Part One: The Shrew
She hated him.
She hated him, and that was the way it was. Every thought of him was compact with raw, brutal, hate that had no boundaries. Her emotions were driven by perceived truths and faltered reasoning with no logic in between. Time had worn any previous want of understanding to a fine point of no return. There had never been loathing like this. It stretched every nerve in her weary body—every last fiber of her aching being. God, she was so tired of waiting.
The world was a cold, tainted place, and she hated him. Life had continued, and she hated him. There was school every day and patrol every night, and she hated him.
She sank into an endless tedium of routine, and all her courses seemed to remind her why she hated him. It was fortunate that her classmates were used to irregular periods of excessive weirdness. Such behavior had the potential to make them talk even more than they did already.
Hatred like this was not born simply. At first, there had been nothing—nothing aside from the sideways glances from her friends, the forlorn and overdrawn expression on her Watcher’s face, and the not-so-direct questions from the would-be love of her life. Buffy had found herself adrift, her mind taking her back again and again to the panic room. Her dreams returned her to Spike’s arms; she was warm and safe in Spike’s arms. Then she would wake up, cold and alone, and remember how simply things had been before he screwed up her life. Before he threw everything into question.
Not only that, but he had bolted the hell out of Dodge in the blink of an eye. She was alone in her confusion, and she hated him.
Her focus on everyday, menial tasks had become singular over the past few weeks. Patience was not her virtue. She couldn’t remember waking up that first morning and feeling different—aside from the ongoing civil war in her head—though looking back, there had to be something. Time had passed, but not much. Not enough to root her into such a cycle of endless resentment.
Buffy honestly didn’t know what was worse: the fact that she didn’t regret it, or the fact that she missed him. Then there were other facts weighing in; the fact that he said he would leave town or the fact that he had and—for once—kept his word. The fact that she had to look at Angel everyday and know that she had betrayed him. The fact that Spike said he would come back or the fact that he had yet to live up to his word.
In the beginning, it had only been time, and she had accepted that. She had demanded that. She remembered looking at him standing outside her bedroom—remembered her urge to unlatch her window and welcome him inside. Honestly, she didn’t know what she’d been thinking. How had she come to the conclusion that enforced distance would magically solve her problems and clear her confusion? And now time had passed. Time had passed, nothing was resolved, and she’d gone from missing him to feeling used. He came into her life, turned it upside down, said thanks, and bolted. Now it had been weeks, and she was facing the lions den alone.
Buffy purposely avoided her own counter of logic that screamed that he had only done what she asked of him. Her will, however, was not to be satisfied. In what deluded world did Spike ever do what she asked of him? Twice before she’d asked him to leave permanently, and twice he had made a defiant return. Now that she wanted him back—if only to kick his pasty ass for the hell he’d put her through—why on earth was he abiding by her wish?
It wasn’t as though progress had been made. Her mind kept talking itself into circles, and time was doing little to heal her headache. Her pangs of resentment only grew more intense, particularly as she found herself at Angel’s side nearly every night. The first few evenings, she had been on her toes, half expecting the bleached wonder to pop out of the shadows. All balls and swagger—itching, leering, waiting to throw what had happened between them into Angel’s face; but no. Patrol was uneventful save the few vampires she came across, and had turned, more or less, into an exercise in distance. She routinely found herself dodging Angel’s inquiring stares. The slanted looks that screamed his unrest with the way she had left things off. There was no sense in denying the space between them. Since her night with Spike, she had yet to really talk with Angel at all; despite all the time they spent together.
She had never trusted Angel; never not suspected him of something. Anything. That mindset had not been improved since his stint as Angelus. And even with all that, it was she who broke their promise of fidelity.
And she was alone.
That was the main source of her hatred. Not Spike’s absence, per se, but the feeling that she had such emotional baggage to sort through and no one to help her along the way. She fought the intrinsic need to tell Willow—not for fear of revulsed or horror—rather, speaking the words aloud meant her betrayal had actually occurred. It affixed the reality onto something she was nearly convinced, despite her bitterness, was a wild fantasy conjured by too many nightly chats with Faith.
Thus, she suffered alone.
She wondered if he’d had his fill of her. After all, Drusilla had sent him back to Sunnydale in a freakishly roundabout way. He had confessed as much to her in a blinding fit of anger before pounding her into the wall. Perhaps she’d been a craving that he simply needed to get out of his system. Perhaps now that he’d had sex with a slayer, he was able to return to whatever sense of normalcy an evil thing could muster.
He had satisfied his craving by pouring it into her. Yeah, that was fair.
And there were cravings. There were cravings so desperate she was certain she would explode with frustration. Amidst the burning fuel of her relentless repugnance, there were nightly conjugal visitations that played nicely in the forbidden corridors of her memory palace. Her dream-Spike seduced her, bantered with her, thrust inside her and murmured as he came. And then he’d leave her—he’d fade away and she’d awaken and be alone all over again.
She hated him.
The line refused to end there. There was a sea of endless possibilities, all resulting in a big batch of Buffy-hatred. She ignored the inner voice that screamed a more logical solution. Perhaps he hadn’t been satisfied. Her experience had to be laughable compared to the tantalizing whims of a psychotic temptress. He had sampled the goods and wasn’t impressed. Hell, if it hadn’t been for being trapped in that room to begin with, he likely would have left. It seemed there was a growing trend amongst her demon lovers. True examples of love ‘em and leave ‘em.
And with each fabrication of likelihood, the hatred kept building.
He had polluted her. He had crawled under her skin and made himself at home. He was a virus. A nasty, incurable virus that was consuming her whole. And in light of that, perhaps it was wise that he stayed away. If he dared show himself now, she would have to kill him. Simple as that.
Buffy sighed. She had to let it go. After all, in the end, she had done this to herself; that was what she hated the most. Beyond Spike’s diligent adherence to her request, beyond the upside-down mockery that her life had become, beyond her friends’ whispers, beyond pensive glances from her boyfriend, she had no one else to blame. It had been her decision. Spike had only voiced his desires, and she’d pulled him in instead of shoving him away.
And yet, in spite of all the logic in the world, she refused to admit it. It was so much easier blaming it on Spike.
It always came back to Spike.
Currently, Buffy sat cross-legged on the floor of Willow’s bedroom, doodling artless shapes on the corner of her algebra homework. She was only mildly aware that her friend had been speaking animatedly for the past half hour, answering with the compulsory, “Uh huh” and “Interesting” when the timing seemed appropriate.
She’d become a ghost to her friends. A shadow of who she usually was. And again, she knew she was doing it. She knew that her temper was easily provoked, and every time she made an effort to calm herself, her mood only worsened. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered, and they would never understand. What was there to explain? What could she possibly begin to say that would define her behavior as rational? What was there outside of the truth?
Nope, there was nothing to say. Nothing to do but nod disinterestedly as Willow rambled on about the Dingos’ recent performance.
Only it seemed she wasn’t even feigning interest successfully.
“Hey! Hey? Buffy!”
“You’re doing that thing again.”
Whatever it was that she said had apparently been the wrong thing. Her friend’s face fell to a state of near-cold understanding. “That thing where you don’t listen to me.”
Buffy blinked and smiled apologetically. “Sorry, Will. I just…really behind, you know.” She gestured broadly to the ignored textbook. “This…problem’s kicking my ass.”
“And here I thought it was only demons that did that.”
“Aha! See? You heard that.”
The Slayer smiled and shook her head. “I’m sorry. I’ve just been a little spacey.”
Much to her surprise, the redhead simply glanced down, tucking her hair behind her ear. “No problem,” she murmured. “Believe me, I’m used to it.”
At that, Buffy frowned. She knew what Willow was talking about, but that didn’t mean she liked being called on her mood swings. “What does that mean?”
Willow usually backed off when she adapted that tone of voice. The first go-rounds had made it very clear that her friend would never spill what it was that had happened on her birthday. The first dozen or so questions about Buffy’s up-close and personal encounter with William the Bloody had crashed and burned too many times to count. At some point, Willow had stopped asking and accepted Buffy’s newfound irritability.
Tonight, though, the redhead was not backing off. “Oh, gee, I don’t know,” she retorted. “Then again, big surprise. I don’t know much about anything these days, do I? You don’t tell me anything.”
“What does my homework have to do with me telling you anything, other than math and me being non-mixy things?”
Willow shook her head furiously. “You don’t even tell me that anymore. No Angel gossip, no complaints about Faith, no ‘I hate Snyder’ or ‘why doesn’t Ms. Penticuff understand the responsibilities of Slayerdom’? Not anything! Buffy, you’ve been here for an hour and a half and the only thing you’ve managed to write down is your name and a spiral-thingy in the corner of the page. You came over so I could help you, and you’re being all avoidy girl.”
The hurt in her friend’s voice struck a poignant nerve and it wasn’t like she didn’t know that she wasn’t being fair, but she hadn’t the strength to offer apologies. Apologies led to discussion, discussions led to explanations, and explanations led to a world of no.
“My mind’s somewhere else.”
“Well, color me astonished.”
Buffy’s head reeled upward and she glared daggers. The vindictiveness flooding Willow’s tone was nothing if not justified; that didn’t mean she had to sit back and welcome it. “What do you want me to say?” she snapped.
“How about anything? Anything would be a good start.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’ve just about had it,” Willow retorted impatiently. This strained tension between them was worse than when she returned from Los Angeles last summer. “You can’t keep telling me that nothing’s wrong and expect me to believe it. Hello, best friend here! I’ve been trying to talk to you ever since you got here and you just shut me out. I must have covered every topic there is out there. If all this was about Faith, I’d understand. But it’s not. Something—”
Buffy threw her arms up in frustrated concession. Without further ado, she began collecting the materials scattered around them. “I don’t want to talk about this,” she decided shortly.
“Of course not! Go ahead, Buf. Run away. Shut me out. That sounds new and exciting.”
“I can’t very well forget it.” The Slayer was halfway out the door when her friend finally climbed to her feet to go after her. “And it’s not just me. You keep pretending everything’s all nice and normal and tra la la la, but everyone has noticed it. You keep shutting us out!”
Buffy’s eyes darkened and she pivoted meaningfully on her heel. “I’m going through stuff, here!” she snapped. “I mean, you know. With Faith and her random decision that vamps aren’t enough, let’s stake humans and see how they—”
“Don’t even try to pin this on Faith.” Willow was actually shaking with anger. She didn’t know if she’d ever seen that before. “You were acting wiggy before she killed the Mayor’s assistant. And hey—let’s not mention the random acts of violence. Breaking into that shop, for one thing. Oh-oh! And Angel told me that you really wailed on this vamp the other night before—”
“You and Angel have been comparing notes behind my back?”
“Well, we would talk to you, but you’ve made it beyond clear that you aren’t interested in what we have to say.” There was a heated moment of silence, color draining from the redhead’s face as she heaved a deep breath and consigned her eyes to the ground, overcoming her temper with a heady note of concession. When she spoke again, her tone was calm and tempered. “I just want you to talk to me. You’ve been all with the distance for…well, if I want to be really honest, ever since your little romp with Spike on your birthday. I—”
Astonishment filled her wholly. “My…my what with Spike?”
“You know…with the being locked in with him and everything. I mean, I can see how that would put the wig in your wig out.Hours in a room with him alone? I was wigged enough when he locked me up with Xander, and let’s so not go there. But ever since…”
No. No no no. There was absolutely no way she was going to have this discussion. Buffy backed further down the hall, shaking her head violently. “I gotta go.”
It was a matter of physics. How far could she run before she started screaming in all-out mind-consuming rage?
God, she hated him. Hated him and his thoughtlessness. Killing her would have been a sweeter mercy. At least the dead didn’t have guilt. At least the dead didn’t have to wake up every morning and face her friends with the knowledge that she was hurting them with her distance.
She hated him. She knew she did.
If only she could convince herself.