Title: For Grace
Pairing: Buffy/Angel (There’s some heavy Spike involvement with both characters, purely platonic. I promise. :D)
Rating: PG-13, if only for one teensy bit of language.
Summary: Takes place after Season Eight. “There is no love without forgiveness, and there is no forgiveness without love.” (Bryant McGill)
Notes: Not connected to Embers at all, though there are some similar S9-type themes. We’ve done the strong Buffy/Angel friendship in the Buffy/Spike fic, now we’re going to the reverse. ;) Oddly enough, the concept for this actually came from a discussion I had last week about Seeing Red. Buffy doesn’t forgive because she needs to, or because it’s deserved. She does it because she’s Buffy.
They say that time heals all wounds, that days apart are all you need to recover from the trauma that came before. They don’t factor in the new wounds that happen when you’re least expecting it, when your life is continuing and so is his but you never suspect that it’s still together, that he’s the man behind the mask on the other side, not until you’re gasping on the ground feet away from your dead watcher while he stares blankly into space, the trembling of his fists the only sign that he’s just as damaged as you.
You won’t care right now, not when you’re both responsible for this- but he, so much more so- and he doesn’t deserve your mercy. You won’t.
But you still do, of course, and it’s both Giles’s face and Angel’s that haunt you when you sleep at night. And it doesn’t stop, not for a full year, not after so many months spent in different countries, so many months dwelling on what’s happened before and what continues to ache at you.
They say that time heals all wounds.
Spike’s the one who doesn’t let you forget. It’s weird. He still loves you- you know he does, he talks in his sleep and he’s been camped out on your sofa for the past month- but he’s still on that “be my own man” kick, and that’s somehow translated into throwing all of his attentions into your romantic life instead of his own.
Not that any of this is romantic. Not that you’re ever going to admit any of the things he claims you need to talk about. Not that you’re ever going to stop kicking him out when he speaks freely of Angel and Giles and Twilight. Not that he’s going to stop.
Not that his words, both kind and cruel, are the only things that can make you dissolve into tears nowadays.
“Angel’s probably a wreck these days,” he says thoughtfully one afternoon. “Worse than you, even.”
“I’m not a wreck,” you retort, indignant.
He looks you over appraisingly. “Yeah, sure.” Your cheeks burn at the indignity of it all, and you’re the one to storm out this time, into the sunlight and far from vampires who understand too much about you and other vampires.
That night, you stumble across a set of symbols you’ve never seen before, etched into the side of a series of tombstones deep in a familiar cemetery. You stop off at Willow’s, ask her about them, but she doesn’t recognize them.
You don’t find out that she’s called Faith about it until there’s a low knock at your door a night later and Spike sits up abruptly, his eyes gleaming with interest.
You roll your eyes at him and open the door, and the plate of chips that you’d been holding falls to the ground.
Angel shifts uncomfortably. “Buffy.” The word comes out in a hoarse voice, one you don’t recognize as his.
“Angel.” And you can’t say anything more, can’t look him in the eyes or the chest or the shoes or at all, and when Spike shifts on the couch, you take the opportunity to turn and flee into the kitchen, leaving him to entertain your unexpected guest.
It hits you harder than his reappearance has ever before, and you’re doubled over against the side of the fridge, sobbing silent cries as Spike taunts and teases and Angel responds in wary kind, as Spike’s voice lowers and he makes earnest promises to Angel about the nature of your friendship, as Angel doesn’t say anything at all and you know suddenly that he can hear your tears, regardless of how quiet they are.
When Spike finally closes the door and joins you in the kitchen, it’s to pat your back awkwardly and pass you a book. “Angel went through Giles’s stuff, found this book.”
“And he came here?” The why is visible in your eyes, and Spike’s own darken in contemplation.
“Faith sent him,” he says finally, and you keep staring, silent. He shrugs. “Probably just as sick of the moping as I am.”
You take the book from him, step out of your apartment and slide to the floor, clutching the book close to your chest as you inhale Angel’s fleeting scent while it lasts.
He’s still in town. You find that out when you go patrolling the next night, you on the east side of the neighborhood and Spike on the west, and you’ve only been walking for five minutes before you see him staking a vampire and helping an old woman up as she babbles in fear.
You almost want to laugh at the incongruity, at the picture of the hulking creature of the night and the little old lady walking quietly through the cemetery, but you’re too worn out to smile, not when Angel’s so close and so many old injuries are ripping open again. So you take on a cadre of demons that you’d normally never try on your own instead, struggling to forget Angel’s proximity. You can be strong. As long as strong doesn’t involve him.
Next thing you know, he’s there fighting with you as the demons gain the upper hand, fists and sword and cheesy, action-hero insults spilling from him as you fight together, side by side.
Last time you did this, you were coming down from a Twilight-induced high that had only been magnified by your decision- and his decision- to give it up. He’d surrendered happiness for you, and you think about that now, about the man beside you who’s even more lost and confused than you, who sees in greys while your vision is black and white, who loves you more than he loves goodness.
It’s wrong. He’s wrong. This isn’t high school, and you don’t put trust in others ahead of trust in yourself anymore. And Angel can’t be trusted to do the right thing anymore, and that scares you more than it should, because you don’t trust yourself around him, either.
He finishes off the last demon and stands silently in place, his face stiff, his eyes shielded from your probing gaze. He betrays nothing, but it doesn’t matter, not when you’ve memorized all that he is and all that it means. Not when you know how far gone he is, regardless of how tall he stands.
You should get away. Run back to your apartment, tell Spike to stop pushing the Angel thing, forget that he exists. He’s done so much evil- two hundred slayers!- gotten caught up in so much wrongness- Giles, Giles, oh god Giles- and you can’t afford to fall back into that trap. Can’t fall back to him, when there’s nothing left to support you.
Instead, you walk over to where he still stands, trace the familiar length of his jaw, rise to the tips of your toes, and kiss him chastely on the lips.
He’s frozen in place, too stunned to react, and you’re glad, because this isn’t about romance or sex or making out in cemeteries. It’s not even about love, not for your mentor’s possessed murderer (Is he a victim, too? But he can’t be, not when he took on the role by himself). It’s something else entirely.
Angel has always been a support, a ready pillar for you. Someone you could count on- maybe not in a fight, not once he’d left town, but there’s always that warming knowledge that Angel loves me, no matter what, no matter what you do or who you become. And now that he’s crumbling into nothingness, you’re shifting into his position.
You walk away slowly, and you don’t turn back, even as Angel calls your name in a voice roughened by the battle.
“You kissed Angel.” Spike nods thoughtfully as he chews on your untouched sandwich. “Well, that’s something, yeah?”
Your cheeks are burning with either shame or embarrassment, you’re not sure. Maybe both. “You’re supposed to hate him,” you mumble. “Tell me it’s wrong.”
“Oi! I do hate him!” Spike protests. He softens. “But I don’t hate you.”
“You should.” Everyone should. Willow, more than anyone else, in a world bereft of magic. Xander and Dawn, for taking Giles away. The former slayers- and they do hate you, but not enough, not now that they’ve stopped trying to kill you and just ignore you instead. And now you’re making the same mistake again, putting Angel ahead of what’s probably right, but Spike is watching you with sympathy.
“You’re forgiving him,” he murmurs, shaking his head in wonder. “Don’ know how you can move past…” He stops abruptly, a shadow crossing his face. “But you always manage. Can’t hate you for that. Never could.”
You toy with the cover of the book Angel had delivered, flipping it open to read Giles’s name inside. “I’m being selfish.”
“Because you love him?” And Spike’s eyes are unsettlingly knowing, understanding. “Buffy.” He stills your hand on top of the book. “Selfish love isn’t this hard.”
You wonder if he secretly loves Angel, if that’s why he stayed with him for a year and came back to you on Team Buffy ‘n Angel. If he cares almost as deeply as you do.
You’ve wondered that a lot.
“S’not that,” he says immediately, scowling at your expression. “Shut it!”
You can’t stop the smirk, the automatic smile that Spike’s outrage always manages to evoke, and soon you’re teasing him, flicking his forehead and telling him in a sing-song voice, “You love An-gel, you love An-gel,” while he sputters and dodges your poking fingers
It’s easy to smile around Spike, to find levity. It’s part of why you’ve let him stay with you for this long, why you can’t turn him away. You need him.
You don’t need Angel. And yet you can’t stay away.
He’s back in the same graveyard the next day, and you know that it’s to see you from the way he isn’t even looking at the vampire he’s fighting with, his eyes fixed in your direction. You stake the vampire and wait silently. You don’t know what you’re going to do.
This time, he takes the first step. “Did…did you find out anything about-“ He motions to the symbol etched into the side of the closest marker.
“Oh. Uh…not yet.” Giles’s book says that it’s the mark of the Brotherhood of Kumja, the beginning to a twelve-week ritual of some sort. “Spike’s supposed to be asking around tonight at some of the usual haunts.” This is the first time you haven’t volunteered to join him, satisfying as banging heads together for information can be. And you both know why, but he has the decency not to mention why you’re so determined to patrol tonight.
Angel nods woodenly. “Good for him.”
We’re not together, you want to say. But it sounds too much like an invitation. Instead, you ask, “How are you?”
He looks at you with disbelief, as though you’ve said something outrageous. Maybe you have. Maybe you shouldn’t be here at all, with the man you couldn’t even look at a few days ago, with the vampire who’d let you down more than anyone before.
You sit down on a bench, right at the middle, so he can’t sit beside you. And he still doesn’t move or answer or speak, just stares at you until you feel twitchy and uncomfortable. “How long will you be in town?” you blurt out.
A veil of obscurity drops over his eyes. “I can leave whenever I want. I thought you might need some help with these demons first.”
“Oh.” You fidget some more, knowing already the words that are going to erupt from your mouth. “Okay. Thanks.”
You can’t turn him away. It isn’t in your nature.
He comes over the next night, stands awkwardly in the doorway while Spike is playfully caustic, buying you the time you need to decide what’s going to come next.
You invite him in. He actually falls forward, into the doorway and onto the floor, and then Spike’s snickering and you’re kind of laughing, too, and when he looks up at you he’s so genuinely sulky that for a moment, you nearly forget that everything’s different now.
You reach out a hand to pull him up, and he clasps it with his own, swallowing up yours in smoothly calloused skin, in gentle fingers and strong grip. And when he’s standing in front of you at last, his eyes probing yours, you find that you can’t let go.
Spike shatters the moment, of course, dropping your weapons bag on the floor behind you with a clatter and tugging you away from Angel. “Let’s go, we have demons to kill, chop-chop.” He makes a slicing motion with his hand, and Angel mumbles something less than complimentary, and then they’re squabbling together like they haven’t been separated for years. You walk a few steps behind them as Spike leads the way to where his intel places the Brotherhood, watching as Angel displays more liveliness than he has since Twilight.
Spike does that to people. He did it to you. And while the primary tone coming from Angel now is irritation, you can’t help but feel warmth wash over you at how animated he’s getting about it, how real he seems at last.
You wipe out the Brotherhood, stop another apocalypse. No one gets hurt (except the Brotherhood, of course). And then it’s over, and you kiss Angel again, pulling away only when he stubbornly refuses to respond to you.
“Goodbye,” you whisper, and you follow Spike home.
It’s not about forgiveness for what he’s done, not for you. You can’t stop yourself from forgiving him, just like you can’t stop yourself from loving him or crying through the night when he leaves. It’s about acceptance, and now he has that from you and you have that from you and everything should be resolved.
It isn’t, and now it’s just like it was the first time he left you, just because you put a sword through him. You have Spike there, forcing back the emptiness, but there’s still a gaping pit tearing at your heart where he can’t heal it, where no one can touch you but Angel.
You try to kiss Spike one night, and it’s almost funny how flustered he gets and how quickly he runs out of the apartment. You admit everything to Willow and hear her careful response, worded just so, so you can hear the disapproval in everything she says. You spend your nights hunting vampires and your days serving coffee and yet everything feels bleaker than ever before.
You miss him. God, you miss him so much. I’m sorry, Giles. I’m weak, and I’m selfish, and I’m sorry.
Spike doesn’t come back. And now it’s even worse than it was before.
It’s almost a week after Spike leaves- three since Angel- when there’s a knock at your door and you see the bleached hair through the peephole. You resist the urge to fling yourself into his arms and swear never to kiss him again. (And haven’t you two come far?) Instead, you smile wanly at him and step aside, letting him enter.
He stops you before you can close the door again. “I did something,” he admits, and then Angel’s moving into view in the hallway, looking more awkward and uncertain than you’ve ever seen him. You take a step forward, and Spike slams the door behind you, leaving you less than a foot away from Angel with nowhere to escape.
“You came back,” you say, staring down at his boots.
He shrugs helplessly. “I love you.”
It’s not that simple anymore- it shouldn’t be, not when your love means nothing but destruction- but you can’t stop yourself from shifting closer to him, from echoing his words and letting him put tentative hands on your shoulders. “You shouldn’t,” he murmurs. “After all I’ve done…”
“I know.” You’ve danced this dance with him before, back when things were simpler and his misdeeds could be absolved for you with nothing more than an Orb of Thesulah. There are no excuses this time, no easy fix. There’s nothing but the time that’s passed and the aching in your heart at his absence.
And you’re long past needing a reason to forgive. There are no reasons, there is no absolution.
“To forgive is an act of compassion, Buffy. It's not done because people deserve it. It's done because they need it.”
There’s only the man you love, regardless of all that’s happened, his lips inches from yours.
And you close that gap and give him what he needs, because there's no doubt in your mind that it’s what you need, too. Mouth on mouth, heart on heart, and for the first time since Twilight, you suspect that you're beginning to heal.