Shadow

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*Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow.* Helen Keller

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Buffy slowly examined the bruised and abraded flesh of her hand as she
leaned against a streetlight at the entrance to the cemetery. The snake had
been dead long before she tired of hitting it, but she hadn't slowed until
every raw emotion she felt burst out and slid from her body in blood and
tears. Giles had actually been the one to stop her. There was no telling how
long he had watched her slamming her fists against the rubbery skin of the
snake before he finally approached her, but she couldn't think of that now.
He had tried to hug her, but she had simply run away, straight to the
hospital to see her mother.

And it had been a painful nightmare. Her mother had a brain tumor. Buffy had
been forced to wear her brave face and comfort Dawn, reassuring her a
million times that Joyce would pull through. Their mom would make it. To
make matters even worse, Riley had been there. He was trying so hard to be a
good boyfriend, but Buffy resented his presence more than anything. She
couldn't even put her finger on why. She just knew that he felt out of place
in her life at the moment. And she hadn't even seen him when she had finally
left the hospital, seeing Dawn safely into Giles' car, since her sister
would be crashing at the Englishman's house for the night.

She didn't have time to worry about what Riley was thinking at the moment,
because ahead of her, skulking amid the headstones in the deserted cemetery,
was a vicious looking demon.

And her body had become rigid with anticipation.

The only weapons she had in her possession were a stake and a long knife,
which had been tucked into her boot. Quietly, she crouched down and removed
the knife, waiting for the precise moment to make her move. She observed the
demon through a hunter's eyes, slowly letting her gaze roam over the broad
expanse of its scaled shoulders and gnarled arms. It had no weapons that she
could see, other than very long talons and muscled legs, but she didn't dare
underestimate it.

The demon lumbered even closer and she smiled. It was injured and dragging
its leg behind it. She filed that in the back of her mind and stood,
exposing herself to the demon, which noticed her immediately. With a growl,
it fixed its glowing red eyes on her, sizing her up in much the same way she
had done.

Buffy licked her lips in anticipation.

This would take a while. Not because the demon was a threat, but because she
**needed** it to take a while. She needed to hurt. To maim. And to finally
kill. The demon was no longer a demon in her mind's eye.

It was a tumor.

A savage scream broke from her throat as she charged, slamming hard against
the creature. Both of them rolled to the ground and Buffy was on her feet
almost as fast as she had fallen. She seized the monster's wounded leg and
twisted it, earning a howl of agony from the demon. She twisted again and
felt warm blood pool from a gash in the afflicted leg, wetting her hands.
The demon bucked and yanked loose, taking advantage of how slick her hands
were.

In the moonlight, Buffy studied her palms, staring at the glistening blood.
It was fetid, overpowering the smell of the rotting flowers and overturned
earth. And it was like a drug. The more blood she saw and smelled, the more
she wanted to expose.

Gripping the knife in her hand, she straddled the demon. It was pulling
itself along, clawing at the ground in an attempt to get away from her. She
plunged the knife between the blades of its shoulders, twisting it savagely
as the fiend screamed in defeat. Over and over again, she embedded the
knife, grunting each time it disappeared to the hilt.

Sweat trickling down her back, tickling her, finally alerted her to the fact
that the creature was dead. And had been for some time, judging from the
blood that had splashed all over the ground and headstones. Standing on
shaking legs, Buffy dropped the knife next to the demon. She would have to
get rid of the body. Turning, she headed toward the back of the cemetery,
where some of the biggest crypts were. She would drag the demon inside, put
it into one of the tombs, and that would be the end of it.

Sweat trailed over her forehead and she rubbed it away, unconsciously
smearing the blood from the demon all over her face. Rounding one of the
buildings, she bumped into Spike, who was walking backwards. He spun,
grabbing her shoulders and slammed her against the outside wall of the
crypt. "Oww!" he cried instantly, gripping his head. "Bloody hell!"

Buffy leaned against the stone, getting her bearings. "What are you doing?"

Spike stood up, prepared to say something hateful, but he got a good look at
her and grabbed her instead. "What happened?"

"It's not my blood," Buffy said calmly. "I killed a demon."

"My nose isn't broken. What the hell did you kill? It smells like it was
dead for weeks before you slayed it." He looked behind him again. "And we
need to move on before something else smells you."

"What are you running from?" she asked.

"Korzchek demon. I was meeting a friend of mine to get some information
about the monk that died and the Korzchek attacked us. I think he got a
pretty good piece out of my friend."

"I think I may have killed it." Buffy nodded behind her. "Help me get rid of
the body?"

"All right." Spike followed behind her, enjoying the view, then thought
better of it when he caught the stench of the demon blood again. Catching up
with her, he grinned playfully. "I don't like being downwind from you. No
offense." Buffy didn't smile and he frowned. "How's your mum, then?"

"I don't want to talk about that."

"Oh come on. You were fine to discuss it last night. By the way, your boy
found me in your room today. He tried to fry me in the sun. I think you
should have a word with him. Maybe hammer the point across by breaking a few
bones, that sort of thing."

Instead of answering, she led him to where the demon was and picked up her
knife, pocketing it. When she turned to look at Spike, she found him gazing
wide-eyed at the demon. "Spike?"

"Rogue!" Spike kneeled down, shaking the demon urgently. "Rogue! Bloody
hell, Slayer! You killed Rogue!"

"What's a rogue?"

"A harmless fucking demon! Oh, son of a bitch!" He rolled Rogue over and
stared down at him. "Don't even try to tell me that he threatened you!"

"It's a **demon**." Buffy dismissed him with a wave of her hand and gripped
the creature by the arm. "Are you going to help me or what?"

Spike shoved her away from the carcass. "Leave him be. I'll take care of
it."

"Oh my god, don't tell me! You're gonna dig him a nice little plot and say a
prayer?"

Narrowing his eyes, Spike stood and crossed the short distance between them
in three strides. With his nose almost pressing hers, he said, "You're
playing with something that you could never hope to understand. Don't you
even see what you're doing?"

"I'm doing my job, fulfilling a purpose," Buffy retorted. "Something you
don't have."

"That wasn't the song you were singing last night," Spike shot back. "You
get a grip on yourself, Slayer, before something bigger and badder gets a
grip on you."

He turned his back to her and stared down at the demon. Rogue had been one
of the only creatures that hadn't turned his back on him when he'd gotten
the chip in his head. Rogue had actually been one of the few that had
escaped the Initiative's lab before they had covered it all up. With a heavy
sigh, Spike hefted the demon over his shoulder and turned to look at Buffy
again. "Get out of my sight," he said evenly, then walked away, almost
buckling under the heavy weight.

Part of her wanted to stomp away in anger, but the part of her that was
still reeling from their previous night caused her to run after him. She
caught up with him as he was entering one of the crypts, then stood in the
doorway and watched as he gently deposited the demon on the floor and slid
one of the tomb lids to the side. Moving forward, she started to help him
lift Rogue, but he shot her a look and she stepped back into the doorway.
When the body was safely hidden, Spike turned to glare at her. "I wish there
was a mirror here, so you could see what you've become. You're a shadow,
Buffy. Just a bloody shadow of who you were."

// Mom, what did they find? //

// A shadow. I've got a shadow . //

The first sob tore through her, echoing through the dusty mausoleum like a
gunshot. Turning, she stumbled across the cemetery, tripping over a broken
headstone. Before she could get to her feet, Spike was there, pulling her
roughly against him. "Stop it!"

"My mother has a brain tumor," Buffy cried, gripping two handfuls of his
shirt. "S-she could die," she sobbed. Then more urgently, she repeated, "She
could die, Spike."

Spike closed his eyes, pulling her against him. "I'm sorry. I didn't know."

"And I can't do anything! No spells, no magick, nothing. And Dawn is staying
with Giles and my mom is at the hospital and I don't want to be alone. I
can't stand the silence!"

Her legs gave out and Spike lifted her in his arms, carrying her towards the
access road that ended two blocks from her house. She buried her face in his
neck, sobbing quietly the entire time. When he arrived at her back door, he
set her on her feet and kept an arm around her as she unlocked the door.
Following her inside, he turned on the light and led her toward the stairs.
"Have you eaten today?" he asked.

"I'm not hungry," she said, willing her legs to carry her up the stairs.
Each step felt like it was going to be her last and when she finally reached
the top, all she wanted to do was sink to the floor and cry even harder.

However, Spike ushered her into the bathroom and turned on the shower. "I'll
be right back," he said when he had the temperature right, then slipped out
of the room.

Buffy nodded and slipped out of her clothes, stepping under the hot spray.
It felt incredible as it pounded against her sore muscles and washed away
the remnants of her fight. Still sniffling, she shampooed her hair and
bathed, using her mother's floral smelling body-wash instead of her own. The
familiar smell caused her eyes to well again and she quickly turned the
water off.

When she pulled the curtain back, Spike was leaning against the sink holding
a towel, which he opened. She stepped into it and he wrapped his arms around
her again, enveloping her in the towel. He held her for a few minutes,
leaning his cheek against her wet hair, until he felt her shiver. "Dry off,"
he said. "I'll be in your room."

Nodding, Buffy watched him go, then wrapped a towel around her head, patted
herself dry, and pulled on her robe. Padding across the hallway to her room,
she paused and looked at him. He was standing at the window, staring out
into the night, and it seemed right to her to see him there. He turned and
nodded toward her desk. "I made you some hot chocolate. Your mum always
keeps the best."

Buffy swallowed the lump in her throat and sat down on the edge of the bed.
"I'm sorry. I didn't know that he wasn't a threat."

"Did he threaten you?" Spike asked harshly. When she shook her head, he
shrugged. "Seems pretty cut and dried to me."

Buffy stared down at her hands, which were trembling violently. "I just  I
had to fight something."

Spike's shoulders slumped and he crossed his arms, watching her intently. He
wanted to tell her everything. Wanted to tell her that there were secrets
that she didn't know, that the Council Of Watchers didn't even know, but he
couldn't. Because the truth would either set her free or push her completely
over the edge. He picked up the cup on the desk and held it out to her. She
took a sip and set it aside, putting her hands in her lap again.

"Buffy," he started, unsure of what he was going to say. The phone trilled
loudly and he waited for her to answer it, trying to collect his thoughts.

On the fourth ring, the machine picked up. "Hey, Buffy, it's Riley. I'm
sorry I didn't stay and tell you goodnight at the hospital. I figured you
would want to be left alone with your mom and Dawn. I made a sweep, killed a
big demon, and I'm just gonna call it a night. I would come over, but I know
you'll be tired when you get home. I love you, baby. Goodnight."

Spike's jaw tightened. He listened to the boy hang up and looked at the
table that the answering machine was on. There was a framed photo of Riley
and Buffy next to it, smiling happily in the sunlight. "Do you love him?"

"No," Buffy said automatically.

"Are you going to tell him that?"

"No," she repeated.

"Don't you think you should?" When she didn't answer, he shook his head and
picked up his coat. "Right, then."

"Don't leave," she whispered.

But he was already gone and his footfalls echoed in her mind long after she
heard the back door slam.

-FIN

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