Giles was researching in England, running the Council of Watchers the way he’d always felt it should be. The world was full of Slayers. She didn’t have to work until and if she wanted to, really. Willow was doing more research, and happily ensconced with the coven that had helped her before. Kennedy was no doubt irritating English people instead of Americans. Dawn was probably playing poker with Lorne and God only knew who or what else. Xander was…She frowned a little. At least Xander had found Anya. The way the collapse of Sunnydale had destroyed every physical sign of all their lives bothered her. It was weird to think of Xander as being lucky because he was facing a funeral.
And Spike, she thought. Her mind was like a car that kept trying to start and couldn’t turn over. Spike, she thought, and that was it. This, she thought, is what he must have felt when I came back.
So what if he didn’t want to come back? She rolled over on her side, bringing one leg over to twist out her spine. He’s human now. So much for immortality. And if he wakes up, he’ll have Giles pestering him every step of the way for details. Her eyelids were getting very heavy and sandy, and she snagged a pillow from the floor. What if he doesn’t---what if going through all that---whatever that is----changed him?
He’d been a vampire longer than he’d been a man. Most of his formative experiences had been as a vampire. Being a vampire had been his salvation, his ticket out of a lifetime of mediocrity and painful embarrassment. Should have asked Giles about that. He’d told her some things, bit by bit, as they lay together, those times when they’d worn each other out, when she’d been so exhausted she’d let him into something other than just her body. Now she wondered if he’d even have those memories. Who would he be? Spike or William? Or both?
Something else occurred to her and made her actually sit up. Did this happen because he wanted it to? What if he hadn’t wanted it? What if it was unwilling and unwitting? Giles’ remarks about the capriciousness of the Powers That Be came back to her. What if he wasn’t even Spike? She hadn’t even thought of this possibility in any detail because it was hard to imagine the cruelty of it. She thought of him lying in his hospital bed, and something twisted inside her. What if he doesn’t wake up? She’d read that coma patients sometimes had dreams—and nightmares. What if this wasn’t a reward---but a punishment?
Her mind was running around in circles now, faster and faster, until she was dizzy from it, and tired. She fell asleep.
“So what do you think?”
“It tickles a little.” Spike was looking down at the EKG stickers taped to his chest. Buffy patted them to make sure they were affixed properly, and he grabbed her hand and held it against his chest. “But not in a bad way.” She tensed for a moment, but the thump of his heart lulled her with its rhythm. Seen in the sunlight, his eyes were a startling clear blue, and she stared into them as if she’d never seen them before, raising her hand to touch his cheek. But he winced when he did it, and she shrank back.
He was lying at her feet in the darkness, and the music from the Bronze pounded in her head like blood. “You only hurt the one you love.”
“I didn’t mean to.”
“You came back wrong,” Spike said, lying at her feet, bruises covering his face. “But so did I. So did all of us.”
“Me, too.” Anya said from the doorway. She didn’t look that bad, considering she was dead. Her face was gray, and her hair was limp, but she didn’t look frightening or anything. “Lasted more than a thousand years as a demon---only a couple of decades as a human. Well, both times as a human. How long do you think he’s going to last? It’s not like he’s the Slayer or anything. No super strength. No special powers. Just a man.”
“I don’t care,” Buffy said defensively. “I’m just glad he’s here.”
“Will it be enough when he’s gone, though?”
“Don’t stop,” Spike said. His skin was soft under her hands, the sheet pooling around his hips. He guided her hand lower and lower, till it touched his erection.
“Careful. There’s somebody outside the door.”
“The policeman? He can take notes. Might learn something.”
The sheet slipped as she maneuvered onto his lap, and he winced as she zigged when she should have zagged. But his hand found her breast, then her buttons. His hands were agreeably warm on her, and she found herself feeling feverish with desire. It had been so long for both of them, and now it was going to be different. She was stronger now, and she had to be more careful than ever before.
His kiss felt unfamiliar to her—his lips as warm as her own, his heart thudding in counterpoint to her. Then his skin was against hers, and her breasts were against his chest, her hands clutching his hair. Her heart was going so fast, faster than when she slayed, faster than when she ran. She had to pause, to slow down, to savor it, feeling his skin slippery beneath her fingers, getting used to the taste of his mouth again. The EKG machine was beeping madly with his heart beat…
“Ack! Sorry!” Dawn snapped off the microwave as soon as she saw Buffy stir on the couch. “Why are you sleeping there anyway?” She pulled an eggroll from inside and lifted it to her mouth with her fingtertips. One bite, and it was flipped back onto the plate. “Ouch.”
“Try using a fork,” Buffy said, amused. “And this as far as I got.”
“Oh,” Dawn said. She rooted in the fridge for something to drink and pulled out a pitcher full of a fluorescent-colored liquid. Also a good diversionary tactic, she thought. Just don’t want to know why Buffy goes back to Sunnydale every day. “We’re almost out of Kool-Aid.”
“That’s Kool-Aid? It looks like---“
“Don’t say it,” Dawn warned. “That is not working any more.”
“You mean like when I compared Kentucky Friend Chicken to Clem’s rash?” Buffy asked maliciously. “I’m perfectly entitled to make comparisons.”
“Well, I can do that, too. And besides, how would you know this stuff looked like a Fungus Demon’s pregnancy test? Did you work in the Fungus Demon hospital or something? That only worked when I was, like, ten.“
“Hah. It’s working now.”
“Is not.” Dawn wrinkled her nose and gulped down her Kool aid on her way to her room.
Buffy hesitated for a second, then said, “Dawn?”
“What? Oh, shoot, sorry.” She scuttled back to the kitchen and put the pitcher back in the fridge. “Better now?”
“It’s not,” Buffy said. “I have some news.”
“Oh.” Dawn took a deep breath. “It’s cool. I heard about Anya. I knew that already.” I didn’t know you liked Anya that much, but…She headed back down the hallway, no doubt to splash Kool Aid all over her nightstand and add to her burgeoning ant collection.
“It’s not about Anya.”
“Could you sit down for a second?”
Dawn bit her lip for a minute, then sat down in the chair Spike had sat in during her dream. Buffy saw again, his hands, dangling between his knees, dusty and scraped, and lifted her eyes to Dawn’s face with a snap. “Okay…so?”
When she closed her eyes for a second, she saw Spike sitting in that chair. “Dawn… what was it like…when I came back?”
Dawn cocked her head at her. “What was it like?” She thought about it for a second. “Why?” Then her face paled. “Oh, my God---what’s going on?” She looked around wildly, as if she expected to be overheard. “Is Willow back? Is she evil again? Is she going to try that—that---thing---with Anya?”
“I thought—“ Buffy tried not to sound hurt, but she didn’t entirely succeed. “I thought you were glad I was back.”
“I was, I totally was, Buffy, but---“ Dawn didn’t so much lean forward as lunge forward. “But I don’t want her doing that again. I don’t want her doing that to anyone. You---Do you know what I mean? I mean, it was---“She sighed in a huge way, and then got up to flop down on the couch next to Buffy. “You know? I wanted you back, I wanted Mom back, but that—what if Mom had come back? What if I had managed to---?”
“Dawn, it’s okay. I understand,” Buffy said firmly. But her heart was hammering again. I can’t tell her just yet. In a way she was relieved. She didn’t know how she was going to tell Angel, and Angel had the perspective that one could get from two centuries. Dawn hadn’t even graduated high school yet.
“So what’s up then?”
“Oh, nothing. Just---I just had a really weird dream, and then I woke up and it was gone. Made me think.”
Buffy hesitated, then said, “Spike.”
Buffy studied her curiously. “Just—oh?”
“Yeah,” Dawn said. “For now---Just, oh.” She got up and scooted around the coffee table, heading in the direction of her room.
“I’m going to bed, Buffy. Talk to you tomorrow?”
“Sure,” Buffy said faintly. But Dawn’s door was already clicking shut.
She slept lightly, but none of the dreams stayed with her when she woke up. She’d set her alarm so she could talk to Angel before he went to bed, but she’d actually woken up before it went off because she never fell deeply asleep. Showering just relaxed her enough to want to go back to bed, and she faced the impending conversation with Angel with something like resignation.
Two cups of coffee gave her some liquid optimism, and she was almost conscious when she got to the Hyperion. She could have had an entire pot of coffee, however, and she still wouldn’t have been prepared for the sight that greeted her in the lobby of the hotel.
“Harmony?!” She gasped.
“Buffy!” Harmony exclaimed, jumping to her feet. A National Enquirer that had been propped up against a mug of blood slowly sagged toward the edge of the table. She looked like she’d just seen a long-long---long-eaten-----sorority sister, and Buffy stared at her as if she’d lost her mind. Or I have, she thought. “It’s so---!” She was halfway across the floor before Buffy remembered the stake in her waistband and yanked it out.
“Awful?” Buffy asked. “Awful to see you? Was that what you were going to say?”
“Oh, that’s so mean! Why can’t you forget about that? Why can’t you just leave me alone about that stuff? I haven’t done anything to you.”
“Today,” Buffy specified.
“Oh, that---who cares about that kind of thing?” Harmony hovered indecisively halfway across the lobby, and Buffy was suddenly, awfully certain that Harmony was going to try and hug her.
“You mean, threatening to kill me, and Dawn, and---“
“Oh, that,” Harmony sulked, with the air of someone being criticized over minutiae. She brightened, however. “Well, that was a long time ago. Besides, it was kind of friendly, wasn’t it? You know, in an equals fighting kind of way.” She smiled brightly. “I hear you let some bygones be bygones, if----“
Buffy took one fast step and found herself facing a wall. She looked up. “Angel.”
“Buffy. Nice to see you.” He tossed a glance over his shoulder. “Harmony. It would be nice not to see you.”
“You don’t have to be like that,” Harmony complained, but when Angel stepped out of Buffy’s way, Harmony had disappeared.
“What’s she doing here?”
“Serving as my penance, I guess,” Angel said wearily. He looked down at his watch. “Why didn’t you just call?”
“I didn’t want to take the chance of Dawn hearing. You have a minute?”
“Sure.” He led her into his office and she sank into a chair while Angel slowly maneuvered around to the big leather chair on the opposite side of the desk. “What’s up?”
Buffy rubbed her eyes. “Oh, hell. Just when my life gets kind of normal it gets weird again.”
Angel sat down and raised both eyebrows at her. “That doesn’t make sense.”
“Well to me it does.” She drew circles on the surface of his desk, avoiding his eyes. “So—Can I ask you a question?”
“It’s not going to be a good question if you have to ask, is it?”
“Yeah, actually,” Buffy admitted.
“Now I’m curious. So?”
“Do you remember when you came back?”
“From Vegas? From Sunnydale? Or from Hell?” Angel specified dryly. “That was kind of--- kind of difficult to forget, Buffy.”
“What---was it like?”
“Why are you asking?”
Buffy sighed, and let her head fall back on the head rest. Her head was pounding the same way her heart had, in her dream. “It’s about the only solid place I’ve got to start. I’ve got to know what it’s like, what the Powers That Be are like.”
“Why?” Angel stared at her for several long seconds, and she found herself looking away from that steady gaze. “I heard about that spell that brought you back, Buffy. Is someone thinking of trying that again? It’s too dangerous.”
“I don’t think anyone is. That’s not why I’m asking.”
“Okay?” He spread his arms wide.
Another long, inscrutable stare followed that, and Buffy found herself unable to decide which tack to take with him. “I didn’t realize you felt that strongly about him,” Angel said finally.
“That’s not the point, Angel.”
“It’s not? Why?”
“He’s already back. And, uh---“ Buffy took a deep breath. “He’s human.”
“He’s human?” Angel said softly. “Spike is human.” He stared down at the surface of his desk. All expression had been wiped from his face, and if Buffy hadn’t known better, she would have thought he was stunned. He seemed to be weighing several things at once, then dismissing them, avoiding her eyes the whole time. Finally, he seemed to remember her presence. “Human,” he repeated. His voice was lifeless.
“Human,” Buffy confirmed. “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know,” Angel said distantly. “I really don’t know. I won’t know till I taught to Wes.”
“That’s it? That’s all?”
“Afraid so, Buffy.”
“Oh,” she said crossly. “I was hoping for more than that.”
“Weren’t we all, Buffy,” Angel said. “Weren’t we all?”
Continued in Chapter 7