Secrets & Lies


by: Lynn
Continuation of The Chains Series



The next few days passed by for Buffy in a blur of sleep and nausea. Joyce hovered and fussed over her, trying in vain to get her to see a doctor, but Buffy flatly refused, insisting that all she needed was rest. She had stressed her body past its breaking point and it would just take time for her to feel like her old self again.

At least, that was what she told herself. Deep down, she wondered if she'd ever feel right again. If she'd ever get over losing Spike. Ever get over missing him every minute of the day.

Every time she thought about it, the tears would start and she'd curse herself for being so weak. Willow had it much worse than she did. At least Spike wasn't dead- 'really' dead- and gone forever. Buffy had to admit that she'd rather have him safe and hating her than to imagine never seeing him again. She didn't know how Willow managed to get through each day.

Willow. As soon as she'd heard that Buffy was sick, she'd rushed over to keep her company, bringing magazines, videos and boardgames. Buffy had been surprised and touched when she had first shown up, knowing that part of Willow still blamed her for Oz's death. She had assumed that Willow would want to shut herself off from the world for awhile, burrow down deep into someplace safe and familiar.

Truthfully, Willow was desperate to escape her house and Sheila's amateur psychoanalysis. If she heard the phrases "get in touch with your grief" or "embrace the pain" one more time...

It made Willow burn with anger that her mother, who hadn't even bothered to get to know Oz when he was alive, now presumed to understand the depth of her agony. She knew that if she didn't make herself scarse, she'd say something that she'd only end up regretting. And anyway, Buffy's room 'was' someplace familiar...someplace safe and warm. A shelter from the evil that permeated the streets of Sunnydale, just as Buffy herself represented protection from that very same evil.

The two girls cocooned themselves in Buffy's bedroom, creating a safe haven from the outside world. Xander had wanted to join them, but after hearing detailed descriptions of Buffy's yakking, he'd quickly come up with several excuses as to why he couldn't. Which was exactly the way Buffy and Willow wanted it. Xander would never understand how they felt, would never understand their need for isolation.

By silent agreement they avoided talking about Spike and Oz, not wanting to start another flood of tears and anguish. Instead, they busied themselves between Buffy's bouts of nausea with the videos and games, talking about meaningless television shows and the latest fashions at the mall, or playing "Guess what Snyder does when no one's looking?".

Trying not to think, trying not to feel. Trying to hide in broad daylight from the sorrow that refused to ease its vice-like grip.

They were successful at hiding during the day, when they had each other to lean on. At night...

At night they were alone with their memories, always too vivid, allowing no escape. Willow's parents had insisted that she be home before dark each evening and they hadn't budged an inch when she'd begged to be allowed to stay at Buffy's house. Buffy was too ill to go to the Rosenberg's and so both girls were left to deal with their respective nightmares on their own.

Their silent refusal to speak about Spike and Oz meant that neither girl confided in the other, keeping the terror bottled up inside them, instead of letting it out.

Willow was haunted by visions of that horrible night. Tormented by dreams in which Oz screamed for her to help him, his eyes accusing her of letting him die. Powerless to do anything but look on helplessly as he called her name again and again. Staring at the knife in her hand, covered in blood- his blood- that poured over her fingers, her hand, her arm. His blood flowing out of the wounds into the street while she stood there and watched, until it become a crimson tide, sweeping her farther and farther away from his body.

She always woke up scrubbing at her arms to try to remove the blood that she was certain she would find drying on her skin. The shower worked overtime and her flesh was nearly raw from the scouring she subjected it to several times a night, like Lady Macbeth trying to remove her stain of guilt. Her stain of cowardice.

Soap, hot water, scrubbing brush, loofah- all were unsuccessful and she was left with a feeling of failure on top of everything else.

Buffy's nights held a different sort of torture. Her dreams were filled with images of Spike holding her, kissing her, making love to her. His husky voice telling her how good she felt- how tight, how wet- as he gently slid inside her. The feeling of complete and utter contentment as he filled her.

She could feel his cock thicken as he began thrusting with steady, even strokes. Gloriously hard, rubbing against her walls, swelling, stretching her... Until he became too large...

The friction growing painful as he started pounding deeper, harder... Hurting her...

"Spike!"

Looking up into yellow eyes burning with hatred, hearing him snarl, "You promised you'd never leave..."

Punishing her- tearing her- relentless in his thrusting.

Buffy sobbing wildly as the pain grew unbearable, feeling the blood running down her thighs, the awful pain... Her cries going unheeded as she pleaded with him to stop.

"Please...Spike! No, don't, please...!"

"You should have trusted me, Slayer..." His fangs descending toward her throat, not as an act of pleasure, but as the ultimate destruction of their love.

The destruction of her.

She awoke before dawn each morning, hands around her throat, her heart thudding against her ribcage, just managing to choke back the scream that threatened to wake her mother. Her face was always wet with tears and her hands would hurry to her thighs, expecting to find them coated with blood. Pain radiated from her groin, making her afraid to touch any higher for fear of finding the torn flesh between her legs.

Buffy didn't know what was happening to her. She thought that her nightmares about Angelus had felt real, but they were nothing compared to these. Something was different- 'she' was different. Whether it was Spike's feeding from her, or the strange connection to Anne and Guillaume, she didn't know. But she felt it, a real physical change from deep within.

And it scared her like nothing else ever had.


***************


Oz's funeral was held a week after his death, delayed by the start of a half-assed investigation by the Sunnydale police department. The sun shone brightly in the California sky, like any other typical day, denying the presence of evil the way the citizens of the town did on a regular basis.

Buffy managed to get control of her stomach long enough to attend the funeral. She stood by Willow's side, gripping her left hand while Xander had hold of her right. All three held each other tightly through the graveside service, surrounded by a large number of students from the high school. Despite his quiet nature, Oz had been well-liked by members of all of Sunnydale High's cliques, and they had turned out in droves to say goodbye to the werewolf.

Giles stayed in the background in deference to Joyce, but Buffy felt his presence like a strong arm across her back. She knew that he was worried about her health, but her mother's hovering had kept their contact to a minimum. Still, he was able to convey his concern with his eyes, and just knowing that he was there with them gave both girls the strength they needed to get through the day.

As Oz's casket was lowered into the waiting earth, Willow looked over at Devon. He had been silent the entire time, staring into space as if the entire thing was a drug-induced dream.

Willow wondered if her face mirrored his- that haunted, lost look. She knew that Oz had been the only person that Devon had cared about, the one constant in a town filled with strangeness. With Oz gone, Devon felt adrift, floundering without his touchstone. Xander had told her that rumors were already flying about Devon's constant need for narcotic oblivion. It made her feel fortunate that she had Buffy, Xander, Giles, and yes, even Cordelia, to keep her from coming completely apart.

The sound of Oz's mother weeping brought Willow's focus back to the coffin in front of her. Her body trembled uncontrollably as she watched his parents drop flowers into the grave, knowing that it was almost time to say goodbye... Time to let him go.

She let Buffy and Xander lead her toward the hole in the ground, barely feeling the funeral director press a rose into her hand. All the while thinking that it wasn't happening, it wasn't real.

This was the Hellmouth, couldn't he just come back? Wasn't there a spell, a curse, something- anything?

The rose fell from her fingers and she could feel the scream of denial building in the back of her throat, feel her control starting to slip...

Knowing instinctively what was happening, Xander let go of Cordelia's hand and pulled Willow's shaking body into his arms. She buried her face against his chest, muffling the tiny whimpers and sobs that spilled out of her. Xander carefully moved her away from Oz's grave as the rest of the mourners filed past to say their goodbyes.

Buffy gently rubbed Willow's back and Cordelia copied her movements on Xander's, careful to stay linked together as they stood there in the hot sun. Afraid that breaking contact meant breaking down.

Giles watched them from a distance, wishing that he could give and receive comfort from the group as well. He felt powerless against the evil that threatened to destroy them at every turn and looking at Willow, he wanted nothing more than to carry her away from all of the sorrow and madness of Sunnydale. And he hated himself for even thinking it- for wanting to be with her here and now- of all places.

He closed his eyes against the bright sun and prayed that this was the last nightmare that they would have to endure, knowing in his heart that it was a fool's prayer at best.


***********


Spike stumbled down the stairs, a bottle of Cuervo clenched tightly in his fist. He nearly slipped off of the steps, then grabbed the railing and righted himself, both he and the bottle making it to the bottom unscathed. That hadn't been the case two days ago, when he'd tumbled headfirst down the garden stairway, almost cracking his skull in the process. Drunken oblivion sometimes came with a price- he was just grateful that he hadn't landed on a stray tree branch.

The sight that greeted him in the main hall made him tip the bottle and chug half of the contents without taking a breather. The mansion was still a bloody mess, broken furniture and glass shards scattered everywhere. Not that he gave a fuck one way or the other. If he ever sobered up, maybe he'd clean it; until then, it was just as easy to kick the stuff out of his way.

He'd gone through the mansion's liquor supply that first night, and actually slept for most of the following day. It had been tortured sleep, filled with too many memories and nightmares, but sleep just the same. And he'd felt calmer when he awoke, despite his pounding head. The blind, murderous rage had been gone, replaced with far too many irritating emotions, all of them revolving around the Slayer and the aching hole in the middle of his chest.

Waking up sober had been enough to drive him out of the house in search of more booze. He needed something- anything- to dull the bloody, buggery pain in both his head and his heart, and he'd figured that several hundred bottles of tequila just might do the trick.

Sunnydale Wines and Spirits was close by and had just what he needed. The place had been empty of customers, so Spike walked right in and placed his order. A glimpse of his true face had the liquor store owner scrambling to comply with his demands and he'd even been generous enough to donate several pints of O neg, in addition to the cases of Cuervo that Spike took off his hands.

Nothing like a good old fashioned kill to ease his pain and make him feel all manly again, right? Wrong.

He'd been incapable of draining the man. As he'd fed, the Slayer's face kept flashing behind his closed eyelids and he'd dropped his victim to the floor unconscious, but alive. With a roar of anger, he'd grabbed an extra case of J.D. and left, shattering the door with his fist on the way out.

So now he had an adequate supply of liquor, but no pride to speak of. He was less than a vampire- neither demon nor man- just another Buffy-whipped sap, like Angelus. He might as well have a soul for all of the drunken brooding he'd done in the last few days.

And the worst part was... He missed her. Missed her more than he'd ever thought possible, missed her more than Drusilla, even. How bloody fucked up was that? That the loss of a human- the Slayer, no less- affected him more than the loss of a woman he'd loved for over a hundred years.

Running his hand over his face, Spike made his way to the portable stereo he'd found in Mark's room. There was only one cd that he was capable of listening to at the moment- Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral. The music of pain. He'd already played it numerous times in the last few days, but he needed to hear it again, like some perverse form of torture. He set the cd player so that it would loop one song continuously, and pressed play.

As the steady, pounding beat of Eraser filled the room, he grabbed another bottle and flopped down on the torn couch, propping his feet up on the arm. Closing his eyes, he let his thoughts drift as the music built to a crescendo, knowing it was useless to resist the direction in which they headed. No matter how piss drunk he managed to get, she still haunted him...

*Need you
Dream you*

Need. He'd sworn after Drusilla that he'd never need anyone again and now look at him. Dru's ashes had barely dissipated and there he was, firmly ensconced in another woman's bed. And now he needed the Slayer with an intensity that shocked him to the core. Needed her softness beneath him, her warmth around him. Needed her fighting him, needed her loving him. Needed her blood filling his mouth...

*Find you
Taste you*

He longed for the taste of her on his tongue. Her delicious mouth- like ripe berries, sweet enough to make him forget his own name. Her golden skin- salty with sweat after a fierce round of lovemaking. The nectar between her thighs- flowing like the purest honey, just for him. Her blood- intoxicating, addicting, making his undead heart sing with new life.

He wanted to drink from every part of her, drown in her... Just sink inside her until he disappeared...

*Fuck you
Use you*

In the beginning he'd thought that it was just sex, that it was the novelty of fucking someone warm and alive. They were only using each other to forget Angel and Dru. To keep from feeling alone.

He'd been certain that every time she closed her eyes she imagined that it was Angel touching her, until she'd looked him in the eye and assured him it wasn't so. He remembered how it felt to get lost in those eyes, the way his heart had seemed to soar when she'd told him she loved him.

How had just fucking turned to love so quickly? And it had been love, hadn't it? Even though he'd never said the words, he'd felt them. Still did, no matter what had passed between them.

But did she still love him? Could she, after she'd seen his rage, his bloodlust?

*Scar you
Break you*

He'd nearly killed her. Had almost been able to taste her blood in his mouth. He hadn't laid a hand on her, but he'd been seconds away from tearing out her throat. And it scared the shit out of him, the ease with which it could have happened. If he'd been able to follow her outside...

She wouldn't have fought him, he was certain of it. She'd been too frightened, too upset. And it would have been like waving a red flag in front of a bull. He honestly hadn't known if he would have been able to control the demon. Not then.

The violent encounter with Angel's fledglings had given his demon the death and destruction it hungered for, and after being denied for so long, it reveled in the surge of power. It had fed on his hurt and anger, magnifying the rage ignited by the Slayer's lack of faith in him until he was nearly consumed by it. It had been worse than anything he'd felt while in the wheelchair. Helplessly forced to watch as Angelus and Drusilla writhed all over each other time and time again.

*Lose me
Hate me*

Spike drained the bottle and let it drop, hearing it smash against the marble floor. Figuring that there was another one stashed under the couch, he reached down and began feeling around for it, barely noticing the tiny slivers of glass that pierced his skin. His fingertips brushed across a smooth surface and it rolled away, making him growl in frustration. He stretched his arm further, snagging the neck of the bottle and hurriedly brought it out of hiding.

Wrenching the cap off, he lifted the opening to his lips and swallowed convulsively, letting a few drops dribble down his chin. His nostrils flared at the odor of blood and he raised his hand, blearily staring at the crimson trails dripping down his wrist.

Spike licked at the blood, idly wondering why he didn't feel any pain from the cuts. The tequila was having a numbing effect on his extremities, like novocaine, but so far had done nothing to stop the agony in his heart or his head. He wiped his mouth on his sleeve and lay his head back once again, one arm flung across his eyes as he rested the bottle on his stomach.

The massive amounts of alcohol had helped to subdue the demon, and now that Spike was calm again, he was filled with disgust at his lack of control. He'd driven away- perhaps for good- the one pure and decent thing in his unlife. He was a bloody fool, and worse than that, he was alone again. Completely and utterly alone.

She had to fear him now, or at least fear what he was capable of. Christ, even 'he' had been afraid of what he might do. An hour old fledgling had more restraint than he'd shown that day. All he had to do was look at the mess surrounding him to be reminded of his tantrum.

Master-fucking-vampire- yeah, right. He wasn't even master of his own fucking domain.

*Smash me
Erase me*

His behavior of the last few weeks galled him. Galled the demon, anyway. Becoming a slave to his lust, eschewing everything that made a vampire what he was. His involvement with the Slayer had nearly erased him, made William the Bloody almost unrecognizable.

No wonder the minions had rebelled. He hadn't been fit to lead them in that state. Hadn't been fit to do anything but moon over the Slayer, to chase after pussy like a sex-starved teenager. Christ.

And yet...

Trent Reznor's anguished screeching filled his head, echoing the torment roiling inside him. He wanted the Slayer, needed her to fill the emptiness in his heart. Wanted to bury himself inside her, to fuck her into the ground. Wanted to lose himself in her sweetness, forget for a moment every bit of pain in his tortured existence. He wanted...

The demon wanted control again. Wanted blood, wanted death, wanted to wallow in the Slayer's fear. Wanted to build an empire loyal only to him, to hold Sunnydale in a grip of terror. To know that he was the most frightening monster on the Hellmouth, that he made others tremble before him. The demon wanted what he'd had in those early days with Angelus and Drusilla, when all of Europe had cowered in dread.

He was being torn apart by his conflicting natures, and now he didn't even have the calming presence of the Slayer to pacify him. Was he a freak of the undead? An aberration, with all of these bloody feelings? He wanted... He wanted...

He wanted fucking oblivion. Was it so much to ask?


*************


After the funeral, Willow had dutifully gone to the Bronze with the rest of the mourners, where everyone sat around and reminisced about Oz and the good times they'd all had together. Management had provided an open soft drink bar and a recording of one of the band's performances played in the background while Oz's guitar sat propped up on stage, surrounded by flowers and stuffed animals. Several sets of parents had even dropped by, curious about the place where their children spent so many nights. In spite of being a lovely tribute to the werewolf, it was awkward and painful, and Willow had wanted to be anywhere else but there.

Devon had shown up obviously wrecked on something, and the rest of the band snuck alcohol into their drinks in an attempt to catch up. They stayed huddled in a corner, accepting comforting pats on the back, but otherwise ignoring the chatter around them. Every so often, a giggle would escape from Devon's expressionless face, weirding out anyone within hearing distance.

Willow sat silently, lost in her own memories, as everyone talked around her. Memories of his sweet face smiling at her from the stage. That exasperated look that he'd get, rolling his eyes as Devon postured next to him. The way his green eyes would glow as they stared into hers, so serious, before he kissed her. That last dance, their bodies perfectly aligned, holding each other so tight... Holding each other...

She was gasping for air, the pain in her chest unbearable. A rushing sound filled her ears and everything receded, as if she were underwater. She could see Buffy and Xander's concerned faces, see their lips moving as they asked if she was all right.

Willow shook her head, stumbling to her feet. "I- I have to go... I can't..." She pushed past her friends, tears blinding her as she ran for the door.

Xander made a move to go after her but Buffy held him back, saying, "Let her go, Xander. I don't think she wants us right now."

He started to protest, but backed down, realizing that Buffy was right and Willow needed to be alone. It was daylight anyway, so at least she'd be safe from harm for the time being. They could always go look for her later, before dark.

Like a swimmer breaking the surface, Willow took huge gulps of air as she emerged from the dark club into the bright sunlight. She braced herself against the wall, letting the choking sobs escape, wondering if the pain would ever stop. It had to stop sometime, didn't it? *Please, God...let it stop...*

Wiping her eyes on her sleeve, she started walking, not really caring where she went, just letting her feet guide her. All around her, people went about their business as if it was a normal day, as if they hadn't just buried her boyfriend, who'd been murdered by vampires.

She was sick of Sunnydale, sick of everyone pretending that it was a normal town like any other. But could she blame them? Was it so long ago that she was just as ignorant about the Hellmouth and everything that went with it? She longed for those happy, carefree days, when her biggest problem was getting snubbed by Cordelia. When vampires were fictional creatures in books and movies, not part of everyday life.

As soon as the thought crossed her mind, she immediately regretted it. She wouldn't trade her time with Oz for anything, nor would she wish away her friendship with Buffy. Without Buffy, she'd probably be dead or a vampire herself, and without Oz, she never would have known what it was like to be able to openly love someone and to feel loved in return. Before him, all she'd known were her unrequited feelings for Xander and the frustration that went with them.

Willow walked aimlessly through the familiar streets, not sure where her feet would take her. It didn't matter, really, she just hadn't been able to stand being in the Bronze for one moment longer. Everywhere she'd looked, she'd seen Oz's face, could even hear his voice in her ear- low, warm and familiar. Escape had been her only option, or before long she would have been giggling in the corner with Devon, seeing and hearing things that weren't there.

Coming out of her daze, Willow looked up at the street sign to get her bearings. Crawford Street, hadn't Buffy said something about the mansion being down here? There were only a few houses, sprawling estates on several hundred acres. Sunnydale's creme de la creme, except for the vampires. Suddenly, Willow knew what she had to do. She needed closure of some kind, needed to see Spike- for several reasons. The thought should have frightened her, going into a vampire's lair, alone and unarmed. It didn't though. She was beyond feeling much of anything at this point. Maybe after seeing Spike she'd be able to start healing. She wandered up the street, spotting the correct house with little trouble. It had an abandoned look, with overgrown shrubbery, and Willow remembered that it also had a history- some silent film star had supposedly died there under suspicious circumstances. The usual haunted mansion rumors circulated every few years, and whoever rented the place never stayed for very long. *It must have seemed like the perfect place after the factory burned down. It certainly looks the part.*

Willow made her way to the door, glancing up once at the late afternoon sun. She knew that Buffy and Xander would be looking for her soon, and she really didn't want them to worry. Hand on the doorknob, she determinedly twisted it and stepped inside, her eyes trying to adjust to the gloom that greeted her. She closed the door, wondering as she did if she'd really lost her mind this time.

Her footsteps echoed in the large room and the pounding of her heart let her know that at least a part of her was frightened. Unfortunately, that part of her wasn't in charge at the moment. She walked farther into the room, stepping carefully over the destroyed furniture, hearing the crunching of glass under her feet. Buffy hadn't said much about the last time she'd seen Spike, but it was obvious that he'd been in a rage. Again, Willow questioned her sanity for being there.

"Well, isn't this a surprise?"

Willow whirled around to find Spike standing in one of the doorways, a liquor bottle dangling from his hand. "Spike..."

He sauntered toward her, taking a drink as he advanced. Willow looked up at him defiantly, forcing herself not to show fear. She wondered if he could smell it, if just the aroma was enough to make him hungry.

"A visitor, how nice. I get so few of them these days...other than the occasional Jehovah's Witness." He shook his head. "Funny, you're the last person I ever expected to show up here. If you've come to deliver a message from the Slayer..."

"Buffy doesn't know I'm here. I doubt that she'd be happy about it, she's not..." Willow paused, unsure of what to tell him.

"Well, we wouldn't want to get you in trouble now, would we? Why don't you just run along, then," he said, shooing at her with his hand. He couldn't believe that the mousy little thing was standing in his house, showing no fear except for the slight trembling of her body.

"I'll go in a minute. I just...I wanted to see you. I have something to say to you."

Spike's eyebrow quirked. "Come to beard the lion in his den, pet?"

Willow's eyes got a faraway look as she murmured, "Something like that."

Turning her gaze back to him, she noticed that he was frowning. He looked almost...concerned. Telling herself that she was being silly, she tried to figure out what she was actually doing there. What had seemed like a good idea at the time, now seemed incredibly foolish with Spike standing right in front of her.

Spike studied the girl as she stood there, her hands twisting together nervously. She looked different from what he remembered. Her eyes were dull- lifeless- and her face had none of the innocent glow that had always been apparent. Losing the wolf must have been hard on her, he mused.

As if reading his mind, Willow spoke. "We buried Oz today." Her voice was husky, but matter-of-fact.

Automatically, he said, "I'm sorry, luv," and looked down at the floor. She made him uncomfortable- a reminder of both the Slayer and his failure to control the minions. A reminder of everything he'd been trying to avoid thinking about, all of the emotions that were almost constantly plaguing him.

"I was out walking and I just...found myself here. And I wanted... I wanted to thank you."

Spike's head jerked up at her words, his eyes narrowing in disbelief. "Christ, what are you bloody talking about? Thank me? Are you fucking mad?" he blurted.

Willow shook her head. "No. I know exactly what I'm saying. Buffy told me that you killed them. All of them. I wanted to thank you for that."

Spike barked out a laugh. "Listen, pet," he said, dragging a hand through his hair. "I didn't kill them for you, get it? I did it because they were insolent, because they were loyal to Angelus. Don't make me out to be some sort of bloody hero. I was cleaning up a mess that should have been taken care of months ago." He was beginning to wonder if this was all just another alcohol-ridden dream, like so many others he'd had over the past few days.

"I know that your reasons had nothing to do with me. I'm just glad that they're dead. Maybe...maybe Oz will rest easier knowing that they're gone for good." She looked up at him with hope in her eyes. "Did you make them hurt? Was it...was it painful?"

He gave her a humorless smile. "Yeah. I made it hurt." He shook his head and took another swig from the bottle.

"Good." Willow looked around at the destruction in the room, then took in his drunken, disheveled appearance. She wrestled with herself for a moment before making a decision. "Buffy's sick. Today was the first time she's left her house all week."

"Sick, is she-?" Spike stopped himself before he asked anything else. He tried to hide his concern, but it was there, in his eyes. *The Slayer... How ill? Is she all right?*

Forcing himself to sound casual he said, "Yeah, well...it's nothing to do with me anymore. I'm sure she'll be fine. Slayer healing powers, and all that."

Willow nodded, satisfied that he still cared, despite his attempt to deny it. "I'm sure she will. Forget I said anything, I'll just be going now." She turned to go, only to be stopped by his voice just a few feet from the door.

"Hey, Red?" When Willow looked back over her shoulder, he continued. "I am sorry about Oz. Sorry I didn't kill them when I should have."

"Thanks," she whispered, meeting his eyes briefly in understanding before slipping out the door.

Spike stood there, his mind filled with worry for the Slayer, wondering if she was ill because of what had happened between them. His hands clenched into fists, game face flickering as he fought to regain control of his emotions.

It was over between them. She wasn't his concern any longer, no matter what the redhead had told him. He didn't need her, didn't need anyone but Jose to keep him company. They were better off alone- him, Jose and the demon. The Three Caballeros.

Spike snorted, taking another swig. *Too bloody right.*



******************


Willow stepped out into the waning light and took a deep breath. She felt a little better for having seen Spike and it helped to know that Oz's murderers had suffered. It was a small comfort, but a comfort, nonetheless.

She wondered if she should have told him about Buffy's illness. He obviously still cared, even though she was certain he wouldn't be rushing to the Slayer's side. They were both devastated by their breakup, though, which meant that there was always hope for a reconciliation.

Willow hoped that they'd get past the hurt. She couldn't help but think that it was stupid for two people in love to be apart. They were both alive- in a matter of speaking- and that was all that mattered. It was foolish to waste whatever time they had, and maybe they would come to realize it, if they stopped being so stubborn. She knew that she'd give anything to have Oz back with her... If he were alive she'd do anything, say anything...forgive anything, just to be able to hold him again.

Anything.

Casting a glance at the darkening sky, she quickened her step. The last thing she needed was to have worried friends and parents converging on her today of all days. With her mission accomplished, all she wanted to do was go home and pull the covers over her head- try to achieve complete solitude in which to mourn Oz and the love that she'd buried with him.


***********


In the days that followed Oz's funeral, Buffy slowly regained some of her strength. She was still tired, and still plagued by bouts of nausea, but the latter were coming less frequently, making it easier to leave the house. She and Willow had started going on short trips to the mall and the library, returning home exhausted but exhilarated by their independence. Like newborn colts trying to stand on shaking legs, they stayed out longer each day, testing themselves, carefully avoiding any particular place that held too many memories. Gradually easing away from the tight circle they'd created, learning to stand on their own once again.

Buffy wanted desperately to stop feeling weak, to resume her slaying duties. Giles and Xander patrolled in her stead, reporting back that everything seemed calm for the time being. She knew that it was Spike's doing, with his dusting of the minions, but she also knew that it wouldn't last. There were other plenty of other demons besides vampires, and they all considered the Hellmouth to be the ideal vacation spot. She needed to get back to her regular routine soon, before word got out that the Slayer was incapacitated.

Spike still occupied her thoughts nearly every waking moment. Buffy toyed with the idea of going to the mansion again, but the memory of their last encounter always prevented her from following through. He'd made it abundantly clear that he couldn't stand the sight of her, and having to see that look in his eyes again would only tear her apart. It was bad enough to have to relive it in her dreams; she didn't need it invading her reality as well.

Her heart ached right along with her body, but she was mending. Slowly, but surely, the old Buffy was coming back- needling Giles over the phone, trading quips with Xander- on the surface, anyway, some of her spark was still there. But at night, when she no longer needed to keep up the pretense, she cried herself to sleep, sobbing Spike's name into her pillow. Her longing for him was as sharp as a knife wound, stinging and insistent, cutting into every part of her being, never leaving her alone for a second.

She tossed and turned fitfully each night, plagued by the dreams that alternated between happy memories of Spike and images of death and violence. Now and then she'd see visions of Anne and Guillaume, but they were no longer clear, just brief flashes viewed as if through gauze, words and phrases without any meaning.

In that space between waking and dreaming, she was certain that she could hear Spike's voice in her ear- that rich, sexy timbre that always caused a tingling in her belly. Hear him whisper her name, hear him growl with lust. And she always reached out for him, feeling a brief surge of joy as the last two weeks faded away like a passing nightmare, only to collapse in despair when realization struck. His voice was an illusion, and that which she had hoped was a dream was in actuality the cold, hard truth...

Her bed was empty. And so was her heart.


Continued