Disclaimer: ME is Mutant Enemy, not me. Not mine, no money, etc.
Counting the Days
Twenty days isn’t really a long time.
Actually, it wasn’t even twenty days. Less than twenty full days. We’d licked our wounds and left the state, but we hadn’t yet made it out of the country. I knew that’s where we were headed, eventually, though – across the ocean to England.
Twenty days or less isn’t really a long time, but a lot of things can happen. Friendships can be reaffirmed or dissolved, lives can be saved or lost, promises made and broken in an instant.
Twenty days is just long enough to begin – to barely begin – grieving for the loss of the one you love; it isn’t nearly long enough to finish.
Except I somehow knew it was. It was nothing more than a feeling, nothing even as tangible as a scent on a breeze, but I knew that my time for mourning was over.
I didn’t know how. I didn’t know why or where… just that the where was much too far away from the where where I was.
Spike was back in the world.
Grief isn’t just endless crying. It’s a weight made up of all the things you said or didn’t say, all the things you did and didn’t do. It’s everything you feel you did wrong, and knowing that the few things you did right weren’t nearly enough.
It’s a black despair that makes each day a thousand years long, that makes the moments that should be happy ones pale and lifeless. Because you’re pretty sure you’re doing all right, and then you think, Oh, I need to tell him… and then you realize that you can’t, you can’t ever tell him anything again. You’ll never hear him say your name in that way that just makes your insides tremble. You will never be loved like that again.
It wasn’t all for Spike. Some of it was for Amanda and for the other girls whose names I didn’t want to learn and tried not to remember. Some was for Annabelle and Chloe and Eve. Some was for Anya. Some was even for me, because I would never know what he and I could have had.
But mostly, it was for Spike.
Then, to have the uplifting, heart-healing knowledge that the one you were crying for – just because it isn’t all crying doesn’t mean that crying isn’t a big part of it – was no longer gone… that the second chance that you wasted had been re-made and you were being given a third chance…
What was there to do but cry in relief?
We were in England before I figured out what I needed to do.
Grief forces you to grow, sometimes, but it can’t make you smarter.
Spike had reached out to me so many times, and every time, I had rebuffed him. If he had been lucky, I had just turned away. Other times, I told him how far he was beneath me, or lashed out with my fists.
Now that he was back – still didn’t know how, and really, I didn’t care, just as long as he was un-dusty – I knew that I simply couldn’t expect him to make the first move. Even before Sunnydale fell in, I had been the one to ask, to show, to lead… and of course, to retreat when he started reaching back.
No. If I wanted Spike in my life in any way – the way that he had once wanted, or whatever way he wanted now – I would have to show that I wanted it, that I wasn’t going to push him away anymore. No matter how much he annoyed me, or how often we fought, life with Spike? Infinitely preferable to life without him, as I’d so painfully discovered.
The letter took me four days to write. It probably would have taken longer if I hadn’t decided neatness didn’t count in this case, and he wouldn’t care if I crossed things out, or if there were tearstains on the paper…
Well, he probably would care about that. Spike always cared about what made me cry.
Once I had the letter, deciding where to send it was easy. Not to say that I wanted to send it there… but for better or worse, Angel was the only one I knew of who could do what I was asking. I mean, could you just see me going to a private investigator and saying, Yes, I’d like for you to find a vampire for me. He was recently turned into dust, but something told me that he came back? Yeah, not happening.
As much as I didn’t want to, I did have to go back to the cookie dough analogy again, and stress to Angel that I wasn’t done baking. But I did decide at last that honesty was the best policy, and told him how I felt about Spike. I’d just finally sussed out who I wanted to finish baking with.
And after all, he was the head honcho of the Lawyers of Hell. If anyone could find Spike for me, he could.
So I sent off the letter to LA and started counting the days.
A week, maybe a little more, to get to LA. A couple of days for Angel to realize I was serious, a couple more for him to decide to do it. And then… what would be the longest, hardest part – waiting for Spike to be found.
Thinking about that was when the fears got to me. Where had he gone when he died? Would he be all right? Would he be the same? Would he want to see me?
Would he still love me?
I wasn’t sure I could bear to find out that he didn’t. Another constant of Buffy’s life ripped away: there’s no such thing as vampires, Mom will always be there, Buffy takes care of Dawn, and Spike loves Buffy.
He’d already destroyed one of those constants – Spike never goes away – because he had. Twice. But he’d come back.
And if I just believed, he would come back to me again.
Belief didn’t make the days pass any faster.
I waited 2 weeks before I dug up the phone number Angel had given me. He hadn’t called, and my nerves were shot from thinking that it was him every time the phone rang, even if it was just to give me the lecture I already knew by heart. And, I mean, I should know it by heart, the number of times Giles had given it to me.
“Buffy, have you completely…”
“Don’t finish that sentence, Angel,” I warned him in my best Slayer voice. “But, hey! At least that tells me you got my letter. So, any progress?”
From the stunned quality of the silence on the other end of the phone, I guessed he hadn’t considered that I might not be joking, and his next words confirmed it. “Buffy… are you really serious about this?”
“Serious as a grave,” I replied firmly, trying to ignore the hurt in his voice. “Or even more so, considering.” But his pain got to me, like it always did. “Angel… I’m sorry,” I told him, my voice as soft as I could make it. “I do love you, and I always will. Nothing will change that. But it’s not like that anymore. I’ve changed, and so have you. I moved on, just like you wanted…”
“I wanted you to have a normal relationship! With a normal…”
“Slayers don’t get normal, Angel,” and suddenly, I was so weary of trying to make him – and Giles, and everyone else – see. “And I’ve discovered that I don’t want normal. I want… wonderful. I want extraordinary. And you’re going to find him for me.”
As I hung up the phone, I could hear Angel still sputtering. “Extraordinary? What do you…”
I leaned my head against the wall by the phone, feeling emptier inside than I had since realizing Spike was back from dust. “I’m looking for you, Spike,” I whispered, and closed my eyes. “I’m doing the best I can. Don’t you want me to find you?”
The hollow feeling inside overwhelmed me then, and I just started crying, not even caring who might walk by.
Because… what if he didn’t?
As the days passed – every one longer than the one before – I think that was what I was most afraid of.
I had automatically – self-centeredly – assumed that if Spike was back being undead, he’d want to find me.
But once I’d had the thought, I couldn’t stop thinking it. He was back, I knew it in my heart and soul, even if I couldn’t explain how. But he hadn’t come looking for me. It might mean he didn’t want to be found.
It might mean it was true, what I’d thought before. He really didn’t love me anymore.
He hadn’t believed me. I kept telling myself he really had, and he’d only said what he said to make me go away, because he didn’t want me to die. But what if he really hadn’t believed me? What if he really had left this world – and then come back – thinking that I didn’t love him?
I didn’t stop regretting the past when I felt Spike come back; it just kind of got switched to the back burner. When I realized that everything I’d done was going to continue to screw things up, I learned again that grief wasn’t just reserved for death.
It was easy to doubt what I felt. Not about how I felt about Spike – yeah, I’d denied it for a long time, but it was true and real and not questionable – but it was so easy to believe that he was still gone. Without him there, it was so easy to think I’d imagined it all.
And when I called him, Angel never had anything to tell me, which made belief even harder.
Days of endless sorrow, knowing that the one you love was gone beyond your reach, months of despair, every moment spent with the knowledge that they didn’t love you… I was never all emotionally-aware-girl, but, now… I knew what Spike had gone through that summer.
Just when I almost convinced myself that maybe I was wrong, that he hadn’t come back and I’d been kind of deluding myself all this time, I felt it again – that certainty that he was out there – and stronger than before.
I firmed my resolve, and decided I wasn’t going to let Angel’s lack of progress sway me again.
And the rest… I took a deep breath and let it out, trying not to let it become a sob. I’ll have to let Spike decide if he still wants to be with me or not. After I find him again.
Days on days passed, until it really had been months. Long, hard, lonely months.
Giles wanted to keep me busy – finding the new slayers and telling them what they were now, recruiting the ones who wanted to join us, training them. I still did lots of slaying. While I was around the gang, I tried to be pretty much what they wanted to see. But when I was alone, the missing-Spike that I’d kind of suppressed the rest of the day came back with a vengeance. I knew he was alive – well, okay, undead – but I felt so alone without him there. I wanted to be able to touch him, and hear him… there were times when I thought I’d be happy just to know that he was nearby, even if he wasn’t with me.
It got to be all I could do not to call Angel every night and demand updates. Calling him once a week was too much for him. He started to hurry me off the phone when I called, claiming he had to run his little evil empire. And I knew my insistence on finding Spike was hurting Angel, so I just let it go. It hurt me to cause him pain… but in a distant kind of way. Because most of me ached every moment I was apart from Spike, and filling that empty-Spike-space inside me was… kind of… all I thought about.
Well, that, and making sure that Spike didn’t doubt that I loved him the next time I told him.
I will never forget what I was doing when I felt it.
I was brewing some tea for Giles and Dawnie, who had somehow decided that she liked tea better than coffee. They were deep in research-mode, and I thought I would help. The water had just started to boil when this sudden indescribable loss just flooded me.
People talk about how if someone gets a limb amputated, they can still feel the foot or hand just like it’s still there.
Imagine having your heart ripped out of you, a pain so great you can’t think beyond it, and yet you don’t die from it, as much as you wish you could.
Imagine this is the second time you’ve felt it.
I didn’t think that anything could feel as bad as leaving Spike to die in the Hellmouth. I was so very wrong.
Dawn says she found me on the kitchen floor, practically catatonic. She got Giles and they got me back to my room. All I can remember is the words repeating themselves over and over in my head – he’s gone, he’s gone, and I couldn’t find him…
A few days later, I got a letter from Angel. More than a letter – a flat package.
Because I could only think of one reason why Angel would be writing me, I took the thick envelope back to my room, and stared at it through misty eyes for a long time before I opened it. There was a folder inside, holding a big sheaf of paper, with a note clipped to the front written in Angel’s broad scrawl.
Dear Buffy, I managed to make out. I’ve done something that I’m ashamed of…
And as I read, I couldn’t believe my eyes.
…the amulet I gave you, as a ghost…
…first thing he wanted to know was if you were all right…
…told him that you said you loved me…
…didn’t give him your letter, or tell him you were looking for him…
I shredded that letter. I didn’t even finish reading it. Angel had betrayed me, just like everyone else, had kept me from Spike, knowing how much I missed him… it was just too much.
I opened the folder, ready to continue taking out my anger on whatever other paper Angel had sent… and just stopped short. There, on the top of the stack, was something I’d never seen before.
A picture of Spike.
Angel had drawn it; I recognized his style. He’d captured Spike perfectly – the smug expression he had worn so often, the arched eyebrow – God, I almost expected to hear him speak. I had to stop myself from running my fingers over his face, because it would have smudged the pencil. But I couldn’t stop myself from crying.
Eagerly now, I went through the folder. They weren’t all drawings, but there were several. Somehow, Angel had done one of Spike sleeping, and he looked so boyish, so very young and innocent that it was hard to put that one down. There were actual photographs, too – I could barely tear my eyes away from one where he was striding away from the camera, down a long hallway, with his leather coat flapping in his wake.
When I got to the last ones, though, I gasped. Spike was lying on a bed, paler than I’d ever seen him, almost as white as the pillow beneath his head. His face was bruised, and he was unconscious, not sleeping, or at least I hoped that was the case, because his hands and arms from the elbow down were swathed in bandages – bandages that were spotted bright red with blood.
“Oh, God, Angel, what did you do to him?” Frantically, I scrabbled through the few pictures remaining, looking for something – anything – that would explain what had happened. Underneath them was another note from Angel, this one slightly neater, as if he’d written this one first, then run out of time and just scribbled the other one.
I read the whole thing this time, though the words kept going all squiggly because I was trying to read them through my tears.
…cut off his hands, but luckily we were able to reattach them…
…expected you to get in touch with him after Andrew left, even if he said he wasn’t…
But I kept reading the last paragraphs over and over.
Spike’s hand was the first one that went up today when I asked the gang if they would go up against the Senior Partners. I finally saw it then, or maybe I let myself see it, why he means so much to you that you knew he’d come back. You’d have been proud of him, Buffy. I think I am, too.
You may not believe it, but I am sorry for keeping you apart. You tried to tell me that you’d moved on, but I just couldn’t believe it… I didn’t want to believe it, not with Spike.
Buffy, this fight…it’s at least as bad as what you were facing last year in Sunnydale, and there’s only us – me, Wes, Illyria, Gunn and Lorne… and Spike. We’re not all going to make it. You felt it when Spike fell out of the amulet, and when he became corporeal again. I just hope that you don’t feel it when – if – he dusts tonight…
“I hate you, Angel. I hate you so much.” I whispered that over and over, staring at the letter until I couldn’t even stand to look at it, and had to put it away. I didn’t think it was possible that I had any more tears, but I still curled myself into a ball and cried myself to sleep.
I know there must have been times before when I felt as hollow as I did when I woke up that morning, but it was really hard to remember when they might have been. If my insides had been taken out, I couldn’t have felt any emptier.
Not only had Spike not believed me in the Hellmouth, he hadn’t come looking for me, and he had no idea I’d been looking for him. Now he was gone again, and he would never know.
Angel had kept Spike from me, had convinced him that I was better off without him… and I had trusted that the resources that Angel had available would be all I needed. Willow had said she needed something of his to find him via spell, which I didn’t have, and Giles had refused to allow Council money to be spent on searching for a vampire he knew was dust.
Now I had nothing. No Spike, no certainty that he was undead, even if he wasn’t with me, no hope that I would ever see him again. If I hadn’t promised Dawnie that I’d live, I would have done more than just wanted to die.
It was even harder to want to wake up this morning than it has been any other morning since I felt Spike die again. The dream was just so real, so very vivid; it was like he was in the bed with me, one arm wrapped around me, holding me snug against his chest…
It almost makes me want to have hope again. Which is stupid, because the last time I let myself hope, it nearly destroyed me in the end. And I know I’ll never see him again, so there’s no sense in hoping.
Except now I can’t seem to stop hoping. And there’s someone at the door, and I know it’s not him, but the hope that it is him is still there.
After all, Spike hoped that I would love him, despite me saying I never would. And if I have hope that he’s back, maybe it will be him behind that door.
Counting the days didn’t work. Maybe nothing will, but I’m still hoping as I open the door...
April 29, 2007
© randi (K. Shepard), 2007