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Buffy was exhausted. She hadn’t even reached Grammerly Cemetary, her first stop on patrol, and all she wanted was to do was drink herself into a stupor or curl into a ball. Or find Spike. She wanted to forget. Since being ripped out of heaven, every drop of her emotional energy had been tapped trying to grapple with her own deep and perseverative pain. On trying to escape it. Being present for Tara, as much as she had been able to, had drained her. She didn’t regret it, Tara obviously needed help. The fact that the usually reserved blonde shared as much as she did spoke volumes about how hard things were for her best friend’s ex-girlfriend.

Her best friend.  

Inside, Buffy felt full of holes, voids where her spirit used to live, and one of those holes held a shape that was distinctly Willow shaped. But Buffy didn’t know how to fit the Willow she saw into that shape anymore. There was the Willow who was the friend with an almost boundless loyalty, who loved Buffy enough to leave behind an Ivy League education to stay and fight, side by side. The best friend whose face had softened and blushed, so relieved when Buffy had thanked her for her resurrection.

That act of gratitude had been the hardest Buffy had ever given, because she wanted to mean it but hadn’t. The truth was she wasn’t thankful. The truth was she resented Willow. This was the Willow that Buffy couldn’t see past right now. It hadn’t only been Willow who had done the ritual, Buffy knew that and there was a dose of resentment for all involved, but it had been Willow who made it real. Willow who had prepared the ingredients and who had reached into magicks so dangerous she had terrified Xander and invoked ire from Giles. Willow who had been so proud of the very act that had left Buffy with an unyielding grief wailing within the voids.  Buffy had been done, she had made peace, and she’d been ripped back into this world. A place that had once been home and now felt foreign and harsh.  

The resentment would not abate. Instead it simmered under guilt, threatening to lash whip-like from her, an inferno caged.  It swirled and grated with anger and despair, and wishing. And all these things: the resentment, the anger, the loss, the sense of being disconnected, and more than anything, the guilt had tipped Buffy into nothingness, into numbness. The numbness remained, a dam against the untenable onslaught, even at the sight of Willow nearly brought to her knees by devastation when she had, they had all, been told the truth. It was still there, standing in the way, even though Willow had just lost her heart. And Buffy knew she had only a peripheral understanding of how Tara’s departure was affecting Willow. And how it wasn’t. It should have been telling, how fine Willow seemed, but pushing beyond what might have been a veneer required more than Buffy had to give. It required too much bandwidth to push, to see beyond. They lived under the same roof, but they were miles apart, and Buffy knew it was the numbness maintaining the gap.

Everything was falling apart. Everyone. Everyone seemed to be pulled to the end of their capabilities and it only reminded Buffy of the anguish of loss, something that had been replaced by serenity for those three short months. Something that was now the core of her being. Helping Tara tonight had felt right; it had helped her feel connected, if only a little. It had shown her that she could still care. And that scared her, because once that dam broke, what would stop all of the emotions, building and pressing, from drowning her?

“Why so glum, sweetheart?” The lisp as he said “shweetheart” gave it away. The Slayer sighed and turned to see three male vamps emerging through the trees. They moved in a rough triangle, each with their own version of a saunter.

“Well” Buffy cocked her head to the side, “I was feeling lonely,” she shrugged, “but now you guys are here, we can party.” The quip was a little monotone, the shrug half-hearted, but it was the first time Buffy had bothered even joking with her prey in a long time. A little spark of pride surged in her chest. She smiled as she slipped her stake into her hand.

The vamps on either side of her paused, but the one in front of her roared with laughter. He obviously had not been given the welcome tour. “Oh we’ll party, little girl” he slathered. Buffy rolled her eyes. “First I’ll take a turn, then….” Buffy pulled her stake back through the new dust and glared at the vamp to her right.

“Rape jokes aren’t funny,” Buffy wasn’t playing anymore. She threw her stake directly into the vamps heart, not even waiting to see him dissolve as she spun to the one now behind her. Her foot connected with his head. As he lurched sideways, Buffy produced another stake from her sleeve and shoved it into the last vampire’s chest. “Fucking men,” she grumbled as she passed Spike’s crypt.

She thought about Tara again, how shaken she had been earlier. She thought about Willow, in her house, forever looking at her with eyes pleading for forgiveness, for understanding, for thanks. Her exhaustion rolled over her and she halted, just steps from the edge of the cemetery. Steps from the street that would lead her home.

She felt his hands on her hips at the same moment that she heard the whisper in her ears, “Hello luv.”

Turning under his grip, Buffy looked into Spike’s eyes, ready to tell him to let go. She would go home, be with Dawn, talk with Willow. Buffy told herself these things even as she felt her body and mind succumb into the promise of release.

She remained gazing at him as his grip tightened and he bent his mouth towards hers, his lips grazing hers, surprisingly tender, before he captured her in a kiss driven by heady need. She felt the wave of reprieve soften her, and allowed him to take her hand. As they walked back to his crypt she didn’t think about anything.