[identity profile] eee1313.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] dancing_lessons_archive
Part two of two

Episode Four: Open Doors

by Aurelio Zen
"Dinner's ready." Buffy put a bowl of macaroni and cheese on the dining table. She looked nervous, but she tried to hide it with a fake cheerfulness that set Dawn's teeth on edge.
The wheelchair was too low, so Dawn had to stretch her arms to reach the plate. Just another one of the ways in which her life sucked. She took a small spoonful from the bowl and slopped it onto her plate so hard that she chipped the edge. Spike, standing behind Buffy in the doorway, shot her a look. Dawn got the feeling he could see inside her head.
"That's all you want?" Buffy asked.
"I'm not hungry," Dawn said.
Buffy pulled out a chair, sat down across from Dawn and cleared her throat. "So, I went to Social Services today. Mrs. Bacani gave me a bunch of information about physical therapy. You can start pretty soon."
"Whatever." Dawn pushed the macaroni around her plate.
"And I picked up some brochures about making the house a little more handicapped friendly."
Dawn looked up. Handicapped. That's what she was to Buffy now. Or maybe she was a handicap for Buffy and Spike. She made little tracks in the placemat with her fork.
Buffy watched her for a minute. "Dawn, come on, you have to eat something."
"I told you. I'm not hungry. Besides, I hate this orange crap. You know I only like the kind with the bunny on the box."
"I'm sorry. I haven't had time to go grocery shopping, and this is all they had at the gas station. I'll get you the other kind later. I'm going over to have dinner with Dad so I'll stop at Safeway on the way back, OK?"
"Oh, yeah," Dawn said. "That's right. Father/daughter bonding. Gotta talk about the good old days without me around to mess things up."
"God! Dawnie, it's not like that. You know that. You have to understand - "
Dawn swallowed so hard her chest hurt. "Yeah," she said. "I understand. You need to pat each other on the back." Her voice quavered, getting that weird edge she hated, but she couldn't stop now. "Tell him how fabulous it is that he's here helping you deal with the cripple? Even though I'm not even real? And how wonderful you are - throwing your life away for your fake sister. Check it out - Saint Buffy and Holy Hank the martyrs."
Buffy stared at her for a second, and did that anime thing where her eyes got all huge and shiny with tears but they didn't fall. Because she was way too grown-up to cry in front of the child.
Dawn looked down at the rapidly congealing goop on her plate. "I don't need this. I don't want you feeling sorry for me. And I hate orange mac and cheese!" she screamed. She picked up her plate and threw it as hard as she could at Buffy. Anything to wipe that look of pity and understanding off her face. Buffy ducked, just in time. The plate shattered against the wall behind her.
Without saying a word, Buffy pushed her chair back from the table. It tipped over but she didn't notice as she walked slowly to where Spike stood, gaping at them, frighteningly quiet. He put an arm around her and they went into the kitchen.
Dawn could hear Buffy's choked voice and Spike's soothing murmurs but she couldn't make out what they were saying. She stared at the mess she'd made, so absorbed in the bright orange squiggles of cheese slithering down the wallpaper and onto the sideboard, that she jumped when a fist pounded down on the table in front of her. Water splashed out of her glass and the silverware rattled.
"What the bloody hell is wrong with you?" Spike roared.
She looked up at him, face pale, defiance evident in the line of her mouth and the set of her shoulders. “I’m in a wheelchair, Spike. What the bloody hell do you think is wrong with me?”
Spike cursed himself for letting Buffy’s tear-filled eyes bugger up his judgement. What an idiot he’d been to tell her he’d talk to Dawn. Now he had no idea what to say. He’d have to fall back on his most reliable skill: pissing people off. Besides, confrontation could be healthy - he’d read that in one of the magazines in the hospital waiting room.
“So, this pity party invitation-only? Or can anyone join in?” He righted Buffy’s chair and sat down across from Dawn. “Look, I know it hurts - “
“You don’t know anything. You have no idea what this is like. No one does.”
“Actually, I have a pretty good idea. Your sis put me in a wheelchair for a few months. Remember?”
He’d never forget waiting to be fed and carried and coddled by Dru. Wondering if she’d lose interest and he’d end up like the flock of little birds she’d killed with her neglect. He’d never forget Angelus flaunting his power as he took everything Spike cared about. Even though, in the end, all of that had brought him to Buffy, he’d never forget how helpless and alone he’d been. How angry.
“That was different.” She pursed her lips in an excellent imitation of the “Spike, you disgusting pig” look that Buffy used to give him. “You were evil. You deserved it.”
“I see. And you had absolutely nothing to do with any of this?” He gestured at her legs. “You were minding your own business and a higher power smote you down?”
“It was an accident, Spike! You know that!” Her voice cracked and he moved the bowl of macaroni out of her reach.
“Yeah, pet,” he said. “I do know it was an accident. But Buffy didn’t make you steal my car to show off for your Dad. And Buffy didn’t put you in that wheelchair. I know you’re angry and upset - but it’s not her fault. Don’t take it out on her -“
“It’s always about Buffy, isn’t it? You just want me to shut up and behave and take my medication so I can be a zombie and you can fuck my sister in peace -“
A nerve in Spike’s cheek twitched and he felt an iron band tighten around his forehead. He clenched his hands into fists and took a deep breath. Then several more. Throttling her was not part of the plan. It wasn’t right to thump a girl in a wheelchair, however much she might deserve it. He had to remember that this was Dawn. He loved her. Maybe confrontation hadn’t been the best idea after all.
“That’s what you think of me?” It took every ounce of his limited self-control to keep his voice level. “You think I don’t care about you? After everything? Is that why you’re being such a willful, obstinate brat?”
Dawn gave him a long, anguished look and said nothing. She fiddled with her napkin, shredding it. He waited. He was immortal. He could outlast a sixteen-year old, no matter how stubborn she was.
Finally, she cleared her throat. Her voice was so soft that even he had to strain to hear her. “I’m not a brat,” she said. “I’m not anything. I’m a problem that you and Buffy have to solve. Feed me. Take me to therapy. Help me go to the bathroom. Carry me around like a Dawn-shaped package. What if that’s all I am forever? A handicap screwing up your lives.”
The tears rolled down her face. Something in his chest twisted and his anger evaporated. He closed his eyes, wishing himself anywhere but here. Talking to her was harder than watching her lie in a coma. How on earth did people do this? It seemed as if every word he said just made things worse. He wished he’d bitten his tongue. Not bollocksed everything up.
He sighed. Somehow he’d have to fix this. “I won’t lie to you. You’re not a child any more. I can’t promise that you’ll get better. No one knows that. But there is one thing that I can promise you.” He took her hand. “You’re not a handicap or a problem. You’re Dawn. We love you. That’s what you do when you love someone - you take care of them. No matter what. Get it?”
What an utter git he’d turned into. But it seemed to do the trick. “I’m sorry,” Dawn said. “I didn’t mean it. What I said. I know you and Buffy - and I -“ She began to sob in earnest. He reached for the box of Kleenex on the sideboard, and slid it across the table toward her. “It’s just - Sometimes I dream that none of this happened.” She wiped her eyes. “And sometimes I have these other dreams. Where something awful is coming and I can’t run away - Then I wake up. And it’s worse.”
Now this was a practical problem. He knew how to deal with those.
“Haven’t been sleeping much, have you, pet?”
Dawn shook her head.
“What you need are some relaxation techniques.”
“Like what? Counting sheep?” Dawn asked. “It doesn’t really work.”
“No.” Spike snorted. “Please. You think I counted sheep?”
“So what did you do?”
He grinned, remembering. “Every night, I used to think of a hundred ways to kill Angelus. Started off with small things. Staking. Guillotines.” He chopped his hand down onto the table. “Then I got more and more elaborate. Garottes with razor blades attached. Cut off his head slow-like. Coating him with honey and pegging him out for fire-ants to devour before the sun took him - ” He caught himself before he got to the really juicy stuff, but he was alarmed to see that Dawn looked fascinated instead of horrified. He might have known that's how she'd react. “That’s all ancient history. I never think about that sort of thing nowadays. Probably wouldn’t work for you anyway. Give you nightmares. Bad idea. Forget I said anything.”
“Uh-huh.” She gave him a brief, watery smile.
Time to find a different topic of conversation. “Why don’t I make you … a nice glass of warm milk? That’ll put you right to sleep.”
“Ewww. Warm milk is gross.”
“Right, well … What about a cuppa then? We’ve got some of that herbal tea around. Nasty swill. Looks like horse-piss. But Buffy says it helps her sleep.”
Dawn had stopped listening. She had that faraway look on her face again. Something else was wrong.
He got up and went over to the wheelchair. “Dawn? Hello? Dawn?” He waved a hand in her face.
She jumped. “Sorry,” she said. “Um, there’s something else …”
“Figured as much.” He sat on the table. “What’s the matter?”
“I think - I think it’s gone.”
“What has?”
She twisted a strand of her hair into a corkscrew. “The Key. I can’t do it. I can’t open portals any more. It’s gone,” she said in a rush.
“Last time you tried was - at your dad’s, in LA. Worked fine. Too well.”
“I tried last night,” she said. “I was thirsty. I tried to get a drink from the kitchen.”
“Why didn’t you just call me? Or Buffy?” He frowned. “Oh -“ Maybe the back porch hadn’t been such a good idea after all. “I’m sorry - we -“
Dawn flushed. “No,” she said, “It’s okay. Really. I’m sorry I - but anyway, the thing is - the powers. They’re gone. I feel like I’m - missing something … Like I don’t know who I am. Who I’m supposed to be.”
“That’s called being a teenager. Thought you’d be used to that by now.”
“You know when I first found out I was the Key? I hated it. I hated that I wasn’t real. Everything I thought I knew about myself was a lie.” She paused, and Spike remembered that night. Squinting at Giles’s crabbed handwriting in the dim light. He hadn’t even noticed Dawn’s dismay until she’d raced out of the shop. He’d followed her, from a distance, some instinct telling him even then to make sure she was all right.
“And then, when Willow showed me how to channel it?” she said. “That was kind of exciting, you know? Having those powers. It was cool. It made me different. Special.”
“You are special. Very special.” He paused and groaned. “Oh, God! Stake me now. I sound like that poncey dinosaur.”
“Yeah, that’s the one.”
She giggled. Then her face twisted. “I wish -“ She looked wistful. “I can’t help you guys. I’d be useless if there was a battle.”
“Oh, bollocks. We’ve closed the Hellmouth.” He counted off on his fingers. “In the first place, there are two Slayers in Sunnydale. And me. Second, Willow’s a bloody powerful witch and she’ll be home any day now. Giles and Lydia and Xander know what’s what. We’re up to our ears in demon-fighters and there aren’t enough demons around to keep us busy. Trust me, you won’t need to fight any more battles like that.”
She shook her head, unconvinced.
“Look, I know what you’re going through. Being something … powerful and then losing it. It’s not easy.” He remembered the chip. How he’d struggled and schemed to get it out. The sheer, breathtaking relief when he knew it was gone. “We’ll figure something out. Giles might know what’s going on. Maybe you’re just too tired or sick right now. Maybe it’ll come back. But we'll work it out together.”
“Maybe,” Dawn said. “I guess I have to start being a normal girl.”
“I don’t think that’s as easy as it looks,” he said. “Just be Dawn. That’s more than enough.” He eyed the mess on the wall. “Now, should we see what’s on the telly? Or scrape the cheese off the wall?”
“Television,” she said.
“Right. I’ll get the popcorn.”
Buffy stared down at her appetizer. Roasted tomato and goat cheese galette. She'd had no idea what a galette was, but had gone on the principle that cheese was good. It looked beautiful. But how to eat a tower of puff-pastry without getting crumbs everywhere was a mystery. Besides, the confrontation with Dawn had pretty much killed her appetite and replaced it with a hard, burning knot in the pit of her stomach.
Dinner with Dad wasn't helping. The last few weeks, when Dawn had been in the hospital, they'd been able to have brief, harried conversations about her condition. Now they had to find other things to talk about. And there were so many old hurts they had to tiptoe around. Not to mention the new stuff. Spike. Dad leaving Mom. Spike. How Dad stood her up all those times he was supposed to come down for her birthday. Spike. That awful scene last year after mom's funeral, when she'd told Dad to get the hell out of Sunnydale.
On the plus side, he’d been great with the doctors in LA - handled practical stuff that Spike didn’t see the point of, and she’d been too distraught to deal with. Dad had even started to get the whole Slayer thing. There were still times when she'd say something and he'd look at her like she'd turned green and sprouted horns. But that happened less and less. He'd even looked proud when one of the other patrons in the restaurant had told him that Buffy was a hero.
She could tell that something was bothering him, though, and she wished he’d just spit it out. It was always better to know than to sit there imagining what it could be.
Dad took another sip of wine, and she sighed and started in on her food. At the first touch of her knife and fork, the pastry splintered and pieces skittered across her plate. She looked at the wreckage, and had just decided that fingers were the only answer, when he finally spoke.
"Buffy, I want to discuss something with you."
"Yeah, Dad, I got that memo. What exactly do you want to discuss?" Her throat was strangely dry and itchy. She took a swallow of water.
“This isn’t easy.” He squared his shoulders, took a deep breath, and blurted it out. “I’m moving to Sunnydale.
The water went down wrong and she coughed. "You're what?"
"Hear me out now, Buffy." He waved his hands in what he seemed to think was a soothing way. It didn’t work. "I've thought about this a lot. Since last year. And the last few weeks. I've made some terrible mistakes with you. But seeing Dawn in the hospital - it made me think. A lot."
"You're not the only one," Buffy said. "But I still don't get it."
He reached over and took her hand. "You. I saw you and how you took care of Dawn and what a spectacular young woman you've become. It made me regret that I wasn't there for so much of the process. I'd like - I'd like to be there. To see you. And to see Dawn. I think she's pretty special too."
"She is," Buffy said. "A lot of the time." She frowned and pulled her hand away slowly. "But your job in LA. Your life. What are you going to do here?"
"To be honest, I don't have much of a life in LA. And the job - I'm opening an office here for my company - small for now, but they think Sunnydale is going to be a growth area in the future."
Buffy snorted. The kind of growth she’d seen in Sunnydale wouldn’t make anyone want to live there. Super-size praying mantises - the family pack. Giant snakes that tried to eat the entire town. That stuff probably got left out of the Civic Association’s pamphlets about investment and the developing downtown. Still, maybe Dad was right. With the Hellmouth closed, people might start coming back.
“When are you moving?” She paused, reluctant to make the offer. It would be hard having him in the house. But if it would help Dawn, she’d deal. And so would Spike. Although that would take some serious persuasion. “Um - we’d have to have a little time to move stuff around -“
“Oh, no,” Hank said. “I wouldn’t move into your mother’s - your house. I’ve found a nice apartment. There are a lot of great deals in Sunnydale.”
“Yeah, Dad, because half the town died last year. That’ll drive down real estate prices.”
“Are you okay with this, Buffy?” he asked. “Really?”
“Yeah,” she said. “I am. On one condition.”
“Name it.”
“You’ve been amazing with the bills and the hospital stuff and I’m grateful. I really am.” She frowned, trying to figure out how to say this. “But if you move to Sunnydale - it’s permanent. You are not going hurt Dawn like you hurt me. No running out. No making promises and breaking them. No buying presents to make up for not being around when she needs you. Because if you ever do, you'd better get the hell away from here. And pray that I never find you."
Hank nodded. “I - I promise,” he said. “I’ll be here. For both of you. And if I screw up, you can kick my ass.”
“Okay, then. Just wanted to make sure we’re clear on that.” She smiled. “So how do I eat this thing?”
Giles rubbed his temples. He’d come back to the Magic Box after dinner to go over the monthly inventory. That had been his excuse at any rate. Truthfully, he’d just been bored at home. It wasn’t that he didn’t appreciate calm on the Hellmouth, and he certainly had no great desire to be manhandled by the forces of eternal darkness. Still, there was a part of him - a small part, to be sure, but an increasingly insistent one - that missed the sense of impending doom which had always colored his life in Sunnydale.
Defeating the golem had given him a welcome taste of old times. Camaraderie and teamwork. Feeling useful. Needed. Not like all those old uncles he remembered from his childhood who’d bored him stiff with laments about the decline of the Empire and endless reminiscing about “the white man’s burden” in long-forgotten colonial outposts. And yet now, slowly but surely, he could feel himself becoming those men. He had to check himself every time he began a sentence with “In my day -“ It was probably the consequence of prolonged, involuntary bachelorhood and too many knocks on the head.
Lydia had been hunched over a book when he arrived, even though the shop had been closed for a good hour. For the past two weeks, Faith had been spending nearly all of her time with her boyfriend, and Lydia had been spending all of her time at the Magic Box, reading or labelling things. He thought she might be lonely but dismissed that as projection. She was far too young and good-looking to be alone for long if she chose otherwise. She had been helpful in the shop, but she made him vaguely uncomfortable. Except when they were researching, he was never entirely sure what to say to her, and they always fell back on discussing various points of protocol. He was sure that bored her as much as it bored him. Tonight, she’d responded to his polite attempts at conversation with monosyllables, so he’d made them a pot of tea and tried to look busy.
His heart wasn’t in it, and he’d been delighted when Spike burst in and rescued him. Dawn had lost her powers, and Hank had decided to move to Sunnydale. This was going to be a far more exciting evening than Giles had anticipated. He did pause to wonder why Spike had felt the need to deliver the news in person, but if telephones made Spike nervous that was his business. Giles wasn't going to quibble.
Mr. Summers’s startling decision was something Giles didn’t want to think about just then, but Dawn’s situation was exactly what he’d been hoping for. Not a matter of life and death, but a fascinating puzzle that he could use all of his experience and knowledge to solve.
“Did Dawn try again?” he asked. “When she was calmer?”
“Yeah,” Spike said. “She tried about half a dozen times before Buffy got home. Nothing. It’s not working any more. You can fix her, right?"
"Well." Giles tapped his chin. "It's not easy to say. There’s still a great deal we don’t know about the Key. It'll take a while - I'll need to gather some sources." He tried to keep his voice non-commital. It would be in shockingly poor taste to show his excitement over having something new to do.
"It's probably related to the head injuries," Lydia said, glancing up from her book. "The coma. People often suffer a loss of short-term memory in such situations."
"Yes, thank you, Lydia. I'm quite familiar with the aftereffects of head injuries."
“I’m sure you are, Rupert,” Lydia said. “I understand you’ve had a great deal of personal experience.” She bent over her book again.
Spike looked from Giles to Lydia, and smirked. Giles was torn between putting his fellow Watcher in her well-deserved place, smacking the grin off Spike’s face, and helping Dawn. It was a struggle, but he managed to suppress his baser instincts for now. The most important thing was to find out what was wrong with Dawn. "You're quite right, Lydia," he said. “It’s possible that the trauma and the subsequent coma are interfering with Dawn’s ability to open portals. In time, perhaps, as she heals physically, the powers will return. It’s also possible that they’ll never be reliable again. Dawn may only be able access them occasionally. Magic doesn’t come with guarantees, I’m afraid.”
“I know,” Spike said. “But you’ll try and find out what happened?”
“Of course. We’ll start tonight.”
Lydia smiled and put her book down. “Immediately.” She pulled out a notepad and started scribbling something Giles couldn’t quite see. She put the pen down for a minute to ask Spike, “Would you like some tea?”
“No thanks. Never cared for the stuff.” Spike grinned. “But I’ll have some of the Scotch you keep in that little drawer under the till, Rupert.”
Giles winced. Vampiric powers evidently included an uncanny knack for sniffing out 25-year old single malt no matter how carefully it was hidden. He poured a glass for Spike and one for himself. "Where’s Buffy?"
"At home with Dawn. And Hank.” Spike grimaced. “Buffy's idea. She wanted to hash things out - father-daughter bonding. Bloody waste of time if you ask me. She sent me over here so I wouldn’t bugger things up with her dad." He rolled his eyes.
So Giles wasn't the only who found Hank Summers's sudden decision to move to Sunnydale incomprehensible. He found that heartening. What on earth was the man thinking? Buffy was a grown woman now, and it behooved everyone to remember that. As for Dawn, if she needed a father figure, there were plenty of other people around who had just as much claim to that title as Hank did. People who had always been there when the girls needed them. People who didn't waltz back into their daughters' lives expecting filial devotion on demand.
The tinkle of the bell over the door interrupted the stern speech Giles was composing. Lieutenant Grant poked his head around the door.
“Do come in, Mr. Grant,” Lydia said. “You’re letting the air-conditioning out.”
“Sorry,” Grant said. “And sorry to interrupt. I just wanted to check on that order.”
“Ah, yes,” Giles said. “Hang on - I’ve got the invoice right here.” He rifled through the sheaf of papers by the cash register, until he found Grant’s order for two gross of special crossbows, complete with hand-tooled stakes, and a case of Holy Water. “It should arrive by Friday.”
“Thanks,” Grant said. “I can always count on you, Giles.” He gestured to his companion. “You remember Sergeant Acosta.”
Giles nodded. He’d met the man several times. Lou Acosta was the most nondescript person Giles had ever seen. Medium build, medium height, medium everything. His thick hair was sprinkled with gray, and his dark eyes were shrewd. Giles had the feeling that Acosta measured, weighed and catalogued everything he encountered, for retrieval as necessary. He didn’t know what to make of make of the man, but it seemed that Ben Grant trusted him, and that was worth a great deal to Giles.
Spike set the glass down on the table. “Right, thanks for the drink, Rupert. I’d best be getting back.”
“Good night, Spike,” Giles said. “Tell Buffy we’re working on it. We’ll figure it all out.”
Spike nodded. “Yeah. I know. Don’t sprain anything lugging all those books around.” He grinned at Giles, nodded at Grant and Acosta, and gave Lydia an airy wave on his way out.
Acosta watched Spike go, his eyes narrowed. “I could have sworn -“ Acosta shook his head. “Who is that guy? I think I know him from somewhere.”
“Oh,” Grant said. “That’s Spike. You’ve probably seen him around. He helps us out sometimes. Good guy in a fight.”
“Yeah,” Acosta said. “That must be it.” He didn’t look convinced.
“How are you enjoying Sunnydale, Sergeant?” Lydia asked.
“It’s interesting,” Acosta said. “Different.”
“Yes, Sunnydale is rather intriguing,” Giles said. “Lots of unusual -“
Grant gave Giles a knowing look and shook his head slightly. So Grant hadn’t been entirely forthcoming with Acosta. It made sense - it was hard enough for the Sunnydale police force to recruit people without throwing the truth into the mix. Giles wondered how much Grant had edited his account of the great battle they’d fought six months ago. The mess in Sunnydale had been too great to keep out of the national press entirely. It was one thing to have everyone in Sunnydale aware of the Hellmouth, and quite another to have the world at large know that every nightmare creature of myth actually existed. So they’d stuck to the hoary old chestnut that always worked - rival gangs, destruction of property, appropriate authorities and so on. Still, Acosta had struck Giles as the sort of man who’d put two and two together and come up with six quite easily. If he didn’t know exactly how everything worked just yet, Giles felt sure he would soon enough.
“May I offer you both a drink?” Giles asked.
“No, thanks,” Grant said. “We have to head back to the station. And you look busy. Take care, Giles. Lydia.”
“Good night,” Acosta said, before he followed Grant out.
Giles looked over at the tower of books Lydia had built in the middle of the table. He sat down, stretched, and with a contented sigh, pulled the first heavy volume - Mystical Gateways - off the pile nearest him. At last, something important to do.
Faith kicked a Sprite can out of her way and stomped it flat. She was supposed to go back to Anderson’s place after tonight’s patrol. Patrolling. Such a joke. The cemetery was dead. Which was a good thing. But, then again, you never knew. Maybe someone else had made a guy out of mud. He could be stalking Sunnydale right now, and the only person who could stop him was Faith, which meant that she so should not go back to Anderson’s. She should stay out here all night, so Sunnydale would be safe.
She sighed. She couldn’t fool herself. Anderson’s question this morning had scared the crap out of her. She’d forced herself to go back to sleep - hoping that when she woke up, it would turn out to be a dream. Anderson hadn’t said much else after he’d freaked her out, but he'd been hesitant, treating her like glass, looking at her with those big puppy eyes, and she’d known that it had all been real. She’d bolted out of there and raced to the Magic Box.
Giles had found her waiting on the doorstep when he came in to open up. He'd raised an eyebrow, but the good thing about Giles was that he hardly ever asked questions about her personal life. When She’d spent so much time with the punching bag that her knuckles were raw, Lydia had finally kicked her out. Then she’d headed over to the mall for a couple of hours. She’d bought a present for Dawn - a DVD of some cheerleading movie that Faith thought was stupid. But it seemed to float Dawn’s boat and the poor kid was stuck in a wheelchair, so whatever.
She’d stopped by Buffy’s place earlier to drop off the present. Plus, maybe Buffy could help her figure out what to do - it would help just to talk to someone and this wasn’t really something she felt like sharing with Giles and Lydia. But when she got there, Buffy’s dad was just leaving and there were all sorts of weird vibes in the air. So she’d just hung out for a while, chatting, playing cards. Dawn had kicked her ass in a game of gin.
After Dawn had gone to bed, Buffy had still seemed preoccupied, so Faith figured this probably wasn’t a good time. And then Spike came home. He hadn’t said anything, just moved straight to Buffy, cupped her cheek in his hand for a second. Buffy turned her face into his palm and for that moment, they were completely alone. Faith looked away, embarassed - they might as well have been naked in front of her. She had no business seeing that, and she got out of there as fast as she could.
What Buffy and Spike had. That was what she’d wanted. That was what Anderson was offering her. He would cherish her and love her and she would do the same for him. Love and trust. And that was the problem. Because if she said yes, if she agreed to move into his house, to make this something more permanent - she had to tell him everything. She owed him that.
She took a deep breath. She could do it. He loved her. She knew that. And when you felt like that about someone, it didn't matter what they’d done in the past. You didn’t overlook it - but you dealt with it. He would be surprised, sad, upset, but in the end, it wouldn’t make a difference. Because he loved her.
Time to stop dragging her heels, and go give Anderson the answer he’d been waiting for. The longer she waited, the worse this was going to be. She had to go back, tell him the truth about herself, and then they’d start over. Because it was the right thing to do.
Why did the right thing always involve sweaty palms and nausea? She usually hopped over the two steps to Anderson’s front door - tonight, she dragged herself up them, her heart thumping wildly. She took a deep breath and opened the door.
He was reading, sprawled on the couch, with the dog curled up on his stomach. They both looked up at her. Dog snorted and went back to sleep. Anderson flashed her a huge smile.
“You hungry?” he asked. “Want to order pizza?”
“Yeah,” she said. “I am. Um, but let’s wait. I - wanted to talk to you. About what you said this morning.”
He sat up, eager, happy. He looked like a kid getting a present. Like he wasn’t sure what was in the box, but he knew it would be something wonderful. Not the face of someone who was about to find out that his girlfriend was a murderer. Reformed now, but how much of a difference would that make?
She sat down, across from him. “I -, uh.” God, this was hard. The words were there in her brain. She’d had this conversation in her head a billion times. But now? Nothing. A whole lot of nothing coming out of her mouth. She closed her eyes. She could do this. “There’s a lot you don’t know about me.”
“Yeah,” Anderson said. “I know. But that’s part of the fun. Plus, I already know the real mysterious stuff. You’re the Slayer. Fighting the forces of darkness.” He chuckled. “So what now? You’re gonna tell me you leave the cap off the toothpaste? Forget to close the shower-curtain? Please. I know all that.” He leaned forward and took her hand. “Look, baby, I know something’s been bothering you. But whatever it is, I figure it can’t be that bad, because look at you. You’re an amazing woman. Whatever it is, I can handle it.”
She looked at him, trying to swallow the lump in her throat. He thought she was amazing, a hero. And she was about to rub his nose in what she really was. He wouldn’t be able to handle it. She couldn’t do this. That way his face lit up when he looked at her. This was the last time she’d see that. He’d never look at her like that again once he knew she’d murdered a defenceless old man. Once he knew she’d lied to him and used sex to keep him from asking her too many questions. She pulled her hand away and stood up. “I - I can’t. I just can’t.”
Anderson frowned. “Can’t what?”
“I can’t do this,” she said. Her voice sounded funny, hoarse and crackly.
“Okay,” he said. “I know it was sudden. I sprung it on you out of the blue.” He patted the couch next to him. “We’ll - just wait. Think about it.”
“No,” she said. “You don’t understand. I can’t - I can’t do any of this.” She balled her hands into fists, digging the nails into her palms. “This is all - you think it’s serious. Like we’re a couple.”
He said nothing, just stared at her, his eyes huge. The hair at his temples was damp with sweat and his mouth was slightly open, like all the air had gone out of him.
She had to finish this. The knife was in his gut - now she just had to twist it so it would never come out. “Look, I just don’t - it’s just not the same for me. I mean, you’ve been great. Really cool. Fun. But I’m not looking for strings. I’m sorry you got the wrong idea. I’ll come get my stuff later. I'll - uh, I'll call you.”
He stood up, wobbly on his bad ankle. “Faith - “ he said.
“No.” She pushed the chair out of her way, and stumbled to the door. She heard him trying to hobble behind her, and forced herself to keep going, not to turn around as he called her name from the door. He mustn't see her tears. She walked down the neat little path to the street, trying not to think about how she'd never again wake up with him holding her, warm and solid in the dark, or the way he got little crinkles around his eyes when he laughed.
She went straight to the Bronze. Eager boys bought her beer, and she rubbed against them on the dance floor in time to the pounding rhythms, relishing the anonymity of the bodies crushed up against hers. She wanted to dance until her legs turned to jelly and her lungs burst and she didn’t feel those eyes, full of hurt, burning into her. She wanted to dance until she forgot who she was and how she'd screwed up everything.


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