DISCLAIMER: Another day, another…they don’t pay me anything at all. I just do this to amuse myself and you. That’s what allows me and mine to slip under the radar while playing with characters created by those more fortunate than us.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: The larger part of this series is available through my Dreamwidth journal or on Ao3. Please pay attention to the warnings before you start to read. It won’t be for everyone. Special thanks to Howard Russell for all of the lovely commas.
ARCHIVING: A master list of my fiction can be found here. Please do not archive or distribute without my permission.
Balance (an Interlude)
Ghostly amber light sifts in through the curtains behind me. Before me the door stands shut, a pale rectangle within the surrounding walls. Rectangles within rectangles. Wheels within wheels.
Within the last hour, two women had stood there at different times, both judgmental, both with different agendas. I still see them in my mind’s eye. Their poses were identical. They both held the doorknob, preparing to shut me in. They both glanced over their shoulder to deliver a parting shot.
Amy had smiled wolfishly while I struggled to stay in my own skin. Jittering and skittering, it felt like it wanted to fly apart—like I would fly apart. Pop like a balloon. Just thinking about it sends chills slinking down my spine. It was all I could do to hold myself together. She told me the magic was ‘a gift.’ It hadn’t come from me. It was hers. More precisely, Rack’s. ‘Totally legal’ in her estimation. Totally slimy in mine. She said, ‘Enjoy,’ as she departed, like being force fed an exploding dirty bomb was some sort of treat.
I’m not sure what happened after. I was alone and frightened. Then I suddenly wasn’t and I was ashamed. It had nothing to do with me. I was violated. Buffy was livid. She forced her way in. Of course, the commotion drew Dawn. Buffy ordered her to her room. I remember that. But how we got from there to here was—
A different sort of shiver slithers over my skin, all tingly, naughty and wrong. It would’ve been so easy. One tiny move. Just a nudge. That’s all it would’ve taken. I brush my lips with my fingertips. As the depth of my own stupidity sinks in, my hands travel to my eyes. I knuckle the tears away.
Do they even have a scale for that kind of stupidity—that sort of monumentally, over-the-top, boneheaded, dimwitted, bird-brained, wanton, exorbitant, outrageous, flagrant, mindless, asinine lack of judgment?
And Buffy’s coming back to flirt with the stupid. She said she was and I didn’t stop her. All I had to do was say ‘no.’ I could’ve told her I was tired. It wouldn’t have been that hard.
What I want to know is ‘why’? How? When did things change? She was so mad. I promised I wouldn’t do magic—and I didn’t—but it looked as if I had. My hand was in the cookie jar. We were fighting. Or more like she was fighting and I was pleading. It wasn’t my fault. The cookies weren’t mine.
Then she made it all go away just by holding me. Like being grounded. It was so subtle. The tension equalized. All the creepy crawly, boomy badness went away. Something changed. It broke. I was too rattled to notice. She looked up. I did too. Our eyes met. She was so close. And it was just there. Tension. She wanted to kiss me. It totally threw me. There were actual loops. I may never get over the shock. I asked her what she was doing, hoping she’d think.
Moments later, she was in the doorway. Right there, just like Amy. Exactly the same pose. Only she was going to do the smart thing, go away, vamoose, scram… I just had to open my big mouth again. I guessed that she was clueless. I sure was. Why wouldn’t she be? She glanced over her shoulder and said, ‘Pretty much.’
I don’t understand why she’d come back. She said she would and I—
The door crackles with sparkly, speckley, colorful dots. Whiteness churns. It isn’t the door’s fault. I blink the flickery phantoms away.
She wanted me to get ready for bed. We haven’t slept together in years. And she so wasn’t— She hadn’t— There wasn’t— Sparkage wasn’t a thing. There wasn’t anything. Not a drib, not a drop, not a drab.
’Kay, so…maybe there was a little, but that was my fault. Totally embarrassing. Good thing we were in bed. There were lots of covers to hide my face. It could turn my back. Go to sleep.
Sounds like a plan. The door has started to blur again. I blink and move. It’s time. I need to get ready for bed. I go to my dresser, open a drawer and look. What I see is bleak. I pick the bleakest of the bleak—the oldest, frumpiest, unsexiest jammies I have. Tartan is good.
Pressure mounts once I make it to the bathroom. I immediately start to change. Will there be a naked blonde in my bed when I get back? That works. I hurry, whipping one top off and scrambling into the other. My mouth goes dry. There’s actual terror. What if she is? What would I do? This sort of thing never used to be a problem. What changed? Did ‘book geek’ suddenly get sexy and no one bothered to tell me? ’Cause Buffy, umm…wow. No one ever missed the sexy. Nope. Not missing that.
And she wanted me. Did I imagine the whole thing? Am I getting worked up over nothing? A quick glance in the mirror yields a somewhat worser-for-wear version of the same old me, appearing absolutely ravishing in my ‘drizzly mascara down to my knees’ look. Plus the rumpled brow, it’s a face only a mother could love. Probably. I shrug. Despondent, I reach for my pajama bottoms.
I don’t get it.
I don’t bust my butt stepping into my jammies, which is actually kind of a miracle. I feel lousy, wrung out, sucked dry. My life is an emotional fun park and I just staggered off the Cyclone.
I have to tell her to leave. I can’t do this, but I can do that. I can apologize and hope it doesn’t hurt her. I mean, it can’t get any worse, right?
I look at myself again. It’s time to fix this. I turn on the hot water and wait for it to warm up.
What was that about anyway? I mean, one minute she was so mad, I was afraid. There was actual, almost real fear. The next, I was in her arms. She helped me. Did she actually believe me? Did she feel bad? I try to imagine that. After the last few weeks, it doesn’t seem likely. Could be a spell. Maybe it was something Amy did?
That almost sounds reasonable. If it is, I should watch Buffy. I could probably stop it. I know I’m not s’posed to do magic, but hello, a delusional slayer has badness potential way in excess of—
What I did to get tossed in the penalty box flashes through my mind. Just the look on Dawn’s face. And Buffy’s. Snapshots able to inspire guilt with efficiency even my nana would envy.
Hanging my head gets me a good look at the sink. The water steams as it hits the porcelain. I adjust the temperature. It feels nice. I could almost look human if I took time I don’t have to hide my face under a few hot cloths.
Maybe Buffy won’t show. She could have second thoughts. Stranger things have happened. This really is a horrible idea, after all. Maybe she’ll remember the same things I do. If there was ever a quick, easy, memory-shaped cold shower, me hurting Dawn is it.
My face hurts. I stop scrubbing. It’s as clean as it’s going to get. I rinse it and the washcloth, and then I quickly floss. As I start to brush my teeth, Buffy almost sends me out of my skin by tapping at the door and whispering my name. “You almost done?” she asks.
What a sense of timing. I lisp through the toothpaste, “I’ll only be a minute.” Actually two. Good oral hygiene is still important, even if my life is unraveling around the edges. But with her outside the door, it’s just impossible. I try. Her weight shifts. I fail. I can’t.
She smiles as I leave the bathroom, scurrying past. What does she expect from me? I shut the door to my room. The impulse to lock it is so…
My hand hovers. She’ll just pop the lock again. I don’t even know how she does that. The door still locks. At least, I think it does. I give up and crawl into bed. Telling her ‘no’ won’t be fun, but I think she’ll take it alright. She’ll understand. And if she doesn’t, it’s a spell.
Several painful minutes creep by. Water runs. A tooth brush taps. Finally, the moment of truth arrives. Buffy enters my room, takes off her robe and crawls into bed behind me. She settles in on her back without even touching me. More painfulness happens.
“I’m not gonna bite, Will,” she says, easing onto her side. “I promise. Please, look at me.” Her voice is really gentle, like she thinks she might scare me.
I twist to look over my shoulder. In the low light I can just make out her eyes. There’s something unusually caring, and maybe just a smidge sympathetic, about her expression. It’s totally weird. Really unsettling. She smiles. Not big and toothy, but just a curl at the corners of her lips. Maybe that’s more of a smirk, but smirks always make me think ‘mischief’ and this isn’t like that—what with the fondness.
I give up. Rolling over is just easier. It’s fine. I’ll be fine.
I still wonder why. I could ask. I could ask lots of stuff. There are plenty of questions. Lots of really complicated ones. The only safe thing I can think of is: “Need an alarm?”
My stupid eyes are watering again.
I think they call that crying. There’s plenty of painful pressure between my temples to remind me I’m a liar. I’m crying. It’s annoying. I pinch the bridge of my nose and—
“No,” she says. The grin breaks into a bright, cheerful smile. “I quit.” She reaches for me. I almost flinch and am immediately glad for the teensy bit of self control I maintained. All she does is touch my cheek.
Or maybe that was shock. “Do they know that yet?” I ask. The whole idea of an unemployed housemate isn’t exactly—
Ends were almost meeting. There might’ve been a meeting. Somewhere in the future. This is—
“They’ll figure it out in the morning,” she says with a shrug.
I’ve had better news. She looks downright pleased with herself. It’s disgusting. Just admitting it made her giddy. I shouldn’t condone her actions—they’re irresponsible and bad—but I can’t help it. I smile too.
Suddenly, she sobers. “There’re other jobs,” she says. “I’m guessing I could find dozens that’d make me just as miserable.” Her smile returns, a little around the edges. She found something amusing. She flips onto her back before she shares. “I think I’m gonna try to find one that doesn’t.”
Then again, this might be good. She sounds absolutely serious. Earnest even.
Any goodness turns to weirdness when she reaches for me. Only she isn’t. The gesture isn’t that direct. She just raises her arm. It’s like the ‘come hither’ of sleepy time body language. I can’t imagine Buffy wanting that.
But I do. I miss being held. It’s harmless, right?
I half expect her to push me away when I play into her hand, but she doesn’t. She just rubs my back like Tara used to…and Oz before her. The thought hurts. It all hurts, which totally adds to the weirdness. I mean, this is about as innocent as intimate things get, but it’s still— Buffy’s treating me like an old lover—one she’s been with for—well…forever.
Maybe we are, without the actual ‘lover’ part? We’ve known each other for—
But why? What’s changed? Why would Buffy care? I mean, I just—
There’s Dawn. I betrayed Buffy’s trust. I—
The pounding pressure behind my eyes is—
It hurts. I can’t think. And my eyes are still leaking just to spite me. And she keeps rubbing. Her hand moves up and down my spine from my bra to just above the parts that might make me squeak. She hasn’t moved otherwise. It’s like somehow, somewhere Buffy found some—
I’m not sure. Patience, kindness, compassion? But that sounds so mean. Judgmental. It isn’t fair to think she lacked those things. She just has more. Or she seems to, right now, in this minute. Where it came from, I’m not sure, but it sure is dogging my doggedness.
There’s no way around it. I have to ask her, “Why?” I won’t be able to sleep until I know. And this headache won’t go away until I sleep.
Go figure, she doesn’t answer. She doesn’t even take a breath—well, other than the standard relaxed stuff—normal respiration. My head rises and falls ever so slightly. I can’t look. I can’t imagine what’s going through her head. I mean, there are some obvious ‘whys’ she might address. I can think of a few, but—
When she takes a breath—like a real ‘I’ve got a lot to get off of my chest’ breath—the change in my head’s elevation almost sends me dashing for the door.
“The sky’s blue ’cause of the atmosphere,” she explains with a sigh and another breath. “The meaning of life? If you have to ask, you’re probably not ready to know.” She brings her hand up to my temple and smoothes my hair back. Her hand falls to the bed behind me, on top of the covers. “The important ‘why’: because I love you. We’ve just been running so long and so hard, neither one of us remembers what’s really important.” Another sigh slips out. “It’s this.” She sounds so sleepy at the end. Too pooped to puff. Like that wore her out.
I flinch when she lifts her head. I don’t expect it. I try to move away, thinking she wants to get up. All she does is kiss the crown of my head.
I’ve got nothing.
Okay, I’ve got something. I’ve got lots of conflicted somethings. I’m not sure how to feel. This is just so…
Yeah, it’s a spell. A silly spell that makes things rhyme all the time. That’d be exactly Amy’s style, spreading giggles and kindness.
Sarcasm makes me grin. But stranger things have happened. Last week actually.
My body slowly relaxes when Buffy starts in with the ‘nice’ again. She rubs my back. Great big meanie. I give in and rest my hand on her tummy. That’s as chummy as I get though. This still feels weird.
It feels weird and good and I should…
“I love you too, Buffy.”
Continue to Part 2: Therapy and Waffles
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