Thursday, 25 February 2016

What you want (Chapter 2)

Spike remained in his crypt for weeks. At first when he wanted to leave, he wondered; “What if she comes by right now and I’m not here?” When he became annoyed at himself for mooning over her that way and tried to overcome it he never passed the door to the crypt. Whenever he tried his mind would throw up ways they might accidentally meet and while he was thoroughly excited by the prospect, he couldn’t risk her thinking he would give up his side of the bargain so easily.

He called upon Clem for support; begging him to do grocery shopping in exchange for TV time and practicing at kitten poker. It was Clem who kept him in touch with the demon world and gave him his first distraction in weeks when he mentioned the presence of a Suvolte demon locally. Bored, frustrated and in need of some cash to feed his various habits, Spike formulated a plan to entice the Suvolte to nest in his crypt.

It went perfectly – using the alias of “The Doctor” Clem purchased and delivered the required ingredients for a vile concoction which lured the demon with the scent of a potential mate. Upon arrival, it was trapped by a dangerously constructed electrocuted web, held there long enough to lay its eggs and then driven out by strategic use of the same web. During this phase, Spike was electrocuted almost incessantly. After some bartering and nudging there were a couple of potential buyers lining up and Spike was triumphant for several days until a very angry Riley burst open his front door while he and Clem watched TV. Clem stood and retreated rapidly, while Spike maintained his arrogant swagger.

“Soldier boy! I’d no idea you’d be…” his words trailed into silence as Buffy walked into the crypt behind Riley. He abruptly stood and walked towards her, raking his fingers through his hair.

“Buffy, you came!” His surge of relief and joy was tempered by Riley’s presence – there was no reason he could think why she would want to bring her ex along to get him back.

She put her hand out, rejecting him, and his movement slowed. In the background, Clem waved an excited greeting at her before realising he might as well be invisible in this drama.

“Not for….” Her words were tense. “We’re here for the Doctor.”

He was silenced. Although he’d been right, it wasn’t, unfortunately, in the way he had hoped. In the end he managed to mumble out a not-very-convincing “Don’t know what you mean.” Under Riley’s threatening gaze, Spike turned and frantically tried to distract them. “If you brought soldier boy here to experiment, you’re off the mark. I’m strictly a ladies man.”

Enjoying the light of confusion in Riley’s eyes, and finding a measure of relief in Buffy’s nervous tension, Spike pushed a little harder. “Ohhh…” He feigned surprise. “Didn’t you tell him? Was I supposed to be your dirty little secret?”

Riley’s expression changed from confusion to disgust and Buffy flinched. Spike turned a blind eye to her reaction, wanting to rub his triumph into the face of Buffy’s former boyfriend, all too conscious that he’d never had that kind of status himself. Ignoring her was a mistake; her fist came fast and hard, smashing up against his jawline. For a moment his eyes caught hers and in that moment he saw unshed tears. He suddenly felt a failure. He was supposed to make her happy; not do this. Whatever this was. Needling Riley suddenly brought no satisfaction. He wanted them out and was on the verge of telling them to clear off when rustling noises sounded from the entrance to his lower floor, where he stored the eggs and he whipped round to stare. An unknown, athletic female stepped out, dressed as Riley was and with the same nonchalant control over the gun she wielded. She nodded, “The eggs are there.”

“Hey!” Spike’s outrage, although genuine, was a bit flustered. “You can’t just wander around down there, that’s private property! Who the hell are you?”

“Sam Finn, meet Spike. AKA, the Doctor.” Buffy spoke bitterly, and Spike knew her resentment was aimed at him, not the mysterious Ms Finn.

“What is this?” he snarled. “Finn, huh? I don’t remember a sister ever being mentioned, so you must be the Mrs?” When there was no surprise or negative reaction from any of the three, he suddenly felt like a sideshow freak and wondered what kind of kick Buffy was getting out of this. Bitterly he turned to her: “And you! You just happen to lead them here to include me in your big adventure? Why?” Spike, never particularly emotionally stable, was giving full reign to his tendency to lash out irrationally when he was hurt. “Now you know you lost him, you decided to prove to him that he wasn’t missed? What am I in this?”

“You’re the Doctor.” Her words were flat and spoken with absolute conviction. “We wanted to find out who it was that threated Sunnydale with a brace of Suvolte demons. It left a nice clear trail when it escaped your trap and we just had to follow it back to the start. Imagine my surprise when we found it came out of your favourite sewer pipe.” She spoke coldly, staring him in the eyes as she did, barely blinking. “How could you, Spike?”

“What is this? You’re disappointed in me now?” He shrugged and gestured at her as dismissively as he could. “You know what I am. You’ve always known.”

She was silent for a few moments as she struggled for the words. “I should have known.” Her words were quiet. “But for some reason, you made me believe that you wanted to be better than that. I guess that was a lie.” Spike tried to counter her flat statement but she cut him off completely; turning to Riley as she did so. “Let’s grab the eggs.”

Sam opened the hatch to the crypt then hesitated before climbing down. Moving fast, she crouched and gazed into the space below before leaping back up, throwing her belt of explosives and an unclipped grenade down there and slamming down the hatch, holding it firmly down against the explosion.

Nonchalantly she smiled at her husband. “I guess they got too warm – they were already hatching.”

“Not much point staying here then. Buffy?”

She had returned her gaze to Spike and she practically radiated disappointment. “Yeah, I’m with you, Riley.”

As she followed Riley and Sam out, Spike took an impulsive step after her, but then deflated as he realised he’d completely lost. Clem crept forwards and looked enquiringly at Spike. “Now what?” he asked.

“Well there’s no more bloody eggs, that’s for sure.” Spike wrenched the top off the whiskey and swigged from the bottle neck. Abruptly, he turned to Clem, “And what the hell did she mean, being all disappointed at me like that?”

“Well, you know.” Clem’s soul gave him insights Spike lacked. He forgot that sometimes, as now, when Spike had to gesture him to continue because he definitely did not know. “She’s the Slayer. The embodiment of the powers of good. You’re in love with her and want her to love you back. For that to ever happen, she needs you to be good too.”

“I am good,” railed Spike. “With this bloody chip in my head I don’t have any other choice!”

“No.” Clem shook his head and his ears flapped sadly. “No, no. You were trading on the black market, putting a town full of people at the mercy of a family of Suvolte demons, just to make money. That’s not good.”

Spike took another hefty swig of the whiskey and sat morosely on his sofa. The explosion had cut the electricity and the TV now stared blankly back at him.

“Was your bloody idea.” He muttered, offering Clem the whiskey bottle. He declined and sat down too.

Back home, Buffy had seen off Sam and Riley, leaving the Scoobies to revel in how awesome they were while she retreated to her room. She curled up on her bed in silence and hugged a pillow. A part of her was weeping inside, even as her face remained emotionless. Eventually she stood and opened the window. She stared outside for long minutes, wistfully. She’d done this every night for the past week, always looking towards the tree Spike had hidden behind while watching the house. She smiled as she thought how he always believed his actions were completely secret, not realising that every morning she cleared away his cigarette butts. She told herself it was so no-one else realised he was doing it, but couldn’t think of a good reason why that could possibly matter.

The first morning she’d gone out and there were none there, she was shocked. It didn’t seem possible. On a daily basis she expected him to crack and each morning she checked. As time passed, she became confused, almost concerned, and on occasion she even brought him up in Scooby conversations to see if anyone else had seen or heard from him. They hadn’t, but assumed he’d got the message and left town, so his name always sank and disappeared from conversation almost immediately after she raised it.

Before discovering he was the Doctor, she had been on the verge of going to him and inviting him back into her life as a trusted friend. Now she knew that wasn’t possible; no one who could do that could be trusted.

On the other hand, she couldn’t kill him. Yet. If he came for her, she could. If he broke their pact and sought her out, she felt she could consider him fair game. In her mind she listed the reasons that would make it OK to kill him, counting them out, over and over, wondering which would most likely come to pass. Wondering if she could do it.

She’d killed Angel and she’d loved him. Killing Spike would be a piece of nothing. He could fight back, he could hurt her, and it would be justified. And yet a part of her did not want to cross that line.

She lay down in her bed and rolled onto her side, staring out the window. The moon hung heavily in the black sky and she felt isolated. She reached her hands above her head, gripping the bed head, and cast her mind back to the feeling of being in his arms that night. Being cherished. Being loved, even by a demon. She and Spike had crossed a line that night and since then she hadn’t been able to forget.

Back in the crypt, Spike lay on the sofa before the defunct TV, trying to sleep and failing utterly as his mind replayed every particular of the day’s events. He kept fixating in particular on the look in her eyes, the disappointment, as she had given up on him. The loss of his stuff in the basement had barely registered, even when Clem had commented on it and even his discomfort now wasn’t enough to help him forget that moment where he felt her sever the fragile bond they had been building.

Outside, the sounds of demon revelry beckoned but he had no heart for the party and merely wished the upper levels of the crypt were as well soundproofed as the basement. He moved to turn on the TV and growled in frustration as he recalled the damage. Suddenly realising he’d have nothing to keep himself occupied with if he spent a whole day awake, he leaped up and threw his energies into re-establishing comfort in his home.

It took a couple of hours to clean out the basement, but he was left with a nice pile of kindling from the furniture he’d been accumulating, and the ironwork was still mostly intact. The most heavy duty rubbish cleared away, Spike headed to the dump to start collecting replacements, detouring only to pick up some new fuses from a hardware store. From the dump he was able to liberate a few items – a new TV was first on the list, a few old power leads and a blanket were enough to get him through the next day, but as he was walking out he passed a book bin. Unable to resist, he punched a hole in the side of the bin and began sorting through the books left there. They were mostly cheap tatty romance and thrillers that were wildly popular for long enough to have a film made and then everyone started throwing them out. There were a few hard-backed coverless ones as well which he held onto without knowing what they were and a few volumes of poetry. He marched back home and began to set up his meagre new belongings.

In the gloom of the crypt they looked small and insignificant, but he cherished them believing his need for these things brought him closer to humanity and to Buffy.

He settled into one of his books half an hour before Dawn arrived. He greeted her carelessly and she wandered idly round the room, commenting that it had really been hit hard.

“Yeah, soldier boy’s new hook-up redecorated it with a grenade for me.”

“Sam is so cool!” Dawn spoke with fervour and Spike, while understanding such appreciation for wanton destruction felt compelled to remind her that it was his stuff she’d destroyed.

“I’m not, at this moment,” he concluded, “her biggest fan. Speaking of,” he put his book down and unfurled from the sofa to pace towards Dawn, “your sister is particularly unfond of me right now and would definitely not want you here. Why are you?”

Dawn, perfectly relaxed as only a teenager could be, had become restless as he challenged her and now refused to meet his eyes, instead turning and playing with one of the books he’d left in a pile to be read later. When she finally spoke, the words tumbled out as though she couldn’t control them:

“I need your help.”

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

#200wordtuesday "Never Again"

As a single lady, a spontaneous holiday to the States was absolutely fine. Staying at a friend's house was marvelous. That friend arranging his evenings so you could meet people you'd like was, frankly, above and beyond.

At this dinner there were five couples and I mentioned it's nice to not feel isolated since John paired with me instead of bringing a date. The couple opposite - Nate and Mary - laughed and said they're emergency mutual dates of long standing. Dinner was lively, hilarious and the time flew until my single status was raised. I was finally able to say truthfully I'm thoroughly enjoying the freedom. The usual complimentary "it's surprising" comments were made and I told them, laughing, there may be a million men wanting to date me but I'm embarrassingly oblivious.

"We're aware." Mary was smiling but took me by surprise. It obviously showed and she elaborated, gesturing at the man beside her: "Nate's been slack jawed and drooling since he saw you."

I considered him for a moment, reflecting that dating would mean never again having the freedom to do this, then asked Mary if she'd swap seats for dessert.

Monday, 22 February 2016

What you want (Chapter 1)

There was a feeling niggling at her and she couldn't quite figure it out. She lay, panting, in the ruins of the crypt with her lover wondering about it. She was distracted by his quiet laughter as he looked at the destruction around them and his related comment on the pointlessness of ever decorating. She teased him about his efforts so far. "Is that what you call adding a few candles and a TV? Decorating?"
"Hey!" He tried to look offended but due to his air of lazy satisfaction it lacked conviction. "I'll have you know I spent a long time looking round the dump for that TV!"
She smiled and looked away. As she did he gazed at her, taking in every detail. Had she asked him, he'd have been able to describe exactly how he felt. Happy, grateful, intimate, lonely, frustrated, satisfied and sad. Spike had loved before and such a roiling turmoil of emotion within him was how he felt it should always be. His love was always given with a commitment and intensity that would leave him devastated, whether it was returned or not. He strove to be the best he could, in any way that the recipient of his love required. With Drusilla it had meant savage cruelty; any antic or pastime that would entertain her broken mind and make her happy; and with Buffy it meant this. This and only this. She would let him fight beside her and would resent any impulse to shelter or protect her. She would come to him in the dark of night and hide from her friends. It wasn't him she wanted, he knew that, it was what he could give her. And so, every time they met alone, he gave her what he could.
He always wanted more. Every time he fell asleep, he wished she was cradled in his arms. Every time she left, he wished he had the right to ask her to stay. Every time she attacked him, he stood up to her and gave her the fight she wanted. Every time he stood outside her home in the night he wished he understood.
Looking at her now he wished he knew if she was happy. If she'd got what she wanted. He'd become increasingly creative with her, trying to find something that would meet her needs, but day after day, night after night, whether she came to him or he to her the outcome was the same. She would let him know she wasn't happy and leave.
Without a soul, he couldn't understand her guilt or shame. Without guilt and shame, all he took from their time together was a lot of happy memories and satisfaction. And so he was confused and took her ever nearer the darkness, trying all the things good girls aren't supposed to like. Night after night, she lay with him, returning for more and hating herself.
Tonight, Spike had found a way to get a little of what he wanted. She'd agreed to be bound and he'd taken the opportunity to love her slowly and thoroughly. He'd banished the darkness she sought for one night and tried to compensate with sheer pleasure. Without saying a word he'd succumbed to his deepest wishes and took her to new heights. Every time she crested, he lay with her cradled in his gentle embrace and listened to her breathe until she began to stir and he began again.
Now they lay together in their mutual afterglow and he knew the second he untied her she would leave. He didn't want that. He wondered if he could keep her with him, knowing it wasn't feasible, but unwilling to lose her again. Looking down at her he wished he could bring her closer to him. His chip didn't protect her, he could turn her if he wanted to, but it would hurt her too much and she might not be the same afterwards. His one rule – don't hurt the one you love – underwrote his every action and so, despite the demonic wish to keep her bound and enslaved to his desires, he reached to untie her.
She made a noise, as if she was stopping herself from saying something. He paused and looked down at her. Stretched out beneath him she looked so fragile and vulnerable and he knew she would be getting a kick from being unsafe, but to keep her that way would hurt her. He kissed her gently, then reached up again to remove the bonds. The cords were tight around her wrists and he rubbed them gently in apology, but when he went to untie them, his questing fingers found frayed ends. Startled, he looked sharply at the iron hoop he'd laced her ropes through. Her fingers were clutching onto it, but the ropes that had bound her had been broken.
He looked down at her and one eyebrow raised almost of its own accord. She shrugged defensively and said "I was enjoying myself."
He thought back over their evening, reflecting with serious pleasure on some highlights, until he recalled the point at which she stopped struggling. He'd already brought her to her peak twice and was just about to reach a third when she'd cried out and gone still. He'd stopped and looked at her and her wild eyes briefly regained sanity. She'd frowned and he'd smiled before going back to work. Afterwards, he'd moved in for his cuddle and she'd tensed briefly, as though to reject him, but then she settled into his embrace. He'd helped her come twice more before succumbing to his own physical need.
His heart lurched and he was speechless. She'd been able to leave, all that time, and she'd chosen to stay. Not just for the sex either; all those times they lay cuddling, all of that intimacy that she could have rejected, she could have spurred him onto more active pursuits, pushed him away or even sneered at him. Instead, she'd lain peacefully in his arms and given him a little of what he wanted.
"Invisible again, hmm?" The question came unbidden as he realised she'd hidden her choice to be with him behind the excuse of her bonds, the same way she'd used her temporary invisibility to be with him without fear of being caught. Her eyes narrowed fractionally and her lips tightened. Already defensive, she became upset and that earlier indefinable feeling fled.
She kicked at him and stormed off to retrieve her clothes. As she dressed, he spoke quietly: "One day, love, you are going to have to admit that you are here because you want to be and, shockingly, that you might even like me."
"You're disgusting, and perverted! There's nothing about this that I want!" she hurled the words at him like knives and they hit their mark. Had he been ensoulled, Spike would have had empathy enough to understand how her attack was in the form of defence - unwilling to admit the truth to herself she pushed away those who would make her see it. Instead, all he had to cling to was his certainty that she had chosen to lie with him, to hide the broken bonds and to accept his closeness as they cuddled.
He hesitated, then for the first time in his life, offered a woman he loved a glimpse into what he wanted. "Here's the thing, love. I want you to be happy." Feeling vulnerable, he leaped up and put on his pants. "You come to me, you do all of these things, it sounds like you like it, then you leave unhappy. I don't want that. I really like doing it, but I don't want you to be unhappy. So tell me, pet, what do you want? What would make you happy?" He dreaded the answer he knew was coming, but walked towards her, hoping that somehow his proximity might cause her to change her mind.
"I want you OUT of my life!" cried Buffy.
"OK. There's the door," he gestured towards it as he turned and walked towards the whiskey he'd liberated from Giles. "I'm not leaving Sunnydale, but I won't follow you. You want me out of your life? It's simple. Don't come back. Be very clear on this love: Stay Away. Because the second you walk through that door again, you're inviting me back in permanently. Understand?"
Buffy looked confused. "It's that easy?"
"There's nothing easy about it, pet."
Scared, she retreated towards the door and opened it. Sunlight slanted through, beckoning to her. She hesitated, then turned back. "Spike, I.."
He looked at her over the glass he held poised near his mouth. She walked slowly back to him and stopped just outside the reach of his arms. He took a hefty swig of the whiskey and watched her. She stepped closer, leaned upwards and kissed him. When she dropped away she whispered: "I don't know what I want, Spike. I haven't since I came back, but I know this," she gestured around them "is all wrong. I've got to go and figure things out and I might not come back."
She walked back towards the door and looked back at the last second. "If I do come back, I need you to know it won't be for this."
"What will it be for?"
"You. If I come back, I'll come back for you."

Friday, 19 February 2016

The truth hurts

A little fanfic I wrote for Buffy. Hope you enjoy :) x-posted to AO3 http://archiveofourown.org/works/6059278

She dived, unhesitating, through the shadow casters' portal and found herself back in the desert. Unsurprised, she followed her instincts until she found the trio of men. Already somewhat lacking in fondness for them, when she awoke with a headache, chained to the floor, she began to hate them and was not particularly open to their proposal as a result. Unfortunately the chains were deeply set and strong, giving them several minutes to convince her to listen. It worked. Specifically the line: "The First is coming and you are not prepared. We can help you if you choose." 
Still tugging on the chains, Buffy was now inclined to pay some attention.  
"There are three paths out of here. The first path is to escape the chains and walk out;" 
"That's sounding pretty damn appealing to me!" she snapped. 
The speaker continued unperturbed, "The second is to absorb the demon and all its power;" 
"Why would anyone choose that?" 
"and the third is to face the demon and defeat it." 
Buffy was startled and paid him some real attention. "Why would a Slayer have the option to run, if the demon can be defeated?" 
One of the three men struck the ground with a staff and a black mist arose, forming a trail that appeared to be seeking something.  
"The First is the root from which all evil stems. Betrayal, deceit, pride and greed are the gateways through which it moves into the human heart and builds its army." The mist thickened as it sniffed around the cave and neared her. "By accepting this demon you will gain power over these emotions in others. By defeating it you will destroy them in yourself. If you can escape it, you will return home with a deeper understanding of what you face." 
Buffy stared straight at the mist. "Bring it on, beastie." 
It swirled, gathered and charged straight towards her. As it neared, she gripped her chains firmly and perfectly timed her jumping kick to smash into and, as it turned out, harmlessly through the place she thought its face must be. The mist swirled around her before plunging straight into her chest and she felt the pain, a searing torment in her soul as it was contaminated by the demon. 
The demon looked into her heart and pulled at her strongest emotions. Suddenly Spike and Angel were stood before her. They were disoriented for a second, but then recognised the danger she was in and both launched themselves towards her. They were caught by the mist – visibly insubstantial, but to them impassable. Enchained, Buffy struggled and fought ineffectually, trying to physically pull away from her spiritual pain. She was already sweating profusely and as she tried to fight it off she groaned, giving the two vampires a clear impression that she was being tortured. 
The three men had moved and now stood in a formation which she hazily noticed seemed to form a triangular pyramid binding her and the vampires inside with the demon and keeping them safe outside it. Annoyed at these early Watchers who displayed all of the worst traits of the Council, she felt contempt for their fear, a fear which was reflected in the horror she felt as this nightmare unfolded. The demon wiggled sneakily further inside her but she was adapting to the pain and didn’t buckle this time. Stood in her chains, accepting that she couldn’t physically fight it, she wondered what she could do. Her Slayer training and instincts came to the fore, analysing everything she could see and feel and her own fear dissipated in the urgent need to do her job. 
She felt the demon’s disappointment, but it was so fleeting it may as well not have existed. It turned its attention to the two vampires. Choosing Spike first, it flung up a copy of him immediately in front of Buffy. The real Spike objected, but Buffy was unable to see him. Her Spike looked her in the eyes and told her he loved her. She accepted it, deep in her heart. She knew it was true. Spike's soul was unwavering in his commitment to her.  
With barely a flicker, suddenly she was facing Spike from a year before. He'd just asked her if she wanted to be on a date with him. She rejected him and his supposed feelings for her then and did so again. This wasn't love. She could feel a fierce independence building up inside her, rejecting the demon and she triumphantly concluded her thought - monsters can't love. 
Angel appeared. Her emotions moved so fast she was no longer capable of rational thought and she simply felt that she loved him and knew his love for her would always be true. He became Angelus and she knew he didn't love her. It hurt, but she knew the truth. Angelus would always be a monster in her lover's body. Spike returned. He loved her. She began to feel confused. 
“What is the point of this?” Her frustrated question echoed around the inside of the pyramid. 
A voice vibrated the air around her: "The demon feeds off the evil within you - lies, deceit and betrayal will strengthen it. You cannot hide. You can only face it with the truth, or escape." 
Buffy believed him, feeling the same certainty she did when she saw Angel and the voice continued; "The demon will find its path into your soul through lies. Each truth sets a barrier in place whether it is yours or someone else's. If the demon embeds itself within her, the Slayer has the power to leash it. If you defeat it, you will earn a new immunity to the forces of evil. You can still escape at this point, the demon will not follow." 
Buffy desperately hauled at her chains, suddenly terrified and desperate to escape, but not sure why. Reality blurred for a second and four men stood before her. Two Spikes, Angel and Angelus. She rejected Angelus instinctively, turning towards Angel and ignoring both Spikes. There was a question in the air, an unspoken feeling of testing her. She focused on the one thing she had to cling to with certainty. "Angel," she said, gazing into his face, taking refuge in the warmth of his smile. "Angel, I love you."  
Angelus stepped towards her with a snarl on his face, looming over Angel's shoulder. She recoiled, yanking on the chains as she did so. Both Spikes had faded and now Angel disappeared leaving her alone with Angelus. His taunting voice filled her, mocking both her misplaced love and the weakness of the human soul that shared his face. 
Back in the real world a demon emerged as the portal closed. After a brief tussle it easily escaped the group who frantically discussed ways to get Buffy back. Realising they needed the demon, Spike declared his intention of bringing it back and got as far as turning towards the door before he froze. It lasted only a few seconds but when he returned he roared to Willow; "Open the bloody portal! Now!"  
"I can't! I don’t know how! We don’t know enough about it...” 
"Buffy is chained up in there, facing off against some bloody powerful demon who wants to steal her body. I am going in there and I am going to get her out!" The room stood aghast before Xander reminded Spike; 
"Yeah? Seconds ago you were leaving here to catch the demon we needed to make the exchange. What happened to that idea?" 
"Buffy dies in there, we all die out here. You keep telling me I'm not wanted here: you go fetch the big ugly. Besides," he sniffed slightly, "if it's an exchange of a demon for something better, you might get lucky with what comes out when I go in." 
Robin sneered, "If it’s too much for you, I'll get the..." Spike froze again as some part of him was pulled back into the cave. In LA, Angel's soul returned to his body and his first words were "She's trapped with Angelus." Lunging for a phone he frantically dialled until Andrew answered. His message convinced the group that Spike had spoken the truth and they had to get the portal open immediately. Robin departed to retrieve the demon to make the exchange and Willow collapsed shaking on the floor. 
Buffy's words earlier about none of them really contributing began to silently echo in the room and this combined with the statue of an angry Spike taking up the space was driving tension to a peak. Xander snapped first and punched Spike as hard as he could. There was no response from the vampire, but the rest of the group stared at him in shocked bewilderment. “Just making sure he’s not faking.” Xander explained. The rest of the group continued staring. “What!?! Oh, come on, we’ve all wanted to turn Spike into a punching bag for years.” 
“He has a point.” All eyes turned to Anya, startled. 
“I’m gratified…” began Xander, only to be interrupted. “Not you. We need to retrieve Buffy and Spike is a demon we could possibly use as a transfer. And sure, Willow might try to kill us, but at least we'll have Buffy back to stop her.” 
Willow jumped up and punched the air in emphasis; “Enough talking! Especially about how useless I am.” 
“You’re not useless Willow. We believe in you.” Kennedy's voice was oddly gentle compared to the usual tones she employed to "encourage" people. 
“Yeah,” Xander’s voice seemed unnaturally loud, “you were doing magic for ages before it went wrong. Remember teleporting Glory? No sweat, and no bad Willow.” 
“I’ll help with the research,” Dawn volunteered, and ran off to the stack of books, impatient to start the process rather than sit talking about it. As she ducked around Spike she glanced up at him briefly and asked: “But what about him?” 
Regarding him, Xander suggested: “We could turn him into a lawn ornament? Of course, the sun's still out so there wouldn’t be time for photos…” 
“Maybe we’d know what Buffy was fighting if we could figure out how he was being held.” Anya spoke with complete disregard for Xander’s words, which he acknowledged with a shrug. “It seems like Angel and Spike saw the same thing, so they were probably there. I’ll talk to Angel. Unless he’s frozen up again too.” 
Andrew followed her out of the room, while Xander and Dawn turned towards the books. In privacy Kennedy took Willow’s hand and the two of them sat in silence until Willow shook herself, determined to face up to her challenge. 
In the cave Buffy was angry. The demon had latched onto her through the intensity of her emotions for both Spike and Angel and it was niggling away at those darker parts of her that she had tried to put behind when she ended things with Spike. It taunted her with Angel and what she had lost there and brought up memories of the many and varied parts of her life that she wanted to keep shrouded in darkness. 
At first she refused to look, trying to place obstacles between herself and the thoughts the demon provoked, until the man’s voice spoke to her again: “Fear, deceit and betrayal are the pathways the demon will use to take possession of your soul.” The reminder was timely and terrifying, but the effect of the words was tangible to Buffy as the truth hurt the demon and gave her hope. She could do this. All she needed to do was counter the lies the demon told her with truth. 
She steeled herself and opened her eyes to what the demon showed. 
She watched two sets of memories unfolding side by side. On the one hand was the perfect love she shared with Angel and on the other the violent passion she shared with Spike. The associated feelings pounded through her and she was furious that the magic she had with Angel was being tainted by her sordid behaviour with Spike. As she tried to separate the two, she fought the demon, dreading what was coming in both sets of memories. 
They happened at the same time. The demon produced the moment she was betrayed by both her lovers at the same time and the pain she felt as it surged within her couldn’t stop her fear of seeing it happen. She lived through it as she had before and began shaking violently under the torrent of pain and despair. 
Spike and Angel were once again held hostage by the demon and were unable to help her, but she caught a glimpse – just a brief glimpse – of Spike as he struggled to get near her. It was enough to focus her and she tried to find the real Angel. 
Under the onslaught of the demon she was bowed, trembling and barely able to find her feet, but when she focussed on Angel, she clung to the truth of their love. She held herself still under the savage attack of the demon as it tore into her and focussed everything she had into her conviction that she and Angel were everything. Her antics with Spike were a distraction and his betrayal was proof that they’d never had anything real. Her relationship with Angel was real and he would never have betrayed her was it not for the demon within him. Like a mantra she spoke of their undying, perfect love, fighting to loose the demon's hold on her. 
Suddenly, Buffy felt strong. She stood upright, feeling power flowing into her as she gazed at Angel, knowing that their love was pure, eternal and true. Her breathing eased and she felt that she was past the worst. She could do this. She smiled at Angel, wanting to share her victory with him and was startled to see how distraught he looked. He stood, unmoving, as she became strong. Spike, meanwhile, was working himself into a frenzy. She could hear a steady stream of profanities emitting from him and she turned to him to reassure him. The bleached blond vampire was struggling through the mist and yelling at Angel to help her. Angel remained still and only shook his head as he whispered: “Buffy, I… I love you.” 
Delighted, she smiled at him and knew that what they had was the most wonderful, magical, special love the world had ever known. The demon that had been steadily worming its way into her gave a little wriggle of glee as it prepared to take the last strike to the center of her soul and she felt it. Some part of her rebelled – fought to survive – and in that moment Buffy’s heart broke in realisation as she saw through the lie. 
Everything froze as she saw with perfect clarity the deceit within her that powered the demon. It recoiled, as hurt as she was by her brief, devastating honesty. 
Impulsively she tried to reject it, fight against it, denying the nature of the beast that rode her and willing her own wishes to be true but she felt its power rise in her again as she did so and was forced to confront the truth. She and Angel had loved, but it had been merely a first love on her part and a relief from torment on his. Had it run its course, who knows what would have happened. 
In reality, she had experienced the worst betrayal she could imagine at the hands of her first love and everything that had followed had been fed by her need to believe it was worth it. As things got worse, her love for Angel had become cemented and her hatred for Angelus had developed. The demon lashed out to divert her with memories of sex with Spike – that first time after a brutal fight, how she had betrayed herself by dancing in the darkness. Briefly she tried to excuse it, but her falsehoods fell unformed. In this fight lies weren't her weapons to wield, so she took up the truth. She had been alone in the dark for too long and she’d needed someone like Spike to stand beside her. It wasn't shameful; it was human. While he was safe, she was never tempted to do more than exchange a few kisses but once he was a danger to her, she couldn’t resist that urge to be vulnerable, to feel in danger - the adrenalin surge and will to survive that erupted every time she felt herself to be at risk in his arms was addictive. 
She felt it spasm and retreat marginally before re-issuing its attack. Spike was behind her, touching her, and his mouth was on her neck, yet she felt no fear. The demon prompted that this was the soulless Spike and she felt with certainty: He would not hurt her. Spike, unlike Angel, could overcome the demon that drove him when he loved. Angel was led by the beast whenever it surfaced. Even knowing she was hurting didn’t give him the strength to overcome his monsters. Truth after shattering truth drove through her and she saw herself with horror. 
She hadn’t cared for Spike – she had truly been addicted, as Willow was, to the feelings that came with her actions. After a short while though, she had begun to feel real emotions. She almost liked him and one day she trusted him. She didn’t realise it until Riley told her he was the Doctor and she felt betrayed. She’d had to cut it off. When he’d attacked her – the memory was crystal clear and she flinched involuntarily – she’d felt shock, horror and deep, searing betrayal. Some part of her had believed in his love, his avowal that he wouldn’t hurt her, and that moment had deeply damaged her. She slumped in her chains, sweat coursing down her body as the fight ebbed out of her. 
Before the demon could even start testing avenues by which it could find its way back to her, she began volunteering her own truths and shutting down its options. 
Spike’s love, initially, was a demon’s love. Not impossible. Not for him. It was impossible for Angelus who was too selfish and motivated by his own pleasure to give anyone a piece of himself. The nature of Angel’s feelings for her were suddenly cast into doubt in the stark light of realisation; he was happy when they’d had sex, not when they’d admitted their love. What had turned him? Was it the depth of his love for her, or was he gratified by the pleasure he’d found with her, the first woman he'd had in decades and the only woman he'd ever wanted to love? She saw Angel before her and saw him slipping away. She tried to explore her new feelings further but couldn’t get a firm grip, so gave up the notion and simply acknowledged that their love had been real, but not the grandiose, perfect thing she’d so desperately wanted it to be. 
Spike flowed into her consciousness to replace everything else and she felt the urge to avoid this part, but the demon lurked, waiting for an opportunity. She refused to give in to it. 
She watched him, carefully. The demon portrayed him with that wicked grin, inviting her to be bad, teasing and enticing her to play on the dark side. Her memory played different versions: a gentle hand on her shoulder when she cried, a bruised and bloody protector, a demon who would put his own happiness on the line to regain his soul and a man who would put his life on the line to protect her. They were equally real; Spike, she knew, had his flaws but underlying all his interactions with her since Dawn came into her life was a single driver. “He loves me.” The words were spoken out loud and with a certainty that she couldn’t disguise. 
The demon frantically produced memory after memory of searing shame, hurt, despair, disgust and self-loathing that she blamed Spike for and she shook her head. “No,” she shouted, finding the strength to find a fighting stance for a bare second before falling into mumbling. Once again she hung limply from the chains, no longer physically able to hold herself up under the weight of her struggle, “no, Angelus wanted me to feel that. Spike... Spike tried to give me what he thought I wanted. I could stop him any time I wanted... I wanted to feel that way.  wouldn't let myself be happy with him... it betrayed how special Angel and I were.”
Spike faded out of the cave and Buffy felt the demon lashing around, shrinking, frantically seeking a way to overpower her again but becoming increasingly ineffectual. Each time it threw a lie or unwelcome truth at her she was able to bat it away or accept it easily. The most harrowing fear had been faced, the dearest falsehood exposed and the deepest, festering betrayal had been lanced.
Buffy was completely alone now, but she felt a new strength – not the power the demon had offered, but a new feeling of certainty. The demon changed tack; mocking her, it desperately revealed the plans of the First to her and asked if she would be the one to defeat it. “Maybe not,” Buffy answered, hanging in her chains. Her head lifted and her eyes glared out into the open cave, resolute and more than a little angry, “But I’m going to try!”
Spike's body relaxed. They'd put him in the corner, facing the wall and out of the way, so his expression was unnoticed by the others. He stared vacantly for a second before understanding dawned in his eyes and pure joy began to take over. It lasted less than a second before it was replaced by concern and hesitancy. Just because she'd admitted it there didn't mean she'd carry it through here. And just because she'd admitted as much as she had didn't mean she wanted a relationship to form between them. 
Behind him the portal opened and he span, alert, to watch the transfer. Robin launched the demon into it and moments later Buffy appeared looking shell-shocked. Knowing what she had been through Spike moved forward through no conscious will of his own to offer support, then hesitated before crossing the edge of the circle. 
Buffy's eyes were blank as she stared at her gathered friends and family. She looked around them all then returned her gaze to Spike. He didn't say anything, just kept his eyes on her in watchful understanding. She stepped out of the circle, walking straight into him, wrapping her arms around his ribs as a ripple of shock passed around the room. He hesitantly raised his own arms, one to lay around her waist, the other hand cupping the back of her head. He rested his own head against hers with his eyes closed feeling relief that she was OK, a flicker of joy that she had turned to him and the overwhelming love that drove him to give her anything she needed without expectation. They stood in a silent tableau for a few moments before he, unable to contain himself any longer, murmured questioningly: "Love?" 
She raised her head and looked into his eyes with genuine remorse. "I'm so sorry Spike." 
He stroked her hair back, accepting her words as rejection, and although the sadness was visible in his eyes he simply shook his head and said, huskily, "Nothing to be sorry for, love. You already made me happier than I deserve and I won't push it." 
She shook her head in turn; "No!" 
He dropped his hands and stepped back from her, speaking gently. "It's OK, love. I won't... I know." 
"Shut. Up! Spike." Her words were snappy and direct, an air of irritation overtaking her remorse. "I am sorry. I'm sorry for what I did to you. I'm sorry for hurting you and blaming you. I'm sorry for being so angry at you for overcoming your demon when Angel couldn't, even for me. I'm sorry that I was so absorbed in my own little world that I refused to acknowledge your sincerity. I kept writing it off - I kept writing *you* off - because if you were right, if you were able to love me as a demon and a man, it meant that what I had with Angel was less important than I thought it was." She paused for breath. He didn't dare speak, but his expression was wondering. For a second it looked like she would say something more, but she held back and looked around the group. 
"I'm sorry to the rest of you, too, for the things I said this morning. I was scared because even though it's been tough so far it's only going to get tougher. But now... I know what we're up against now and we need to throw everything we have at it, including the things we're afraid of. I don't have time for fear any more. 
"Willow, I need you to work with Giles and the coven. I need to know you can control your magics and support us. All those people who've been telling me for years they want to patrol? Well, now they get to. We need to train everyone available to us." She looked up at Spike and said: "You've been having trouble because you aren't a killer, William. I need to teach you how to be a Slayer." 
His eyelids flickered as she said his name but otherwise he didn't respond. She reached out, took his hand and reassured him "You can do this. We can do this." Turning to face the group as a whole, she informed the room; "We can do this together." 
Xander moved first, reassuring Buffy that they would do everything they could before taking Willow and her quietly spoken fears from the room. The others gradually dissipated, some with questions, some without until only Buffy and Spike remained, still hand in hand. He lifted their joined hands and looked at them significantly, before casting her a questioning glance. 
"Spike, I..." She looked around, as if searching, before looking back at him, "Can we talk somewhere private?" 
"The basement should be free." She nodded and led him there. There was an awkward moment as they navigated the first few steps down but she never once asked him to let her go and he wasn't about to volunteer to. 
Stood in the middle of the basement she still couldn't find the words she sought. After a few false starts he interrupted her, stroking her hair back with his free hand: "No pressure, love. I've got hope now. I can wait forever." 
"I don't want you to wait any more." Her whispered words broke mid way as she choked on the emotions waging war inside her.  
"What do you want?" 
Suddenly it was so easy for her to reach up and kiss him. The merest, gentlest whisper of a kiss completely different to their previous lustful embraces. His eyes closed involuntarily, but he made no move towards her. When she dropped away from him, his eyes opened slowly, remaining heavy lidded and she held eye contact before moving in for another kiss. Her free hand crept up around his neck as she deepened the kiss and leaned into him. His spare hand held her at the waist, splayed against the small of her back, the cold burned into her consciousness. 
She pressed herself fully against him, refamiliarising herself with the feel of him. She was unsurprised to feel something else - the certainty that she had nothing to fear. The last time she had been so close to him it had gone horribly wrong, but now she knew for certain he would only follow her lead. The pain and guilt he had felt still burned in him and she didn't want that any more than she had been tempted to move further than a few kisses when they had both believed him to be leashed by his chip. She was only interested in an equal, not a supplicant.  
She pulled back and caught his face between her hands. "Spike, it's OK. We've both made mistakes. We've both hurt each other. I'm here now and I want to be here, with you. I trust you. Spike, I.. I ..." 
Still the words wouldn't come but he didn't need them. "I can wait," he repeated. "Take your time."  
But her words had made a difference, because now he reached out to her and took control of their kiss. Spike curled his fingers through Buffy’s hair, relishing the silken feel of its tangle between his fingers as their lips met, parted and the kiss deepened. He felt a burning rush of happiness as he embraced the feeling of his soul being redeemed by this woman and her forgiveness of the act he still reflected on as the only truly wicked thing he’d ever done. His fingers threaded through her hair where it fell from the band she'd tied it with, combing their way to her shoulders, tracing their way down her back until finally reaching her waist. 
He wanted to feel her, all of her, so he pulled her until she was flush against him and she shuffled to meet him. His legs were splayed in his usual arrogant stance so hers tucked nicely between his for a few minutes as they learned each other’s flavour once again. She began with her arms entwined around his neck, but soon she became conscious of all that she wanted to feel again and her hands felt too empty, so she slid them down his neck to begin exploring his perfectly formed body. The muscles in his shoulders were tightly corded as he held her and she felt in his restraint the strength of his desire to crush their bodies together being tempered by his unwillingness to hurt her. 
Her hands slid down over his chest, feeling the hard tightness of his torso and with her eyes closed her memory gratified her with a stream of visuals from all those times he’d teased and taunted her about how good looking he was and how much she wanted a piece of him. Wanting the feel of his skin she tugged up the t-shirt he wore out of his pants and ran her hands around to his back, stroking, caressing, massaging, anything, just to touch him and feel the way he responded to her. 
He followed her lead, consumed by his urge to be closer to her. He began to run his hands around the waistband of her skirt, before stopping and letting her go. He continued kissing her but she was startled by the sudden distance between them and broke off to protest. He paused, hands in midair to grin that wicked grin at her, “Don’t worry, love. You’ve got me wherever and however you want me,” then hastily pulled his shirt off before tugging his T shirt over his head. 
Before his hands returned to her, she whipped off her own jumper and they resumed their embrace, the heat between them rising with each new level of intimacy. He ran his hands over the skin on her back, absorbing the feel of her ragged breathing, the rise and fall of her chest and the constant pulsing of her blood through every inch of her body. With his eyes closed he could feel her body being flooded with hormones driving her desire and noticed the lack of adrenalin that had been present every other time. Afraid it meant she was less excited, or in some way unwilling, he hesitated. She responded by swinging one of her legs to sling around his narrow hips and he noticed that her blood was flowing to all the right places. She was excited, but in a wholly different way. 
He moaned and answered the allure of her swollen nipples by flicking open the clasp of her bra. As she eagerly shook it off, he lifted her to wrap her legs around him fully and caught one swollen peak in his mouth. She was momentarily driven back to the very first time and a thought that they’d best not do that damage again flickered through her mind. It was soon drowned by her pleasure and her hips began to undulate against his in time with the movements of his mouth. He caught hold of her and leaned back to look her in the eye; 
“I am all in favour of that particular idea, but if you don’t slow up, little Spike isn’t going to wait for you.” 
She smiled. “I think you’d better take me to bed then, because I do NOT want to miss out.” 
Obeying immediately he carried her to the bed and laid her gently down before him. He gazed down at her in awe and she, blushing shyly, made no move to hide herself from him. He leaned over her, stroking his hand from her neck to navel and back to cup her breast. Her hands moved to the waistband of her skirt impatiently, but he prevented her. Instead, he gently tugged her arms until her hands were clasped above her head and returned to his adoration of her torso. She moaned and gasped under his tender ministrations until she trembled in his arms. He unfastened the buttons on her skirt and gently slid it and her panties down her legs simultaneously, stroking her legs the whole way down. Feeling the cool air of the basement swirling whenever he moved, Buffy shivered and closed her eyes, like him relying on her specialised senses to take their loving to a new place. 
He moved up her body, kissing her gently as he went, picking on all of her most sensitive spots – the inside of her ankle, behind her knee, her upper thigh. There he stopped and she arched her back, offering herself up to him with her eyes closed. When he didn’t take up the offer, she opened her eyes, confused. He loomed above her, looking her straight in the eyes as he ran his fingernails up her inner thigh, until he reached that point at the apex where her labia met. Her eyes dilated almost fully as she stared up at him. He stroked the seam as though it were the petals of a delicate flower and she opened to him. 
Passion between them had always been intense, but now it was personal and he relished this moment of pure openness between them. For the first time he could feel it was important to her that it was him doing this, no one else. The thought hit something inside him that he hadn’t even realised was there. Drusilla had loved him, but only through the haze of her insanity and underlying obsession with her sire; any thoughts Harmony was capable of were totally self-centered and Anya had been in love with Xander. This, now, was the first time he’d lain with a woman where he was the whole world to them, as she was to him. Overwhelmed, he stopped the movement of his fingers, rested his hand on the cluster of curls that were gradually accruing dampness and lay over her to kiss her gently. “I love you,” he murmured, only now recognising the true depth and sincerity of his own words. “I love you and I always will.”
She reached up to his face and pulled him towards her for a long, sensuous kiss. After a few moments, his fingers slid down once again to touch the hot, wet center of her being and he played gently, caressing her, mimicking the motion of their tongues with his clever fingers.
Soon she pulled away from him and groaned; “I want you, Spike! Please!”
Only too happy to oblige he leaped up, struggled out of his jeans and shoes and returned to her arms. He lay over her and, pausing only slightly to ensure he wouldn’t hurt her, entered her. The two of them lay still, adjusting as she adapted to his coldness, and he to her scalding heat. He moved over her, thrusting slowly at first, burying himself as deeply as possible within her with each stroke, listening for every caught breath, learning every beat of her heart, timing himself for the maximum impact. Her tension built, urging him faster and faster and she heated still further in his arms until she could take it no more and the two of them cried out together.
He collapsed above her. Not from exhaustion so much as shock at the intensity of the experience. The words may never come, he knew that, but he knew with absolute certainty that he was her one as much as she was his. They lay for a long time, her breathing heavily, he revelling in the beat of her heart as it slowed and entered a slumbering state. Not wanting her to be uncomfortable, he rolled them both onto their sides and watched her while she slept, cradled in his arms. 
In Los Angeles Angel had revived surrounded by his worried friends. He looked around them as Buffy had and disregarded the questions they pelted him with. For a long time he was grateful for their concern but eventually he couldn’t bear it any more, he stood and walked away in silence. Walking out into the hallway, he shut the door behind him, the gentle click resounding in absolute silence. As he walked he cursed himself. He had stood and watched as the love of his life was consumed by a demon. Worse, it had been able to consume her because of his flaws. For long minutes he was tempted by the evening sunlight slanting through a nearby window, but eventually he gave up the idea, bitterly acknowledging his own cowardice. 
He wanted to be close to her and called the house. Andrew answered and reassured him that both Buffy and Spike were fine. 
"Can I talk to her?" 
"She's a bit... busy right now. But we'll tell her you called."
Obliged to be satisfied, Angel hung up. As the sun set he stood alone and desolate, wondering just how much he had really lost.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Torn

The fibres of my soul are slowly untwining
I can see myself
I'm a  sheet of paper being slowly pulled in too many directions
and where I am weakest
the crack forms

At first it seemed to bulge,
my resolve looked strengthened and I was
naive
now the strain shows

Multiple threads which have been clinging together
with forlorn optimism
suddenly
have lost their grip

And now I watch
as I slowly unravel
each thread ultimately succumbing
to the pressure,
to the promise
the allure.

I am torn


Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Memories

It was so soft, sweet and gentle. You never had to say a word about how much you loved me, I could feel it in every moment. I remember the whole thing - how you tilted your head to kiss me, how I felt and how natural it all was. It wasn't a triumph, it wasn't success, it wasn't even a relief to discover you felt as I did.

It was what I've been looking for. It was a meeting of equals. I didn't feel I was rewarding you or grateful for what you were granting me. It was a moment in time when our lips met, hesitated and, on a shared breath, celebrated our rightness.

Afterwards I lay in your embrace, my left hip aching and my right hand going slightly numb from being wedged into a mass of body parts. That too was right. I breathed your scent and wriggled slightly to settle the grumblings of my increasingly mature body. One of your arms found its way around me and held me firmly, not pulling or dragging me around, just letting me know you liked me where I was.

We slept for a while before reality checked in and when it did we arose groggily together. I showered before returning to my room to dress and you made coffee in your dressing gown and slippers. I took my cup gratefully and we shared a morning kiss with none of the awkwardness of embarrased youths, and I retreated to drip-dry my hair and read the newspaper. Your computer was already turned on and you read your emails.

I'm never really interested in the newspaper and so, before too long, I'd begun browsing Twitter, Facebook and Reddit until I was inspired to cook breakfast. You weren't interested, but I brought you some fruit.

After breakfast I had a whole holiday stretching before me although you had to work. I was waiting for friends to pick me up. They arrived shortly before she did but, as they are your friends more than mine, they lingered to chat with you and that was when she came.

You showed no confusion or embarrassment about introducing her as your girlfriend. It was then I realised that you hadn't hinted at what passed between us to your friends. For a moment I felt nothing and then complete betrayal. You introduced her to me; relaxed and casually smiling. Then I began to wonder: had I imagined it? Was it all a figment of my imagination?

I know you. You do not betray your loved ones. You don't betray complete strangers. You wouldn't betray her. I was not hurt. It wasn't possible for you to hurt me in that way, it simply hadn't happened.

But I remember.

In my confusion I retreated upstairs and to my own room. I looked around it, searching for some clue as to what had happened. There was nothing. After a few minutes alone I felt able to face the world again, although I could feel the furrows in my brow as my brain tried to understand the world around me. As I was about to pass your bedroom door I hesitated.

Perhaps if I looked in there I would know for sure. I never had before and even now, reaching my hand to the doorknob, it felt intrusive. I retreated, not knowing what my recourse was any more.

After my day out I returned to you and you were smiling and energetic. I asked about your day and you were wholly enthusiastic, delighted that you'd succeeded as you'd hoped you would. I smiled, feeling my love for you swell as I observed your joy. I don't know what showed in my face but you hesitated.

I reached out and touched your hand, hoping to reassure you. I asked if you were OK. You sat beside me and said her name. I nodded. Not wanting you to misunderstand I tried to explain. The words stumbled a little as I fought for accuracy but whatever I said was the right thing. I told you I'd been surprised. That I had fallen in love with you without realising. That I'd been hoping for some other future between us. I didn't mention last night.

You are silent. I remember, so clearly, how you tilted your head and I wistfully imagine a world where you do it again. I touch your hand. You don't flinch, but you look at where we are connected as though it is wholly foreign to you and I withdraw.

You say my name and I remember the embrace, how you wanted me there and my soul cries: This was not a dream!

You apologise and I smile. It still doesn't hurt. I reach out and cup your face with my right hand feeling the abrasion of your stubble. You aren't accountable for my feelings, I tell you. They are mine and I will continue to feel them until they stop. If they aren't encouraged they will stop quickly.

All I need from you is clarity. You look into my eyes and seem lost. I want to make this easier for you so I drop my hand and go to make a cup of tea.