Buffy was breathing so hard she thought her lungs would burst. She stumbled, trying in vain to remain standing. She couldn’t. She pitched forward, landing on her hands and knees with bone jarring force on the cold, dirty concrete floor. She gasped for breath, trying to keep the nausea at bay, but it was no use. She retched, spilling the meager contents of her stomach. She heaved and heaved until there was nothing left, until her stomach was as empty as the rest of her body felt.
Tears streamed, unchecked down her face, but she did not cry out. She would never cry out again. Her arms trembled with the strain of supporting her body and she pushed herself back on her feet, so she was kneeling. She raised her wrist, wiping the remaining spittle and vomit from her mouth with the back of her hand. Slowly, she turned her head and looked.
He wasn’t moving behind the heavy, steel bars. She watched him for long, tense moments and he did not stir so much as an inch.
“Buffy!” Giles gasped, instinctively pulling her into his embrace.
“Ow, ow, ow,” she yelped.
He let her go, silently chiding himself. Of course she was bruised and battered. Of course she was tired and sore. How could she be anything but?
“He’s ... ?” Giles trailed off.
Buffy nodded once, sharply, her face closed down. “It’s over,” she said. She heard the words come out of her mouth and for a moment, she wondered about herself. She was looking Giles in the eye and lying to him without a shred of remorse. She felt no guilt in deceiving him.
“Thank god,” he said wearily, sitting down at the round, glass topped table that was the center piece of The Magic Box.
She watched as his resolve finally broke, as he finally gave into the pain that had been hounding them for weeks on end. His shoulders shook with the force of his sobs as he wept openly, unashamed. Anya entered from the back room and with an insight and empathy that astounded Buffy, the former demon knelt in front of the distraught Watcher and hugged him tightly.
Buffy felt mildly shamed that she was not the one to offer him solace, but at the same time, she knew that she would have been unable. She was dead inside. She couldn’t pretend to be alive, not even for Giles.
Anya didn’t seem to have any such reservations. The former demon held onto the Watcher and sobbed with a violence to match his. She cried for the same reasons Giles did, for what they had lost, for relief that it was finally over.
It may have been over for them, but it was not over for her.
The cage was large, ten feet by ten feet, built years earlier to hold Oz when he was feeling particularly frisky. It was more than adequate for her needs. And it was a need. As bone deep as any she had ever possessed – or been possessed by.
He was naked, hanging limply in the chains when she entered, but he raised his head, his eyes meeting hers. His vision raked down her body, taking in everything from the vacant look in her eyes to the large metal pipe she carried.
His mouth twisted into his trademark lopsided, sadistic grin.
Before he could utter a single barb, she raised the pipe and swung, throwing every ounce of her considerable strength behind the blow. She felt and heard his jaw shatter under the impact. His head snapped back, hitting the bars behind him, causing the entire cage to rattle. He stared blankly at the wall, stunned.
She breathed hard, standing before him, absolutely still save the heaving of her chest. By degrees, his head lolled back to her, shock registering in his eyes.
She laughed, a high pitched, manic sound and clapped her hand over her mouth reflexively. She watched him, her eyes glittering with glee as her shoulders shook with mirth. She dropped her hand from her mouth so she could grip the pipe with both hands. She pulled it back for another swing, smiling broadly.
For the first time, she saw true fear reflected in his eyes.
When Giles asked to accompany her on patrol, Buffy had been reluctant. She knew, somehow, that this would happen. She’d wanted to avoid it. It could not be avoided. She watched him kneel before the grave.
“It’s such a waste,” he whispered harshly, his voice thick with tears he was barely managing to hold at bay.
Buffy looked at the headstone. It read: Willow Rosenberg, beloved daughter, loyal friend. How trite. Had her epitaph been any less so? She knew it hadn’t. She’d read it enough times herself. “Come on, Giles,” she said, “it’s not safe to be hanging around here.”
He looked at her with something close to censure. She met his angry gaze with her own lifeless one. Even his censure was meaningless to her now.
“You know they don’t come here anymore,” he said bitterly.
“Best not to tempt fate,” she replied evenly.
He didn’t meet her gaze this time. Maybe he was too weak. It had probably been weeks since he last fed, she wasn’t keeping track. The broken bones were taking a long time to heal, lacking fresh blood to help them knit.
He roared pathetically as she reset them, especially the shins, but she was as deaf to his pain as she was to her own. She set the bones because she didn’t want him to be disfigured, though she wasn’t really sure why. Maybe she just wanted to put him back together so she could break him again.
He was healing, but slowly. His naked skin was a sickly green color. She knew it wasn’t gangrene or any other infection. Vampires didn’t get sick. He would heal eventually, they all did.
She looked at his chest. It was still raw, some of the burns seeping a foul liquid. The empty pack of cigarettes was crumpled on the floor. Would Spike have felt vindicated at all? She figured he would have. She was fairly certain he would have loved to hear his Sire grunt and hiss in pain as she stubbed out Marlboro after Marlboro on the formerly perfect flesh of his chest. Of course, it was cold comfort given that Spike was dead.
She dug one of her fingernails into dime sized burn. He groaned, trying to twist away, but too weak to fight.
She wanted him to fight.
She needed him to fight.
“Buffy?” Tara asked quietly.
The Slayer turned her head, eyes focusing for the first time in nearly an hour as she looked at the Wicca. Tara’s face was haggard and thin, fear and wariness marked her formerly pleasant and inviting features. “Y-y-your arm,” the Wicca said, pointing nervously.
Buffy’s vision flitted down. She had been looking at one of Giles’ daggers. The same dagger that was now buried deep in the creamy underside of her forearm. She watched as the viscous blood oozed around the silver blade, staining her almost perfectly white flesh.
“I look like a corpse,” she said under her breath, her voice emotionless.
“I’m sorry,” Tara said, not having head the mumbled sentence.
“Nothing,” Buffy replied. She pulled the knife out with one vicious yank that caused Tara to flinch.
He looked up as the cage door clanged shut behind her. He regarded her with a wary, hateful expression. His vision immediately lighted on the items she carried, a bowl, a towel, and a knife. Only centuries of playing power games kept him from shivering at the sight of the blade in her hand. He had survived worse than this little girl.
But even as he thought it, he knew it wasn’t true. For so long he took such joy in her misery, knowing that she could never truly harm him, never hurt the body of her one true love. He had tried to break her night after night, inflicting every depraved bit of torture his twisted demonic mind could devise. He wanted to break her.
And much to his own horror, he succeeded.
“I had an idea today,” she mused, her voice uninflected. “You’re going to get fed, but if you give me any attitude at all, you’ll never get fed again.”
He remained silent. She wasn’t bluffing and he knew that.
He watched as she knelt on the ground before him. She laid out her items and swiftly pulled her shirt over her head, leaving her bare from the waist up. Long dirty tresses settled messily around her naked shoulders. She was mindless of her nudity. At some point, he had ceased to be her former lover, he ceased to even be male. He was an object, an outlet for her rage, genderless.
One of her arms was bandaged heavily, but blood still seeped from the cut, staining the white cotton wrap. She took the knife in the hand of the arm that was bandaged and held the opposite wrist out before her. He watched as she slashed it open, catching the blood in the bowl. She didn’t outwardly react in any way as her life’s essence flowed from her body. He salivated uncontrollably as the smell of her blood hit him, spittle dripping down his chin.
The small bowl was nearly full when she stopped, staunching the flow with the towel. She held it against the wound until the blood began to clot and then tore off a strip and wrapped it tightly around the gash.
She felt lightheaded as she rose to her feet. She spilled too much blood for his benefit. She laughed. Wasn’t that always the story with him?
She held the bowl to his face. He looked nervous, but dutifully opened his mouth. Slowly, she poured the contents, watching the muscles in his neck and shoulders cord as he swallowed hungrily. The last few drops dripped onto his waiting tongue. She dropped the bowl to the ground and exited the cage, leaving her shirt behind.
Buffy picked at the pizza with dirty fingers. Giles, Anya and Tara pretended not to notice. If they noticed, their consciences would compel them to do something about the Slayer’s condition. It would require that they let her know how much her total lack of concern for her basic hygiene appalled them. None of them were up for that.
They pretended not to notice that she looked like the walking dead, that her flesh was an ashen gray color. They pretended not to see the bones that poked through her skin, or smell that she hadn’t bathed in weeks.
They pretended she wasn’t there.
She did too.
He was alert when she walked in, his body beaded with perspiration. Blood ran from the iron manacles, down his arms and sides. He’d been fighting to get free.
He would never be free again.
Neither would she.
He was angry, she could smell his frustration and rage. She almost envied his ability to feel anything at all. He growled as she unlocked the cage door and entered, unafraid.
“What the fuck do you want from me, you twisted bitch,” he snarled, baring his fangs at her.
The blood had done wonders for him. His wounds were healed, his flesh returned to its unmarred state. She stood before him and ran her finger languidly down his chest. He snapped at her, trying to capture her flesh between his jaws. He couldn’t reach.
She pulled the knife out of her waistband. It was the same one she had used against her sister Slayer the night she hunted Faith as an antidote for her lover. She took a moment to appreciate the irony before she buried it in his abdomen and swiftly twisted the blade, pulling it upward, tearing through muscle and organ and tissue until the blade jarred heavily against his sternum.
He howled in pain, his entire body corded and shaking. She gave a moment’s thought to twisting the knife to the side, to cutting out his heart, but she didn’t. She stepped back, leaving the blade buried in his chest.
“I don’t want anything from you,” she said quietly.
The house was cold and musty smelling, dirt layered everything. Dawn and Willow’s rooms were exactly as they had been the nights they died. The drywall was caved in near Willow’s closet, a large rusty brown stain marked the spot where the back of her head had hit one of the wall studs.
The witch had been the most powerful of the Scoobies, so she was the first to die. Angelus spent the element of surprise on her death. She hadn’t known that he was void of his soul when she welcomed him inside the house. She hadn’t smelled his son’s blood on his breath.
He didn't tortured Willow. Her death was quick and brutal, lacking the artistry he so prided himself on. Hers was the only one so bereft.
Buffy touched the dried organic matter inside the blood stain. He threw Willow into the wall so hard that it had crushed the back of her skull. Her brain smeared against the wall as she died.
They closed up the room after they found the body. For nights afterward, Buffy huddled with Dawn in her bed, trying to allay the girl’s fears. She would rock Dawn to sleep and then slip into her own room where she fucked Spike until she forgot about the horror.
She walked slowly down the hallway to her sister’s room. She hadn’t been back here since they found Dawn in her bed. None of them knew how Angelus managed to get back in the house. They performed a revocation spell that should have barred him. Spike hadn’t mentioned what he had known. Buffy didn’t either. Neither of them mentioned that she wasn’t ‘right’, that the mere fact that she lived in the house somehow made it more a lair than a home. Angelus hadn’t needed an invitation.
Angelus undoubtedly listened to Buffy fucking Spike while he killed her sister. His rage at his whelp, his possessiveness toward the Slayer would have accounted for the nauseating precision with which he butchered Dawn. Had he forced Dawn to listen to her sister’s cries of pleasure while he gutted her tiny body?
Giles had to have suspected Buffy’s secret. The Watcher had to have seen the guilt etched on the faces of the Slayer and the neutered vampire that followed her everywhere.
There was no guilt on Buffy’s features now. Guilt was an emotion. She didn’t have those anymore.
She fingered the ropes that were still tied to the footboard. They were stained with Dawn’s blood, frayed from the dull knife Xander has used to saw her body free of its bonds. The bare mattress was stained with her bodily fluids and probably some of Angelus’s. No one had told her that Dawn had been raped, but Buffy had smelled her mate on her sister. She had known. She fucked Angel’s childe, he fucked her sister. It wasn’t exactly an even trade.
She backed out of the room and ventured into her own. It was demolished, every piece of furniture and clothing rent beyond recognition. Had she done it? Had Angelus? She didn’t know. She didn’t remember.
Buffy left the house, squirming out the same basement window she entered through, so as not to disturb the boards nailed over the door and windows. She wouldn’t come here again. She hadn’t been here for months. She didn’t sleep here anymore. She didn’t have a bed. For a while she shared Spike’s, but then he was nothing more than ashes. Now she slept in cemeteries or parks, alleys or bars. It didn’t matter. No one ever asked her where she spent her nights and even if they had, she would not have answered.
“I’m leaving,” Giles said quietly to Anya, though his vision was fixed on Buffy as she sat on the floor, rolling around the bottle that held Spike’s ashes. “I think I need a change of pace.”
What he really said, and what Anya heard was ‘I can’t bear to look at her anymore. I can’t stand to see the creature my beautiful child has become.’
“Go,” Anya said, her voice holding none of the bitterness he had feared. Giles turned and looked at her. He knew she saw through his motives and that she understood. She found her lover much the same way he found Jenny, though Angelus had spared the gypsy much of the humiliation he’d visited upon Xander’s corpse.
“Buffy,” Giles said, “I’m going back to England tomorrow.”
She Slayer didn’t react. She didn’t care that they were all leaving her. She had been alone for a very, very long time.
Angelus whimpered when she opened the cage door. Broken. He, the Scourge of Europe, Master of the Order of Aurelius was broken. He’d been tortured before, by some of the most talented in the business, but in the past there had always been a reason. He had always gotten through it by trying to outmaneuver them, to hold out against the pain as he manipulated his aggressors.
But there was nothing left in Buffy to manipulate. She was vacant, holding only the desire to cause him pain. Her wants were painfully simple. She wanted his agony, nothing more, nothing less. She didn’t want justice. She didn’t want answers or understanding. She didn’t want his redemption.
She merely wanted pain.
Buffy pushed the food into her mouth without tasting it. It was something to keep her conscious, to keep her moving. She took no joy in it. Wiping her dirty hands on her even dirtier shirt, she rose to her feet next to the garbage can and trudged down the street.
Sunnydale was still a thriving community, so she stuck to the darkened alleys, unconcerned that anything would bother her. Even the demons left her alone now. They spoke about her in hushed whispers. She was a ghost story, the former Slayer reduced to a wraith, seen walking the streets naked, covered in blood.
Sometimes the stories were true.
Anya was gone now and Tara too. Only Buffy remained.
He followed her, as always, but she paid him no mind. Somewhere over the years she had grown bored with his pain. Too listless to even desire his agony. She had walked away. But he followed, trailing behind her like a lost puppy. She didn’t know why. Maybe she had broken him so bad that the only thing he knew anymore was Her.
He wasn’t Him anymore than She was She. Wraiths, the both of them.
The mausoleum was vacant tonight. She slept here more often than not, but it was not home. She had no home. Mutely, she climbed onto the bed of rags, lying on her side, staring blankly at the wall. He followed, lying beside her and wrapping his arms around her.
Such as it was every night.
Such as it would always be.
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