Sequel to Reminders; part of The Voicesverse
Summary: Four months after Riley's death, Spike comes back to Sunnydale.
Spoilers: Post-Grave and my two fics, Voices in the Dark and Reminders. A Season 7 AU. If you haven't read them, you'll be lost as an Easter Egg. I'm just sayin...
Distribution: Just talk to me, I'm easy.
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time...
Feedback: You beta, you beta, you bet! firstname.lastname@example.org
Author's Notes: We are now into the third installment in an alternate Season 7 AU. Still nervous, 'kay? Any errors in continuity that may come up during the course of this fic are my own.
Thanks to the Usual Suspects. Chris, Kelly and Colleen, who always encourage me to hear the muse, and not back off when the story takes a turn I didn't expect.
Daniel shut down the file he was working on and shook his head. Wasn't sure whether it would work, but he'd effectively 'buddied' up all the vampires that had troublesome adjustment trends with those who were doing better than average. Or whatever average was, according to the stats.
He wondered if Spike had arrived in Sunnydale, and if the slayer was glad to see him. Resisting the urge to send Dawn an email, he picked up a hard copy of the Zabowski file.
That had been a shock to him. Certainly, he'd seen the manner in which the vampire isolated himself, but suicide had never entered his mind.
Probably because suicide had never entered Daniel's mind.
There had been a period of euphoria for nearly all of the vampires, as they were effectively 'let out of their cages' at the new facility. Although security was very, very tight, if covert, there hadn't been any problems at all between the vamps and the humans who ministered to them. Other than a few hot tempered moments during the psych evaluations.
The euphoria also had to do with their delayed reaction to the fact that they were not going to die - at least, not of the disease or condition that had brought them to the attention of the Initiative. Most of them had not had the opportunity to even think about that part of the change. Suddenly, they had the luxury.
Daniel shook his head as he looked at the charts on screen. *Everyone* hated the psychological evaluations, including him. As a young fledgling, even he hadn't escaped the probing of the psychologists. Hadn't seen his own reports, but Spike had told him chuckling that he was the best adjusted of the lot. Seemed to take a certain amount of credit for it, too. Daniel was more inclined to think that Clem was the key to it.
Clem - and Daniel's email correspondence with another Key. A vibrant sixteen year old girl with flashing eyes.
He knew it was wrong, but Dawn's emails kept him from feeling so alone. She had a lot to say about normal things - her teachers and her friends. Things he was forever separated from now. And she had plenty to say about other things, too - like the demons she and Buffy encountered on patrol. On top of that, she was intimately aware of what Daniel was going through. After all, she'd been watching Spike deal for years.
Sometimes he felt guilty about sending that first message. The addy had been lying on the older vampire's keyboard, as if it was a reminder of a letter he needed to write. An addy that hadn't been hard to remember, even three days later.
Daniel thought that that was probably a vampire thing. Or it could be a guy thing. All of that was mashed together now in his head.
He brought up his email and started typing.
An epiphany in an airport. Typical. Never the right place or the right time. Buffy tore her eyes away from Spike's, keenly aware that she needed some distance. And quickly. Clearing her throat, she stalled for time, knees shaking and heart pounding away in her chest. She realized, in retrospect, that the throat clearing may have sounded suspiciously like 'choking'.
Eyes darting toward the exit, and wondering how fast slayer-speed could get her there, she carefully avoided his eyes, saying something inane about baggage and the car outside and.... Instead of talking to his face, she found herself staring at his feet.
Which were so not his, she realized. Absently, unthinking, she gazed at the dark brown boots and upward to a pair of charcoal gray khakis. And on to a bulky turtleneck under a navy pea coat. The strap over his shoulder held a flat bag nestled under one arm.
Which took her back to his face. Where she so didn't want to be. And his hair, which she hadn't consciously noticed. Sandy blond all over and cut fairly short. With curls. Well, short curls. Waves maybe?
An odd look passed over his face at her scrutiny. "What?" he asked indignantly. "Oh," he answered his own question, looking down at his clothes. "Wardrobe shift. Hello?" he said defensively, an embarrassed look on his face. "Colorado?"
Her surprised expression had morphed into that knowing look that made him want to throw himself at her feet and beg forgiveness.
"I went...shopping! All right? Ended up at a bloody mall!"
She continued to stare at him.
"A bleedin' Banana Republic. Because, sod it all, no one has decent pants in a twenty-eight! And I thought..."
She giggled at his discomfiture, the ice broken into a million pieces. "Oh, Spike... And your hair is all light again."
He reached up and touched it self-consciously. "Well. Yeah. No Nibblet, so... nothing too creative, you know."
She nodded. "New clothes, new hair..."
"Guess I was afraid you wouldn't get it." He chuckled at being caught out.
Her eyes sparkled. "Oh, I get it all right." Her eyes narrowed. "Wait a minute. You *shopped*?"
"Couldn't very well do dinner in t-shirt and jeans." Discomfort flitted across his face. "Yeah. I shopped. In Vale. All the pants were too bloody big except at this one..."
"Right. You said that," she said, with a smug grin.
"Yeah," he said, relieved at the finality in her voice.
She looked down at her own clothes and sighed. "Well, I guess I better go home and change if we're going to be seen together."
"Fine?" She laughed wryly. "Not really. Can't have the vampire showing me up at dinner. Slayer? Remember? Reputation? That stuff."
"Right then," he said with a nod. "Keys." He held out his hand.
"I can drive," she said with a thrust of her stubborn chin.
"No, Buffy, you bloody cannot. Give me the sodding keys and let's get out of here before security notices my lack of pigmentation."
The vampire slayer looked down at his bag, lying at his feet. The same army green duffle. As she watched, it came up off the tile. She glanced up to see him settle it onto his shoulder. Just like any other guy who had come home for a visit.
She knew it then. "You're not staying, are you?" It was almost a statement of fact.
He let out a slow breath. "Let's not do this here."
As he walked her to the car, he remembered the last time he had seen her in the flesh. Four months ago when she had come to his crypt to let him know about the stipend the Council had approved to take care of Buffy and the Bit.
She had found him packing to go with Daniel. Finally, after much argument, she understood. At least she said she did. Spike thought she did.
He had told her approvingly, "That's my girl," and that time it hadn't rankled. She had risen on her tiptoes and slipped her arms around his neck, pushing her head against his shoulder. "If you have to do this, go away like this, I can wait," she had said softly.
"Don't want you to wait," he said gruffly, arms lightly going around her back. "Things'll be better now. The Watcher's made sure of it. Money comin' in - real money, not a pittance. And the Little Bit...." He pushed her back so that he could catch her eyes. "Pet, you have to deal with her and her bloody key-ness. She popped the locks all over that place. Played hell with the security codes. Christ, Buffy, what else could she do?"
She stiffly smoothed her shirt down. "I could have used some help with that, you know," she said softly. It was a gentle accusation.
He sighed. God forbid she'd make this easy on him. Didn't she know what it was costing him to leave? "Call Giles. The bloody council is better set for this sort of thing anyway."
Buffy's temper flared. "I don't trust them where Dawn's concerned. You know that!"
Frustration colored his next biting words. "Your little circle's gettin' a bit restricted, pet. Time to let someone else into the inner."
"Oh, really? Well, I let Riley in and you see where that got us!"
"Ian Browne is not some callow over-achieving boy. And I'm a damn good judge of people. For the most part. But of course, the man's not a Scooby, so..."
"Well, you're not..."
"No, I'm not." His words had a certain finality about them. "Look around you," he said, indicating the crypt. "This is what I am."
"Oh, I'm looking. I'm looking at what's right in front of me. I know you have to go. I get that. Well, kind of. And I do trust you to do what you think is..."
He laughed bitterly. "Buffy! *I* don't even trust me! That's what this is all about. And I'd be bloody devastated if you weren't sad about it," he said. "Be hurtin' more than I already do if..."
"What, and I don't hurt?"
It was a cry of desperation, for recognition of her aloneness. It almost broke his heart. But he needed to be strong for her, finish packing his things, as much as he needed to affirm her words.
Love's bitch. It was still the way of things. He put his arms around her and pulled her close. "You know I'm not runnin' out on you, right, pet?"
She was silent, but the stiffness had begun to leave her limbs. Beginning to surrender her soft arms, he caught himself and took a deep breath, already regretting the words he was going to say.
"Do you trust me?"
He deliberately mirrored a tone from an earlier time - it felt like a lifetime ago.
She pushed away from him, spots of color slamming into her cheeks. Then, images slammed into her brain. Four years worth of images. As suddenly as it had reddened, her face went white.
"Ah," he said apologetically, sorry for having been cruel. "I don't either. Need some time here, love. Rupert will help with the Little Bit."
Her chin quivered. It made him ill to see her hurting.
"Buffy, I love you too much to stay."
And now, he was back. Spike made a mental note to kiss the watcher for having smoothed away the financial problems. There was an easiness in her that had been missing since her mother had died.
He walked out into the parking garage and followed her to Xander's car.
She grudgingly put the keys in his hand.
"Now, pet, you know I've been driving since before you were born," he said in reproof.
"Oh, yeah," she said in a long-suffering voice. "Keep reminding me."
"Oh. My. God! Did you look at him?"
Dawn was squealing. In a whisper. Which seemed impossible.
She'd thrown herself at Spike when he'd walked in the door. Luckily, he had been prepared to catch her. It was very different from his reception from her when he had returned from Africa. And Dawn was flying high, practically fainting over Spike's hair, Spike's clothes, Spike...
"Uh huh." When her sister had slammed into the bedroom, she'd found Buffy deliberately flipping through her closet. Which had much yummier things than it had during her Doublemeat days, but nothing that seemed to be jumping out at her.
"Buffy!" More squeals and bouncing that looked suspiciously like bunny hops, or the demon they'd killed last week. She couldn't believe how calm Buffy was.
The slayer slowly turned and looked at her sister. "Yes. I agree," she said levelly. "He's totally hot, okay?"
It wasn't the response Dawn wanted. "But Buffy, he's back! And he's like, so..."
"Different? God, I'm sick of that word. Sick. Of. It." Buffy sat down on the bed and stared at Dawn. "And don't get too attached. He's not some puppy you can keep. You know he's not staying, right?" she said coolly.
Her sister's eyes widened. "Did he say that?"
"No... but I can tell."
"Oh, right." Dawn's voice dripped with sarcasm. "Cause you're *so* intuitive. Empathy Girl, that's you." Dawn went to the closet and pulled out the dress she'd located earlier in the day, knowing that it would probably come down to the wire on dinner dressage. "Here," she commanded. "And the strappies..." The teenager easily rescued the sandals from the top of the closet.
"Dawn, I don't..."
The teenager said smugly, "Hey, if you're gettin' the kiss off, look good!" As Buffy winced, Dawn threw her arms around her sister's neck. "I don't think this is what you think," she said conspiratorially. "At all."
The slayer looked into Dawn's eyes.
The girl smiled reassuringly. "Okay? All set? Because I'm going down to play catch-up with Spike. Oh, and spending the night at Janice's, so..." Dawn let the sentence trail off suggestively.
"Dawn..." Buffy said warningly.
"Don't have to feel like you have to hurry home," Dawn said quickly, heading off Buffy's disapproval. Then wickedly decided to push it. "Or come home at all. Or worry about who you bring home."
"Dawn! Besides, it's not going to be like that."
"Right," Dawn said knowingly. "Never happen. Of course not. You and Spike? Ridiculous!" She flounced to the door. "Well? Hurry up! It's been months! Aren't you even curious about what he's been doing?"
Buffy picked the dress up off the bed and looked at her sister. "Go entertain the ex-Big Bad. Just give me twenty minutes."
"Take an hour. I need my Spike fix."
Buffy looked at her hair, gave her eyelashes a final tug of mascara, and made a face at herself in the mirror. Okay, not perfect, but he wouldn't show her up too much.
She could hear Dawn's laughter float up the stairs as she left her bedroom. Buffy stopped and just listened for a moment, at the teasing sound in her sister's voice, the mischeivous banter that characterized his. She shook her head. Spike and Dawn had always had something magical, even if she did hate to admit it. With her, he became all easy, but protective. Big Brother Spike.
It wasn't that it made her jealous, but it did make her long for an easier relationship between her and Dawn. Those two had a real relationship with lots of levels. Pretty much all of them good, even when they were snarking back and forth at each other like siblings.
Her stomach fluttered, and her hand involuntarily cupped it, trying to contain it. Oh, no! Not butterflies. Not over Spike! She stuffed them back in their cocoons until later and took a deep breath.
Spike looked up as she walked down the steps and smiled. There was something about a woman with brown legs and shoulders in a black dress and heels, he thought admiringly. Especially Buffy Summers. She was like a cat on coals right now. He could see it in her stiff shoulders. "So then. You're ready," he commented, in a matter of fact tone.
Dawn spun around, mouth open, and punched Spike in the arm. "Hey! Compliments are welcome. Even encouraged!"
Ignoring the Bit, he opened the front door for Buffy. Then, remembering an earlier rejection, he smirked. "Dunno about this," he said wickedly. "Last time I opened a door for you, it didn't go over well."
"Can it, Spike," she growled, wishing she could just drop pesticide on the damn butterflies that were making her queasy. "Just start the car." Buffy cast a threatening eye at him as she sailed past and into the cool California evening.
Spike looked at Dawn. "See? Better left unsaid." He winked as he shut the door.
Catching up to Buffy near the car, he reached for the handle of the car door and looked at her questioningly. She stopped and sighed in frustration.
"Are you going to do this all night? Make with the snarkiness?" She looked at him suspiciously, putting her hands on her hips. "Are you going to do this at the restaurant?"
"Might," he admitted.
"Okay, that's it," she said, turning to walk back in the house.
He laughed at her, a low chuckle that stopped her in her tracks.
"God, I missed you, Slayer."
She shivered, with a chill that started between her shoulders and ran down past her knees. Slowly, she turned and walked back toward the open car door, chewing her bottom lip as she climbed inside. Spike shut it behind her and walked around the front, never taking his eyes off her.
"Now," he said, getting in and starting the car. "Dinner."
They drove to the Sunnydale Inn, where Spike, not so coincidentally, was also staying. He told her that the small dining room in the Inn reminded him of a bed and breakfast in Maine.
"And you would know this...how?" she asked as he brought the car to a stop in the parking lot.
He put the car in 'park.' "Which thing?"
"What?" she asked, confused.
"How I know the dining room looks like a bed and breakfast in Maine, or how I know what the dining room in a bed and breakfast in Maine looks like?"
She couldn't help it. Smiling, she laughed. "Okay, either thing."
He laughed then, too. But it was more of a self-deprecating rumble in his throat. "Well," he said candidly, "you know how I am about food. Not very vampire-like I know, but there it is. Anyway, had lobster in New York, right? Decided I had to try Maine lobster." He shrugged. "So I did."
"Why do I get the feeling that this is not the be all and end all of the story?" she said, shooting him a narrow look that was visible even in the dimly lit parking lot.
"But it is. All I'm saying and all you're getting. No true confessions tonight, except the ones that count. No past imperfect. Done with it." He reached beside him and flicked open the door. Determined to head him off, she quickly opened the passenger side door and got out. He grinned at her with a knowing look on his face.
Once inside, Spike talked quietly to the maitre d', a short man with a swelling paunch. He bowed slightly and indicated that they should follow.
The small table was made up in all white and plain crystal: white tablecloth and napkins, single white rose, clear votive holder complete with lit candle, and sparkling water goblets. Buffy couldn't remember the last time she'd been out to a nice dinner in a quiet pretty place.
"May I get your chair?" Spike's solicitous question barely masked his lightly sarcastic tone. She nodded curtly, grim set to her lips.
Chuckling wickedly, he pulled the chair out and waited patiently for her to sit down. He expertly maneuvered her into place and took the seat across from her. "Again, thought it'd be better to ask than risk a nose bleed," he said impishly. She sensed an edge to his words.
"What is this? Why do I feel like I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop and kick me in the ass?" she complained.
There was an odd flash of bitterness that flitted across his face, which was immediately replaced with a smile. "Paranoia?" he suggested archly. He sighed and looked at the waiter, who was hovering at his shoulder. "Have a glass of wine and relax. I am." Spike gestured and the waiter nodded, moving quickly away. "This is dinner. *Just* dinner."
"Like we've done it so often..." she groused.
"Hey. Might've, if you'd ever allowed yourself to be seen with me outside of a graveyard."
She snapped her mouth shut, looked down, and felt her cheeks grow hot. In the silence that followed, Buffy decided that this was going all wrong and she didn't know why. Glasses moved and clinked at the edges of her vision. The waiter moved away.
Spike sighed. "I'm sorry for what I said. That's not why I'm here. It's just that you... Oh, bloody hell."
"You're not coming back, are you?" she said flatly, looking for the answer in his eyes.
He avoided giving it to her. "I'd think a nice dinner might buy your ear, Slayer. Or at least rent it for an hour. On neutral ground."
She kept her face blank, but he saw the tenseness in her shoulders.
Picking up the wine, he took a drink, using the time to gather his thoughts. This wasn't at all how he'd planned it, so the carefully prepared speech went out the window, along with any tactfulness or diplomacy he'd summoned up.
He put down the glass and blew out a breath, leaning forward in his chair. "Okay, here it is then. No candy, no hearts and roses, no beatin' around the bloody bush. You want it straight, yeah? No pretty words or flowery build up to the climax, right?"
"Straight is good," she said through gritted teeth, face reddening all over again.
"M'doin' well, Slayer. Got a point - a purpose - now. Once I thought you were my sole reason for not takin' a walk in the sunshine. Found out I was wrong."
Buffy looked down as a menu appeared in front of her. She heard Spike draw an impatient breath. "Give us some time," he said curtly. "Not sure I'm stayin'."
Her eyes flew to his, reaching absently for her wine, to cover her confusion, as the waiter moved off.
"Oh. That got your attention, dinnit?" he said drily. "Well, I'm *not* stayin'. Not now. Can't. Got responsibilities. Two days. That's all I've got."
At a loss for words, she stared at him. So not what she expected, and yet it was. And not 'won't'. 'Can't.'
His eyes were steady as he looked at her. His arch tone was replaced with a wistful one.
"Yeah, I'm doin' well," he continued softly. "And it's not something I want to give up. I don't *have* to come back here. Got plenty to keep me occupied in Vale." He leaned closer, capturing her in a gaze that made her heart quicken. "The only thing I *don't* have is you," he said in a low voice that made her shiver.
For a long moment, there was no one in the room but the two of them. Of all the things he'd ever said, in all the ways he'd ever said it, this was the one she'd remember best: the look on his face, the flicker of the candle, the way she could feel herself falling into his intense eyes.
Finally he leaned back a little, breaking away from her soft gaze and trying to recapture the thread. "Well," he said, with a self-conscious laugh.
Buffy swallowed and looked down quickly, almost embarrassed.
"That said," he continued, "I've got a proposition for you."
She looked up from the forgotten menu to examine his face. Her steady gaze made him lose his nerve. So much was riding on this.
"Dinner first, all right?" he said, willing to postpone it for awhile if she would. "Eat. Relax. Tell me about the Bit, Harris, the Watcher. Then we talk."
Continued in Part 3