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 beginning the third installment in an alternate Season 7 AU. Jumpy? Me? Nah... Yeah. Real jumpy. Any errors in continuity that may come up during the course of this fic are my own. No one can ask their beta to live in an alternate universe all the time. Chapters will probably take longer to be posted, so be kind!
Thanks to Chris for her encouragement and her ear, which has served me well, to Kelly for handing me the title of this fic and listening as I whined about the demands of the muse, and Colleen, who gives me solace and the best final beta there is!
Hope you enjoy.
Dawn skipped down the stairs and headed into the kitchen for breakfast, sliding past Buffy to stop at the refrigerator. With a ceremonious bow, she opened the door to reveal an interior full of food and drink. She sighed in ecstasy and reached in to snare the bottle of 100% Florida orange juice. Setting it on the counter, she turned again to open the top door. Frozen treats lined the inside of the freezer, reminding the girl of the frozen food aisle at the grocery store.
Waffles joined the orange juice. She was so glad the Council was paying Buffy now.
Buffy's low, strained voice invaded the teenager's happy thoughts.
"Of course, I'll pick you up. I can so drive. I just...don't. But tomorrow, I do. Fine. You drive back then."
Dawn's ears practically swiveled to cup the next words, spoken even lower than before.
"A hotel? That's nuts. You can... Oh. Well, it's not like..." Buffy laughed but it sounded strange. Uncomfortable. "I don't think she'd..." The slayer looked up at her sister like a deer caught in headlights, as if she'd just realized she was in the room. Cupping her hand around the mouthpiece of the phone, she turned away toward the wall, saying something that even Dawn's "little pitcher" ears couldn't catch.
A breathy sigh forced its way past Buffy's lips. "Fine. Are you... Will you be all right on the plane and all?"
Dawn shuddered and immediately steeled herself for something she'd known was coming for a while now. She set her chin. It would be all right. They wouldn't let Willow leave if she wasn't a hundred million times better than she was when Giles took her away. Dawn dropped a waffle into the toaster and pulled a jar of peanut butter out of the cabinet. Buffy softly put the receiver on its cradle and slowly pulled her hand away, still gazing at the phone.
"So," Dawn said, clearing her throat. "When does she get in?"
Buffy's eyes crawled from the phone to Dawn. The frown line between her eyes was deep. "What?"
"Willow. When does she get in? And are we having like a 'Welcome Back, Ex-Wiccan' party, or just leaving the front door open and covering our heads with blankets?" she asked saucily.
The slayer looked bewildered. "Willow?" Buffy shook her head to clear it. "Oh! No, no Willow." She sat down heavily at the table and absently picked up the empty waffle wrapper, holding it up to her eyes to look through the cellophane. Laying it in front of her, she absently straightened it out, smoothing the torn edges together.
"Yo, Zombie Buffy. Come back...." Dawn began tapping her foot.
"Not Willow. Spike." She pulled the salt and pepper shakers together on the table, still frowning. After a moment, she pushed them apart.
Dawn wanted to squeal with excitement, but something was wrong. "Spike's coming home?"
"Tomorrow evening. Night. Whatever. On a plane."
Dawn's mouth tried to keep up with her thoughts and failed miserably. "I'll help Clem get things back together at Spike's place. And I can go to the butcher's too. Get blood in the fridge there and here, cause of course, he's gonna be here a lot, too. And the crypt will be clean, but Clem's got some personal stuff there that'll just make Spike barf when he sees it - even with the soul." Dawn ran out of air and thoughts at the same moment. "Wait. Hotel. You said 'hotel.'"
Buffy nodded. "He told me when he left that he wouldn't be going back to the crypt. Ever. So... not there. And not..."
"Here?" The teenager sat down deflated, as she finally homed in on the cause of Buffy's mood. "He's being all soulish and strange again, isn't he?" She took a breath and snatched up the forgotten cellophane. "All right. What's the what? Is he staying?"
Buffy started to tell Dawn it was none of her business. But she didn't. "I'm...not sure. He didn't say. He wants to talk. We're going out to dinner."
"Dinner?" The girl did squeal then. "Like a date? Oh, Buffy, we have so got to find you something cool to wear. A date? That's just so..."
"Weird," Buffy interjected. "Weird, Dawn."
"Nah. It's nice!"
"I haven't seen Spike in four months. Four months! Without getting graphic, dinner ought to be the last thing on his mind." It was the last thing on mine, she thought. Was. Past tense. She wondered if it was too late to start biting her fingernails. Smoking. Taking anti-depressants...
The vampire slayer's little sister held up two fingers in the shape of a makeshift cross. "Back, evil sex-maniac!" She giggled. "Besides, it sounds romantic."
"*It* may sound romantic, but he didn't. You didn't talk to him. He was all... distancy. Like from Mars."
"Oh, c'mon, Buffy, and that means what? You *know* Spike loves you. He got a soul because of you. You're the one being all weird."
"Oh, yeah, right. That's why I feel like I have the words, 'Dear Slayer,' tattooed across my forehead." She sighed. "I'm going back to bed. No class 'til one. See you after school."
"Sure. Later, gator," Dawn said cheerily as Buffy left the kitchen.
Dawn slid peanut butter across her waffle and took a bite.
God, her sister could be such a drama queen sometimes. She'd better be up there finding something special to wear. It was like...their first date, she figured. Which was kind of strange considering they'd been sleeping together off and on for more than a year.
She shook her head, chewing her waffle and scarfing down the juice.
Buffy and Spike were just *so* weird.
Spike looked at Daniel as he hung up the phone. "Well, that's it then. I'm bloody well committed now."
The younger vampire nodded solemnly, hiding his amusement. "Yes, you are. Can you get everything squared away between now and then?"
"If you keep runnin' interference, yeah." Thoughtfully, Spike looked down at the report in front of him. "And if that idiot Ralston will quit screwin' with me. Doesn't he understand anythin' about this?"
Daniel laughed shortly. "No. But you're the one with the heavy-duty back up. Not him."
Spike smirked. "Yeah. Yeah, I am." He thought back on his first interview with General Paxton.
The general had been waiting for Spike when he'd been shown in the conference room at the old Initiative facility. "God, man, sit down! You're look like you're dead on your feet!"
Spike, who had been carefully watching his feet to be certain they didn't tangle in each other, looked up with a trace of black humor, eyebrow raised.
Paxton had recoiled slightly and stared at the vampire. Then he had started to laugh. Uproariously, in fact. Two hours later, Spike had left the general with his life and a request for assistance: "That young soldier, the one you found, is prepared to come with us. Help sift through this mess. But even if he is a vampire, he's still a kid, a raw recruit - and he's got some 'adjusting' to do," the general had said carefully. "We'd prefer to have some help from someone a little more... experienced."
Still smiling, Spike glanced at Daniel. "You can always call him yourself. If there's a problem that you can't fix or you can't reach me. He'll listen. Lot at stake here."
"For us, yes. But for Paxton? I'm not so sure."
"Be sure. One of his officers bollixed it up. Big. Guilt is a powerful motivator, Daniel. I ought to know." Spike tapped on the pile of paper with his pen. "So. What's next?"
"Flagged a potential," Daniel informed him.
"Cut the Initiative jargon," he growled. "Don't like it." Spike scrutinized the monitor. "Well, who is it?" he asked impatiently.
"Got it." The older vampire stared at the screen for a long moment. "Can you put Zabowski up? At the same time? Do that split thing?"
"Yeah, and you could, too, if..."
"Call it job security. Keeps you from a staking out of hand, Fledge. So don't piss me off."
Daniel grinned as he exported the data to Spike's computer, already knowing exactly which charts the vampire wanted to see. He knew that Spike was very capable of running the 'split' himself. In fact, he'd caught him doing it one evening when he'd returned to the office unexpectedly after a class in the gym. The older vampire had demurred, saying that it had been an accident, but Daniel knew better. There wasn't much William the Bloody, as he'd once been called, couldn't figure out, given time, a reason, and the inclination.
Right now, he was watching for the vampire's reaction to the new information. He saw him lean back, massage the bridge of his nose, and sigh. "Another one."
"Murray calls them 'jumpers.'"
"He would," he growled angrily. Spike slammed a half-open drawer shut in a sudden display of frustration. "Gonna lose him, too."
"Not yet," Daniel said reassuringly. "But...it is headed that direction."
Looking at the younger vampire from under hooded eyes, he blew out a breath. "We're gonna lose 'em all," he said softly.
Silently, Daniel watched as Spike turned and gazed at the wall, eyes unfocused. The fledgling stayed silent, letting him think. It had served them well before.
The older vampire finally looked at Daniel. "Who's got the highest adjustment rating?"
"Marshall." Daniel didn't even have to look. "His stats are through the roof."
"Buddy 'em up. I want Jeffries so far up Marshall's ass there's talk."
Daniel nodded thoughtfully. "Might work."
"Damn well better. Or Jeffries 'offs' himself."
"Yeah," Daniel muttered.
"Yeah," Spike echoed sarcastically. "Get the shrink on the phone. I want to know why you're the one who flagged this and not him. Better yet, get his white clad ass over here. We'll give him a visual demo, since he doesn't seem to know what to look for. Don't have time to be doin' double work."
"Today? It's already six o'clock."
Spike gave Daniel a dark look.
Picking up the phone, the younger one punched an inside number and immediately began talking softly to the person on the other end.
The last four months had consisted of one crisis after another. Although the twenty-seven - twenty-six - vampires were housed in a high security facility, its very isolation had convinced Paxton to relax some of the precautions, so that they were able to move freely around the compound and interact if they so chose.
That had been the immediate problem when Paxton had arrived in Sunnydale - figuring out what to do with the Initiative-made vampires. The general had solved that one out of hand. Having just supervised the shut down on a secure experimental facility near Vale, Colorado, that had appropriate labs and living quarters housed within the compound, he was able to set the relocation up with a phone call. Within forty-eight hours, the vampires had a new home and new staff. Paxton's duties as a program auditor were the reason he'd wound up in Sunnydale in the first place.
No stranger to the black op type concerns that were sometimes masked by other programs, the general had been less shocked than most at what had gone on at the old Initiative labs. What *had* shocked him was the coercion of terminal patients, young men who were dying of leukemia, AIDS, liver failure and more, into becoming undead guinea pigs and ultimately eternal soldiers.
One hour and forty-five minutes into their interview, he had asked Spike if he would act as liaison between the programmers, doctors and scientists in a study, to try and assimilate the small group into something meaningful.
"What do you expect to find out from this 'study?'" Spike had asked with more than a trace of sarcasm.
"That's what I need you for. When you ace it, let me know. Until then, I'll fund it and take the flak from above."
"A 'study,' Spike said in distaste, turning the word over in his mouth.
"'Studies' get funded," the general explained. "A rehabilitation program for vampires? Even for ones that the US Government created? Well, that will get me laughed into a retirement home. In a straitjacket."
"Why me?" Spike's eyes had narrowed dangerously. He was tired, his head hurt and his body ached. It had only been a few hours since Riley Finn's 'study' and Spike's accidental dechipping.
The general had stared at him, undaunted and certainly unused to being questioned. Especially by a 'civilian' and a dead one at that. "Who else? You've spent the last," he looked down at a file and nodded, "four years in metamorphosis from a cold-blooded predator to a..."
"A vampire on a mission of redemption?" Spike finished sarcastically. "T'wasn't that noble. More a question of survival."
"You survive because you have a purpose. That's how most of us do. Good purpose, bad purpose. I'd like to see these boys survive. With a good purpose."
"These 'boys,' as you call them, are vampires. The term we use is 'fledglings'. It's doubtful they *can* survive. Why not stake them and be done?"
"Why didn't you stake the young soldier you found? You're the demon hunter, from all reports." The general's face reddened as he pounded a fist on the desk. "Look, we did this, and by God, we're gonna see it through!"
"See 'what' through?" Spike said heatedly, coming out of the chair and leaning across the desk. "They're dead! I'm dead! What part of 'dead' do you not understand? The 'un'-dead part? There is no place for them. Not even with other vampires. They're crippled, incomplete!"
The general had gazed coldly at the vampire until Spike sat down again, spent from his tirade. His eyes shifted to his steepled fingers, and back to the frosty blue eyes across the desk.
"Are you in?" Paxton asked levelly.
"If I was to say 'yes,' you do understand that I'm not a part of the zoo. I come and go as I please. And if you try to make me a part of it, it won't last. I've gotten out before and will again."
The general laughed. "I've never caged the zoo keeper yet. To my way of thinking, it's counter-productive. Besides, that chip's been doing a damn fine job of keeping you behind bars."
Spike blew out a breath and stared at the general angrily, choosing not to comment on his newly unchipped condition. The man met his angry gaze with one as cool as the other's was hot.
"Well?" Paxton prodded.
"Oh, bloody hell," the vampire said in frustration. "Yeah. I'm in."
Daniel's voice called Spike back to the present. "He's gone for the day. You're set up for 9 am."
The vampire looked at the younger one at the other workstation. Oh, yeah. The shrink. "What the hell am I supposed to do til then?" he complained.
"I guess pack."
Spike barked a laugh. "Pack what?"
Daniel gave Spike the once over, realizing that the other vampire had slowly adopted a working uniform of gray t-shirts and fatigue pants. Only the Doc Martens had survived - but barely. He laughed. "Well, you can't take her to dinner in that!"
Mouth falling open, Spike looked down in shock. "You're bloody right. I can't." He started toward the door, and then stopped. "What about the hair?" Spike started counting on his fingers.
"Oh, that's fine." Daniel grinned inwardly. About six weeks after they'd arrived in Colorado, Spike had come into their workspace with very short hair. All of the blond was gone. Daniel hadn't known who he was for a minute. After stammering inanely in apology, he'd set down to work with Spike on some of the mandated procedures.
A day later, Spike had come in with a head full of light, sandy-colored hair.
"Better?" he'd asked.
"Well, more Spikish anyway."
'Ah' was all Spike had said, but the younger vampire had never seen a trace of dark roots again.
Spike stared at the door, lost in thought. "I'm goin' out for a while," he said, getting up and heading out of the office. "Where's the mall?"
Daniel's mouth twisted into something faintly resembling a smile. Somehow he managed to straighten his face long enough to reply. "Which one?" he asked wickedly. At Spike's confused look, he grinned. "Beth Liles can tell you the best one."
"Beth." He turned back. "She the little mousy girl? Pulls her hair back too tight?"
"Right then." Spike pulled the door open and put one foot out, stopped again, and looked over his shoulder. "Pull the trends for Jeffries from two weeks back and run 'em against the others' tests for this week."
A smile broke across Daniel's face as the simplicity of the plan hit him.
"If you don't see anything," he continued, "go back four weeks. Do it til you see somethin'."
"And I'll throw Zabowski's into the mix after."
"Yeah, good. And have 'em get me a car. Tell 'em I'll be down in ten."
"Okay," Daniel said, reaching for the phone with a chuckle. "Have fun."
"Okay, so tell me again. What do you have planned?" Dawn was sweeping her sword across the ground, cutting at the tips of the carefully manicured lawns of the cemetery. It was by far the nicest, and usually the least active of all of them. Very restful. Like a picnic spot, but dark and treesy.
"Well," Buffy began, "I thought we'd start our sweep here, and then move on to as many cemeteries as we can hit tonight. That way..."
"No, no. I get that. You want to have a night out without slayer's guilt," the teenager said impatiently. "I mean... when you pick Spike up at the airport."
The slayer concentrated on the surrounding grounds to gain some time. Finally, she gave up and shrugged. "I don't know."
Dawn accepted Buffy's reticence and decided changing the subject would be of the good. "So what are we looking for tonight?"
"Things that go all bumpy I guess. Lumpy bumpy and bumpy in the night. Anything that shows up on the Sunnyhell demon buffet," the slayer answered, grateful to her sister for the change of topic.
Dawn walked along beside Buffy, quietly thinking.
"So what do you think he's gonna say?"
Buffy glanced at Dawn, deciding that the key might very well have psychic powers - or maybe it was just that sister thing. She sighed.
"I don't know. I really don't. But it kind of gives me the wiggins, Dawnie, 'cause he's so different."
"Oh, yeah. See, now he's got all this stuff happening. First, there was the whole 'come and help' thing, and he goes. And then, it's the 'he's helping' thing, and he's still there. He talks to me about some of the things they're doing and I kinda feel..."
"What? Dumb?" Dawn snarked.
Buffy shot her sister a sharp look. "How about 'out of the loop?'"
Nodding, Dawn thought about it. "Yeah, hard for you, huh? 'Cause you're the slayer and everyone looks to you and suddenly here's something important that he's doing, and it doesn't involve you at all."
Reaching behind Dawn, Buffy grabbed a hank of hair and tugged.
"Hey!" Dawn squealed, rubbing the back of her head, with a grin.
"Just remember, I'm still your big sister," Buffy said wickedly. "Even if you do carry the big sword."
They wouldn't let you go to the gate anymore. When had that happened?
Buffy stood at the baggage claim, because she really didn't know where else to wait. She was shredding a flyer someone had given her. Someone religious. Maybe she should have read it first. She hoped it hadn't been anything important.
She was nervous. Really nervous. Which was silly, because it was just Spike. Except he hadn't seemed like 'just Spike' in a long, long time.
Their first few phone calls after he left had been...nice. His disembodied voice had rolled over her. Intimate - full of low tones and throaty chuckles. And she could really, really enjoy it. Because he couldn't see her, couldn't see what just the sound of him did to her.
He would call her and tell her what he could. About Daniel. About the others - the vampires that had basically been created in a lab, under controlled conditions. She would tell him about Dawn and what she was doing in school. And each of them would talk about what the other one was doing. How they'd spent their time: the new movie she and Dawn had rented, the new flying kick combination he'd come up with in the gym.
He never asked about Xander and she didn't bring him up.
Then he would tell her he missed her. Sometimes, she told him first.
Lately, the calls had been shorter. She would tell him about Dawn and how she was doing in school and in their now-regular workouts and patrols. About some new demon she'd never seen before. And he'd tell her about something Daniel had done. Or about how one of the vamps had an inclination toward drawing and painting.
Suddenly, they talked about everyone but themselves. Like it hurt too much to do that. She wasn't sure when the conversations had changed, gotten shorter, gotten less personal, but they had.
She hugged herself against a sudden chill that had nothing to do with the air conditioning. She wasn't sure when it had begun to matter so much, but it did. Maybe it had mattered for a long time, and she'd been too stupid to realize it.
After Spike had left, she'd felt abandoned, yes. But being able to talk to Giles about it had helped. And little by little, she'd adjusted to his being gone. She had decided that a lot of the way she felt about him was could be loneliness. The 'lone slayer alone' thing.
Slaying, training Dawn, and a few classes at Sunny U had begun filling her time. Happily, the Doublemeat Palace had long been a thing of the past. She even got to the Bronze once every couple of weeks and danced like she had in the old days. Xander was a great one for knowing she was down and getting her out of the house, even though he had started dating again, and Buffy was once again a fifth wheel.
She swallowed hard. She was angsting out over a vampire. A vampire with a soul, Buffy corrected herself. Again, she added. Shivering, she pushed away the unwanted memories and her uncertainties about Spike's trip home.
When had she started thinking of Sunnydale as Spike's home?
His voice came from behind her. How the hell did he do that anyway? She stiffened. "Hi, Spike," she answered, taking her time about turning to face him.
There was a heady silence, rich with... something. Her body whispered to her. There was a warm spot that spread from the pit of her stomach and moved through her, into her throat. She stuffed down the emotions she was feeling and finally turned to him.
She managed to paste on a bright smile, and his face seemed to fall in reply to it. Spike looked at her searchingly. "You all right, pet?"
Buffy couldn't believe it. She'd *been* just fine. And no. She wasn't all right. She would never be all right again. The second she heard his voice, saw the tenderness in his eyes, it all fell into place.
She hadn't just been lonely. Oh, no. She was in love with him. Not 'I want you, Spike.' Which was bad enough. No, this was 'I need you, Spike.' 'I'm in love with you, Spike.' 'I can't stand to be away from you, Spike.'
Now she knew for certain that she was really never going to have a normal life. Never have someone to warm her feet on. Never have the heartbeat of her lover to lull her to sleep.
Ever. As long as she lived.
She'd been waiting, she realized. Waiting for him to come back. She hadn't been on a date, hadn't even looked at anyone as potential dating material in a while, even though she hadn't really been sure if he was coming back at all.
She was sorry he was here. And sorry he'd ever gone away. She wanted him to leave and she wanted him to stay. Complicated. Why did everything have to be so complicated?
Her eyes filled with tears as she looked at his earnest face. The remnants of the shredded flyer drifted to the floor.
The vampire watched the slayer's eyes widen. He smiled ruefully.
Finally. She *saw* him. And he couldn't stay.
Continued in Part 2