By Estepheia and Marcee
Part 45 – Home Sweet Home
*I love the smell of my room in the morning,* she thought in sudden revelation.
She made a conscious decision to open her eyes. At first, letting only a thin line of light filter through her lashes. Bright, but not as harsh as she remembered it. Then, a little more, until finally she found herself looking contemplatively at a small crack on the ceiling above her bed.
A true smile came to the fore. *Home.*
In an energetic moment of spontaneity, Buffy leapt off the bed and approached her dresser, where she could inspect her friends’ smiling faces. She traced the photographs with her fingers, realizing that the resentment she’d felt toward them was gone. Well, not entirely gone, but mostly. *It’s good to be back,* she thought, turning the sentiment over in her head and finding, to her surprise, that it was true. *With my friends.* She made her way to her closet and opened it with a flourish. *And Vera Wang…Or at least a good knock-off.*
*Oh brave new world that has hot showers in it. And A/C, a nice house, boots! Lots of boots! And cookie-dough-fudge-mint-chip ice cream!*
She was really getting into this. She fluttered around her room touching things. Appreciating them in a way she hadn’t in months.
*And Revlon Flesh colored lipstick! And designer sunglasses! And kisses! And Spike!*
Suddenly, in her head, she heard the sound effect of tires screeching to a halt.
“Spike,” she mumbled to herself. She was toying with the cross necklace she had hanging on her bedpost, remembering how Spike’s hand had oh-so-accidentally brushed hers last night. Remembering how he’d kissed her when they were still in the past. She wistfully touched her hand to her lips. The memory made her heart race and her stomach flutter in a way that was both scary and exhilarating.
“Buffy! You’re awake!” Dawn bounced through the door she’d just opened. “I thought I heard you. Wanna come down for breakfast. Willow and Tara made pancakes!”
“Made pancakes? Like on the stove? Or MADE pancakes, as in abracadabra and poof?” Buffy asked, a whiff of charred something catching her attention. She wrinkled her nose. “Never mind.”
“They shouldn’t make out while cooking,” Dawn said and headed for the stairs, leaving her sister to get dressed. “I better go down and keep an eye on those too. Don’t want them to burn down the house or anything.”
Breakfast was good. No, better than good---breakfast was pretty darn incredible. Pancakes tasted better then she ever remembered them: fluffy and warm, drenched in butter and syrup. Absolutely delicious. She was smiling inanely at everyone---her sister, her friends, at Xander and Anya, who had arrived just before Buffy got downstairs, at Willow and Tara. They all grinned at her in return. Even Giles was as close as he ever came to something as unstuffy as grinning. It was a whole big grinningpalooza.
“You have no idea how great it is to be back,” Buffy said. And meant it. “I mean, if I had to deal with one more person offering me fried lamb chops for breakfast, I think I might have staked myself.” She shoveled another forkful into her mouth.
Dawn giggled, “Ew!”
“I think I should be offended,” Giles interjected, sipping his tea to hide his smile.
“Speaking of offensive English things, shouldn’t Spike be here?” Xander wondered aloud and then marveled at his own words.
Everybody glanced at the back door, half expecting a smoking vampire to dash in under his blanket.
Buffy bit her lip.
For a brief moment, Xander was struck by a sudden disconcerting thought. What if Buffy staked him, now that he’s all chip-free?* It was weird, worrying if Buffy had staked Spike, as opposed to why she hadn’t. But that was before time-traveling fun and Xander couldn’t really hang on to his belief that a chipless Spike would turn on them faster than he could say ‘Saschatawan” Which, he supposed, wasn’t very fast.
“Yea, where is he?” Dawn asked. “He just disappeared last night.”
Buffy shrugged and pretended the pancakes on her plate required her full attention. “He… uh… had things to take care of, I guess. Although, he said he’d come over tonight.”
“Really? Cool. When didja talk to him?” Dawn wanted to know.
“Last night, when I was…patrolling. Actually, he said we should all meet here at nine. See? Message passed on,” Buffy said, blushing at the memory of the hand-holding and the awkward talk last night.
“Why? What happens at nine?” Anya wondered out loud.
When Xander and Anya arrived at Revello Drive again, shortly before nine, the first thing they noticed were wisps of blue smoke drifting up from the front yard. Leaning against his customary tree, smoking, Spike was looking his normal self again: hair plastered back and dressed in his usual black clothes and his obligatory duster. The only things out of place were the two six-packs of Sam Adams at his feet - unusual because, in Xander’s eyes, Spike was the biggest mooch he’d ever met.
“Hey Spike,” Xander greeted him. Instead of going right inside, the couple hesitated, conferred and then approached the vampire warily.
“Harris. Anya,” Spike nodded, sounding almost cordial, but then a suggestive leer formed on his lips. “You two look like you didn’t get much sleep last night. Worn out are we?”
“Wouldn’t you just like to know,” Xander smirked back. “How’s the-” he gestured at Spike’s chest. “You did get shot, right?”
“Electrocuted too,” Spike pointed out, not one to miss an opportunity to brag about his injuries in a suitably manly fashion. “Got a friend that dug the bullet out,” he continued with a no-big-deal gesture, although it had hurt like hell.
Xander nodded. “Why aren’t you inside?”
“Don’t think the no-smoking ban’s been lifted. Besides, I--”
“Thank you for saving my Xander,” Anya blurted out, her tasteful and well-rehearsed thank-you speech suddenly forgotten. She wondered if it might be inappropriate to hug the vampire. She certainly felt like pulling him, the entire world, everything - but mostly Xander - into a big bear hug.
Spike hurriedly dropped his cigarette and ground it out underneath his boot, forestalling grand gestures of gratitude that might be forthcoming. “’S nothing,” he muttered. “Keep my promises, don’t I?”
“If there’s anything I can do to repay-“ Anya pressed, still bubbling with relief.
“How ‘bout a seat far away from Harris’s folks when you guys tie the knot.” He picked up his beer and headed for the porch. “Come on, let’s go inside.”
He was stopped in his tracks by a high pitched squeal. “Xander! You told him?” Anya exclaimed. “You told Spike about our engagement?”
“Yeah. Why, was that wrong?” Xander asked nervously, ready to do a quick back-pedal.
“Of course not, you dolt,” she shrieked and hung around his neck, kissing him with abandon.
“Talked about it all the time, Harris did,” Spike lied smoothly. “Wedding here, wedding there. Never shut his gob for a single minute.”
If looks could stake… Even in his beleaguered state Xander managed a good glare at the smirking vampire, while stoically wrapping his arms around Anya in an attempt to steady her over-giddy embrace. Evidently the emotional tsunami had to be ridden out until its energy was spent.
‘Evil.’ Spike mouthed silently and with a mischievous grin continued for Anya’s ears: “Even asked me to be his best man, he did.”
“Oh?” Anya withdrew her head to look at her flustered fiancé. “Didn’t you say you were going to ask Willow to stand in for all the male DVD-watching-and beer-drinking friends you never really had?”
“Did I say that?” Xander said, embarrassed.
“You certainly did,” Anya told him, nodding sagely, still not entirely on firm ground when required to recognize a rhetorical question.
“Beer? I can chug it down with the best of them,” Spike volunteered. “If that’s what’s required.”
“What’s required is looking good in our wedding photographs,” Anya corrected him sternly. She appraised Spike like a butcher taxes cattle, then nodded decisively. “Yes, I’m sure Spike will look better in a tuxedo than Willow.”
Xander affected a sigh.
“I’m not wearing a bleedin’ tuxedo.”
* * *
It was Tara who opened the door, smiling in that shy but welcoming way of hers. “Buffy and Willow are still upstairs,” she told them and stepped back invitingly. “But I’m sure they’ll be down any minute now.”
Xander and Anya walked inside without much ado and headed for the living room to greet Giles. Spike hesitated, and when he finally stepped over the threshold, it was with strange deliberation.
“Spike?” Tara prompted.
“’S just… It’s three years since the last time I was in here like this,” Spike blurted out. “I mean, without the chip.”
Tara had never heard that particular story and silently resolved to ask Willow about it. Not one for great speeches, she nervously twirled a strand of hair between her fingers. “Spike, I just wanted to tell you… I’m glad you accepted Mr. Giles’s… our offer. If you ever need someone to, you know, just talk…” Tara smiled lopsidedly. “Are you hungry? Cause there’s fresh blood in the fridge.”
“Thanks, ducks,” Spike said, feeling strangely touched. “Maybe later. Lemme just go put these away.” He gestured at the beer, and made a hasty beeline for the kitchen, before he could make a fool out of himself.
In the living room, Xander soon excused himself and followed Spike into the kitchen, just as Anya asked Giles: “Why can’t anyone tell us what’s going on?”
“Can I ask you something?” Xander asked, when he stepped into the kitchen.
“What is it?” Spike mumbled almost unintelligibly, while chewing on a cold slice of pizza. He was rummaging around in the fridge and rearranging the groceries to make room for the beer.
“Something Charles said to me, in the past, got me thinking. Spike, has Buffy ever talked to you about what happened when she died? Where she went?”
The way Spike suddenly stilled, the 6-pack frozen halfway to the shelf, answered that particular question.
“So it’s true?”
Spike tossed the half eaten piece of pizza back into its box, closed the fridge and slowly turned around, his face blank. “What is?”
“She didn’t go to hell? She went-up there?” Xander couldn’t even bring himself to say the other h-word. “And we dragged her out of there?”
Spike shrugged and looked away.
Xander pressed on. “So, what’d she do? Come right out and tell you?”
“Don’t,” Spike tried to end the conversation.
“Come on! I need to know. I mean, did we?”
Spike squirmed. “She never wanted you to find out,” he admitted.
“Why not?” Willow’s voice sounded from the door. Her face was pale. All the exhilaration she’d felt at getting Buffy back again suddenly tasted like ashes in her mouth.
“Oh god,” was all Xander could say. He clapped his hand over his mouth in shock. Until now he hadn’t really believed it, not really, not deep down where it counted. “Oh god,” he stammered again.
Spike was saved from having to answer by the chime of the doorbell.
“That would be tonight’s guest,” Giles could be heard and moments later he was opening the front door.
“Mr. Giles. Good evening,” the newcomer said.
“Mr. Willoughby, I’m glad you could make it. Please, do come in. We’ve been expecting you.”
* * *
“So, Miss Summers-”
“Buffy. I mean, your great-- I dunno, great-great grandfather? Whatever. He and I were friends, so it feels kinda weird if you call me that. Just call me Buffy.”
“Very well then, Buffy. So, you’re telling me that you switched bodies with a girl in the past and then wrote the letter which I delivered to Mr. Giles here, a few days ago?” Charlie Willoughby asked. “Frankly, it sounds like an episode of Quantum Leap.” But then his eyes darted nervously at Mr. Spike, who’d been staring at him with unsettling intensity throughout, silent but fidgety. Reminded of the man’s lack of a reflection and superhuman strength, Charlie’s skepticism collapsed like a house of cards. “But I believe you. Actually, my grandfather used to tell me stories… Did you really meet my great-great-grandfather?”
“Yup,” Buffy said. “A real cutie. I mean, not that I, you know, took notice or anything.”
“Ballsy kid,” Spike suddenly said. “Tried to kill me, not that I blame him.”
“Yeah, I kind of wonder what became of him,” Xander babbled. He was slowly recovering from the shock of hearing Spike validate what Charles Willoughby the Victorian had told him about Buffy. Not so with Willow. She was pale and unusually quiet, which her friends attributed to the strain of yesterday’s spell-casting. Only Tara seemed to sense that something was the matter and stayed at her side.
“I want to know what happened to Maeve!” Anya declared eagerly. “Does it even say in the journals? Giles?”
Willow said nothing. She’d been quiet throughout Buffy’s (slightly edited) account of her time in the past.
“I was rather hoping Mr. Willoughby might shed some light on those questions. If you please?”
Charlie picked up his suitcase and took out a little bundle. “I have here,” he said, almost reverently, “letters that have been in the possession of my family for almost 120 years. Passed on through five generations, their purpose always something of a family mystery.” He cut the string that held them together.
“Miss Summers, Mr. Giles, Miss Jenkins, ” he handed each of them a sealed envelope. “And Mr. Spike, here’s yours.”
“Just Spike.” He took the thick envelope and fingered the paper, but made no move to open it yet.
Anya, who didn’t get letters any more often than Spike did, knew no such restraints. She tore the envelope open with a happy squeal, quickly scanned the letter and then waved it possessively. “Maeve wrote me a letter,” she said happily.
“What did she say?” Dawn asked.
“I believe this letter here is for general consumption,” Giles interjected hastily, waving his own missive about. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Maeve’s communication to Anya were of a more… private nature. Here, let me read this one out loud. It’s meant for all of us.” He adjusted his glasses and cleared his throat:
My dear friends,
I hope I am allowed to call you my friends, even though I spent less than a week in your midst. I would like you to know that I have often thought of you and the many things I’ve learned from you. For a while it was like living in an enchanted kingdom, and no matter how short my stay was, I was able to hold on to some of the magic even after my return.
I have friends now, good friends who are dear to my heart and who have often saved me from peril. Needless to say, the Council does not approve, but it’s the mission that counts, not the Council.
You are all in my heart
“It’s kind of creepy knowing that she’s been dead for over a century, isn’t it?” Anya said into the silence.
“Anya!” Xander snapped at her bluntness.
“What? It’s true.” Her lower lip wobbled slightly, the way it had the day when Mrs. Summers had died. “Yesterday she was here and today she’s dead and I know it happened more than a hundred years ago. I wish…” she stopped herself, looking disgusted, then threw her hands in the air. “Well it sucks!”
Xander slung his arm around her waist. “Yea, it does.”
“Totally. It was weird, with her being in Buffy’s body and all, but I miss her. I would have liked to meet the real her,” Dawn said wistfully.
“Dawnie, I think we all would have liked that,” Tara agreed.
“She didn’t belong here, though.” Giles said, polishing his glasses with abandon. “It’s all for the best.”
“I guess the body swap was a bit like a vacation,” Willow said haltingly. “You know, like an excursion or field trip, all educational. You go and find out stuff but in the end you’re just glad to be back home, no matter how interesting the trip is.”
“A vacation? You call fighting Angelus and that black-eyed Watcher a vacation?” Buffy asked, dryly. “Okay, maybe it was. A little. I got to see England - albeit a stuffy and totally outdated version. Yay! Met interesting people…” She glanced at Spike and found him watching her, looking totally smitten. He snapped out of his reverie and quickly composed his features into a more cocky expression, but he didn’t look away. Just arched his brow, causing the Slayer’s heart to beat faster.
Buffy smiled faintly. While her friends continued to talk about Maeve, she tore open the envelope and began to read.
As you can see, you are not the only one who is able to send letters through time. All I had to do was to leave instructions that mine should get delivered a few days after the first. I’m writing to you because it occurred to me that you might like to know what happened here, after you left.
I am still true to our calling, but I am no longer alone. Charles, George and Mr. Crawford’s sister Victoria have been at my side, lending me their friendship, understanding and occasionally a hand. They have shared my burden willingly, not because they were chosen by some inexplicable fate, but because they chose me as a friend, just like your friends chose you. I am grateful that I did not have to go through this alone, like so many other Slayers before us.
George is studying Theology and will become a clergyman. With some people, the confrontation with evil undermines their faith, with others the opposite is true. I am certain he will make a fine priest.
Charles has been asked to join the Council. I believe he will accept, if only to spark change from within.
One day after your departure, following the unexpected and brutal murder of his son Richard, Director Hartford suffered a second stroke from which he never recovered. He remained paralyzed and mute for several months until one night he slipped quietly away, taking his secrets - and ours - with him to his grave.
Director Bateley never fully regained his voice. But he still works for the Council. He often visits on some pretext to see Elisabeth. She calls him “Uncle Horatio”.
Who is Elisabeth, you ask. She is one of the infants you saved, when you fought against Angelus. Edward adopted her. You will be pleased to know that baby Elizabeth has grown into a strong and willful five-year-old. Only two days ago she announced her intention to become a police officer and was greatly disappointed when she was told that women are not allowed to join the police. She then set about to cut off all her lovely curls to pass herself off as a boy but was stopped in time by the maid. Needless to say, we all dote on her.
As for the Council, well, they tried to relieve Edward from his duties but thanks to Director Bateley’s support and my steadfast refusal to accept a new Watcher, the Council relented. I do not expect their journals to speak kindly of me, when I am gone. I believe the words ‘scandalous conduct’ will be used. To use one of your metaphors: Colour me amused.
One of the deepest regrets of my life is that you and I did not get the chance to get to know each other, but ‘walking a mile in your shoes’ and finding the footprints you have left here, in my time, makes me feel like we are close friends.
Buffy lowered her letter, her face guarded, giving nothing away.
Spike had fully intended to open his envelope in private, once he was back in his crypt, but now impatience and curiosity got the better of him. His parcel consisted of a single folded piece of stationary and another thick envelope. His letter was much shorter. It simply read:
Thank you for teaching me how to dance.
I thought you might like to have these.
In love and friendship,
When he opened the envelope a handful of faded photographs slid into his hand, the topmost picture been taken only months before his death. It showed his mother sitting in a high-backed chair like Queen Victoria herself, the old family dog lying at her feet, with William and Victoria standing behind her in their Sunday best. In those days one wasn’t supposed to smile in family pictures, posterity being too serious a matter for levity, but the picture exuded a tangible domestic happiness.
He shuffled it to the bottom of the pile. The next picture showed Victoria and Charles Willoughby on their wedding day, both looking incredibly young and radiantly happy. Spike scanned the rest of the pictures quickly and a genuine smile slipped past his guard. Then he carefully returned them to the envelope. However, when he looked up he found the humans watching him. For a second he was embarrassed, but then he affected a scowl and gave in to their openly curious faces.
“Pictures,” he found himself explaining. “Maeve, she sent me photos. Of my Mum and my sis.” He hesitated, but since his past wasn’t exactly a secret anymore he shrugged and added: “ Wanna have a look?”
Buffy remained seated on the counter, looking thoughtful, still holding her letter. But the others - Charlie included - crowded around Spike as he passed the photographs around. Everyone was talking at the same time.
“You had a Mom?” - “Oh, your sister looks just like you, except for the fact that she’s a girl, of course, and really pretty. Um, I mean, not that you’re ugly or anything, but you’re a guy, and, you know… gay. I mean, I am. Um, shutting up now.” - “She sent you pictures of your Mom?” -“Look at that dress!” - “Is that you? With those glasses?” - “I think he looks kinda cute…” *Dawn, of course.* - “What was her name?” - “She’s pretty.” - “They…they look like a nice family, Spike, thank you.” - “Does that mean we’re related?”
Spike answered their questions. But he kept glancing at Buffy. She looked at her letter again and read the postscript.
I was told you developed a certain interest for Mr. Crawford while you were here. I was going to send you his picture, but decided against it. I do not think you will need it. It is not wise to dwell on the past. And we Slayers, who have so little time on earth, have every reason to seize the day.
Buffy lowered the letter. Spike was studying her intently, his head slightly tilted. She had seen William hold his head just so. She smiled, slid down the counter and walked over to join her friends.
(but wait! There will be an epilogue!)
Continued in Epilogue
Many thanks to LadyCat and Mikelesq who beta’d this and provided suggestions and encouragement.