Aftershocks 4
LadyStarlight - May 8, 2004

Day 1

You snap out of the fog you’ve been wandering in for days/weeks/months and focus your eyes on her face.

The only thing you can think to say is, “I was so lost,” and it comes out in broken pieces, like glass tumbling from your lips.

Love, concern and happiness shine from her eyes and she answers, “I’ll find you. I’ll always find you.”

And through it all, the clarity and love, a tiny splinter lodges in your heart. Why does she always have to bring the focus back to herself?

Her head snaps up and she looks into the middle distance. She reaches her hand to you, and just for a second, really no more than a millisecond, you flinch away from her. Muscle and bone remember how Glory crushed them; your eyes flicker down to the grimy cast you still wear and the agony washes through your synapses again. You brace for the inevitable violation and pain.

But all your doubts and fears and resentments flee even before your palms meet and the cool honey-gold of your magic flows through you and swirls into her sullen crimson, making a sunset glow that the gods themselves would envy. It is wonderful, this melting together and, you hope, dizzily, that it will help in this battle.

Your hands pull apart slowly, like stretched taffy, and you get down to the business at hand; batting aside the minions and dealing with the people who are still crazy, who had no Willow to save them. Until time seems to stop, dawn breaks, and you see the body lying on the rubble. She collapses against you and another tiny splinter joins the first one – why are you holding her up at this time?

Day 3

After listening to the arguments for and against Spike’s attending the funeral, you finally volunteer to at least go tell him the facts. You need to get away from the clashing egos and bickering auras. And, truth be told, you want to explore these new sore places in your heart; like a child with a scab, you need to be alone to pick at them.

It’s a beautiful day in Sunnydale. You’ve noticed that the first few days after an averted Apocalypse tend to be so. The sun is sunnier, the breezes are warmer and tinged with a hint of sea salt, and the nights are calmer.

You pass a butcher’s shop and stop, hesitating. Should you go inside and ask for some blood? You start to feel that you stand before a door that no one else has ever thought to open. That kindness to others should not be the exclusive property of humanity, and you wonder if the Scoobies – those brave, silly people who face danger with nothing more than a few weapons and some funny quips – could begin to wrap themselves around this kernel of truth. The knowledge that they would not even think to buy blood for the vampire who tried to save his love is a stone in your stomach. Without thinking, you bring your casted hand up to eye level and feel a kinship with the other outsider who was hurt in this fight.

You push the butcher’s door open, walk straight up to the Special Orders counter, and ask for two pints of cow’s blood without any further internal debate.

The bag that swings from your wrist is heavy and you can hear the blood sloshing in the containers. The sound takes you back to the farm, bringing pails of milk to the house for breakfast and you smile. It’s a good memory, one you haven’t thought of in a while and, in a roundabout way, you have Spike to thank for it.

You pick your way through the tombstones, looking for Spike’s crypt. The directions that Xander gave you, once he realized that you were serious, are clear and concise, and you find it without too much trouble.

The door is heavy, and bruises your knuckles when you try to knock. You finally give up and just push it open. Your voice is tentative as you call into the gloomy interior. Sounds from below your feet startle you at first, but you recognize them as someone walking with a limp and you relax a little bit.

You hold out the bag in front of you as you see Spike’s head emerging from the hole in the floor, proof that you, at least, are here in a semblance of friendship. It is also an instinctive response to a predator – show them easier prey. He smirks at your posture, but reaches out greedily for the bag and what it contains.

You pretend to study the candelabrum jammed into a crack in the wall while he drinks. You have no inclination to watch him and this way seems much more polite to you. Once you think he’s finished, you turn around and catch a glimpse of him licking the red from his lips. He looks over at you, like he’s forgotten you’re there, and gestures towards the sarcophagus.

“Wanna sit down, pet? Still looking kinda fragile.”

“Thanks.” You hitch yourself up onto the cool stone and try to figure out how to say what you need to.

He beats you to the punch. “Spit it out, blondie.”

“Tonight. O-over in the old cemetery – the one that’s near the beach. Once it’s dark.”

It takes him a beat to realize what you’re talking about and once he does, his face twists in pain for a brief second. He thanks you with his eyes, and you realize that he does not yet trust his voice. You look around the crypt, not wanting to intrude. You hear a click and smell tobacco smoke, dark and slightly seedy.

Uncomfortable with Spike’s silent pain, you try to think of something to say to make things at least seem more normal. “How’s your hand?”

He cocks his head and looks puzzled.

“In the motor home . . . I kind of remember that. I didn’t mean to – I just wanted to see the sun again. I’m sorry.”

He smiles then and hops up beside you.

“S’alright. Healed up already. See?”

You look at the workmanlike hand extended towards you and he is right. The skin is smooth and pinkish-white, no evidence of the sun’s harshness remains. He pokes a tentative finger at your cast.

“How’s yours?”

You rotate your forearm around before answering.

“It’s okay, I guess. Doesn’t hurt much unless I forget and try to do something with it.”

He nods sagely.

“Bones are like that. Quick to break, slow to heal.”

He tosses his butt to the floor and both of you sit and watch it smoulder until it uses up all its fuel and goes out.

Day 17

You are curled up on the couch together, pretending to watch television, when she decides to tell you what she did to Glory. She offers this up to you like a cat offers prey it has caught in its sharp little claws.

Her eyes lock onto yours as the words pour from her mouth. The telling does not disturb you – you understand about the need to tell deep, dark secrets. What does is what she cannot see.

Dancing, ever dancing, in the back of her eyes is glee. That is the only word your mind can find to describe what you see. Glee. It sounds happy and old-fashioned, but you can tell it is a darker shade, that somewhere inside the security of your love, she revels in the dark magics and the harm she caused with them. She puts her glass on the coffee table and you can see, just for a second, an oil-slick of blackness move through her eyes.

This is when she brings up The Plan.

You can tell that she thinks of it in capital letters: The Plan. You can also tell that no matter what you say, she will brush all your arguments aside and keep going. You try, of course, because that is who you are. You try until you are half-sick with fear, until only the knowledge that Dawn is sleeping just upstairs keeps you from shrieking at her like a harpy.

You cannot make her understand that what she wants to do is wrong, that the earth cries out against it, that she does not want to do this because it is needed, but because she can. And you finally give in, hoping that you can act as a steadying influence on her, keep her from losing herself in the darker magics that you sense are gathering around her.

Day 32

You are coming to understand that it is not the big things that shatter relationships, but the little. Little cracks that run across the surface skin of you and Willow like the cracked glaze on old, old pieces of pottery. You can point to specific cracks and say, “this one happened when Willow forgot to take the movie back and ran up a week’s worth of late charges on my card” and “this one happened when Willow got so caught up in researching The Plan that she forgot to take the clothes out of the washing machine and we never got the smell of mildew out of them.”

You are honest with yourself, though. Willow can probably point to her own cracks too: “This one happened when I finally found the missing ingredient for the spell and Tara didn’t immediately offer to run out and get it for me.” You also are noticing another fundamental difference between the two of you, now that you are living in a real house, and not a dorm with a cafeteria.

You budget your money carefully; after all, there will be no more checks from home for you. Your summer job in the library will just cover your expenses for the next year, and your part-time job at the Espresso Pump buys food and your share of the utilities. Willow lives off of generous deposits into her account from her parents, who are off doing something in Europe, yet somehow managing to keep their salaries from their Sunnydale jobs.

You buy cheap food – pasta, sauces, and vegetables. Food to cook with, in other words. And while part of you enjoys the work, a much larger part of you resents the fact that you cook while Willow orders whatever she wants, whenever she wants. You are starting to see that she spends magic like coin – something that is there just to satisfy her whims and appetites.

Occasionally, you find crumpled bills tucked into the sugar jar and you smooth them out and smile. Spike, trying to do penance. He is not the man of the house, not by any means, but when he has extra money, somehow it migrates from his pockets into your sugar jar. It helps, but you wonder how much it helps him.

Day 46

You lie in the twilight between sleep and wakefulness, enjoying the feel of Willow against your body, the scent of her hair everywhere you turn your head, and how right everything feels in the golden light of dawn. You are vaguely aware that the alarm will be going off soon, and enjoy these moments even more for the feeling of stolen time they engender.

You take an inventory of how your body feels – something you have been doing every morning since Willow freed you from Glory. You think of it as doing a systems check on a computer, making sure that everything is still there and working properly. You have not told Willow this, not wanting to have the tsunami of her concern wash over you and leave you gasping in the aftermath of her guilt in allowing it to happen in the first place. You do not place all the blame on her; after all, you still feel that you could have saved yourself somehow. Survivor’s guilt, you think they call it. You have made peace with that, and do not want to bring it up again. Yet, you check. For any missing time, missing memories. It makes you feel better.

And as you realize that once again, you are still all there, you also realize that something is missing. Panic flows through you until you identify what is gone. It is the sense of “don’t make waves, this will be gone soon” that you lived with all those years since your father casually spoke your fate over the dinner table. A great weight has fallen from you, and you didn’t realize it until now. You hide your face in Willow’s hair to mask the grin that spreads across your face.

You are crazily, ecstatically happy, until reality crashes into you. Will Willow still like you? She fell in love with someone who never, ever wanted to have harsh words between you and her – someone who felt that every day, every moment of love was a precious, shining thing to squirrel away for the long, lonely days after the demon outed itself.

You take a deep breath, inhaling the scent of Willow’s hair again, and center yourself. Of course Willow will still love you, she loves the whole package of you. The occasional fight is just what happens to everyone, after all, life is not roses and sugarplums.

The alarm goes off, and your thoughts are lost in the bustle of the day opening like a flower before you.

Day 87

Today has been one of those days. The people who you talked to today were summer students, lost and vaguely defensive about their reasons for being on campus. You lost count of the times you answered the question “Is this the library? Do you have books here?” and thank your lucky stars that the one time you lost your patience and answered, “No, sorry, all those shelves are sets from the drama department,” your supervisor was sneaking a cigarette up on the third floor balcony.

Your shirt sticks to your back as you walk home, dreaming of a cool bath with Willow to wash your hair and coo over you. You hope that Dawn heads over to Janice’s tonight; you have plans for Willow that do not include hiding under a hot quilt and constantly shushing each other.

Finally, you turn the corner onto Revello Drive and your steps quicken as you come closer to your refuge from the heat. Your hand slips off the doorknob at first, so you dry your palm on your skirt and open the door. But your hopes for relaxation and girl-on-girl action fade when the first thing you hear is Anya’s voice, shrill and defensive.

“I told you, I’ve checked all my contacts. There are no more Urns of Osiris. Anywhere!”

You lean your head against the door jamb and wish, proximity to an ex-vengeance demon notwithstanding, just for a second, that you were walking into your old dorm room, fairy lights twinkling serenely against the black muslin you draped everywhere.

Xander chimes in to support Anya. “I watched her cruise the ‘net and make the calls. She tried, Willow, honest she did.”

You hold your breath and wait for Willow’s next remark. She and Anya have been butting heads lately and you worry about how Willow acts toward her. They were never best friends, but this tension is new. Your fear of what Willow might do if she loses her temper is also new.

You walk into the kitchen and stare in disbelief. All of the dishes you unloaded from the dishwasher and put away in the cupboard before work are now piled in the sink, crusted with food. There are junk food wrappers strewn across the counter and you can see a small pile of coffee grounds in front of the coffee maker.

Willow and Xander look at you and smile in welcome. You can see that they have no concept of how angry walking into this scene makes you. Willow stands up to hug you and says, “Hi, sweetie, how was your day? What’s for supper tonight?” and that last question pushes you into showing your anger.

You stand rigidly, refusing to accept the loving arms around you until Willow pulls back to study your face. "You're all adults, right?"

Willow’s hurt expression and the puzzled looks of the other two do not ease the tight ball of anger in your chest and you cross to the refrigerator and pull the hamburger from the freezer. The crash as you toss it in the direction of the sink and the sight of it skipping across the dirty dishes, careening across the counter and coming to rest against the backsplash of cheery tiles satisfies your ears somewhat and you enjoy watching the puzzlement turn to shock.

"Then learn how to make Hamburger Helper, for God’s sake!"

You reach over to the cupboard and pull a box of store brand hamburger helper down and set it ever so gently onto the counter before walking out of the kitchen to find a cool shower somewhere – at this point, the Y would be a good start, you think.

You truly want to believe that Anya is trying to be helpful when she points out, her voice rising to follow you down the hall, that technically, it’s not Hamburger Helper because it's the store brand, but it's very hard.

Day 105

Nighttime means patrolling and, assuming that dividing means conquering, the gang splits into smaller groups to cover more territory. Not for the first time, you choose to go with Spike and Giles. Wild horses could not drag it out of you, but you find standing on top of a crypt, watching Willow’s eyes blacken and listening to her murmured orders to be, by turns, disgusting and boring. Her desire to have you sitting at her feet like an acolyte makes your skin crawl. She claims that with you there, her power and control are greater, but you just end up feeling used and used up.

You prefer to be running through the graveyard, dodging headstones and listening to the easy banter between Spike and Giles. They are a pairing you find charming, in an old-mannish kind of way.

You cannot pinpoint when you realized that they were becoming friendlier with each other, but it seems appropriate somehow; like they have called off a long-running battle in honor of Buffy’s memory. You cannot always see the point of the arguments about original lineups of bands you’ve never heard of, they leave you bewildered and shaking your head. But the underlying hostility is gone, and for that, you are thankful.

Willow is jumpy and fretful tonight. Giles had brought up some of her more spectacular failures during the planning session and she did not take his comments well. You know that you will be hashing and rehashing the conversation later, while making a note to yourself to teach Dawn to cook hash - it’s cheap and so easy that maybe for once you won’t get stuck with the cooking, so you jump at the chance to postpone it when the time comes for the gang to split up. You pretend that you do not see Willow’s hurt face as you hug her and whisper, “I want to keep an eye on Spike,” in her ear, before moving off. She accepts this, as would the others, as an excuse she can live with.

Spike waits until Giles has dropped back to examine some runes clawed into the trunk of a stubby tree before pulling out his ever-present cigarettes.

“Don’t mind being used as an excuse, but you might give me the high sign beforehand. Since we’re on the same team and all.” The acid in his voice could etch glass, and you duck your head and swallow before answering.

“I just didn’t want to have to listen to her right now.” Tiredness makes you honest, and when you raise your head, he is watching you with what looks like sympathy in his eyes.

“I’d imagine that she’s a touch brassed off about the talking to Rupert gave her tonight. Not that I blame him, someone needs to yank her in every so often.” You nod slightly, verifying what he thinks he knows, that Willow’s power is increasing daily, but without restraint or caution. He glances behind you, then jumps a touch as Willow’s voice snakes through your heads.

You look at each other, simultaneously rolling your eyes, and you start to giggle as Giles crashes through the brush towards you, muttering curses under his breath and holding one hand to his head

“Again, Rupes?” Spike’s voice is laced with amusement, and a tolerance that he does not show around the others.

“She has impeccable timing. I think she does it on purpose.” Giles stops there, realizing that running down one member of a partnership when the other is standing right there is not a good thing to be doing.

You wordlessly hand him a Band-Aid from the stash you stuff in your pocket before every patrol, just for situations like this.

Day 127

With a rare complete day off, you and Willow spend it together, just like old times. Dawn coaxes and teases, until you take her to the beach, laden down with a picnic basket and a blanket. The three of you, aided by a stray Labrador, toss a Frisbee around for a while, then devour the sandwiches and drink what seems like gallons of soda. A group of her friends sweep Dawn down the beach, giving you time to relax beside Willow on the warm sand.

You swim a bit in the surf, enjoying the silkiness of the water flowing around you and splashing Willow until she dunks you in retaliation. The horseplay is refreshing, a chance to be “just folks” again for a little while.

You people-watch behind sunglasses, and pass on some of the gossip you’d heard over the summer. Harmless, all of it, and you enjoy watching Willow’s eyes widen in shock when you point out a particularly buff football player and tell her that he’d offered his all to the wizened Physics 101 professor for a passing grade. The professor in question had told you that herself, seemingly tickled pink with the compliment.

When you return to the house, glowing with sun and pleasantly tired, a message from Giles lets you off patrolling for the night – something about the moon and tides not being right and the demon wouldn’t be around until tomorrow. Dawn squeaks with happiness when she hears, and immediately pulls out the double chocolate mint fudge ice cream, declaring it “Video Pig-Out Night.”

Dawn chooses the first movie, and the three of you spend it loudly critiquing the monster make-up, habits of said monster and the director’s casting choices. Your stomach hurts from laughing so much, you look at their faces and freeze the sight in your memory. Willow, laughing and poking Dawn in an attempt to make her drop her ice cream spoon, and Dawn, spooning up ice cream and proclaiming loudly that the leading man was so not her type. Love for both of them fills your heart to brimming, and you blink frantically to stop the tears.

The atmosphere is so calm and relaxed that it makes an impression on you. To be completely fair, your time with Buffy was usually spent dealing with one crisis or another, but Buffy was never a terribly easy person to be around. You knew that she was always scanning for problems, that she could never really lay her slayerness down and just be Buffy. You find that incredibly sad, and you hope that wherever she is now, she is just Buffy.

Day 146

Your skin feels like it is two sizes too small today. Prickles of uncertainty skitter up your spine into your scalp until you want to claw your back bloody to get rid of them. You feel that Willow has not told you everything that she must do to complete the spell, and this makes you deeply afraid.

Willow shows no fear, however, and you try to draw some strength from that, even though you know her fearlessness is really foolhardiness. The realization makes your knees tremble even more.

You manage to steal away and spend some private time praying to a varied assortment of goddesses for help. Help and protection for all of you, and also begging forgiveness, trying to forestall any wrath falling from the skies onto your heads.


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