|Part:||4. The One Who Knows|
You’ve Got a Friend
Bess gets a little help from her friends in the aftermath of her fight with Troy.
Music Referenced: You’ve Got a Friend, Carole King http://youtu.be/XHlcW_lKPl4
Some photographs courtesy of FreeFoto.com
|Thanks:||Thanks to YOU for reading! Without you none of this would mean anything! Giant thanks also to Anona for betaing this chapter, including her grammatical and punctuation corrections, wonderful commentary, and final review. All mistakes are mine because I simply cannot stop fiddling right up to the very last moment.|
|Rating / Warnings:||
NC17. Content is only suitable for mature adults. Contains explicit language, sex, adult themes, and other adult situations that some people may find objectionable. If you are under the age of 17 or find any of these themes objectionable – GO AWAY.
Later that night, Sunday September 18th, 2011:
Buffy left the hospital with Angelpie under one arm and a heavy heart in her chest. She wished she could do more for Bess, but honestly, she didn’t know what. Bess really needed to find it within herself to talk to Troy. Buffy couldn’t do it for her; Buffy couldn’t pull trust out of thin air and give it to Bess like a gift. As she knew all too well, the strength to trust another person had to come from within.
Buffy fretted her lower lip as she walked back towards the mansion. What if Troy rebuffed her? What if Bess found the courage to tell him everything and he broke her heart? Spike had always worried about Bess and trust issues – right from the very first – and Spike usually read people pretty well.
About half-way down the garden steps at the mansion, Angelpie began to struggle in Buffy’s arms. Not wanting to hurt the kitten, Buffy released her, and the fur-ball hit the stairs running.
“Angelpie!” Buffy called after the calico blur, but the kitten streaked away from her, back up the steps, and into the night.
“Damn it…” she muttered, jogging back up to street level, but the kitten was nowhere to be seen. Buffy sighed, peering into the darkness a few moments for any sign of her before tromping back down the steps. The kitten had been out with Bess many times; it wasn’t like she didn’t know her way around the area. She’d come home when she got hungry or tired, Buffy reasoned.
Despite Angelpie’s street-savvy, Buffy came into the house feeling even worse; she’d promised Bess she’d bring the kitten home. Spike had gotten the living room straightened back up and most of the blood mopped up while she’d been gone. All the kids were in bed, no doubt dreaming of long-whiskered rats running around delivering pizza, or something equally nightmarish, from their celebratory team party earlier.
Buffy plopped down on the sofa, leaned her head back against the cushion, and closed her eyes.
“Ghirardelli’s or Jack?” Spike asked from the door of the kitchen.
Buffy opened her eyes and heaved a sigh. “We don’t have any chocolate whiskey, I suppose…”
Spike snorted a laugh. “Reckon not. Could spike some cocoa with Kahlúa or Amaretto ... or crčme de menthe,” he suggested.
“Mmmm … yeah, that all sounds good. Try the Amaretto first,” Buffy agreed, closing her eyes again and rubbing them tiredly.
Spike cocked a brow. “First? How much cocoa should I make, then?”
“A gallon,” Buffy replied, never opening her eyes.
“Right – comin’ up.”
A few minutes later, Spike handed Buffy a large mug of steaming hot chocolate laced with a generous helping of alcohol, keeping the one with extra marshmallows for himself. She took it gratefully, and tucked herself against his side and under his arm when he sat down next to her.
“So, where’s our Buttercup?”
“Hospital, waiting for Troy to wake up,” Buffy told him, before taking a sip of the liquid. “Mmmm – this is really good.”
“Course it is – I made it, didn’t I?” Spike pointed out as he took a sip of his own.
“Silly me…” Buffy sighed, closing her eyes as he rubbed the back of her neck gently. “I’m sorry about … all this. It ruined your wicked, dastardly plan. Funny how having your daughter try to kill her boyfriend takes the wind out of your sails and all the fun out of sexual deviance and torture.”
“Yeah, funny that,” Spike agreed, resting his cheek against the top of her head. “You think she’ll be alright, then? Not gonna attack the git in the bloody hospital, is she?”
Buffy barked out a short, tired laugh. “Let’s hope not,” she only half-joked. “I really thought she was … past all that. I thought everything was fine with her. She’s still a frightened little girl inside.”
“Who can beat a chop-socky-black-belt, twenty-stone wrestler git to a bloody pulp. Brilliant,” Spike groaned.
“Troy has a black-belt? In what?”
“Bloody hell if I remember now. One o’ those Bruce Lee things everybody fancies these days.”
“Huh … I guess all I ever ask him about is school and wrestling. He never mentioned it,” Buffy mused as she took another sip of her drink.
“Do you think he really … loves her?” Buffy asked hesitantly.
Spike sighed. “Reckon he does.”
“So, when she tells him everything he probably won’t …”
“Break ‘er heart? Crush ‘er? Make it so she’ll never trust anybody again?” Spike filled in bleakly. “Dunno.”
“You apparently know more about him than I do – so spill,” Buffy insisted, turning her face slightly to look at her husband.
Spike shrugged, took a deep drink of his liquored-up cocoa, and then set his mug down on the coffee table. “He plays football … American football, mind you, boxes, has a decent right hook, eats butter and sour cream on his baked potato, takes his steak medium and pours A-1 on it, can’t speak Spanish, drinks blue Gatorade, and thinks it’d be a slap and a tickle to talk to Angelus.”
“What?!” Buffy exclaimed, sitting forward so she could look at Spike full in the face.
“I know – who the bloody hell needs butter and sour cream…” Spike began.
“Spike!” Buffy chastised, cutting him off. “What does Angelus have to do with anything?”
Spike pulled her back against him and told her about the meeting they had that morning – was it just that morning? – with the old Indian, John Bryant. He pulled the polished malachite amulet out from under his shirt and showed it to her, giving her the full run-down of the conversation.
“So, you think the Aurelian that tried to cheat them was Angelus?” she asked when he was done.
“Fits,” Spike pointed out. “Course, I got no idea how many Aurelians there were then – could a’ been someone else.”
“Probably Angelus. It’s sooo like him to try and cheat instead of just living up to the bargain,” Buffy agreed. “But you don’t think he knows anything … not worth talking to him.”
Spike shook his head. “If we go start asking questions, he’s gonna get suspicious. If he does remember something helpful, he bloody well won’t tell us, now will he? The only thing we’d do is stir his bloody curiosity, get him looking into … stuff he don’t need t’ be looking into,” Spike explained.
Buffy nodded. “If he knew anything, he would’ve already used it to get a Gem for himself.”
“Too right,” Spike agreed.
“Unless he didn’t know that what he knows is worth knowing,” Buffy continued.
“Oh, bloody hell – now you sound like the git,” Spike groaned.
“Well … it’s possible…” Buffy began.
“Not talkin’ to Peaches ‘bout this,” Spike cut her off. “Royally bad idea.”
“Right. Bad idea,” Buffy agreed. “Unless we run out of other options.”
Spike sighed. “Last bloody resort.”
Buffy nodded and drank the rest of her alcohol-laced cocoa in three long gulps. She held the mug out to her husband and gave him a coquettish smile. “Maybe one with the menthe now… you know, to clear my palette before the Kahlúa.”
Spike dipped his head and kissed her as he took the mug from her hand. “I really wanted to ravage you t’night. Torture you ‘til you ‘ad no scream left in ya,” he admitted sadly when the kiss broke.
“And you have no idea how I’d been looking forward to the ravaging and torturing,” Buffy agreed with a sigh. “Do you think it’s possible for something good to happen to us and not have something bad happen in the same day? I mean, we should still be stoked about Dani’s first homerun and instead we’re …”
“Worried sick ‘bout our other girl,” Spike filled in.
“Yeah…” Buffy sighed.
“Reckon we got too many bits? Maybe we could give some t’ Harris and the witches,” Spike teased, trying to lighten the mood.
Buffy smiled and played along. “That’s a solid plan. We should work on that. Put it on the ‘to-do’ list.”
“Right,” Spike agreed as he stood up to go get her a refill. “Should it come before or after ‘Avert Apocalypse … Again’?” he wondered.
Buffy made a thinky-face, then said, “Before; but after ‘Wash the Windows’ and ‘Vacuum Under the Beds’ – I might be able to get them to help with those.”
Bess stroked her small fingers soothingly over Troy’s large hand as he floated in pain-killer induced sleep. “I’m so sorry,” she murmured to him, studying the lines and calluses on his palm. “I was just so afraid … I’m still afraid, and when I’m afraid I … just … strike out. Mom told me once that Spike is like that: cover your fear by going on the offensive. I never meant to hurt you. I’m so sorry,” she repeated.
Troy’s fingers curled gently around her hand and she looked up at his face, but he still seemed to be asleep. “I know it doesn’t make any sense. I was afraid of losing you so I … wanted to drive you away. It’s crazy. I’m crazy. You shouldn’t love me … I’m totally, completely insane.
“Remember you said my dad was scary-crazy? Well, you should’ve figured it out: the apple doesn’t far fall from the tree.”
Bess sighed heavily and grew quiet.
“But I … love you too,” she whispered after several silent moments, tears spilling from her eyes as she held his hand tighter. “And that scares me so much because when you know … when you know what I’ve done, you … won’t love me anymore.”
Bess dropped her forehead atop their clasped hands and cried. Her tears ran in rivers across palms and fingers, soaking the clean, white sheet of his hospital bed beneath.
She didn’t know how long she stayed that way. While she sat waiting for him to awaken, her emotions began battling within her again. Fear and hope grappled for dominance. Trust and doubt wrestled each other valiantly. Soon, regret, shame, and sorrow jumped into the fray, burying hope and trust under an unmovable mountain of self-loathing and dread.
Tears still trickled down Bess’ cheeks as she lifted her head and looked down at their clasped hands. One was the darkly-tanned color of a Pacific islander, the other the creamy white of an island in the North Sea; one large and calloused from years of hard work, the other soft and small, bearing no sign that they’d ever touched anything but silk and lace; one was warm, like the tropics in summer, the other as cool as the winter winds of Dover. Both were so very different, and yet both powerful in their own ways.
Bess tried to only see the similarities, but the differences seemed too overwhelming in that moment. The doubt and fear in her heart blinded her to anything else. She laced her fingers between his, very much aware that it would probably be the last time she ever felt the warmth and the overwhelming sense of stability and comfort those large, masculine hands offered.
“I’ll never hurt you again,” she whispered to him. “I’m so sorry, Troy.” Bess kissed the back of his large, warm hand and released it. She immediately felt more alone, completely unanchored, but that, she told herself, was better than being utterly destroyed.
She rose from the chair silently and slipped out the door.
She was several feet down the hallway when she heard a deep, rasping call of, “Bess?”
Her heart lurched in her chest – or it felt like it did, at any rate. She stopped and turned back, but her feet refused to take a single step toward the open door of Troy’s room.
“Bess?” she heard again, a little stronger this time.
“I’m sorry, Troy,” she whispered before turning and fleeing down the sterile hallway like a frightened rabbit.
Bess ran out through a fire exit that opened onto an alley at the back of the hospital. The heavy metal door clanged shut behind her loudly, the sound echoing down the alley with a sense of finality.
Once outside, Bess flew into a rage. She screamed and pulled at her hair, spinning around wildly. Then she lashed out at a helpless dumpster, kicking it and punching it until her knuckles bled and her feet were bruised through her shoes. Exhausted, she finally dropped down onto the filthy ground, sobbing. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…” she repeated over and over as she sat with her back against the stinking, dented dumpster, her head in her hands.
A chilly fall breeze kicked up suddenly and blew paper and debris down the narrow alleyway. Bess closed her eyes, lifted her head, and turned her face into the cool zephyr as she tried to calm down and think what to do now. If she went home, Buffy and Spike would be disappointed in her for chickening out. Even if they didn’t say it, she’d be able to see it in their eyes. Their daughter: the scaredy-cat-Slayer. She could just leave – go see Sue-Ann. Not like she hadn’t done that before. Run away. That’s certainly a very mature thing to do. Definitely an option.
Bess smelled and heard the homeless person before she saw them. The stench of days-old B.O. and rotten garbage wafted down on the cool breeze and forced Bess to stop breathing. She opened her eyes to see an elderly woman of average height and indeterminate weight slowly pushing a creaking shopping cart down the center of the alley. The woman had on so many layers of ragged, dirty clothes that Bess couldn’t really tell if she was stick-thin or slightly obese. The rag-woman leaned heavily against the wobbling cart as she poked along, scanning the ground for treasure to add to her collection.
The woman had on a stocking cap that hid most of her hair, but what stuck out beneath it was grey, stringy, and lank. Her face was in shadow. Bess squinted, but even with her vampiric sight she couldn’t make out her features. One wheel of the shopping cart made a grating sound on the pavement. It had been damaged – maybe hit by a car or just worn down with age – and stood at an unnatural angle so it didn’t actually roll like the other wheels, but rather scraped along. The sound gave Bess the chills – like fingernails raking down her spine.
The woman stopped, left the cart in the middle of the alley, and shuffled slowly over to a Coke can that lay on the ground near one wall. She pressed down on it with the heel of an obviously too-big and very worn combat boot that looked like it was a decade-old castoff from Desert Storm. The aluminum creaked and bent in the middle. With grunts of effort, or perhaps pain, the woman pressed down twice more until it was flat. That task accomplished, she bent over slowly, as if it were a great effort to do so, and picked it up. She limped slowly back to her cart and placed it into a sagging, plastic laundry basket, which was half-full of similar booty.
Once satisfied that her find was secure, she began pushing the cart again. As she moved, she constantly scanned the ground for more discarded treasures, making her way slowly towards Bess.
Bess looked around and noticed a few cans that had been rolled under the edge of the dumpster by the breeze. She got up and rolled the wheeled-dumpster down a couple of feet to expose the bounty, then crushed them as she’d seen the woman do, but with considerably less effort. The woman and her cart had nearly drawn even with Bess by now and the Slayer-vamp picked the cans up and dropped them into the basket for her.
“God bless you, child,” the woman rasped in a voice almost as grating as the cart wheel grinding on the asphalt.
“No problem,” Bess replied. “I can … ummm … fix that wheel if you want. You know, so it will roll easier,” she told the woman, pointing to the damaged wheel.
“Don’t trouble yourself, child. You must have more important things to do than worry with an old woman and her borrowed grocery cart,” the woman replied.
Bess looked at her face – she was right there, not three feet away – but her features still seemed blurred and shadowed somehow. Bess blinked and rubbed her tired, tear-swollen eyes, but it didn’t seem to help. She gave up and looked down at the wheel – it was in perfect focus.
“It’s no problem – I’m really just in the middle of ruining my life again and having a mental breakdown. I’ve got plenty of time for that later,” Bess offered, kneeling on the ground next to the cart.
Bess lifted the corner of the cart off the ground a couple of inches and gently pressed the off-kilter wheel back into position. The steel holding it screamed in protest, but gave to her strength, and when she set the cart back down, the wheel was nearly straight. “Try that,” Bess offered, standing back up.
The old woman leaned on the cart and took a step forward. The wheel rolled; the horrible, bone-chilling grating was gone. Bess smiled, feeling somewhat better for the small deed.
“You’ve got a good heart, child,” the old woman told Bess. “Most people don’t even see me … cross to the other side of the street if they do.”
Bess shrugged, still looking down at the repaired wheel. “We all need help sometimes, right?”
“Indeed we do, child; even you,” the old woman advised. Her voice was suddenly softer, no longer shrill or raspy, but friendly and comforting, and vaguely familiar. “You should let the young man help you, sweet Bess. Angelpie is a good friend, but she can’t share your burden like he can,” the old woman advised. “You need to trust in those you love; take help from your friends, give the young man a chance.”
Bess’ head shot up, her eyes wide, and she looked into the woman’s indistinct face. “Mommy?”
The woman’s dirt-streaked features slowly came into focus for Bess. Wanda, Bess’ adopted-mother turned Guardian Angel, smiled and nodded. “Your little friend was frightened for you, child,” Wanda told her, as she reached into the shopping cart and retrieved Angelpie from under a pile of rags. “She’s a good friend, no doubt, but your heart needs more, dear. Your mother imparted good advice: open your wings and fly.”
Bess lunged forward and wrapped Wanda and Angelpie into a tight hug. “I’m so scared. The things I’ve done…” she cried against Wanda’s shoulder.
Wanda patted a soothing hand on the girl’s back, holding Angelpie between them with the other. “We cannot undo what’s done, child, only move on and resolve to do better. You cannot keep running from life or one day you’ll find you have run so far that all you hold dear has become lost. You must give love to receive it; give trust to be trusted in return.”
“But what if … What if I crash and burn? What if he can’t … forgive me for what I’ve done? I’d rather not know … I’d rather just … stay on the ground and not know … not fly. I don’t think I could bear it if I see disgust and revulsion for me in his eyes.”
Wanda pushed Bess back slightly to look into her eyes, stroking her soft, blonde hair with a gentle hand. “And what if he doesn’t? What if he loves you all the more for the mountains you’ve moved and the challenges you’ve conquered? Isn’t that worth the risk? If he is worthy of your love, then is he not worthy of the chance to decide for himself?”
Bess bit her bottom lip and averted her shimmering eyes from Wanda’s. She took a deep breath and her lungs were filled with the old scent of Lily of the Valley that she remembered from her childhood; the homeless stench that had come down the alley with the Guardian Angel was now completely gone.
“You carry a heavy load in your heart, child. William and Buffy can only bear so much of it for you – no matter how much they wish they could take on themselves. It takes a different kind of love to truly ease the weight of your past from your soul. Give the young man a chance to show you the joy of flying, dear girl.”
Bess nodded solemnly and pulled Wanda back into a hug. “Can you stay … in case…” she asked her Guardian Angel.
“Alas, I cannot. There are many heavy hearts, many lost children in need of a shoulder. I have faith in you, sweet Bess. You have a good heart – do not hide it behind your fear,” Wanda advised.
From down the alley, Bess heard the exit door she’d come through earlier open and slam shut again with a sharp clang. She looked up to find Troy leaning heavily against the wall next to it. One arm was in a cast from the elbow to the wrist, the other was wrapped around his broken ribs. He was on the verge of hyperventilating and looked like he would collapse at any moment.
“Troy!” Bess exclaimed, releasing Wanda and rushing over to help him.
“Bess …” Troy rasped out, his voice rough from sleep and slightly garbled from the pain-killers and the exertion of following her. “Please … stay,” he pleaded, wincing from the simple effort of staying upright.
Bess steadied him against the wall with an arm around his waist, trying not to hurt him further. She looked up and met his heavily-lidded eyes with hers. She swallowed nervously, but nodded. “I’m not leaving,” she assured him.
“We need to get you back into bed,” she told him, pulling on the heavy fire-exit door with one hand. It was locked. She pulled harder, but there was only a small handle on the outside and it simply broke off in her hand.
“Damn it…” she muttered, looking around to try and figure out the best way to get him back into the hospital. If he weren’t so injured, she could easily carry him over her shoulder, but with his broken ribs, that would be not of the good.
Wanda and Angelpie had made it up to where the couple stood near the door and, as if by magic or divine intervention, the door swung open. Two orderlies stood there, looking a bit surprised and confused.
“Help me!” Bess screamed at them, relief flooding her. One stepped forward and helped her support Troy without doing further damage to his ribs while the other held the door open. Just before the door slammed closed behind them, Bess heard Wanda say, “I’ll make sure our little friend makes it home safely, child.”
Bess gave the other orderly her spot at Troy’s side and pushed the door open again. She peered out just in time to see Wanda, walking in the slow, pained gait of the homeless woman, push the wobbling, but no longer screeching, cart around the corner of the building.
“Thank you. I love you, Mommy,” she whispered into the night before turning and following the two orderlies and Troy back to his room.
Once they had Troy re-settled into bed and his IV hooked back up, Bess sat down in the chair next to him and took his hand back in hers.
“Are you ok?” she asked, looking at him guiltily.
“I am now,” he whispered, catching and holding her gaze with his piercing, aquamarine eyes.
“I’m so sorry … I didn’t mean to hurt you. I just totally freaked out and …”
Troy squeezed her hand. “I love you, Elizabeth Anne. It’s gonna take more than this to get rid of me,” he assured her.
Bess bit her bottom lip and nodded solemnly. “Well, I have more…” she revealed quietly.
“Tell me,” Troy whispered back to her, just as quietly.
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly before beginning her story. She couldn’t look him in the eye as she spoke, though. She dropped her gaze down to their clasped hands and started, “I told you that I was a Slayer and I got turned, but what I didn’t say was … what happened before they … turned me and…” Bess took a shaky breath and let it out again. “And what happened – what I did – in the hundred years between then and … now.”
“It’s ancient history,” Troy grated out, his voice a little stronger than before. “I don’t care about the past. I love what you are now.”
Bess shook her head. “It’s not past for me … it’s … part of me and … you’ll care.”
Troy took a breath and started to speak, but Bess cut his objection off.
“I’ve never told anyone this whole story before,” she said quickly. “I need to …” her voice faltered a moment then she said, almost pleading, “Let me tell you. Please don’t … don’t say anything or ask anything until I’m done. I may not be able to finish … I just need to get it out.”
Troy grew quiet as he watched her. In the last few hours she’d gone from a homicidal, century-old Slayer-vamp to a frightened girl who was plucking up every ounce of courage she could muster to just stay seated next to him. He squeezed her hand again to reassure her – and also to keep her from bolting.
“You can tell me anything; it won’t change how I feel,” Troy pledged.
“We’ll see…” she murmured, still looking down at their hands. She took another deep breath and began her story, including all the gory details she’d never shared before.
“So…” Bess concluded after telling Troy her story as dispassionately as Joe Friday might talk about ‘just the facts’ – it was the only way she could get through it all – “… to top everything off, while I was gone I was arrested for prostitution and spent time in jail. On the plus side, it wasn’t within 1,000 feet of a school, so it was only a couple of months, not years.”
Bess had never looked up at Troy’s eyes the whole time she’d been talking. She couldn’t bring herself to see what was in them. She detached herself from the words, making them sound like a documentary on common fungi growing in a Petri dish, not her life story. If she let herself feel the words, relive the emotions, she’d never get through this. She just had to keep talking – plodding along – moving forward. Cold. Clinical. Stoic.
She’d told him everything, beginning with the gang of vamps that had captured, raped, and turned her, to the things she did in the white room in the dungeon, to the things she did to gain favor with the guards, to her failed attempt to have sex with Spike under the watchful eyes of their captors, to staking Kralik, and their escape. She’d told him about the boy at the hotel in London who had been the first boy she’d slept with of her own choosing, ‘just because’, with no ulterior motives. She’d told him about trying and failing to find a job in Sunnydale. And finally, desperate for some independence from what she saw as overbearing and overprotective parents, she’d told him how she’d turned back to the only marketable skill on her long resume: prostitution.
When she finished speaking, the silence in the room was deafening. Troy still held her hand and Bess still stared at their intertwined fingers. It was a good sign that he hadn’t pulled away – wasn’t it? But why hadn’t he said anything?
She summoned the last speck of courage she had and asked, “Why aren’t you saying anything?”
She could hear Troy swallow – she still dared not look up. “You told me not to … until you were done,” Troy reminded her, his voice was thick with emotion. It sounded like all the emotion Bess had purposely left on the doorstep and not allowed entry into her story had been infused into his words.
“Oh … uh … The end,” she announced quietly, keeping her head bowed, her eyes downcast.
“Not the end,” Troy countered, his voice still thick with emotion. He cleared his throat and tugged on her hand. “Look at me,” he requested.
Bess hesitated. After a moment she took a deep breath and lifted her head and gaze up to his. The light in the room was dim, but she could see tears swimming in his eyes and dampness on his cheeks.
“Not the end,” he repeated, his deep baritone cracking slightly. “The beginning. Now you can leave the past in the past and begin. I’d like to help you, Bess … help you really begin to live, if you’ll let me.”
Bess blinked tears that sprang suddenly to her eyes. “But … you don’t care about …”
“I care,” Troy cut her off, his voice coming out angrier than he’d intended, making her flinch slightly. He took a breath and continued more calmly, “I care about what happened to you. I care that you had to endure that. I care that … no one was there to help you and you had to make your own way. But you have a family now and you have … me – if you want me. I love you, Bess.”
“But, Troy … don’t you understand what I did? Don’t you … get what I am?” she demanded, all the pent-up emotion starting to break through.
“Yes! Yes, I get it, Bess,” Troy shot back. “I understand that those vamps changed you and then those Council bastards took a fourteen year old girl and tossed her into a world that she was incapable of surviving – and, yet, she survived. You survived. You did what you had to to survive…”
“No!” Bess argued. “I did … I … Troy … I screwed those vamps, those men … I looked forward to it – I enjoyed it. Don’t you get it?”
“Bess, I’m no expert on hostages and people kept prisoner, but I know that it does strange things to people’s minds – even adults. You were fourteen when you went in there, for Christ’s sake.
“Have you ever heard of Stockholm Syndrome?” he asked.
Bess shook her head.
“People, like, bond with their kidnappers to the point of defending them or even not wanting to leave. They know their survival depends on the welfare and mood of the guards and they’ll do anything to make sure the guards are happy. It’s a survival response.”
Bess kept shaking her head. “It wasn’t like that…”
Troy sighed. He didn’t want to argue with her. “Ok … ok … fine. Let’s say … it wasn’t like that. Did you love them? All those men, did you love them?”
“I didn’t … know them … I … No,” she admitted. “I just fucked them – for fun.”
Troy bit down on his tongue but didn’t wince at her words, which he knew were supposed to make him pull back. “Yeah? Well, here’s a news flash: people fuck people they don’t love all the time, just for fun. I may have even done it once or twice …”
“I’ve done it … thousands of times,” Bess pointed out.
“It’s not a contest, Bess. There’s no prize for most or least number of meaningless screws.”
“I did it for money and favors…”
“I bought girls drinks … dinner, gave them favors in hopes that they’d screw me,” Troy countered.
“I lost my virginity to a pack of vampires in the dirt of some park in London. I was fourteen. I don’t even know which one was … first,” Bess shot back.
“I lost my virginity in the sand on the North Shore to a tourist girl with long, brown hair whose name was either Marilyn or Marion … or possibly Madelyn. I knew her one weekend, then she went home. I was fifteen,” Troy offered in rebuttal.
Bess jumped up, pulling her hand from his, and sending the chair she’d been sitting in sliding across the floor and banging into the wall. “That’s not the same!” she exclaimed as she began pacing back and forth next to his bed.
Troy tried to sit up further and reach out for her, but his broken ribs stopped him cold. After a moment, he ground out through the pain, “I know it’s not the same. I didn’t hunt her down and kill her.”
Bess stopped and glared at him. “You think this is a joke?”
“I know it’s not a joke. If those guys were still alive or … whatever, I’d hunt them down and kill them myself. Bess, all I’m trying to show you is … we all have pasts and yours is not scaring me away.”
She hugged her arms around her stomach and turned away from him. “It should,” she murmured almost too softly for him to hear.
“Why?” Troy asked, just as softly.
“I’m damaged…” she replied, still not looking at him. “Dirty … sullied … despoiled.”
“Bessss…” he pleaded, drawing her name out over his lips. He sighed as she just shook her head, still not looking at him. He studied her back; her slim shoulders had borne too much for too long. He had to get her to see …
And then her words rang some dim bell in his drug-fogged brain: despoiled, sullied. Those were strange words to use; old-fashioned words. Was ‘despoiled’ even on the GED test? ‘Spoiled’, maybe; but ‘despoiled’? He doubted it.
“Bess, please come sit down,” he said gently. “Pulling this IV out really hurt before – I don’t want to do it again… but I will,” he added as encouragement – or threat.
Bess’ shoulders slumped as she dropped her arms to her sides and turned back around to face him. Troy beckoned for her to sit on the bed next to him. There wasn’t much room, but she wasn’t very big.
Bess trudged the couple of steps to him and sat down heavily on the edge of the bed, facing away from him, looking at the wall.
“Bess, who told you you were … sullied and despoiled?” he asked, laying his good hand on her shoulder.
She shrugged. “Everyone knows that…”
“Uh-huh,” Troy grunted out, brows furrowed in thought. “Because you weren’t married and … you lost your virginity. So … you were damaged goods,” he postulated.
She shrugged again.
“And no one would ever want a girl that was damaged like that. No one would ever … love you. You were a … disgrace, right? In 1900, that would make you a …”
“Harlot … a whore,” Bess filled in, tears filling her eyes and spilling down her face.
“Bess…” Troy cajoled softly. “I … I’m sorry; I didn’t get it before. I … understand now.”
Bess nodded. She knew he’d figure out what she was eventually. Better now before things got even more complicated. She started to rise, to go, to crash and burn on her own – in private. She didn’t want to see that look of disgust in his eyes, and she didn’t want him to see how ashamed she was and how much she hurt.
Troy tightened his grip on her shoulder, attempting to hold her in place. If she’d really wanted to go, he knew he couldn’t stop her, but she was tired and emotionally drained – she wasn’t trying that hard.
“So, it’s a good thing I’m not a Victorian or even a baby-boomer,” he continued. “Let me ask you something. Have you ever been in love before?”
Bess shrugged slightly, then said, “Jacob Malconi.”
Troy frowned. “Who's that?”
“He had the fastest sled in the whole neighborhood – you could steer it and everything. He let me ride it down the hill near our house. I fell in love. I was eight.”
Troy let a smile quirk the corners of his mouth. “Anyone else?”
Bess shook her head, still not looking at him.
“Do you love me?”
Bess swallowed hard and closed her eyes. A new flood of tears burst from her eyes and her arms tightened around her stomach as if to hold the hurt inside. Finally, she nodded.
Troy closed his eyes and a breath of relief tore from his throat. “Apart from Jake and his awesome sled, I’m your first love?” Troy prompted, opening his eyes again to look at her.
Bess nodded again.
“Bess, I’d rather be the first man to touch your heart than the first one to touch your body. I never knew what love was until I met you. I thought I did, but I was wrong. Now I know. And I know I love you. I love you enough to go into the desert on a mission with your father, who, by the way, hates me and scares the shit out of me. I love you enough to stand up to him and mock him when he threatens to rip my lungs out. I love you enough to fight for you – even if that means a broken nose, arm, and ribs.”
Bess turned damp, wide eyes to Troy. “Spike threatened to rip your lungs out?”
“Out of that whole speech, that’s what you pick up on?”
Bess’ expression softened. A small smile tugged at the corner of her mouth, and she reached a hand out to touch Troy’s battered face.
Troy took her hand in his and pulled it to his bruised and cut lips. He dropped a soft, gentle kiss on her palm, like the wings of a butterfly fluttering over her skin. “Your heart is pure, Bess, and that’s the most important thing to me. Give me a chance and I swear I’ll treasure it.”
Bess bit her bottom lip as she watched him. His eyes lifted from her palm and met hers in the dim light of the room. There was no scorn or disgust in their bright, blue-green depths, just sincerity and a hopeful, boyish sparkle.
Bess leaned in until she could feel his breath tickle her lips. “I love you, Troy,” she whispered against his mouth before touching her lips to his in a chaste kiss, afraid of hurting him further.
Troy tugged on her shoulder gently and Bess turned on the bed and settled against him as lightly as she could. He tucked her under his arm and drew in a deep, and unfortunately agonizing, sigh of relief and happiness.
“It’s good to know your dad can be wrong sometimes,” he said after taking a few moments to recover from the pain in his ribs.
“Spike? Wrong about what?” Bess wondered as she snuggled her head against his shoulder.
“He said you’d kill me if I pushed you to open up to me. I feel oddly victorious that you only temporarily maimed me.”
Bess felt guilty about lashing out at him and vowed to never do anything like that again – it was wrong on so many levels. But his tone was light and teasing, so she kept her reply light as well. “Well, I was interrupted, if you recall.”
“True, but still … I think we’re off to a good start. Relationships that start with death are usually doomed, but temporary maiming can be overcome,” Troy observed.
“You’re taking this whole ultra-violent-overreaction awfully well. Are you sure you don’t have Slayer blood in your family somewhere?” Bess wondered.
Troy snorted a laugh. It hurt. He stopped. “I dunno, but one’s needled her way under my skin and into my heart. Does that count?”
Bess smiled and cuddled closer to him. “Slayer by proxy … yeah, I think that counts.”
Next: Spike, Buffy, and the gang head off to the Slammers' fall Little League Tournament. Buffy subjects Spike to some payback for his earlier sexual torture of her, but will it backfire? (Duh!)
You’ve Got a Friend, Carole King
When you're down and troubled
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