“She’s been like that for an hour,” the cop said.
“Yeah, so?” Xander said, looking back. He closed the door on the scene and eyed the patrolman sitting slumped beside the door. His chair was some fluorescent Sixties’ monstrosity, molded out of hard plastic, and murder on the spine. “Why are you here?”
The cop looked up and down the empty hallway before answering, and Xander tried not to sigh with exasperation. Damn, dude, you’re a patrolmen guarding someone who’s especially harmless now that he’s human. The uniform patch says Sunnydale PD, which means you’re out of job, because your job is located at the bottom of a mile-deep pit. You’ll never fight evil in your lifetime; you’ll fight mediocrity and you’ll probably lose.
“All those dead girls?”
“In Sunnydale?” Xander gasped, but the patrolman had the earnest look so common to the intrepid members of the Sunnydale force. “That’s so rare.”
“They all had defensive wounds.”
Defensive wounds, Xander thought. This is my life.
“They were dead before the area collapsed,” the cop said eagerly. “There wasn’t any dust in their lungs at all.”
“What about his lungs?” Xander asked dryly.
“Oh.” The patrolman looked blank. “I don’t know.”
“Might want to find out, big guy,” Xander said. “What if he wakes up and sues?”
“Oh.” Xander was satisfied to see some color draining from the guy’s face. After all, when the assets of your department consisted of several polyester uniforms and a stunning selection of twisted wreckage, the thought of paying a multi-million dollar judgment could only summon up the thought of Sisyphusian hours of overtime. With some satisfaction, he headed for the vending machines. The nice thing about hospitals was the coolness of the vending machines. It was like a coin-operated miniature supermarket. Food was definitely better than medication on days like this. They even had an ice cream machine. He still had his Anya reflex---the urge to turn around and poke her, make her look at something that interested him---but when he turned around to point out the miracle of ice cream on demand, he was all alone. He looked at the doorway where she should have been standing, an exasperated look on her face, and lost his appetite. If he couldn’t share it with her, what was the point? He stuffed his hands back in his pockets. Have to save that change for the funeral. Maybe when Anya was taken care of appropriately, he could move on.
“Hey,” Buffy said quietly from the doorway.
“Hey, Buff.” He waved at the machines. “Look! Cholesterol nirvana.”
“Except you just put your money back in your pockets.”
“Kind of lost my appetite. Nobody to bitch at me about it.”
“Nah, Buff, don’t worry. It’s not like I can’t stand to trim off a few pounds. Maybe I could give them to Spike, you know? Looks like he needs the padding.”
“Oh,” she said quietly. “I’m sorry I ran off like---“
“Nope, no worries,” he brushed her apology aside. “You think I wouldn’t do the same thing?”
“If you found out Spike was alive? I’m sure he’d be touched to wake up and find you at your---“
“Yeah, Buff, you wish.” Xander looked down at the floor. Getting the Oscar for his performance as Mature Xander hung on him selling his next few comments. “How is he?”
Buffy shook her head at the floor, then stepped forward quickly and wrapped her arms around him. “You’re so sweet, Xander.”
“Hey! Hey, watch my reputation here, Buff. I am not sweet. No guy is sweet. Never. Especially never in relation to comments----totally neutral comments, I feel compelled to point out, by the way-----made about a former pain in the butt other guy, uh----crap,” he trailed. “Damned compound sentences.”
“You slept through that block in English.”
She looked up. “You okay?”
Xander considered it. “I’m in limbo, basically. I want to get Anya taken care of. I want to---“ He sighed. “Does this sound bad? I want to lay her to rest.”
“It’s not bad, Xander.”
“Just don’t tell anyone I said that.”
“So how are you?”
She shrugged. “Need to talk to Giles, now.”
“Not to mention the whole buying stock in the phone company thing.”
“Next on my list,” she assured him. “You all set?”
Her hands were sweating. She rubbed them on her thighs, then positioned her soda a bit more precisely on the coaster. She cracked her knuckles over the phone, and took a deep breath. Three previous attempts had not seen the number successfully dialed, and her hopes weren’t too high for this one, either. Telling Giles meant telling everyone---Angel, Wes, and Dawn. Telling them meant putting something into words when she couldn’t even work her own mind around it. As Spike’s face rose in her mind’s eye, yet again, her hand dropped to her lap again.
Alive. Breathing. Not exactly in a coma, according to the doctor---but in a deep sleep, as if he’d been exhausted beyond endurance, and his body didn’t have the energy to wake itself up.
Her earlier thought returned to her. What if coming back to life left him as screwed up as it had her? Poetic justice, indeed. I’m not calling just now. I can’t. She made a fist, released, then another-- and dialed the number, fast and with shaking hands. The number was practically engraved on her nerve endings now, and even though she was in a daze, her fingers knew the way.
Ring. Ring. What time was it in London? Ring. Ring.
“Mmrrph.” There was a deep groan, and Buffy wondered what she’d interrupted. Great. Another Freudian moment.
“Buffy?“ There was the sort of mutter she associated with grumpy Giles, then a fumble, and an exasperated snort as he tried, no doubt, to find his glasses. “What is it?”
“Do you have your glasses on?”
“Well---now I do, yes.”
“Okay. Good news and bad news.”
“Urgent good news or..bad news? Why should I be surprised? How bad is the---bad news? Is it those dreams, again?”
More like a dream come true, she thought. “No, Giles, this is---real. This really happened.”
“It’s real,” Giles said. “Buffy---Right, then.” He hesitated, and when he spoke again, his voice was considerably sharper. “Right. Just tell me. Who’s been hurt? And--how badly?”
“Well, it’s sort of----tied up with the good news, actually.”
Buffy took a deep breath. Saying it would make it real. Words and dreams colliding. Her words would expose her dreams. “They found Spike.”
Bedsprings squeaked. Giles coughed, and yawned. “I beg your pardon, Buffy, but I thought you said ---“
No use wasting time, Buffy thought. Not at three bucks a minute. “Some SWAT guys or whatever found him. Spike. They found him, Giles. In the wreckage. He’s human. He’s sort of comatose, but it’s him. Pulse and everything.”
“He was dusted, though, you said. He---“
“Well, I guess Christmas came early. Or something.”
“Are you sure?”
She closed her eyes, thinking---I know every inch of that body. “I’m sure.”
“You’re sure?” Giles repeated stupidly, and she wondered whether she might just as well have waited till his daytime hours.
“Giles, it’s him.”
The minutes ticked by, mute moment by moment. She clung to the phone and tried to read the thoughts of a man ten thousand miles away. “He’s back, Giles. He’s human.”
“Good Lord. I’ve never heard of that.”
“Never? What about me?”
Giles hesitated, and she felt it then---his affection. She clutched the phone tighter, strangled it with her hands. “You’ve always been unique, Buffy, you know that.” With some asperity, he continued: “Spike’s place in the Chronicles, however, has always been due to his bloody-minded persistence.”
She caught her breath, and found her refuge in sarcasm. “Funny how I’m unique when it’s, oh, about two years later and ten thousand miles away. And when it’s Spike.”
“The two of you together---“ Bedsprings squeaked again, and Buffy found herself wondering exactly what he was sleeping on. It certainly couldn’t be comfortable if sitting up or lying down made it shriek like that. She hoped that was the reason he sounded so…strange.
“Aren’t you sort of, you know, jumping ahead a bit? He’s sort of not-conscious now.”
“Well, Buffy, what do you expect?” Giles said reasonably. “If the Council hadn’t, well, disappeared, I’m sure Travers would have me up for censure for being the worst Watcher----“ He sighed deeply. “I’ll be damned if I know why this would be such a bad thing.”
“You’re not a bad Watcher. You were the best Watcher, Giles.”
She could almost hear him smiling. “Waited till I was ten thousand miles away to tell me that, didn’t you?”
“That was my plan,” Buffy said with a sniff.
“If Spike is human---Buffy,” he said quietly. “He hasn’t spoken, has he? He’s unconscious?”
“What if he’s----“ he took a deep breath. “You must consider the possibility that, he might not be---“
“What if he just looks like Spike? The Powers That Be can be very capricious.”
“Oh,” Buffy said faintly. “I never even thought about that. But---“ she rallied. “Aren’t there rules about this kind of thing? I mean, aren’t there---there---prophecies? And things?” She added weakly.
“Oh, there’s vampire fairy tales, a prophecy here and there, but I don’t think it’s ever happened----oh, my Lord. I’ll have to consult Hitchens in the archives---well, what’s left of them, at any rate----and maybe he can---I’m sorry, Buffy, but this is extraordinary. Maybe I can get a hold of Volkov in Moscow---he hasn’t retired yet, I don’t think---Ah, yes. I do have a reason for researching this, Buffy. The Powers that Be might very well think that rewarding Spike is best accomplished by relieving him of the memory of what he did as Spike.”
“It’s only a possibility, Buffy. But of course, I can think of instances of cruelty by TPTB---“
She bit her lip, almost amused. As soon as Spike became a research opportunity, Giles woke up. That at least, hadn’t changed. “The thing is, Giles, there is something else. I was thinking----it’s not the worst thing that he’s kind of in a coma. The Sunnydale Police kind of think he might have killed the Potentials who died. They’re very eager to call that murder.”
“Murder?” Giles dragged his attention back to the conversation with her, and away from the one he was evidently having with his inner librarian. “But---but---he was---he saved----“
“I know that, Giles, and you know that. But we need proof in order for the authorities to know that. For starters, it would be very nice if Spike had some kind of real identity.”
“That would enable them to get some sort of case going, though, Buffy. Once they have a name, they feel compelled to do something with it.” He was silent for a moment. “Is that why you’re asking me? For British papers?”
“That thought did cross my mind. I know that I’m assuming he’ll wake up, but I have to plan ahead. What if they’re serious about this?”
“Of course the Sunnydale police department would in fact ignore all the vampire attacks in order to find a human suspect. Good Lord. You want to bring him to—England?”
“I thought about it. And, then, you know, you and I could discuss the whole Watcher thing again.”
“Ah,” Giles said. He chuckled. “In order to get you as a Watcher I have to endure Spike as a house guest yet again, is it?”
“Well, not exactly, Giles.” But his response was so genial that she started to feel more than a little optimistic. “I mean----But---“ She licked her lips. “Can you do it? Just in case?”
“I don’t think that’ll be too difficult, actually. Look for an express package from me in the next couple of days, will you? I’ll, ah, include some information about Watching, as well. There’s more to it than you might think.”
“Oh, I can imagine,” Buffy said dryly. “For instance, it’s starting to sound an awful lot like parents wanting grandchildren.”
“Actually, I think the desire there is to watch the grandchildren put the children through much worse trials than the parents themselves had to endure.”
“I’m reasonably sure of it.”
“You’re going to get up right now and scurry over to the library as fast as you can, aren’t you?”
“Buffy,” he said acidly. “I do not scurry.” He paused, evidently considering an offensive mental image. “I walk, briskly.”
“So---how briskly are you going to walk to the library? Are they even open there at this hour?”
“It’s my library. It’s open all the time,” Giles said loftily. There was another squeak from the bedsprings. “Keep me current on what’s going on, Buffy, if you don’t mind.”
“I’ve never heard of such a thing happening,” he said softly. “Well, one’s heard of prophecies, but---never that such a thing actually came true. My word. Buffy, you’ll need your own shelf.”
“Good night, Giles,” Buffy said, smiling in spite of herself. Immortality to Giles would of course be measured by the number of books devoted to one. For him, it was sort of like the ostentatious house, the flashy car, the buildings built, the conspicuous consumption, all rolled into one.
She sat by the phone for a while, watching the sun fade, thinking. It would be nice to measure one’s success in terms of books rather than vamps staked. Saving lives was wonderful---but living a life seemed like a possible coda now, too. Maybe he was right.
Only if Spike is okay, she thought. Only if he’s not the sacrifice for my life.
The twilight called to her just as surely as if she were a vampire herself, especially now, with tension that needed to be alleviated. She still had various people to tell, and she had to prepare for it. She could not even begin to imagine how she would tell Angel. She’d think about it after she slayed a little.
She wandered through the graveyards for an hour before she found a vamp, but it was a fledgling and it was disappointing. Two punches, one from each side, and he was flat on his stomach, so unexpectedly that she was left without a counter to absorb the force of the punch. She stumbled and practically fell on top of him, staking him with more force than she intended, and wound up with a splinter buried deep in her palm. Walking home, pulling it from her hand, she saw people going arm in arm down the streets, paired off. She pressed her hand over the puncture in her hand and watched them. Not a single vamp anywhere in the vicinity, and her reward for being the cause of that was a wooden splinter in her palm.
A couple of phone calls and a bus ride and she found herself at the hospital, not for her hand but for her heart. The patrolman at Spike’s door, no less a naïf that his predecessor had been, knew enough to read the look on her face and step aside, but she heard him calling his supervisor on the radio as she closed the door between them.
She considered Spike’s face as she stood over him, her hand on his chest, feeling his heart beat. If he woke up without his memory of her, that pleasure would be taken from her, and she intended to savor it while it was hers. All the moments she’d wasted seemed to crowd around her, then, and she wondered if it was possible to make amends for tossing them aside them. She traced his lips with her fingertips, her hand molding his face, forgetting about the puncture on her hand. And then the door to the room opened, and she found herself looking at one of the detectives. Jordan? Tate? She thought. Who cared, at this point?
“Miss Summers, visiting hours are over.”
“Thanks, I knew that.”
“Well, let’s put it this way, okay? You haven’t exactly been forthcoming. Visiting hours are over for you.”
There was something disturbing about arguing about Spike as if he weren’t there, so she gave his face one final stroke with a fingertip before adjusting his sheet and stepping out into the hallway. She left a perfect round drop of her blood on the immaculate sheet, and one on his face. If she hadn’t been so suddenly, happily, furious, she might have noticed.
“So you think you’re really going to make a case for this, huh?”
“Oh, you’re the one from Sunnydale, aren’t you? Why am I not surprised?” She clasped her hands behind her hand to make them behave and walked a short distance down the hallway with the detective. “How long have you been on the force, Detective?”
“Yes, it is relevant. You know why? Because Sunnydale had the stupidest police department ever. What did you guys do all day? Play cards? What? Sunnydale had the highest murder rate per capita in the whole country. Who did you arrest for Jenny Calendar’s death, Detective?”
“We will identify this man, Miss Summers. And your boyfriend will go to jail for---“
“Oh, please,” she brushed him off contemptuously. “Try it. Just try it. Maybe his clothes caught fire and he burnt his hand tearing them off. Maybe he just fell into the pit. Whatever. Why doesn’t he have any wounds if he killed all those girls? But whatever happens, Detective---and I lived in Sunnydale, and watched people die----if you try and arrest him for something he didn’t do, I will make sure your department pays the price for pretending to be a real police department.” She crossed her arms and tried to look like someone who could actually feel the floor beneath her feet.
“Yeah, well, that’s a brave speech, Miss Summers. It’s especially brave for someone with your record. And a boyfriend who evidently kills teenage girls. You don’t have a lot of leverage there, you know.”
“Don’t I?” She said grimly. “I know he didn’t kill those girls.”
“How, exactly, do you know that?”
It was on the tip of her tongue to leap into the breech, to raise her voice and take up the gauntlet this fool had tossed at her. Not just yet, a small cautious voice said. Not just yet.
“That’s your job to find out, isn’t it? You’re the detective. Go detect something.”
Continued in Chapter 6