Well, goodie for me then."
"Goodie," Xander said, moving across her, "for us."
Angel's suite already felt empty because Jemima wasn't there, even though she hadn't had time yet to put her mark on the space ... if she even would. Angel didn't want to make assumptionshe'd long learned that when he believed he was sure of anything, that thing could dissipate in a moment that left agony in its wake.
And maybe ... he looked around at the dark walls, the heavy, rather nondescript hotel furniture, the black-out blinds on the windows. How could she want to live here? A woman wouldn't feel this was a homeat least, not a woman like her, who was used to houses, who'd grown up in a happy family. No matter how long he lived in the Hyperion, it always retained its air of transcience. As a vampire, he himself was transientthat was one of the paradoxes of immortality, as he understood it. Everything grew and changed and moved and died, except for him.
Her suitcase wasn't here anymoreshe'd brought all her things to the funeral, transferring them from his car trunk to Xander's, so she could go with her mother afterwards. But the sheets smelled of her. Angel stretched out on the bed and breathed it in. The perfume of her skin, the smooth expanses of back and belly and arms, the musky dip of the armpits where he'd been delighted to find soft hairshe'd apologized for neglecting lately to shave them, and was surprised when he asked her not toand the more complex aroma of her aroused sex. When he kissed her there she made low mews like an anguished kitten, that got louder and more overwrought as he wound her up to the edge, and held her off from it, only to wind her higher. She didn't say so, but he could tell she'd never been eaten out by anyone with the patience to do it up properlyor the strength to hold her legs apart without other restraints, so she could thrash and buck to her heart's content. Her expression when he finished with herblissed out, almost vacant, her face pink, lips parted and gaspingwas beautiful. It made him proud. He'd done that to thousands of women over his centuries, but only once before with real love. And the day he'd pleasured Buffy like that, was a day destroyed, existing nowhere in time, but only in his own memory.
That wasn't going to happen with Jemima. He would love her over and over; she would lose that edge of anxiety, charming as it wasanxiety that he would stop too soon, that she wouldn't get what she needed.
That he also would get what he needed didn't occur to him. Spike's friendly advice to him about taking a mistressor a boyfrienddidn't recur in his musings. Jemima wasn't a mere girlfriend or mistress or anything that could be described by some generic nounshe was Jemima. He would make love to her every day.
The phone rang in his pocket.
The sound of her tiny voice saying Angel sent a frisson of pleasure up his spine.
"Not asleep, Jemmie?"
"No. I finally got Mamma to drop off. I can't talk for long, she wants me to be lying down with her."
"Go on then, don't leave her."
"I know ... but I wanted to say good night to you." She exhaled, and he imagined he could feel her warm breath against his ear. "I shouldn't have, because I'm worried about him, but ... I was glad Papa wasn't there tonight."
Agreeing made him feel guilty, though he'd been in knots trying to figure how he could get through it gracefully. He wanted to own his new love to all the world, but the risk of owning it to her two righteous deadly parents was enormous. He was afraid not for himself, but for her.
"Are you all right?" she said.
"I'm all right."
"... I miss you already."
"I'll see you very soon."
"At Wesley's funeral, later. Tonight. I'll be there." She paused. "Actually, Mamma and the others said they'd go too. They all used to know him. I don't think any of them liked him, but they're all feeling very sentimental now."
This surprised him, but he said nothing about it. "I'll see you there then."
"But it won't beseeing you. I'm not sure when"
"We'll get together when we can. You don't have to worry that I'll forget about you."
"No, I didn't think that."
He thought he could hear her smile.
"But we have a date for that demon 'do in Venice Beach, right? Thursday."
"Right. Have you had any more?"
"No more visions. Maybe ... maybe that one was a fluke."
"Don't worry about it. We'll just see, won't we?"
"Yes, I guess so. Angel ..."
He thought she might be about to say I love you, and realized he was physically bracing himself for it, a hand gripping the headboard.
But what she said was, "I'm thinking maybe I should tell Mamma. I mean, before Papa comes back."
"Do you want to? I meanby yourself? We could ... we could tell her together. Or" He wanted nothing so much as to spare Jemima every possible pain. "I could tell her." He couldn't somehow imagine doing this, facing Buffy alone, but if Jemima agreed, he would go forth and do it. He'd slain dragons before. Just ... none that was once his one true love.
"Oh no. I don't think that would be the right way. I'll do it. I ... I already told Tara. She understood. But ... " She sighed. "It's the wrong time to tell Mamma, but if I don't tell her, later on she'll be angry because I kept it from her. She'll be angry no matter what."
"Jem ... if you think this is the wrong time ... I mean, for us ... we can wait. I'll wait for you. If you tell me to, I will. That way, you'll know for sure, without, without" He meant, without being caught in the cloud of phermones they were floating on, without the pressure of his confession of love, or of her grief that sought release in passion. "In six months. Or a year. When you're sure of what you really feel. You can let me know. And meanwhile, you'll be free."
Silence on the line.
"Don't worry about the visions. You can just, uh ... call them in. From wherever you're living."
"I ... I understand." She sounded stunned.
"UhI suspect you don't. I'm not trying to get rid of you. I'm saying"
"Angel. Six months away from youwhy? Life is shortwell, mine, anyway. Don't deprive me."
He breathed out, let go of the headboard. "I'm not sure when you got to be so necessary to mebut you are."
She breathed into the phone, her voice dropping into an ever lower whisper. "You are so good to me. So kind. Don't worry. Whatever Mamma saysor PapaI'm already yours."
Angel curled a hand into the sheet as if it was her hair. It smelled of her hair, but not enough. "Jem" It was name, description, endearment, plea.
"OhI hear Mammagoodbye!"
Her hand was entwined with Jemima's when she fell asleep, but when she woke suddenly in the dark, Buffy was alone in the kingsize hotel bed. A halo of light showed through the half-open door into the suite's front room. She heard Jemima's whispering voice.
Who would she be talking to at this hour?
Must be Spike. He would leave her to flounder with nothing but second-hand words from Xander, but he'd contact Jemima directly. Nothing ever came between those two, they were always thick as thieves, no matter what. Spike never didn't forgive Jemima, she had him wrapped 'round her finger. Even when she married a man who hated him, Spike forgave her.
A choked sensation arose in Buffy's chest. It wasn't fair that Spike loved her more! Wasn't fair that he'd contact Jemima like this, behind her back, after he'd left her heart for dead.
Buffy started up, racing silently across the thick carpet to stop just by the door, straining to listen through the gap.
Jemima murmured, "I ... I understand." She sounded stunned. So it was Spike, no doubt giving her his feeble excuses for fucking off in the middle of this big disgusting mess. Buffy grasped the doorknob. She would go through. She would grab the phone away and tell him
"Angel. Six months away from youwhy? Life is shortwell, mine, anyway. Don't deprive me."
Buffy couldn't have moved then if she was shot through with fifty thousand volts. Even her heart seemed to stop, blown up to triple size and straining in her chest. What was this?
"You are so good to me. So kind. Don't worry. Whatever Mamma saysor PapaI'm already yours."
What the fuck?
"OhI hear Mammagoodbye!"
No. No no no.
Then Jemima was in front of her, touching her arms with gentle fingers. "Are you all right? I thought you were asleep."
"II was. I needed to pee." Buffy stared. There wasn't much light, but even so she could see that Jemima was flushed, her eyes sparkling. Could she really be involved with Angel? Would he dare? It was grotesque, obscenenot only had he failed her son, but he'd taken Spike. Bedded him and ruined him for her. And nowas if all that wasn't already too muchhe wanted to possess her daughter! What other explanation could fit what she'd just heard. Whatever Mamma saysor Papa.
How many more blows could she sustain? Johnny ... Spike ... her sister's annoucement at the graveshe'd managed to embrace her and even smile, while her jaw tightened to shattering point, and she could've shaken her until she miscarried. And now ... now apparently ....
Buffy pulled away. Forced herself into the bathroom, where she didn't bother to turn on the light. She retched, but there was nothing on her stomach to come up. Dropping onto the toilet, she pressed her face into her hot hands. The tears were all dried up.
She had nothing left in her.
She'd have nothing left at all ... if this was allowed to go on. Her mind raced through possibilitiesshe would confront Jemima. Force her tono. Orshe would call Willow, get her to Not that either. Oh God, she didn't know what to do.
Yes ... she did.
Jemima was in bed again, her face turned away, breathing slowly. Buffy couldn't tell if she was feigning. She switched on the lamp and began to dress. After a couple of minutes, Jemima stirred, rolled over.
"Mamma? What are you doing? It's" She squinted at the clock. "It's three in the morning."
Buffy didn't look at her as she pulled on sweats, running shoes. "Go back to sleep. I can't lie here another minute. I need to go find something I can fight."
She blew through the Hyperion lobby, not pausing to look at or listen to Darryl and Noel, who sprang up from behind the desk when she entered, and seemed to want to tell her how sorry they were about Johnny. Angel's people sent a wreath to the cemetary, which, whatever. She took the stairs two at a time, barreling towards Angel's room.
The door wasn't locked. She'd have preferred it to beshe'd have liked kicking it in. He was asleep in the dark. She leapt on him, getting in a good punch to the face. He grabbed her arm as she drew back for another.
"Buffy, what is this?" By his expression she could tell that he knew perfectly well.
She pulled out the stake. "I'm already yours, Angel. Whatever Mamma says. Well, here's what I say!" She was all volition, and yet there was no volitionher arm moved of itself, stabbing down hard. He was already in motionshe heard the hard snick as the wood drove against his collarbone, and then she was flying across the room.
The crash only stunned her a moment. Angel was on his feet now, the bed between them. That was kind of fitting. She launched herself at him again.
More quickly than her eye could track, he ducked and feinted and wasn't there. She landed hard on her hands, tumbling up.
"Buffy, stop this."
"You don't get to tell me what to do! Not while you're appropriating everyone who's mine!" Again she went at him, again he managed to deflect her, though they both went down.
"Stop!" Angel barked. "God Buffy ... at least when your mother came and told me to leave you alone, she didn't try to dust me."
"She never told you about that?" He rose slowly, one arm out to ward her off, or to plead time out. "Buffy, please. I know the timing couldn't be worse, but this isn't the same."
A deep throbbing ache started behind her eyes. "My ... my mother told you to leave me?" She sat down hard in a chair as the room began to whirl, dropping her head down between her knees. This was so old, so old, so old, and yet it made her flare and stagger inside. It still mattered. It mattered without any still. Shit.
"When your mother came to me, I understood that. You were eighteen and you didn't know your own mind. Jemima's thirty, and she knows hers."
"She's only twenty-nine! And a widow for less than a month! Becausebecause And youyou have no right" Her head throbbed. She flew at him again. Now Angel didn't resist, let her beat him back until he was up against the wall, but she knew even before they reached it that she was pulling her punches, that she wasn't going to kill him. Sobbing, she pounded on his chest, her fists bouncing off like rubber clubs. "Fuck. Fuck you, Angel! First Spike, and now Why does it have to be her?"
He shook his head, seemed genuinely befuddled. "I didn't know she'd be ... what she is. So wonderful, so sympathetic, and ... I tried not to fall for her, but she was too much for me."
"No! Excuses! Bullshit!" She could barely see, her head throbbed so. Angel was solemn, still calm. He was always calm. Ancient, and calm, and slow to kindle. She knew him. He was holding her elbows now, his big hands lightly supporting her. She hated that he was like this, when she was so hot and disordered and bereft.
"Have you slept with her?" Hearing the pleading in her voice, she wanted to rip the sound out of the air.
Angel's mien slipped a little now; she saw that familiar Irish expression of suffering and doubt in his eyes.
"Buffy, I'm not going to lose my soul."
"Nothing's changed, Angel. The curse is the curse. A single moment of perfect happiness"
"is pretty much impossible for me anymore!" His eyes lit with an anger that almost matched her own. "Excuse me, but you really don't know me anymore! When I was with you ... I had nothing but you. I was coming off ninety years of detachmentI had no friends, certainly no lovers worthy of the word. I never hadnot as a man, not as a demon. Of course what I felt with you overwhelmed me. I was like a naive boy. That's ... that's not me anymore, Buffy. Nothing for me is simple anymore, the way it was back then."
"I don't accept that." She grasped at her objections, bright deadly shuriken that would cut him to bits. "You ... you told me once, that you had nothing to give mea real life, a home, children. She's just a normal woman. She deserves those things, with other human beings. She's not a hero, not a champion"
"Actually, I am. Well, not a hero. Or a champion. Butthe champion's helper, anyway. Official."
Jemima stood in the doorway. She was wide-eyed, but otherwise restrained. Buffy wasn't sure how long she'd been there. Her heart lurched, misgiving moving through her like some ectoplasmic presence. "... What are you talking about?"
"It turns out I have the visions now, Mamma. As of yesterday. Which means that the Powers want me to be here at least as much as I want it myself."
The room seemed to turn upside down. Buffy restrained an urge to grab the wall. "No! It doesn't mean anything! It means the Powers can manipulate us, that's all! And even if it's trueit's no excuseno reason why you should throw yourself away!"
"Mamma, I'm so sorry this hurts you."
"Baby ... you just got free, finally, from one impossible man. How can you immediately throw yourself"
She stamped her foot. "Not that! Mamma, that's too low!"
"What's low about it? Low is squandering yourself on someone who isn't appropriate! What Angel loves, he decimates."
"In the past. Not ... not now."
"Can you imagine what your father will say when he hears about this? How it would break his heart? After what happened to your brother, I don't know how you can even think"
"You sound like you think this is just some childish act of rebellion!"
"No, I think it's your perverse talent for choosing the worst possible partner based on who you think needs you! Milo didn't need you, and Angel certainly doesn't! You never think clearly about what you need!"
"That's not true! You don't understand this at all! For the first time in my life, I'm in love with a man who loves me. I'm not going to let you take this away from me!"
By the sudden change in Angel's expression, Buffy realized he hadn't yet heard Jemima say love. His eyes lit, his lips curved into an unconscious and almost angelic smile. Jemima, all her attention focused on her, didn't see it, but Buffy took it in. It was expression she'd seen before, back in the time of her innocence. When she'd believed that look belonged to no one but her, nor ever would.
Buffy turned to Angel. "Maybe it's our punishment, Spike's and mine ... that our children grow up to be just like us, only in the worst possible way. A vampire, and a vampire's mistress. That's kind of a hoot."
"Buffy, you shouldn't say"
She laugheda laugh that hurt her throat like a dry cough. "Jem, I don't want that for you. I'm not asking you to choose us or him, I'm asking you to remember what you areor maybe I mean, what you aren't. You aren't obligated to try to rescue these bad cases, just because ... you should have a human life. In the light. Jemmie, think."
"There's plenty of light, when I'm with him. Just like there was plenty when I lived at home with you and Papa. The light that really matters. We don't choose who we love, or when or how love comes ... maybe we should, but we don't ... can't ... it just happens, and then ... oh Mamma, you know this! You know!"
These arguments ... she knew them too well. Her daughter wouldn't even exist, except for the truth of them.
The fight left her suddenly, exhaustion rushing in on its wake. She had no power here. She had no power left, perhaps, anywhere. She couldn't make Spike love her again, couldn't make her daughter cleave to her, couldn't love her son well enough to keep him from rushing towards death. Bitter truth, that seized her with conviction. Everything she'd counted on was gone. But that didn't mean everyone else should suffer too. How could she force her little girl to be sad? Sadder than she already must be, after all this horror. None of it made sense.
She was so tired.
"I know." She pulled Jemima into her arms. With an uneasy mixture of petition and maternal scorn, she said "Baby, how can I let you go do something that's so wrong for you?"
Jemima shook her head. "I don't know. I don't know how you can." She was crying hard now, overheating, Buffy knew, with her competing impulses, of love, of loyalty, of sympathy for her mother and Angel and herself all at the same time. "And I don't know how I'm supposed to choose! To walk away from this wonderful new thing, thisthis gift that has me all lit up insidebecause you tell me to." Pulling away, Jemima paused by Angel, long enough that Buffy was sure she was going to throw herself into his arms. Instead she walked over to a chair in the corner, and sat.
With no one between them, Buffy and Angel regarded each other.
Angel dropped his gaze first. "This is an impossible position. I want Jemima, but not if means tearing her away from her whole world. I can't ask her to choose on these terms."
Jemima flew towards him. "No!"
Buffy, at the same time, said, no.
"For God's sake, that won't solve anything. We all know that. God, this is fucked up." To Angel, she said, "I'd like to just hate you and blame you and splash around in my anger forever." Her mouth wobbled; she crammed a fist against it. "I'm so angry at everything. I can't take all this loss."
They both came towards her then, but she warded them off with a sharply upraised hand. "Jemima, of course I'm calling the kettle black. Of course you'd throw that in my teeth. It's the one thing you can say that I've got no answer to. Do as I say not as I? Yeah, right." How long ago it all was, that time when Spike was a controversy. "There were plenty of people to point out along the way how loving Spike made me a bad slayer, a bad human. The mission was what I was supposed to have in lieu of a life, a marriage, a family. Just like all the slayers before me. But I defied those rules. I had Spike. I had you. And I had my son. At the moment I don't seem to have a marriage anymore, and my son is dead. I was desperate to keep you. But ... I can't keep you like this, can I? Confusing your life with mine."
Again, she put her hand up. "I can't give you my blessing. I just can't. But ... you're an adult. Your mistakes are yours, you have to make them on your own. I still think this is one, but ... well, that's what I think." A gusty sigh escaped her. "I know what it's like to be in love, and God knows I know what it's like with him. How good it can be with him." She looked at Angel. "I really did come here to stake you."
" ... I know."
"I didn't believe you loved her until you offered to walk away."
"I love her with all my soul."
"Of course you doI mean, look at her. How she shines. She'd be a prize for any man, if only she knew it. For youshe's everything that was ever good about me and him both. She's sweetness, and she's innocence. She'll still be innocent if she lives to be a hundred. You like that."
Angel met her gaze with the depths of his own seriousness. "I love everything she is, that's all."
Jemima went to him, and offered him her hands. He swallowed them in his.
Buffy threw herself into a chair. "Of course, this will only play out all over again when your father decides to turn up. Except he may well go through with the stakinghe'll try at least."
"I know," Angel said. "I don't want to fight him."
"No more fighting!" Jemima looked like a trapped bird. "Oh I wishI wish we just knew where he is. Poor Papa. Why did he leave us?" It was her turn to go vacant, immersed in imagining Spike's reaction.
"Angel's right, though," Buffy said. "When you're thirty, you're not supposed to have to choose between your father's love, and your lover's. Even if your lover's been his lover too." Buffy watched for her daughter's blush. "But that aspect of vampire family life doesn't seem to bother you Jemmie, does it? I guess it wouldn't, since you're half vampire yourself. Half vampire and half saint. We named your brother wrongit's you."
Jemima stared. "Whwhat?"
"Just reminding you, Daddy's Girl: your life is yours, not Spike's. Give him credit, he's never said otherwise either. Not that I have a hope in hell he'll smile on this."
"You'll talk to him," Jemima said, hope rising in her voice. "You'll talk him around. You can if you want to."
"I don't even know where he is. I don't think he's mine anymore. You seem to be on your own there." With a convulsive snap, she got to her feet. "Hang onto your man, Jem, while you've got him!"
She walked out before either of them could start offering refutations or condolences. Better for the broken-hearted--the just plain broken--to leave those who could love to get on with it.
So what did that performance make me? A good mother? A bad mother?
Maybe nobody's mother, soon.
Her daughter, deciding to bypass every living man on the planet, had plumbed for her worst possible choice. Once you go Undead, you never go back. Spike had said that to her once, when she was trying to get that stupid Amara ring away from him, and he'd been as busy insulting and propositioning her as fighting.
Punch-drunk on fizzled adrenaline and dried tears, Buffy skipped the elevator and dragged herself up thirty flights of stairs to her hotel room, hoping she'd be exhausted enough at the top to maybe fall asleep. Sleep seemed like the only refuge left.
But when she got in, she was barely winded.
In her pocket, her mobile whirred. The text, sent from a number she didn't recognize, said Check your email.
Dropping into the desk chair, she switched on the room's terminal.
She didn't use email much. Her account was clogged with advertisements. But the newest message in the queue was from William.Grieves@CoW.co.uk.
Her weary body couldn't generate any sort of start or lurch. As she opened the message, it was all she could do to focus on the screen. Her vision swam, scrambling the words into scurrying black ants.
You must be thinking now that you aren't anymore ... dear to me. It's not so. You're what you've always been to me, my heart, my life, my queen. What happened with the mage, is off the table, far as I'm concerned. Forgotten. So why'd I bugger off on you then? is what you're asking next. Worst possible time, when our poor boy is dead and we should be helping each other.
Which is what I want to explain. Because I know what I promised you when you let me in your life, and I've never released myself from that promise. It's what kept me, frankly, from doing away with myself a time or two, recently. Angel will say he saved me, when I turned up flambéd, but thing is, I knew, back of my mind, that he wouldn't let me kill him, or myself, not really. You know how I like the big dramatic gestures. Need 'em, I do, once in a whilereleases the tension, like a good fight or a good fuck.
And here I am talking like I'm still the same fellow you know. When the whole reason I'm not there with you now is that I'm not anymore. Buffy love, this soul ... this soul's a thing I cannot learn how to do with. You told me about a time you interrogated some minion by holding your crucifix in her mouth 'til it seared her tongue and she had to flap it. It's like that. Like some great crucifix steeped in holy water and shoved inside me, my mind and my body both, so I'm like a bug on a pin, jerking and shuddering and no relief for it. Someone said Hell Is Other People, but in my case, Hell Is Me. Hell is me, my deeds, all on me again in constant vivid memoryevery one of them from the little bloody matchgirl I did for in 1880, to our son whom I failed last week. I can't look at you, or be with you, except immersed in it. Which you got a too vivid demo of, in that motel room. I'm sorry for that. Wasn't you, wasn't your sweet body or anything about you, that made me sick. Know you think it was, but you're wrongwas me.
I went because of that. And because of my promise, that I'd never leave you. Which, writing this, yeah, I'm a twat, sounds like I'm burning the village to save it and all. But what I mean's this: Soul burns, yeah, but it also shows me I can't get off from it by doing myself in. That would be a rush to a whole other brand of damnation, I get that. So I've got to live in this world, live up to the fucking soul. But, like I told Harris, and like he probably didn't tell you, because he wasn't exactly taking notes, I don't know yet how I can live without wanting every minute to die, I don't know how to be a man whose soul isn't in constant anguish. And I won't be able to find a way while I'm with you and the others, chivvying me up and trying to love me and expecting me to be this or that. And none of you can help it, because it's only human. And knowing you love me is keeping me sane, you're my lodestar, you always were, sweetness. But it's got to be from afar awhile, at least, while I find my way.
Not messaging anybody else, so give Jemmie my love the best way you can, and tell Harris hello. You needn't reply if you're too angry. Or say whatever you like. I know I'm letting you down, but I hope you'll wait for me. I don't know how long it'll take, or where I'm going exactly, but earth's round, so one way or the other, it'll always be back towards you.
She sat for a long while, blinking and rubbing her eyes, rereading the email. Her body seemed to be calcifying, getting hard and tight and stony.
If you leave me, can I come too? she thought. Because I don't know how to be a woman whose soul isn't in constant anguish. I should get to share this quest.
Too wrung out to rage, or even think, she clicked on reply.
Dawn's with child.
She told us at the funeral.
There's other stuff, but it's not for email.
I'll be back in Reyk by the end of the week.
Of course I'll wait for you. You've always waited for me. But hurry the fuck up, you bastard. I can't believe you walked out on me now.
Falling into bed, she fell asleep at once.
There was no clinch, not even a kiss, when they were alone together. Angel sensed Jemima didn't want to be touched. He doubted she'd stay.
Finally she spoke. "That wasn't me at my best just now."
"What do you mean?"
"I regress about twenty years whenever either of my parents gives me the hairy eyeball. I hate it when I lose control like that." She didn't look at him. "And asking Mamma to intercede with my father? I can't believe I said that. She won't, but that's neither here nor thereI shouldn't have asked. That was a kiddy ploy."
"There's such a thing as being too hard on yourself. Life's been ... eventful. No wonder you're wound up."
With a shrug, she raised her face to his. "I can't say I'm not really like thatI wish I could. But you heard me."
She looked pretty terrible: hair messy, face still blotched, the tear tracks visible. Even as Angel observed all this, he still saw her as shining. Was more amazed than ever, that in the midst of this downpour of loss and strangeness, he'd made a connection that was real and solid. "I heard you say you were in love with me."
She blushed. "I did say that. Meant it, too."
They kissed then, fleeting, chaste. Sex, along with emotion and energy, was at an apogee. Angel sensed her fatigue, the deadening pressure of her banked sadness. Like his own. The split, between being the mourner and the lover, between grief and delight, flashed in his head like bolt-lightening, making everything feel uncanny and strange from one moment to the next.
He wanted to visit Wesley, to tell him all about this, tell him about her. Except that Wesley was gone.
And there was an impulsenew, weird, and of course completely unworkableto confide in Spike. That brief flare-up of something like friendship was surely over nowor would be as soon as he learned about Jemima taking a place in Angel's bed. He'd barely thought about Spike's disappearancesome things had to drop behind others in the fast-moving jumblebut it struck him deeply now, what it meant. The suffering that attended the soul, the wild urge to escape, the impossibility of evading what would always ride with you. What was you. He and Spike were the only two demons alive with that now, and instead of being able to help him, there would be, short of some miracle, only conflict and resentment.
He'd made so many wrong moves since Spike showed up with his son in that duffle bag.
Yet he couldn't bring himself to regret this one, that brought Jemima to his side. The visions seemed to confirm the rightness of it ... or at least, made it easy to believe it must be right. If anything he did in love could ever be right.
"I'd better go back to the hotel with my mother. I need to sleep. And I want to be there if Papa comes back, or ... or we hear from him." Fresh realization seemed to hit her too, that Spike had gone, that his status was unclear. She blinked and gasped, turning her face away.
Angel decided not to bring it up. "Of course. I'll drive you back."
They rode in silence. As he let her out, Angel said, "If it feels too much for you, if you're too tireddon't worry about Wesley's funeral. You won't offend me by staying away."
She leaned in to kiss him, her handhot, drybrushing his cheek. He watched her walk unsteadily into the hotel.
"Oh God. OhGodOhGodOhGod." She hissed, tensing, because it was so good, she wanted time and motion to stop so she could focus entirely on that single sensation, his wet clever tongue feathering just there. But time and motion wouldn't stop, and though she wanted to hold her breath, she was panting, sucking the air in big frantic gasps, each gasp boosting her higher, higher. She ground and swerved and he stayed with her, holding her legs apart with his hands, the thumbs rubbing gently back across the kneecaps, and her hands were buried in his hair that curled around her fingers. Tugging on it, surging, she cried his name.
The bed jolted under her as she came awake. Realized slowly that the bed hadn't moved, it was only her body, jerking in dream. Her quim swollen and slick at the tip of orgasm, her hitched breathing loud in her ears. She was alone.
"Oh, Spike ..." Rolling onto her stomach, she wriggled against her fingers, bucked and dissolved into harsh gasps.
The sheets were unpleasantly warm under her sprawled body. Buffy sat up, pulled the hair up off her neck. She was in a feverish sweat, the room a hot box, airless behind the drawn drapes. She pulled them back, stepped out naked onto the balcony. It was late morning, the sun bright, all the sound and motion of the city spread out around her. A stiff breeze snapped the flags far below at the hotel entrance. It was a beautiful winter day in LA. Buffy let the air dry her moist skin, flutter her hair. Leaning on the rail with closed eyes, she touched herself again, slipping two fingers through the wet tangle of curls, between the lips. If he was here, and if it was night, he'd be right behind her, hands on her hips, sliding into her. Snug tight against her ass and back, he'd feel, from this angle, enormous inside. She'd beg him to fuck her, but he'd tell her to strum her little clit and come for him, come twice on his cock, give it a good squeeze and wriggle, and then maybe he'd fuck her. And she'd have to do it, pinned between his hard body and the cold rail, half bent over it, as his fingers plucked at her nipples and he hummed against her neck, game-faced, his breath cool and menacing, demon tongue darting out, fangs grazing her skin so it jumped and raced. She'd come, and come and come, and he'd laugh, say dirty terrible things to her about how she was his slave, his hot-cunted little slayer slave, while all the time he was impaling her, up inside her so she had to struggle just to stay on tiptoe, and it was filthy and crazy and wild and at the same time there was so much love, they were made of their love, flying on it.
Her feet flat on the floor, Spike in her mind, Buffy came with a long shudder, . Far below, a siren raced up the boulevard. She licked her fingers, slowly sliding each one deep into her mouth. This made her know she was hungry, and had to pee, and that she should get a manicure. Then she remembered that Johnny was dead, and for a moment she couldn't breathe around the blunt force of it. How could she live, much less indulge herself, when he had suffered so, and made others suffer? The world was insane, life was insane in its incessent onward flow. It should stop, it should at least pause. When everything was wrong, scattered, broken, lost, it should pause, and show respect.
In the room behind her, the phone rang. There was a pause. She'd just had it, it made things better and worse at the same time. It was over now. Buffy breathed, and went to answer.
Return to Herself's Fic.