They were all in the living room, except for Dawn, who’d been upstairs studying for her audition and who was presumably now asleep. Willow was visibly shaken; Tara looked concerned and helpless. Buffy herself wanted nothing more than to close her eyes – they were gritty with fatigue, and she was pretty sure that Spike’s arm was the only thing holding her up. XandePierre had picked up on the tension, too, and was pacing the kitchen, muttering angrily to himself. Warren and Andrew were beyond indignation at being tied up and well on their way to full-fledged panic. Just another Sunday night in Sunnydale, Buffy thought with resignation, and dug into her eye sockets with the heels of her hands.
“Um, maybe. But maybe not.” Tara was digging in her bag. “I brought the books with me? The research books on the Doorkeeper?” She opened one and scanned the page intently. “Okay. You want the long story or the short one?”
“Better give us the rundown,” Spike said, and Tara nodded.
“Okay. Well, it looks like Amy told you guys the truth,” she said. “The Doorkeeper isn’t a certain kind of demon, it’s more like a job title. Those psychedelic trips Rack’s sending people on? They’re really like these ...um, astral visits to other dimensions. Whatever goes through, whether it’s your body or just your brain, has to pass through a little window in the space/time continuum. Just like Amy said, the Doorkeeper opens the window.” She swallowed uneasily. “As payment, it gets to come through itself, and ... well, I guess the human dimension is kind of like a demon snack bar. More or less.”
They all shuddered. Andrew looked ready to dry-heave; Buffy felt almost sympathetic. Willow’s eyes were shining with tears.
“Poor Jonathan,” she murmured. Buffy nodded.
“He’s a pain in the ass, but I didn’t really want him ending up a demon Twinkie.” She frowned. “But you said maybe he wasn’t ...?”
Tara brightened. “Oh! Yeah.” She flipped a page. “Okay, this is an icky metaphor, but I’m going with it anyway. According to the book, a human with no magical ability is the equivalent of a candy bar to this demon. Just a couple of bites. But if the human is a witch or a warlock, or –“ here she glanced at Buffy – “a Slayer, someone with special power or gifts, then they’re worth a little more in demon currency. So it’s actually a good thing that we didn’t find Jonathan’s body ... it means that instead of just eating him and leaving his ...um, wrapper, behind, the Doorkeeper took him back home to save for a couple of days.” She closed the book. “The demon won’t kill him until he’s been drained of magical power.”
Willow shook her head. “Then we don’t have long to get him back, do we?”
Buffy stood up. “Okay. It’s past midnight, and I’ve got to get Dawn off to school tomorrow. I’m declaring bedtime.” She glanced toward the kitchen, then at Anya. “The diamond’s on the kitchen table,” she said. “If you’re holding that, he’ll do anything you say. Have fun. Willow, Tara, you guys gonna be okay down here?” They nodded.
“Good. Warren and Andrew can sleep on the floor. The sofa folds out.” Just once, her lips trembled; then she was steady again. “I think we can skip patrol just this one night. If there’s trouble in Sunnydale tonight, it’s already come home with us.”
“You’re dead on your feet,” Spike said, and took her elbow. “Come on, luv. Let’s get you horizontal.”
They ascended the stairs, cleared the threshold of the bedroom, closed the door behind them, and undressed in silence. The bed felt like heaven. God, what a day.
Buffy heard Spike chuckle in the darkness and turned her head to face him. “What?”
“You, Goldilocks,” he said, and laughed low in his throat again. “You’ve been reminding me of someone, and I just figured out who, just now, downstairs.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Elizabeth,” he said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “Even the name fits. You’re Elizabeth I.”
Buffy shot him a sideways glance. “I hope that’s a compliment,” she said. “Hitting you seems like way too much effort right now.”
“Oh, it is. A compliment, I mean.” He stretched his arms over his head and sighed in satisfaction. “Your bed’s a lot more comfortable than mine. Think I’ve mentioned that before.”
“Mm. I’ll say.” She frowned at him in the dark. “So, quit trying to change the subject, and tell me why I’m like Elizabeth the First.”
He shifted, and she felt his arm slide under her shoulders. Nice. “Smart. One tough cookie. Knew her own power. Wouldn’t let anybody take it away from her. Had to make decisions, and she made them. Had to disagree with people, and she did it. Tended to get violent when crossed.” He smoothed her hair back. “You’re just like her. Especially now. You listen, and you judge, and you decide, and when you speak, they all jump.”
“Huh. Well, so far so good, I guess.” Buffy was silent for a minute. “I miss Giles,” she said. “I don’t really like being the one in charge.”
Spike shrugged. “Isn’t up to you, love,” he said. “No matter where you go, you’re the strongest one in the room.”
“Flatterer,” Buffy murmured, and closed her eyes. “So, how’d you know Liz?”
He smothered a laugh. “Books, luv. She was dead three hundred years before I was born. Had a crush on her, though.”
“Was she a hottie?”
“Gorgeous – in her pictures at least. Red hair. Pale as milk. Long white fingers. They called her the Virgin Queen,” Spike mused, and laughed as her eyes popped open in horror. “Wasn’t a virgin, of course, not really. Just never married.” He pushed himself up on one elbow and met her eyes with his. “She had a lover, you know. Robert, Earl of Leicester. Never made it legal, though. Never acknowledged him.”
Buffy had a feeling she knew where this was going. “Good to know.” She faked an elaborate yawn. “Are all you British guys history nuts, or are you and Giles just weird that way?”
“Buffy.” He was suddenly very serious. “I never thought you’d tell them.”
“Oh. Well.” His steady regard made her nervous. “Not a big deal. Would have been a lot harder if Xander weren’t ... elsewhere ... right now.”
“Still.” He brushed his lips over hers. “It meant something to me. Thank you.”
“Fortune favors the brave,” Buffy said sleepily, and, oddly enough, didn’t think about Riley at all. “’Night, Spike.”
She was walking through Sunnydale Memorial, making soft squeaky sounds on the waxy tiles. Nurse shoes. She was wearing nurse shoes. And opaque white tights. And one of those sensible, starchy white cotton-polyester dresses. Buffy patted her head wonderingly. No hat, at least. Thank God for that.
The corridor was dark, the lights at the reception desk dimmed. The solitary nurse at the duty station was slumped over her desk, snoring lightly. Buffy passed the station and turned left, pushing past the swinging double doors leading to the morgue.
There was a figure in front of her, dressed in surgical scrubs. “Hurry up,” it said, and pulled the face mask down to grin at her. Willow. “You’re late.”
Willow, a doctor? Buffy lengthened her stride to catch up and followed Willow into the morgue. Just like she remembered it. Chilly tile and metal. Stale air. Banks and banks of blank-faced drawers. Some of the tables held sheet-draped bodies. Willow was standing over the farthest table, regarding Buffy impatiently.
“Hurry,” she said again. “It’s your turn. You’ve got to start now.” She pressed a scalpel into Buffy’s hand and drew back the sheet.
Jonathan. Pale and still and looking more like Mr. Whiskers than ever. Buffy took a step back. “I can’t,” she told Willow. “You’re the doctor, not me. I haven’t even washed my hands!”
“You’ve got to do it,” Willow insisted. “Here. Here’s where you cut.” She traced a finger down Jonathan’s sternum. “Hurry, Buffy,” she urged. Buffy bit her lip, and cut.
There was no blood, where she’d expected blood. Just the clean edge of the cut. And then ... oh, God, and then. His skin started to bubble, near the edges, the skin rising and falling and making sizzling sounds like bacon. Oh God oh God oh God. Buffy watched in horror as the incision she’d made began to ooze purple, slowly at first and then faster and faster, until it was running out of him in thick, slimy rivers. “Willow,” she said weakly. “Willow, make it stop! Willow!”
“Too late,” Willow rasped, and when Buffy turned around, hands stained purple from trying to hold Jonathan’s skin together, it wasn’t Willow under the scrubs at all, but Rack.
“Too late,” he repeated, and started to laugh.
“No!” Buffy sat straight up in bed, clutching the blankets to her chest.
No Rack. No Willow. No rivers of purple goo. She looked at her hands. Clean. She looked at Spike. Still asleep.
“Wake up,” she whispered, but he didn’t stir. Her heart was beating so fast she thought she’d pass out. “Spike?”
Dead to the world. Buffy slowly sank down onto the bed again and stared blindly at the ceiling, willing her heartbeat to slow. Jesus. How scary was that?
Spike murmured in his sleep and flung one arm out. It landed on her chest. Buffy grabbed it and held on. God, he felt good. Cool and solid and reassuring and there, most of all, there right beside her in the middle of the nightmare. Something to wake up and touch. Something real.
She trailed her fingertips over the underside of his wrist, up to his elbow. Soft, soft skin. Must be true, what they said about sun damage ... his skin glowed like marble and felt like velvet. Her fingers ran up to his shoulder. He sighed in his sleep and brought his arm back in a balletic curve over his head.
She didn’t want to go back to sleep. She wanted to touch him some more.
She hiked herself up on one elbow and leaned over him. So pretty. Knife-edge cheekbones, eyelashes like mink, a mouth so soft it belonged on a girl. She sculpted the air around his face with her hands, grazing the downy white-blond hairs on his cheeks without really touching him.
Next. Shoulders. Jesus, look at the muscles. He wasn’t as built as Angel, maybe, or even Riley, but he was rock-solid and swimmer-lean. Buffy imagined him with a merman’s tail, streaking through jewel-blue waters, bursting up through the sunlit surface in a flash of white and gold. It wasn’t too much of a stretch. She trailed her hands down his chest, smiling as he hummed and pressed up against her.
Nice to know that somebody was having good dreams tonight.
She dragged the comforter down his hips and let it tangle around his knees. God, what a body. She laid her cheek on his thigh and breathed him in. Tobacco and night air and leather and rain. In a word, pure sex.
His cock was as pale as the rest of him, surrounded by silky light brown curls. When it was hard, it turned strawberry-gold, the color of sunrise, and made her weak in the knees. Now, she wanted to protect it, baby it. She brushed it with her cheek, shivering more at the intimacy than the satiny texture. Kissing him seemed only natural.
He twitched and thickened under her lips. She gave him a little tongue, by way of encouragement, and shook her head so that her hair pooled over his abdomen. He wanted a good dream? She’d give him one.
Drifting. Warm touch on his skin. Gold behind his eyes. Smell of vanilla and sunshine.
Was he William? No, no one touched William like that.
Spike? Not him either.
No blood, no pain, no dark. Just warm wet love and Roman candles in his brain.
For decades, he’d dreamed about sunlight. Great golden pools of it. Meadows, flowers, fields, moving by slow. Lapping water underneath him, eyes closed against the light. Floating downriver by inches, fingers trailing cool and wet. Sunburn starting, sweet tight itch across the cheekbones. Girl in the boat with him. Loving him.
Elizabeth. Queen Elizabeth.
Warm body, honey hair, fierce wet furnace of a mouth, over and on and around him. Strong hands, holding him sweetly. Body moving up, yesyesyes, up and over and down now, that’s right, slow. Don’t tip the boat.
Down the river, merrilymerrilymerrilymerrily. Rocking like a chair, like a lullaby.
Don’t open your eyes and the sun won’t burn you.
Don’t say anything and it’ll last forever.
Feels so good. OhGodohGodohGod.
She’s whispering – what is she whispering?
Don’t hope for the words. Don’t ever hope for those words from her.
As long as you don’t wake up, you can keep your sunshine.
As long as you sleep, you can believe she really said them.
Life is but a dream.
He was gone when she woke up. Seemed to be a pattern.
She looked for the note – there had to be one – and found it folded crisply and tucked under her pillow. Her morning poem. She was kind of looking forward to seeing what he’d come up with this time.
It was T.S. Eliot, the note informed her. She read it twice.
Elizabeth and Leicester/
The stern was formed/
A gilded shell/
Red and gold/
The brisk swell/
Rippled both shores/
The peal of bells/
There was one sentence under the poem:
When you touch me, I remember what sunlight feels like.
Continued in Chapter Eight