Chapter Two: Nothing So Simple
God! The pain was unbearable. He felt as though his head might rip right open at any moment. He had tried to open his eyes, but even the tiniest bit of illumination from the dim bulb hanging from the ceiling caused a thundering pulse of pain to ricochet inside his aching skull. The sick feeling in his stomach told him that he should get to a trashcan or a toilet soon, but he knew if he tried to move he’d throw up right here, rendering the whole exercise pointless.
What had he been thinking? Every night he tried to drink away the guilt and while he always managed to achieve oblivion, it was only temporary and left him with a staggeringly powerful hangover. Just yesterday he had decided he was finished with the remorse. He couldn’t change the past so he saw no point in worrying himself to death over it. That way led down the annoying path of brooding that was Angel’s existence, and he had no intention of turning into that bloody sod.
And yet here he was again, recovering from a night of guilt-induced binge drinking. What a bleedin’ disappointment. Give the boy a soul and he turns into a prancing lightweight. He had asked for this, but all he’d wanted was the ability to be what Buffy needed – a vampire lover with a soul. Only he wouldn’t lose his the first time he lost himself in her.
Somehow it had all gone wrong because instead of rushing home to her with the good news, he was halfway around the world with no inclination to get anywhere near her. Oh, he missed her; missed her so much his whole body ached with it, but did he love her? That was one of the many questions that had been tormenting him; he wasn’t even sure anymore what love was. For so long love had been mixed together with hurt and hate in his mind that he wasn’t even sure of his own emotions anymore.
Drusilla was the one who had shaped his concept of love. Pain, torture, violence and jealousy; this was what he’d learned of love from Dru. Then Buffy had come along and things had changed. He’d felt the softer side of love then; the desire to heal and help and protect rather than hurt, but she hadn’t wanted that kind of love from him. She’d wanted the angry, tear-each-other-apart kind of love and while he’d often wished he could share with her the tenderness he’d discovered inside himself, he had also reveled in the pain she seemed to crave. But in the end it hadn’t been enough.
He’d hurt her and he’d hurt himself by loving her. He’d thought a soul would finally make it all better, solve all the problems between them. Instead things were more complicated then ever, and he didn’t know if he ever wanted to go back and face her. After all, what if his feelings for her had only been a cruel illusion? Without the love what had been the point of any of this?
“Giles called!” Dawn said excitedly, pouncing on her sister the moment she got home. “Did you hear me? Giles called!”
“I heard you,” Buffy said drolly as she tried to make her way into the kitchen with Dawn bouncing all around her enthusiastically. “Dawn, please. Let me set the groceries down first. These bags are very heavy.” She shot her a pointed look and Dawn grabbed a bag from her.
“I didn’t think you needed help, what with you being the Chosen One and all.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s always your excuse for not helping out. I’m the Chosen One for vampire slaying and stopping the apocalypse, not grocery shopping and dusting.” They set the bags down and Buffy started emptying them. “So, what did Giles want?”
“Well, he heard from Anya; I guess she’s at least keeping in touch with him.”
“How is she?”
“Good. She’s still here in Sunnydale, you know. She told him she misses all of us, but that she’s not ready to face Xander again.” They exchanged a look. “Guess they’re both still sad about it, huh?”
“Well, they split because they had problems, not because they stopped loving each other.” Buffy’s thoughts drifted for a moment. Looking up, she saw Dawn watching her and shook it off. “What else did he say?”
“Willow walked out on her first session.” Buffy stopped what she was doing, her expression conflicted.
“What? She just left?” Dawn crossed her arms in annoyance.
“You didn’t let me finish.” Buffy looked at her expectantly, but Dawn said nothing.
“Well? What happened?”
“No interrupting this time?” Buffy rolled her eyes.
“Fine, no more interruptions. Would you just get on with the story already?”
“I don’t know if I feel like it,” Dawn teased. “You’re being annoying.”
“There is no way I could ever be as annoying as you. Now get on with it before I decide I’m the chosen one for kicking your ass!” Dawn giggled.
“You better be glad you got that whole Slayer strength thing workin’ for ya.” Dawn stood up straight and looked down at Buffy. “I could take you down so easy if you were just a girl.” Buffy smiled.
“Aw, Dawnie. I never knew you were delusional.” They laughed and Buffy pulled the fridge open to put the food away. “Okay, focus. Giles. Phone call. Go.” Dawn swiped a soda and leaned against the counter.
“Well, he said Willow walked out of her first session or whatever, but that he had a good talk with her and she seems to be committed to the program. Did you know it was a program?” Buffy started to answer, but Dawn cut her off. “Do you think it’s like detox, but with magic?”
“I’m sure there’s more to it than that.”
“Like psychological stuff?”
“Probably. I mean, Giles wasn’t big with the details so who knows.”
“Are you…mad at her?” Dawn asked hesitantly. Buffy had finished putting things away and came to stand next to her.
“A little. Are you?”
“Kinda. I mean, I understand she was all filled with grief and magic, but…”
“She said pretty awful things to you.”
“To all of us. It’s just gonna be hard when she comes back; I don’t think I can pretend like it never happened.”
“You shouldn’t. Pretend, I mean; you don’t have to. I’m sure there will be awkward moments, but I think it’s important that we all deal with this openly and honestly. There have been so many secrets and lies. We’re supposed to be a family, all of us, but it hasn’t seemed that way lately.” She looped her arm through Dawn’s. “The only way to heal is to face the problem head on. Make our family whole again.” As they headed into the living room neither one of them mentioned the fact that two members of that family were gone; one, probably both, for good.
“So what are they doing to you there?” Xander asked curiously.
“Counseling, exercises to control the urges - ”
“Urges?” he interrupted.
“To do magic.” Willow sighed. “I think I’m getting better; it’s hard to tell. The worst part is at night when it’s time to go to sleep. The bed seems so empty, and I have all this time just to think.”
“I’m sorry, Will.” Xander wished there was something he could say or do to make it all better.
“It hurts. To think about her and what I did, it hurts. I talk to a grief counselor every day; she’s helping me deal with it, but I don’t think the pain will ever go away.”
“Are you sure you don’t want me to come over there? I could be on the next flight out.” She smiled.
“Thanks, but this is really something I need to do on my own.” She paused. “Well, along with Giles and a team of professionals.” She sighed. “I guess it isn’t completely on my own, but I think it’s best if you stay there. Giles told me Anya is in Sunnydale; maybe you could spend some time with her.” There was nothing but silence over the line and she wondered if she had lost the connection. “Xander? Are you still there?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m here. So, Anya is here in town; Giles heard from her?”
“Uh, I- I think so. You, uh, you haven’t seen her?” Silence. “Well, maybe she’s just nervous or, or –” Xander sighed.
“It’s okay, Will. You don’t have to try and make it better.”
“I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“No, it’s good that you did. At least now I know she’s okay.”
“Are you sure you’re alright?”
“Yeah, I’ll live.” He paused for a second, feeling uncertain. “I quit drinking.”
“Were you having a problem with it?”
“Well, I don’t think I need to call AA, but I’ve been drinking a lot since…everything.” Willow didn’t say anything, and Xander muttered bitterly, “Guess it runs in the family, huh?”
“What are you expecting me to judge you?” There was silence and then they both laughed. “I guess we’re both just a little screwed up. At least your issues I understand; making sense of my own gives me a headache.” Willow hesitated then decided to go ahead and ask, “Xander?”
“How- have you seen- how are Buffy and Dawn? Giles keeps them updated, but I haven’t really gotten the nerve up to call myself.” She paused. “Do they…hate me?”
“I don’t think they hate you; it’s just… everything is different now. A lot has happened. I think it took awhile to sink in and everyone is still adjusting. Besides, Buffy has other issues to deal with.”
“What do you mean?”
“Just Spike stuff.”
“I thought he was gone.”
“Yeah,” Xander replied, bitterness tingeing his voice. “I think that’s the problem. She can’t figure out whether to be happy about it or not.”
“I don’t get that whole…thing. He did some really crappy stuff before he left and she still can’t let go.”
“Well, it’s not like he was cheating. I mean, they had broken up, right?”
“That’s not what I meant. Look, let’s not talk about Spike; it just makes me angry.”
“You brought him up, Xander.”
“I know.” Willow was silent. “Sorry.” More silence and then,
“I should go. I have a couple sessions soon and then Giles and I are going out to eat.” The friendly mood had been shattered; Xander felt like a heel.
“Hey, really, I didn’t mean to snap at you.”
“That’s not it; I really do have to go.”
“Are you sure?”
“Okay. Well, I guess I need to get ready for work anyway. I’ll call in a couple days, and you call me anytime if you need anything. Tell Giles I said hi.”
“I will. Love you.”
“You, too. Bye.”
“Bye.” Willow hung up and wondered if things would ever be normal. Even her relationship with Xander was stilted; now she knew she didn’t want to call Buffy. God, life sucked.
Late at night the dreams would come. Soft moonlit nights, curtains fluttering in the breeze, a seductive whisper as hands trailed across her skin, and a feeling of pleasure unlike anything she’d ever known would suffuse her being. Slowly the gentle touch would turn hard and bruising, the soft sheets would become cold tile, the light blindingly bright. The face would switch from human to vampire, Spike to Angelus and back again and then she would wake up in a cold sweat, sick to her stomach. She would lay there breathing hard as the images faded away and then the tears would come.
She felt so many things when she thought of him - fear, sorrow, tenderness, anger, betrayal; myriad emotions converging in her mind and yet one was always missing. It should be so simple to hate him; so why couldn’t she? She didn’t understand her absence of hatred, and she didn’t understand why she went by his crypt every night after patrolling. She’d made Clem promise not to tell anyone of her nightly visits, but she often went by and just sat there with him. They didn’t say much to each other, but he was always friendly and understanding. Sometimes they’d watch TV together, and other times she’d light up a cigarette and just let it burn in an ash tray while she curled up in the chair and slept. Clem always woke her up when it was time for her to head home.
She’d started the cigarette ritual after finding a half empty pack Spike had left behind; it was ridiculous, but sometimes that was the only way she could sleep. They should have been gone by now, but she was pretty sure Clem was buying more to supplement the pack for her. It was sweet, but it also made her realize how strange her life had become. She hadn’t spoken to her best friend in weeks, wasn’t sure if she even wanted to and yet she spent night after night with a silly looking demon because she missed the evil vampire that had tried to rape her.
She longed for the time when things had seemed simple. When ‘vampire’ automatically equaled bad and there was no thinking involved. Before Angel, before Angelus, before Spike realized he loved her, when the only thing that had been between them was the fight. And speaking of Angelus; why did he keep showing up in the dream? She didn’t get that at all. She was sure Giles would have all sorts of theories about what it might mean or what it represented, but she hadn’t told him about the dream. Mainly because she hadn’t told him about the incident that caused the dream, and she’d threatened Xander with punishment of death if he opened his mouth about it. She didn’t need Giles going off half-cocked and staking Spike. The idea if him being gone forever, nothing left but a pile of dust, filled her with painful desolation, and she wasn’t anywhere near ready to deal with what that meant.