By Aurelio Zen
Takes place about six months after the end of “The Gift”
Rating: PG-14 - nothing you wouldn’t see on the show.
Disclaimer: These characters are ME’s playthings, not mine.
Many heartfelt thanks to my Redemptionista writing buddies, especially adjrun, Andrea, enkeli, and Missi.
Archivist's Note: Vita Nova is unfinished, and Aurelio Zen does not plan to complete it.
"Bugger!" Spike muttered, as another gust of wind drove some more rain down his collar. "I thought California was supposed to be the sodding Sunshine State!"
She stood in the light of a streetlamp, her wet hair plastered to her head. He ducked back into the shadows and hoped that she hadn't seen him, because she made his skin crawl, and not in a good way. He couldn't always avoid her. Those were the nights when one bottle wasn't enough.
She seemed confused and a little lost. He wondered if she was tired - could she feel fatigue? He was intrigued by her hesitance, so he followed her home and watched from a distance as she fumbled in her pocket for keys.
A minute after she went inside, Spike heard Dawn’s scream. He raced toward the house.
Buffy stood frozen in the doorway. She hardly reacted as Spike shoved her out of the way to get to Dawn, who had backed up to the bottom of the stairs, her eyes huge with dismay.
Spike clutched his head. The burning skewer in his temple could only mean one thing. "Oh, God!" he moaned. His knees buckled and he sat down hard on the stairs behind Dawn.
“Dawn? You’re alive?” Buffy, her face still wet with rainwater or tears, stumbled toward them.
“Where did you come from?” Dawn whispered. “I didn’t want this … I didn’t want you to come back wrong. What are you?”
“Dawn, it’s me," Buffy said "Come back? Where did I go?" She frowned. "I thought … I thought you jumped, Dawn. What happened? Did we beat Glory? Where is everyone?”
“It’s OK, Niblet,” Spike said. His voice shook, and he swallowed hard before he went on. “She's all human. Bloody chip seems to think so, at any rate.”
Dawn needed no further assurance. She flung herself into Buffy's outstretched arms and sobbed. Spike watched them for a minute before he slipped out to the front porch. It took him a couple of tries to light himself a cigarette because his hands were shaking so badly.
He got through three more before Dawn took Buffy upstairs to change out of her wet clothes, and then he went back inside to phone Giles and ask him to come as soon as he could.
He hung up and looked around the dining room. Tonight was the first time he'd been in the house since the night Buffy had invited him in again. Which was the same night she had betrayed him by dying in his place. Dawn had tried to coax him inside with pizza and slasher films, but he had been so afraid of seeing the robot that he'd always refused.
He sighed and went back to his post on the stairs. It didn't seem right to plop down on the sofa uninvited, now that it was Buffy's house again. He leaned his head on the wall and closed his eyes, afraid to move in case it had all been a dream.
He didn't know how long it had been when Dawn sat down beside him.
"Buffy's taking a shower," she said. "Do you think she's hungry? Should we make her some food? There's some lasagna in the fridge - Buffybot made it yesterday."
That reminded him. "Where is she?" he hissed. "I don’t want Buffy to see her now."
"It’s OK, Spike," Dawn said. “Buffybot’s in the basement. I turned her off for the night. That's how I knew … when ..."
She sniffed, trying to hold back the tears, but it was a vain effort. Spike didn't know whether to make her stop, or join her. In the end, he gave her hug and a wad of damp tissues from his pocket.
So many kisses and hugs and tears and breathless questions. Willow sobbed, and Xander looked ecstatic and faint at the same time. Giles was suspiciously moist-eyed and cleared his throat a lot more than necessary. It was heartwarming, except that no one wanted to sit next to her on the sofa. And they eyed her like they weren't sure she was tame yet.
"What does it feel like?" Willow asked.
"You mean, me being Resurrection Gal?" Buffy said. "It’s funny … not laughing funny … just strange. I don’t remember anything about being … dead. If you guys weren't all fainting and screaming, I wouldn't have known."
"This is all very gratifying, Buffy,” Giles said, “and I, for one, am terribly pleased … but it’s vital that we understand how you were brought back. Please try and remember what happened. There may be health issues, and other things …"
"Health issues, Giles? Apparently, I was dead, so I figure … hey, definitely healthier now." Buffy gave them a smile so wide that she thought her face would crack. "Honestly, all I remember is the fight with Glory, and the tower, and Dawn bleeding, and diving into the big funky light thing … and then I was standing on the street all wet and cold."
"Did you do a spell, Willow?" Dawn asked. Her nose was pink and her voice was croaky from all the crying.
"No," Willow said. "No spells here, nothing, nada. I mean, not that I wouldn’t have wanted to … I did want to … and I think I could have figured out a way to do it … but Tara thought … and I agreed with her … that we couldn’t, you know, fool around stuff like this … "
"Well," Xander said. "Time to check out the usual suspects."
They all turned to look at Spike, who was lounging in the doorway of the living room. "Hey, what’s that for?" he said. "I had nothing to do with this."
"Yeah," Dawn said. "Spike practically passed out when he realized it was really Buffy. He’s not that good an actor!"
Spike stuck his tongue out at her, and Dawn gave him a watery grin in return. Buffy brought them back to business in a hurry. "So how do I go about making myself one of the living again? Paperwork-wise, that is? Do I take out an ad in the paper that says ‘Just kidding?’”
"As a matter of fact, Buffy," Giles said, "that won’t pose much difficulty. You see, we’ve kept your … untimely departure … a secret. As far as everyone outside this room is concerned, you never … er … died."
"So, let me get this straight. Dawn’s been living here by herself for six months, and no one from Social Services got suspicious? These people were into everything, Giles, like how I folded the laundry, and whether Dawn had five servings of fruits and vegetables a day."
"Well, Buff, the thing is, Dawn hasn’t really been alone," Xander said. "I mean, we’ve all been pitching in. I did all the stuff around the house, Willow and Tara helped with homework, Anya did some cooking …"
"And," Anya said brightly, "we fixed the robot, so everyone thought she was you."
Buffy stared at them and laughed. "This is great. All those years of being the Chosen One blah blah Great Protector blah blah, and all you guys really needed was a robot? I bet the Council would love a robot Slayer. She follows orders and doesn’t ask any questions. You can fix her when she breaks. Much better than the real ones.” Something occurred to her and she stopped smiling. "Please tell me you took all the special programming out? You know - the stuff Spike put in? I bet he lovedpatrolling with the robot."
Spike looked away, suddenly fascinated by the knick-knacks on the table by the door. Which reminded Buffy that they had redecorated the living room in her absence. Way to show respect for the deceased. She'd have to talk to them about that later.
"As a matter of fact, Spike argued rather strenuously against this course of action," Giles said, "but it seemed like the best alternative we had."
"I totally fixed the programming, don’t worry," Willow said. "Actually, once I figured out some of the stuff that Warren guy did, it was a piece of cake. I made her better than new … oh, and I gave her an off-switch … and all these skills with weapons … And, ok, shutting up now …"
"I won’t pretend it was an easy decision, Buffy," Giles continued. "You have to understand that we couldn’t find your father, and in any case, Dawn refused to leave Sunnydale. And, you mustn’t forget that even with Glory out of the picture, this is still the Hellmouth. We couldn’t leave it unprotected - Faith is still in prison, and your death meant that there was no active Slayer. It was painful for all of us, but it was the only option we could think of under the circumstances."
"And, much as I hate to admit it," Xander said, "she and Spike did a pretty good job of keeping the demons down."
"OK, still not loving the idea of robot me and Spike and their slaying hijinks, but I guess I’m gonna have to trust you guys on this one. Just out of curiosity though, where did you put me? My …um … body? There was a body, right? You didn’t bury me in the back yard or something, did you?”
Spike stopped listening to Willow's explanation about hidden graves and magical barriers. Instead he let himself marvel at Buffy, warm, alive, enthroned on the couch in her living room, instead of broken on a heap of rubble.
For six months, he had tried to bury that image at the bottom of a bottle. He'd stolen liquor and the money to buy more. He'd killed demons, and vampires, and even a dragon. He'd gone out every night hoping that something bigger and stronger than he was would end it all and he'd come home every morning still alive and still angry. He'd known that each day of his endless life would be a hellish mirror of the one that came before.
And now, in the twinkling of an eye, it was all changed. He had no idea what he was supposed to do. The others watched her constantly, afraid that if they turned away even for a moment, she would vanish, and they would wake up from the dream. Spike knew that she was real because the pain of her presence was worse than anything he had dreamt. A giant hand had been squeezing his heart for several hours and it seemed to have no intention of letting go. He wondered whether the curious mixture of joy and nausea that he felt might go away if he found something large and spiny to fight, so he slipped out without saying goodbye.
Buffy flipped to the next section in the magazine and released another choking wave of perfume from the inserts. She sneezed.
“Bless you!" Xander said. "You want some more pizza?"
"Nah," Buffy said. "I'm pretty full and I should get going."
"Wait," Anya said. "We have another ten issues to get through. You have to help me find a dress soon, or it will be too late." She ruffled through another stack of the catalogues on the coffee table. Buffy thought about making a run for it, but the towers of wedding invitations and flower arrangement catalogues made a daunting obstacle course.
"There's ice cream," Xander said. "Chocolate."
Buffy sighed. Chocolate made most things better.
"So, for someone who was … uh… nonexistent a week ago, you’re looking pretty good, Slaymaster General,” Xander said.
It was true. The dark smudges under her eyes were gone, and her needle-sharp bones had become a little less prominent. Giles’s observations and Xander’s bruises from a couple of training sessions confirmed that she had lost none of her strength
“I feel good, Xander,” Buffy said. “I’m going to patrol tonight. Killing things makes me feel more … alive.”
“Whoa! That’s kind of … scary, actually, Buff. Are you sure you’re up to it?”
“Buffy, how do you feel about teal for the bridesmaid’s dresses?” Anya asked. She pointed to a particularly loathsome picture.
“Of course I’m up for it. Patrolling, I mean. Got to get back in the swing of things." She shook her head. That dress would make her look like a hippo. "Big no to the teal. It makes my skin look green. I’m trying to get away from that whole decomposing corpse look. I don’t think it does me any favors.”
Xander looked at her, puzzled, and Buffy said, “What? I’m just kidding. Aren’t I allowed to joke about all of this? Geez, you’d think getting miraculously resurrected would cut me a little slack.”
"It’s just … weird, Buffy. It wasn’t such a big joke for us, you know. Give us some time to get used to the whole thing."
“It’s true, Buffy,” Anya said. “Xander was very sad. We all were. It was like when your mom died, but worse. And we couldn’t even tell anyone.”
Buffy shrugged. “Well, I appreciate the sentiment,” she said. “But I’m not dead any more, and I want to have a little fun. Who wants to go to the Bronze tonight?”
“OK, I guess. What about patrolling?” Xander asked.
“Bronze first, patrol later.”
“No, I meant, do you want someone to come with you to patrol? I mean, it’s your first night … after. Maybe you should take some backup. Will or I could come.” Anya made a little moue. That suggestion hadn’t gone over very well.
“Nah,” Buffy said. “There’s always Spike if I need backup. Speaking of which, where is he anyway? I haven't seen him in ages.”
He was bound on a wheel of fire, his bones welded to the metal. He watched, helpless, as a woman in a glittering mask approached him. She was wearing a hooded black cloak, so that it was impossible to guess her identity. In one gloved hand, she carried a hunting knife. She stood before him, and the jeweled mouth of the mask smiled as she plunged the leaf-shaped blade into his chest. He was overwhelmed by joy as he watched her take his burning heart in her hands, hold it to her lips, and begin to eat.
Spike woke with a start. Dreams had been his solace and his torment for the last six months. Sometimes, if he was very lucky, he would dream about her golden face and a sweet kiss on his bruised lips and her gentle eyes when she had let him back into her house. More often, he had been back on the tower, the blade buried in his back, Dawn’s scream ringing in his ears, falling into the darkness until he willed himself awake. But this one was new and he had no idea what the hell it meant. Probably just that he’d drunk too much the night before.
He stared up at the ceiling, trying to summon the will to get up and pour himself some blood. The chisels chipping away at the inside of his head argued against that course of action, so he closed his eyes again and ignored the rumble in his stomach.
She barged in without knocking, just the same as ever, although he noted gratefully that she hadn't slammed the door for once. She'd always had a knack for finding him at embarrassing moments. He should have known that the first time she'd come to his crypt after her resurrection would be on a morning when his head was pounding and he couldn’t string two words together. He sat up with a moan and watch her curl into his armchair
“Well,” she said, “you’re not looking very perky today. I thought you’d be a little happier to see me. And this place is a mess.”
Spike managed a grunt in response. His face was too numb to attempt a smile.
"I guess somebody got a little too friendly with Senor Cuervo last night." She didn't look too disgusted. That was a start. And her lacy little top wasn’t bad either. "Listen, I need you to do me a favor.”
As long as it didn't involve the use of his eyes, or movement of any kind, he was willing to oblige. “What is it?”
“I want to patrol tonight. The gang’s all worried I can’t handle it and they’re trying to come along with. I just need to be alone, and I needed them off my back, so I told them you’d be my backup. That’s what you’re going to say if anyone asks, OK?” The words came out in a rush.
Spike blinked, not sure if he'd heard right. “Right. Lemme get this straight - you want me to lie to your friends so you can do something dangerous."
"Well, if you want to put it that way …" She pouted. She was irresistible when she stuck her lower lip out like that, but he wasn't going to play.
"Sorry, pet, no can do. I’d be glad to patrol with you if you like, though.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Yes, I’m sure you would. It would be like old times with the robot, wouldn’t it?”
Oh, God. Did she have to bring up the damn robot now? “About that … I didn’t want … ”
She flashed him a million megawatt smile that never touched her eyes. “It’s OK. No big. I get why you guys did that, even though I don’t like it. Just so we’re clear though, I’m flying solo tonight.”
So obstinate. But he could be just as pig-headed as she was. There was no way he'd let her go into danger alone. “No. You’re. Not. Got that? I don’t mind hanging back a bit, only chipping in if you need me, but I’m coming."
“This concern for my welfare would be more touching if you hadn’t disappeared for a week. You’ve been acting like I came back with leprosy.” She pouted again, and he had an overwhelming urge to kiss her.
“It’s not … I wanted to see you.” He rubbed his eyes. They felt like someone had scattered sand across them. “I just … I didn’t know if … you wanted me around.”
Buffy looked at him as if she were seeing him properly for the first time since her return. “So you missed me then? You missed ... the dance? We could start it up again.”
She came over to the sarcophagus and held out her hand. “How about it?” she said.
“There’s no music, love.”
“We’ll make our own,” she said, and leaned forward.
He had to be dreaming again. But it was such a lovely dream. She was warm and solid in his arms, and she smelled wonderful, like sunshine, and all the flowers in his mother’s garden. And then it got better - she kissed him, and the taste of her was ambrosia. He was drowning in her and he would have killed anyone who interrupted this.
As she tried to tug his shirt from the waistband, he caught her wrists in his hand, and asked, “What is this?”
“Let’s see, it looks like I might be trying to seduce you. What do you think?”
He froze. Something was clearly wrong with Buffy. “I bloody well know what you’re doing. I want to know why you’re doing it. What is this all supposed to mean?”
She shrugged. “Why does it have to mean anything? I’ve been dead. Now I want to live. You know, seize the day and all that.” She leaned in closer, so he could see the pulse beating under the fine skin of her throat. “Besides, I never thanked you properly for keeping your promise to look after Dawn. I figured nothing says thank-you like a gift-wrapped me. Don’t you want me?”
He wanted her more than anything in the world. “I can’t do this,” he whispered, his voice thick with desire.
She drew back, offended. “Why not? Isn’t this what the robot was for? Now I’m offering you the real thing.”
He cleared his throat. "Buffy … It’s not that I’m not grateful, or that I don’t want … It’s just … not like this… Please … don’t. I think you should go home now.”
“Suit yourself.” She walked quickly to the door, and paused there to give him a long, measuring look. “There was one other thing.”
“I know you’ve hung around with Dawn a fair amount, while I was … gone … but that has to stop now.”
“Stop seeing Dawn?”
She smiled, savoring what she was about to say. “Yeah. It looks a little suspicious - a fourteen-year old hanging around with a grown-up guy. People get all sorts of nasty ideas.”
Spike’s eyes widened in horror. “Buffy … I would never … who said that? I’ll rip their sodding heads off. You don’t think …”
“Believe me, you’d be inside a DirtDevil if I thought it was true. It’s just that I know Social Services is still keeping an eye on Dawn and me. I don’t want to give them any ammo. It’s for her own good, but Dawn’s pretty stubborn, and I’m not sure she’ll listen to me. I’m counting on you. To stay away from her.”
“'Til the end of the word,” he whispered as she banged the door shut.
Continued in Part Two