Stage Fright

Chapter 2




The front door to the Summers’ residence shut behind her with a click. It was the sound of closure, both in a realistic and symbolic sense. She’d finally done it, ended her relationship with Spike. This was supposed to be a relief; she should be feeling like a weight had lifted from her shoulders.

So why was it that all she felt was emptiness?

A sob she hadn’t realised was there clawed at her throat, and she desperately clamped a hand over her mouth to trap it. Allowing it to escape, becoming emotional over what was supposed to be an emotionless break-up would mean she had been more involved, more affected by the pseudo-relationship than she cared to give credit for.

It was done, there was no going back.

She finally had her fresh start.

It was time to rediscover herself, to learn what life could be like without the complications of a male entanglement.

And just as soon as she had control over her emotions she was going to do just that, starting with some long overdue rest.

~*~*~


A loud crunch echoed throughout the crypt when Spike slammed his fist into the stone wall of the tomb, the resulting pain coursing up his arm, yet he hardly even felt it. He was numb, thanks in part to the anesthetizing effect of the scotch he’d been guzzling for the past hour. He was on the drunken express, well beyond sloshed and nearing pass out station.

It was still so surreal, he couldn't quite grasp the fact it had actually happened. Buffy had ended it. For real. And she wasn't coming back to him.

Blood dripped from his broken knuckles but he paid it no attention. It wasn’t like it mattered; wasn’t like he mattered.

Without Buffy... without her, he was nothing.

~*~*~


Tara entered the Summers’ house early the next morning to the sound of silence. The blonde wicca knew her former girlfriend was most likely in class at UCSD, but she hadn’t expected the house to be so noiseless. Dawn wasn’t exactly known for being quiet.

“Dawn?” she called, to which she received no response. If the teen was home she would certainly have replied. Over the last few months they’d formed a close bond, and the younger Summers girl would never ignore that friendship.

For a moment Tara considered leaving, but then she realised someone must be home because the front door wasn’t locked.

“Buffy, it’s Tara. Are you home?”

She was greeted only by silence.

“Buffy,” Tara tried again, moving toward the steps and climbing them quietly. She didn’t want to wake the slayer if she’d been out patrolling late. At the top of the stairs she called for Buffy once more, and this time Tara received an answer. A quiet sob alerted the witch to her friend’s presence. She was in the bathroom.

Approaching the door, Tara balled a fist and knocked on it gently.

“Buffy, are you alright?”

Seconds passed before a weak reply. “I’m fine.”

Tara wasn’t convinced. Placing a hand on the doorknob she asked permission to enter. “Can I come in?” A muffled ‘sure’ was the consent she’d sought so she turned the knob.

The slayer was sitting on the bathroom floor, knees to her chest, arms hanging weakly at her sides, looking less like the fierce warrior she was and more like a lost little girl. The redness of her cheeks suggested she’d been crying for some time. Buffy must have noticed Tara’s assessment of her ragged appearance, because she wiped at her cheeks roughly in an attempt to hide the evidence of her sorrow.

“Buffy,” Tara said gently. “What’s wrong?”

“Really, it’s nothing. It’s silly.”

Tara shook her head in disagreement. “I don’t believe it’s nothing. It’s not like you to become upset over something which doesn’t matter.”

Buffy met Tara’s gaze and her face crumpled at the concern in her friend’s eyes. She didn’t deserve sympathy.

“Tara, it’s okay. I guess I’m just having one of those days.”

Tara was—if anything—intuitive. She knew a lie when she saw one and Buffy was being far from truthful. For a moment she was silent, weighing up the possibilities before she settled upon a specific question.

“Was it Spike?”

“What?” Buffy gasped. “No, of course not. Spike didn’t do anything to me.”

Tara didn’t need to ask, the question was reflected clearly from her eyes.

“I ended it.”

“You did?” Tara’s eyebrows rose with surprise. “But I thought—”

“It’s for the best. I don’t even know what I was thinking... being with him in the first place.” Buffy shook her head sadly. “If Xander or Giles knew...” She trailed off, inhaling a deep shuddery breath. “Like I said, it’s for the best.”

“Why?” Tara asked. “Why is it the best, and for whom?”

“What?” Confusion wrinkled her brow. Tara’s question confounded her. A relationship with a vampire would only lead to bad things; not only for herself but potentially to the people she loved. Her relationship with Angel had proved this.

“You can’t make decisions about your love—”

“I don’t love Spike,” Buffy insisted vehemently.

Tara was silent for a moment before she nodded once. “Maybe not, but can you honestly say there’s nothing there?”

Shame coloured Buffy’s cheeks.

“Then... then why do it?”

“I told you, the others...”

Tara shook her head with disbelief. “They’re not you, Buffy. And they have no right to make decisions about your lo— romantic life. Only you can make those choices.”

A melancholy smile curled Buffy’s lips. “You know what they’re like, Tara. My choices will never make them happy. And this is Spike we’re talking about. I couldn’t pick someone worse to form an attachment with. He’s an evil, soulless, manipulative vampire, who’s tried to kill me and my friends dozens of times and—”

“Did you love Angel any less when he lost his soul?”

The question was blunt, surprising not only Buffy but Tara herself. The slayer gasped, her already watery eyes filling with more tears.

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that,” the gentle witch apologised. “But can you honestly tell me that Spike is the same ‘evil’ vampire he used to be?”

Contemplation silenced Buffy, long quiet seconds passing before she found an answer. “So he hasn’t tried to kill any of us lately, but what’s to say it’s over? He could just be regrouping.”

Scepticism lifted Tara’s brows. “Buffy, he may be far from sainthood, but Spike is not underhanded. He wouldn’t use you like that.”

No, I was using him...

“I can’t predict the future but I can tell you that Spike isn’t the same vampire he used to be. He nearly died trying to save Dawn’s life, on more than one occasion.” Tara paused when Buffy winced in remembrance of the near loss of her sister. “And it’s not just Dawn he’s protected either; he’s put himself at risk for all of us at one stage or another. That doesn’t sound like the deeds of an evil being to me.”

Though Tara’s words rang with truth, Buffy did not want to acknowledge them. In a matter of minutes the witch had torn her reasoning for ending the relationship to shreds, and Buffy couldn’t—wouldn’t—second guess herself. Not this time.

“If there’s something there, something at all, you’ve got to give it a chance.”

Buffy shook her head in denial. “I don’t need an advocate, my mind is made up.”

“Buffy—”

“I... I can’t. I can’t do that again.”

Before Tara could give voice to her question, Buffy had leapt to her feet and fled out of the bathroom. A few seconds later a bang of the front door signalled Buffy’s escape.

“Do what?”

~*~*~


Buffy had been wandering the streets of Sunnydale for hours, avoiding her usual haunts just in case Tara was out looking for her. She knew the way she’d run out of the house was immature; Tara had only been trying to help. She’d offered an unbiased opinion and an impartial ear, something Buffy had struggled to receive from her other, more long-held friends.

Xander, Willow, Giles... they didn’t mean to be the way they were, Buffy was sure of it. They just wanted the best for her. Not unlike her former... always making decisions for her instead of compelling her to come to her own conclusions. But Tara was right, that didn’t mean they had the right to dictate who she did or did not date. That decision was hers to make. Why was that such a hard concept for them to comprehend?

More importantly, why had Buffy let them get away with it for so long?

When she chose someone to be with they picked at their faults, and when she was content to remain single they pushed potential dates upon her. Like Richard, from Xander’s work. Or Scott.

Buffy might not have the greatest taste in men but her friends didn’t fair any better when it came to selecting her partners. She’d tried dating Joe Regular, but that didn’t work. And dating vampires was just as disastrous, even without the side order of Council disapproval. Dating the supernatural was too complicated; it messed with the black and white ordering of her life. Factoring in a degree of evil on per vamp basis would make slaying a hell of a lot harder than it already was.

Unless Superman was on the market for a new Lois she didn’t like her chances of finding someone who could match her strength minus the ‘bad guy’ tag.

Hang on a second... she thought. Isn’t he from another galaxy?

“Great,” Buffy muttered. “I’ve exhausted my options to the point I’m considering dating an alien. Could I be more of a freak?”

A moment passed before horror sunk in.

“Oh my god, those nerds are rubbing off on me!”

It had to be the case... how else could she explain her newfound knowledge about a comic book character?

She sighed loudly.

Why did it have to be so hard?

And what had happened to her plan to remain single?

Alone for less than twenty-four hours and she was already considering jumping back into the dating pool. It was pathetic. Of course Buffy knew why relationships were on the brain... so much of her life was solitary. The tag of ‘slayer’ was not a label that was easy to live with, and she didn’t even abide by Council rules. If they’d had their way she would’ve been taken from her family, separated from her friends, and dating would be strictly prohibited.

At times, when life was particularly hectic, Buffy sometimes caught herself wondering what that life would be like. A life where her only responsibility, her sole purpose of being, was to slay. She believed in some respects it would possibly be easier, but she never wished for it. She knew she wouldn’t be able to stand the solitude.

That’s why Buffy knew despite her plan to fly solo for a while, it wouldn’t be long before she found herself on the market again.

She only hoped she could avoid making the same mistakes again.



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