The One Who Can Smile
“You’re alive.” Well, what it lacks in originality, it makes up for in being sort-of accurate. Spike’s undead, not actually alive, but… semantics. You know, of all the people she’d ever thought she might see in Vegas at the world’s cheesiest and least authentic Wicca/Pagan convention… Yeah, he’s here and not ash and he never bothered to tell anyone about the latter. Well, not her-anyone or Buffy-anyone anyway. Giles knew, as she found out, which is why she’s not actually surprised. She’d never have considered the possibility of Giles withholding vital information like that years ago, but since the day when… She knows now - he keeps secrets – big ones – which is why she hasn’t spoken to him since she heard about the almost-apocalypse she missed in Los Angeles… among other things.
One of those things might explain why she wasn’t officially in the hey-did-you-hear-Spike’s-back-from-the-afterlife loop, but it doesn’t explain… “So how come you never called Buffy?” There’s no answer, but she doesn’t push, does she? Of course, she doesn’t, because then she might have to think about the fact that she hasn’t talked about this with Buffy either and isn’t in fact sure if she knows or doesn’t know… about anything. Fear will make a bad friend out of anyone, won’t it? Or at least out of her. But at least as long as she doesn’t know one way or the other then she’s not in danger of losing…
Spike is staring at her. Just staring. No snide remarks, no smirk. He’s just staring at her with an expression she wishes was more unreadable than it is, because she knows he won’t believe her when she explains, “I’m really sorry about Fred. I didn’t know. Giles should have… could have told me, but he didn’t and so I couldn’t, and…” She can’t finish her sentence because she’s burst into tears. She liked Fred – she really, really liked Fred – and she can’t bear to think about the pain and horror a beautiful young woman who deserved so much better endured.
It’s shocking and awkward when Spike puts his arms around her and she guesses he feels the same way because it doesn’t last long. Still, he seems to accept that she’s been truthful and sincere. “Shoulda known you’d never leave us in the lurch like that.”
She shakes her head. “No. I never… If I had known...” Her voice is still tear-choked, but forming words is successful – to a point anyway, because she can’t seem to come up with more than she’s already used.
“Giles lied.” It’s not a question, but Willow nods affirmatively in answer as if it were. “Bastard!” Spike spits the name as if it’s acrid and poisonous on his tongue.
Willow nods again because… Yeah, she hates him too, and it hurts because she idolized him. But no amount of help and support given her during her struggles with magic and the aftermath of murder could ever compensate for Fred suffering the unspeakable agony of having her soul hollowed out of her piece by piece until she – the her of her – ceased to exist forever as if she’d never been at all just because Giles couldn’t get past the hatred of Angel that always lay beneath the surface, waiting for an excuse to allow him to take his vengeance.
Is he any better than her? Is he as bad? Or is he worse than she has ever been, even in her darkest moments? The Talmud says that to save one life is to save the world entire. But Giles didn’t save Fred. He let her die. He knew… but he sat in his wood-paneled office, surrounded by books and baby Slayers, and he let her die. It was a cold, dispassionate, impersonal murder, but it was murder, at least that’s how Willow sees it and somehow it seems more evil than a grief-fueled rampage even if said rampage did almost result in the end of the world. If that’s self-serving of her, she has a feeling her view of things would have some supporters, notably the vampire who’s staring at her again.
“Did he tell you why?” Spike’s voice is both angry and plaintive and she wishes…
“I never asked,” she admits. “I just walked out and I’ve never gone back.”
He’s genuinely curious about that. “How long’s it been?”
“May 20th. The day he also told me about the failed apocalypse in L.A.”
“’bout six months then. Think you’ll go back?” His eyes are searching and suspicious. No, she can’t blame him for that.
When she replies her tone is calm and measured. “No. Never again. No matter what I owe him… What he did… what he didn’t let me do… I don’t owe him anything anymore and I don’t want to be a part of anything he does.”
This time Spike’s embrace isn’t awkward at all. “I forgive you. Didn’t think I ever would, but… It wasn’t you. It would never have been you. Angel’ll see it that way too, once we explain…”
Angel? He wants her to talk to Angel? Oh goddess. She’s so not ready for that. Heck, she wouldn’t even have talked to Spike except she didn’t expect to see him here, of all places. “What are you doing here, anyway?” You know, she hasn’t been this awkward since high school… or possibly since the last time she was alone with Spike under stressful circumstances. He has a way of bringing out her inner dork.
He smiles for a brief flash of a moment and it’s startling. “Been keepin’ up the do-gooding. Got a tip on an incubus with a nasty streak preying on the na´ve types at this convention and…”
This time she’s the one who smiles. “Taken care of,” she interjects. “Not a very bright demon. Came to my room two nights ago. Guess his gay-dar was on the fritz. Anyway, he’s toast, or more accurately, pearlescent lime-green goo.” Then she sighs as she realizes something. “I’m gonna have to pay for the carpet in my room to get cleaned.”
Spike guffaws as he put his arm around her shoulder. “I’ll help ya out with that. Least I can do. Savin’ us the trouble of tracking him down and all.”
Yes, she should refuse, but now that she gets no allowance from her parents or stipend from the Council, her bank account balance is short on numbers so she agrees with an alacrity of which she’ll be heartily ashamed later. “Thanks.”
Again he’s appraising her, this time with a gaze more shrewd than suspicious. “I’m guessing you were here to pick up a bit of catch-as-catch-can employment. Think you’d be up for a regular gig?” Huh? How did they get here so fast? But if Spike notices the stunned look on her face, it doesn’t stop him from continuing. “Can’t say m’sire’s the most munificent of bosses, but it’s enough dosh to keep ya fed and clothed and allow for a spot of drinking and carousing if you’ve learned to enjoy that sort of thing.”
Suddenly a thought occurs to her. “Is this about Buffy?” The crestfallen and almost angry look her words elicit from him is more than enough to make her wish she’d just kept her mouth shut. “I’m sorry,” she hastily offers, “I guess I was sort of surprised, that’s all.”
“Lost my taste for cookie dough somewhere in Rome,” is his reply and it explains everything, saddens her as well. There are things Willow could – and probably should – say in Buffy’s defense, but she doesn’t. Now isn’t the time and anyway, she lost her qualifications for meddling in the love lives of others sometime around the day she decided Kennedy and she would be a good fit. Physician, heal thyself. She notices Spike hasn’t asked where her former girlfriend is and she can’t believe she’s even thinking this, but she admires his… tact? Spike has tact?
“Yeah. Guess reading the warning on the package is a good idea,” she says lamely, but Spike chuckles and she thinks that’s a good thing.
“C’mon, pet,” he says, and that arm is still around her shoulder. “Let’s go chat with the Brooding One.” She knows she looks as terrified as she feels when he squeezes her close and says, “He’ll understand,” he tells her, his tone serious and caring again. “If I see the way things are, so will he.” Then he turns back into Spike. “Besides, now that you’ve taken care of that incubus wanker for us, I can talk him into goin’ to see one of those shows. You know – the ones where they throw a bunch of paint-covered tit and arse in your face and call it art? Care to join us?”
One of the boys? Now she’s one of the boys?
In spite of everything – the memory of Fred and the betrayal of Giles and the uncertainty of Angel – Willow can’t help it: she laughs.
When was the last time that happened? She doesn’t know, but when Spike’s merriment mingles with hers, she thinks maybe it’s been that long for him too.
“Yeah, sure thing. But no getting mad if I score and you don’t.”
His guffaw bounces off the noise from the casino. “It’s a deal.”
It doesn’t matter now, she decides, what happens with Angel, or with anything or anyone. Because this? This is everything she’s needed for the longest time. It’s a diamond. Maybe no one can see it, but she wears it around her neck as they head off in search of the other vampire with a soul – and she’s still smiling.