All About Spike - Print Version
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Ever After
By Ginmar

Chapter 1

It was so stupid.

All the years she longed for normality, and now she had it.

And she was bored.

Safety brought many things. Contentment was not one of them.

She’d gotten used to so much danger, and now she had to adjust to safety. This is what Mom felt like, when I moved out, she thought.

Patrolling had become exercise, like a club she took Dawn to. They wandered through cemeteries at night, and every night the vamps fought less and fled more. She was left standing behind them, staring at their backs, somewhat amused. Frequently, they arrived back home, just in time to see the end of the evening news, and she discovered a world more bewildering than the one she was used to, where there were definite rules and solutions.

She read books. She loaded up on poetry books at the library, till the librarian perused one stack and raised one eyebrow. “Bad break up?”

Buffy could only shrug and slink away. But in her room, she curled up with them, glancing up periodically as some line struck her, expecting to get a reaction from Spike, only to find that he was not there.

Giles still hated email, but he was so delighted at his progress in England that he braved the torture device, as he called Willow’s computer, and emailed her. She received a substantial stipend now, and found that as the summer swirled by, the thought of work was interesting rather than ghastly. Thanks to Robin, work no longer brought to her at automatic twinge at the thought of the Doublemeat Palace. Work didn’t have to mean smells, unending labor, and blood. Odd that fast food slavery and vampire slaying had so much in common. She didn’t quite know what she wanted to do, or could do, but she at least had the knowledge that with her reference letters from Giles and Robin, she had some choices in the matter.

She found that her bitterness against her father had disappeared. There was no point to it, any more, not as long as she had Giles, not as long as Giles had her. After the flurry of news stories about Sunnydale, it took him two weeks to answer her phone calls. For a man who still didn’t know his daughter was the Slayer, he was curiously blasé about her fate. She found herself pausing outside his apartment door before knocking. When he answered, he actually blinked a moment. “Buffy?”

“That’s me.” She glanced around him.”Your daughter?”

“You, ah---“ She watched, incredulous, as he glanced around uncomfortably. “You, ah, you look really good.” The secretary he’d taken to Italy---something he’d never done for Joyce----perched on the leather sofa, one expensive Jimmy Choo tapping impatiently on the floor. “You know, the daughter you don’t pay for? That’s how you tell us apart.”

“Well….I’ve been trying to get ahold of you.”

“Sure,” she said. He remembered himself, then, and gestured inside, but she hung back. “Did I ever tell you, Dad, that I’m the Slayer?”

“What?”

“I’m the Vampire Slayer, Dad.”

“I knew I should have called more often. Buffy----“

“Well, I used to be the only one,” she added. “But anyway, I figured you should know.”

“Buffy…what is wrong with you? Come inside. Is it…It is…Did you hear about the baby?”

“Baby?”

“We’re expecting!” She noticed him take a step back. It was the perfect opportunity to peer around him at the secretary, noting again the clothing that cost more than a month’s pay at the Doublemeat Palace.

So, that explains it, she thought. “You’re not even showing yet. And I’m still the Slayer. With a capital S.”

“Buffy, I know this has been really hard on you, but do you need help? Need to talk to someone?“ He turned around and bustled over to the desk, avoiding her eyes. “I know this therapist…”

Oh, not dad help. Hired help, as a substitute.

“I’m not nuts, if that’s what you mean.” She glanced again at the secretary, whose name she’d carefully avoided discovering. It felt far better to refer to her as ‘the secretary.’ She’d never be a substitute for Joyce, and keeping her anonymous only confirmed that. “I’m the Slayer. Remember all those fights? Remember the gym burning down? Remember all the kids who disappeared in Sunnydale? Remember when the school blew up? Didn’t it sort of bother you, taking me to a town with such a high mortality rate? Leaving me there? Especially after Mom died?”

“Well, uh…”

“Whatever. I’m the Vampire Slayer, and I figured you should know that about me. So, you know, you can put it in my baby book or something. Except, I guess, the baby book’s with Mom…” She turned away from his house with the sure knowledge that she would never seek him out again.

She wasn’t getting anything from him except the support check, and that could be handled automatically by the court. She filled out the paperwork, and put it in the mail. He was gone from her, and she felt like she’d released a long-held breath.

They couldn’t decide where to settle, so somewhat uncomfortably, they returned to LA, and there Dawn confronted for the first time the fact that monks had relied on somewhat out of date research to form some of her memories.

“What do you mean, there’s no Disneyland?”

“God, Dawn, could you yell a little louder? You just knocked a Russian satellite out of the sky.” Buffy gestured down the slope of the hill. “Look, see that? Russian debris.”

“I’m serious. Disneyland is supposed to be here.”

“No it’s not.”

“Is too.”

“Is not.”

“Is too.”

“Is not. We’re in Griffith Park, Dawn.

“But we already walked all this way. I want it to be here.”

“Brat Key.”

“Brat Slayer. And there’s only one of me.” She ambled down the slope, glancing suspiciously as the trees, as if the amusement park was compressed behind them. Buffy yawned and smiled behind her, amused and tired in spite of herself. They were tourists

these days, while they adjusted. She’d never had so much fun before. Not since before she became a Slayer.

Spike’s absence seemed to fill her senses these days. She found herself conscious of all the holes he left in her life, even more aggravating than the loss of the house and the environment. She had Dawn and the visits by Giles and Willow, but it was a new world, and in her dreams, she escaped to the old, and to his arms.

There were so many emotions crowding her life now, and she couldn’t keep them straight. Before, she’d kept them rigidly under control, but that didn’t work now, and it was a relief, if sort of frightening. Once, standing at the sink in their little apartment, she suddenly deflated into tears, glad only that Dawn was out with friends and couldn’t see her cry for absolutely no reason at all. The tears left her weak and stunned, and suddenly, there was no one there. She curled up on the couch, and pulled a blanket around herself, hoping to sleep.

That was the first time he came back to her, covered with dust and ashes, sitting on the chair across from her. He looked as he had after the time she’d beaten him, but exhausted besides, sitting slumped in the chair as if he had no strength left. His eyes were hollow and lost, and her throat closed up. Oh, God, I missed you so much, she thought, and reached out to touch him. That was what woke her up. She was awake, and she was alone.

She stared around the little apartment, eyes wide, empty inside.

It was time to call Giles.







“Buffy!”

“Ouch, Giles, if you’re going to yell, you should just open a window.”

“Oh, right, sorry.” She heard rustling and crackles. “It’s been rather a bit since you last called, hasn’t it?”

Even his subtle reproach was better than her father’s disinterest. “Sorry, I’ve been sort of….not busy.”

“Oh, well, then, I’m so glad you found time----“

“No, it’s nice, Giles. I’ve been getting acquainted with this thing called ‘relaxation.’”

“Well…” Giles paused. “I suppose if anyone’s earned it, it’s you.”
“Yes, I like to think of it as taking all my vacations at once. How’s Merry Olde?”

“I beg your----Oh, yes, of course. Well…” She heard a chair scraping out, and realized with amusement that he was settling himself in for a good long chat. She wondered if she should take notes. “Well, of course, the building’s a loss. And the casualties were….” There was silence there, and she actually heard traffic for a moment. “….terrible. I’m amazed some of us managed to survive. Some of the research is still here, too.”

“That’s good.”

“Yes, yes, it’s better than nothing. But it’s been hectic----“ he sighed deeply, and she wondered if Dawn would like to go to England. “----with all the funerals, the notifications, the police----“

“Giles,” she said quietly.

“Yes, I know, we were lucky,” he said, in a somber tone that matched her own. ”But---now we have all the Slayers. They’re reporting in from all over. It’s extraordinary, really----I just received an email today from a Watcher in Nairobi. He’s noted the presence of no less than four Slayers in his immediate vicinity, and for the first time he can remember, his province is free of vampires. They’ve all been staked or driven off. This is extraordinary, Buffy, we might very well be entering a new era. Vampires are much more cautious these days. And it’s all because of you.”

She gulped then. Funny how it was all the little things that got her sniffly. Slaying vampires, dying not once but twice, but a genuine compliment from Giles like that would keep her going for days. “Part of the job, Giles.”

“I’m serious, Buffy, you thought of it. Even after----“

Even after we kicked you out, she thought. “That was you,” she said. “You trained me.”

“Well, yes, yes I did,” he acknowledged. “But still, Buffy----“

“Giles, are you feeling guilty about something?”

“God, yes, Buffy, I hate this,” he burst out. “I’m not a CEO, I’m a Watcher. I feel like Quentin Travers is smirking at me from beyond the grave, watching me turn into him.”

“But you like giving orders.”

“Well, yes, but that was on a small scale. I have no one to blame but myself if things go wrong.”

“Oh, I can think of all sorts of people you can blame. Want a list?”

“Buffy----“ He scoffed, but she could hear him smiling.

“Doesn’t being in England help?”

“Especially being in England. Everyone knows me here, and this incident was on the news. Before all this happened, I knew the rules. Now everything is disorganized, and I have to make the rules. It’s very disturbing. I don’t want to make rules. I want there to be rules which I can break myself. I don’t want to be the---the---old---fuddy duddy that’s in charge of inventing them.”

“Giles!”

“Well, Buffy, what would you have me do, lie?”
She thought about it. Once upon a time, yes, she would have preferred it. “You know, Giles, once I would have wanted exactly that. Isn’t that funny?”

“Funny?”

“Well, I think so. I mean, isn’t it a change? Now I don’t.”

“It seems you’re growing up and I’m regressing.”

“No,” she scoffed. “You’re just stressed. How about if I come visit?”

“I’m sorry, but will that alleviate my stress?”

“It won’t,” she said cheerfully. “But you’ll have to worry so much about me, that you’ll completely forget about whatever else is going on. And you can use me as an example of what not to do. It’ll be just like old times.”

She could hear street noises from what was going on around him---the muffled sound of people’s voices, the oddly high-pitched beeps of what sounded like bumper cars. She’d never heard cars that sounded so small; were they all tiny? She wondered why Giles was hesitating. “You always hated it when I argued with you,” she offered helpfully. “Never argue with your Watcher, girls, it’s very----“

“Buffy….” Giles said gently. “I never hated it.”

“Ha.”

“Well, I might have disliked it slightly----“

“I was right some of the time, you know.”

“As was I.”

“Does that mean we were both wrong most of the time?”

“Yes, Buffy, I’m starting to think it does.” He hesitated again, and she could feel it. Am I another responsibility to him? She thought suddenly, panicked.

“ Buffy, is everything all right?”

“Oh, no, I’m---“

“Buffy,” he said sternly, and she crumbled.

“I’m having dreams.”

“Slayer dreams?”

“No, Spike dreams.”

“Oh, dear.”

“No, not those kind of dreams, Giles. I just have dreams where I don’t think I’m dreaming, and he’s here, and then I wake up. And I miss him.”

“I’m sorry, Buffy, I hadn’t thought----“

“Does that make me---?”

“What?”

“Well, I miss him, but we weren’t exactly----“

“Buffy,” Giles said, and stopped. She could almost hear him collecting his thoughts. “I’d think less of you if you didn’t. It wasn’t an easy situation, and it won’t ever be easy to sort out your feelings. He did something extraordinary in getting his soul, and then he did something even more extraordinary by sacrificing himself. But he was William the Bloody for a century. One can’t pretend to not be confused by it all. It’s very difficult, holding those two extremes before you. And everything in between.” He hesitated again. “Why on earth should this bother you at all? Has anyone said anything to you?”

“About Spike? No, but, you know----“

“What is it, Buffy?”

“You’ve got so much to worry about already.”

“Buffy, if you don’t think you merit a special category of worry, you’re mistaken.” Buffy gulped then, and Giles sighed. “That sounded much more sincere when I was thinking it. Has someone been bothering you about this?

“No, no, it’s not that.” She picked at the upholstery of the chair. “It’s just that it’s hard not to think things when my dad isn’t interested in me at all, and this vampire who said he loved me, died for this, and my dad treats me like I’m the new Avon Lady.”

“Buffy, have you considered….letting him go? It sounds as if he’s ….gone.”

“My dad?”

“Do you want him to still be in your life?”

“I don’t—but there’s Dawn.”

“Buffy, I can’t help but think he doesn’t deserve you.”

“That’s the thing. We don’t earn our families.”

“Wouldn’t it be nice if we did, though? Like collecting Green Stamps?”

“Well, Buffy, you’re entitled to more and he’s entitled to…punishment.”

“God, Giles, when did you join the Mafia?”

“What I meant, Buffy, is whether you’re getting anything at all out of your relationship out of your father.”

“Nothing except money. I already filed the court papers. We tried doing the social thing, but he acts like I’m somebody he has to be polite to. It’s not really comfortable. And Spike’s…not here, and I miss him.”

“Buffy, you can’t dwell on it.”

“Well, that’s the problem, Giles. It’s not that I’m not grateful for the money, but I thought I’d like being bored more.”

“You’re bored?”

“Oh, yes. There’s so many Slayers now that Slaying isn’t really Slaying any more. It’s Watching Them Scurry Away like Bunnies. But it gives me time to read.”

“You? You’re reading.”

“Okay, okay, gloat all you want.” Buffy played with a pencil on the table, closing her eyes and flipping it into the air and catching it between two fingers. “But you know, the boredom is only fun when there’s excitement against it. And there’s no excitement.”

“I’m sure Angel could use your help.”

“I’m not sure about that, Giles.” She got up and flopped down on the couch. “That’s why we’re not living at the Hyperion with everyone else.”

“Why?”

“I’m just sort of…uncomfortable around him now.”

“Well….”

“I just keep comparing him to Spike. And I shouldn’t. It’s not fair to either one. But, it’s like this whole thing---Anya dying, Spike saving us----it’s like Angel got the easy way out.”

“You told me you asked him to leave, in case he was needed.”

“I know.” She could hear him tapping a pencil against some hard wooden surface. “That doesn’t mean he had to do it. I don’t know----“

“I feel some sympathy for Angel now.”

“Giles!”

“I’m not saying I don’t understand your feelings, Buffy. But life is full of ambiguities now.”

Ambiguities, Buffy thought. Yeah, like I don’t know what that is.

“So…What should I do?”

“Buffy, I think you should----“ She heard him sigh. “I think you should sit down one day, and try and think about that yourself. What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know!”

“Then it’s time you started to think about that.”

“But----“

“It used to be that there was only one Slayer, Buffy, and many Watchers. Now the reverse is true. We need Watchers. Perhaps you could be one of them?”

“What?!”

“Think about it, Buffy.”

“Me? A Watcher?”

“Hm,” Giles said, pleased. “That was rather a surprise, wasn’t it?”

“YOU BET IT WAS!”

“Buffy, really.” He sighed again. “Oh, would you look at that! Someone’s misfiled the journals again! I have to go. Another fire to put out. Shall I call you or you---“

“No, I’ll call you. Once I recover from the shock.”
“Don’t sell yourself short, Buffy. Remember that.”

Her throat closed up, and she could barely choke out a farewell. She stared at the phone for several minutes after she hung up, looking at it.

A Watcher. Training Slayers, being at one remove from the danger. Research. She wrinkled her nose. This is a whole new world. She curled up on the couch, clutching a pillow protectively. “A whole new world,” she said tentatively. “But---“ She closed her eyes, and he was curled up behind her. “I want the old one.”



Chapter 2

The pit was so huge that climbing down into it was not an option. From western rim to eastern, it measured five miles, and no one was sure what was under the debris, or how stable it was.  The first rescuers sail-glided in.

The foreman was a huge Australian named Lamont Neville, almost seven feet tall, and the size of the pit awed even him. He glided to a stop on an upended chunk of concrete amidst tumbled houses and roofs, and pulled his helmet strap loose. Sun beams streaked the sky over him, but the pit itself was deep in shadow. He flipped on the light on his helmet, and saw other lights slashing through the shadows cast by looming debris. A thumb switch activated the walk talkie. “Neville here. Everyone okay? Check in.”

“Hughes.”

“Butterfield.”

“Cranston.”

“Wong.”

“Gibbs.”

He licked his lips as the rest of the team checked in, till all thirty were accounted for. Surveying the ground around him, he was reminded by contrast of the bitter, dashed hopes of New York City.   There were recognizable pieces of debris around him, things that hinted as to what had happened here. A telephone lay at his feet. A man’s shoe—only one---lay on top of half of desk, spilling out layers of paper. All around him, the debris rose and fell in peaks and heaps, with the walls of the pit circling everything, the lightening sky like the lid of a pot. Houses clung here and there to the edges, and heaped on the slopes. “Stay in contact, everyone, but be alert. We’re looking for survivors.” Despite the surroundings, he felt an absurd leap of hope. There was so much debris that there had to be people locked inside it. Dust, he thought. That’s all that was left on that last job. Here there were whole buildings. Inside some of them, there could be people.

Hope was a distraction in his business, and he shoved it away, like a piece of disused equipment. He eyed the ground beneath his perch. A weird selection of items lay scattered beneath him, like items spilling from some giant’s pocket. A cantaloupe. A record turntable. A woman’s purse. Photographs. A toaster. The corner of a street sign poked out of a sheaf of papers. He lowered himself to the next slab and looked around again. He was at the very lowest level, and smashed buildings crowded around him. He pulled himself over more heaped slabs of sidewalk and found himself at an impasse. A house that looked like it had been squeezed in a giant’s hand loomed over him, with three others piled up against it. There was no real way around them. He tossed his hook at the nearest windowsill, and pulled himself up the sloping cement toward the building. Furniture was tossed around inside in a crazy pile and he turned and looked for another way.

There was no way around it; he was going to have to backtrack. Turning away, he slid back down, then maneuvered to the top of the cement slab again. “Good job, butthead. Good job.” The sun was now hitting just below the rim of the pit, but the contrast made it more difficult to see, not less. Neville tossed the grappling hook yet again, and wrapped the line around the chimney of the nearest house. He yanked a few times, but the line held. Finally he got the line clipped to his harness and rappelled up the side of the house and onto the room. The structures were jammed so tight together that they held each other up. He clambered to the peak of the first roof and braced his feet, but nothing shifted. After getting his bearings, he unhooked the rope from the chimney and tossed it to the next roof, where it snagged on a crumpled satellite dish.  That line got him to the second roof, where he sat down on the chimney itself to figure out his next destination . A parking lot and a splintered building lay before him on the other side of the house. He unhooked his line once again, tossed it to the next roof, and snagged it on the roof itself. He looked down, looking for something that would be both easy to hook to, and easy to unhook from. Finally, he hitched it to a window frame and started his descent.   The windows he slid past were crammed full of furniture, and rags---but no glass. That glittered on the ground beneath him, and he hit the cement with a crunch.

The sun was slowly working its way down the far wall of the pit, but he was on the wrong side to take advantage of the growing light. Biting the finger of one glove, he pulled it off and wiped his forehead, then rubbed his hand on his thigh. Usually, one would see lots of cars in a collapse like this, because they were comparatively light, and tended to squirt up through the wreckage of buildings. Or maybe everyone got away. He looked around, choosing his footing carefully. He couldn’t see a single car. This provoked only a shrug. Don’t get your hopes up. The pit was scatted with heaped ruins of houses, like entrees across a plate, and he knew he wasn’t seeing everything. Don’t get your hopes up.

He checked his watch. The whole process of moving approximately two hundred feet had taken him almost a half an hour. Time to check in.  He keyed the walkie talkie and and cleared his throat. “Neville, here, Team sound off.”

The heaps of ruins swallowed the voices, and when he pulled the earpiece from his ear he couldn’t hear so much as an echo. He could see rising dust, but no flames. Another concern was flooding. He could see puddles here and there from broken water mains. The state had shut off the pipes before the pit flooded, but if there was a fire, they’d be out of luck without water pressure.

Everyone was still alive, at least till the next check in. He concentrated on picking his route through the rubble.

Funny. It was obviously a parking lot. The lines that he could see were bright and newly painted. The building had been a sleek behemoth, judging by what was left---all straight lines and cantilevered layers.  The double doors had been blown out by the ground collapsing, and one of them made a bridge for him between two hummocks of concrete. Reaching the vestibule made his heart trip faster, as he saw the banner laying under the other door. “ dale High Sc---“

“Oh, shi---“ he hissed, keying his mike. “I found a school! I repeat, I found a school! Rally point is now my location. I say again, I found a school!”

Calm now, he thought, but his heart was hammering with anticipation. He ducked under the slanted doorframe, broken glass crackling under his feet. Dust whirled in the beam of his head lamp, and he pulled up the mask dangling around his throat. The dust swirled as he waved a hand through it. It was different from concrete dust, too, which was heavy and tended to settle. This was light, ethereal, and danced around almost like it was alive.

Shouts echoed thinly outside, and lights bounced at the entrance. “Boss?”

“In here. Keep it down.”

“Damn.” It was Gibbs, repeating his motion, and pulling his mask up. “What is this stuff?”

“Science lab? It’s not from the concrete.”

“No, it’s not.” He cast a worried eye at what was visible of the ceiling. “Asbestos?”

“Building’s too new.” Neville frowned. “Stand still for a minute.”

Gibbs obeyed, and they stood for a few moments, hands jammed in pockets. The air in the ruins was motionless, but the dust danced and bobbed around him. Gibbs looked left and right, then met Neville’s eyes. “This is weird shit.”

“We’ll have to get it analyzed.”

“Yeah.”

They proceeded onward, glass rustling beneath their feet. They found the first casualty at about the halfway point. She lay beneath a stair that had been torn from its moorings and now lay upside down on top of a heap of collapsed walls. Streaks poked through the holes in the roof, making dust swim before them. The girl’s bright hair was choked with dust, and nothing of her body was visible beneath her shoulders.

Neville searched for a pulse, but there was nothing. Something glinted through the dust, and he frowned at what looked like a sword hilt. Drama club? He thought. There was no time for pity, not while other people might be lying injured.

Slowly, tentatively, they worked their way downward, as the hallway began to pitch down. The high ceilings had collapsed at the end of the hallway, and the walls had tented against each other, but it was structurally sound. The dust was heavier, however, and his eyes stung.

“Oi! Neville!”

“Down here!” He waved at the dust around his face, but it didn’t accomplish anything productive. “This way!” 

Footsteps clomped down the hallway. The dust turned brighter, then a sharp point of light pierced the curtain of particles, and Butterfield appeared, like he was surfacing out of murky water. “What is this shite?”

“I don’t know,” Neville said thoughtfully. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Governor’s coming to see the site.”

“Good for him. Maybe the bugger can do something more with that stupid gold shovel than plant cornerstones. Come on.”

They moved forward, passing more stairways torn from their moorings, before then stopping in confusion as the masonry ended and they found themselves standing on bare earth. They’d moved steadily downward at a very gradual angel, but when Neville turned and looked back at the hallway, he realized they’d probably moved a good thirty feet below their entry point.  Gibbs met his eye.  “Building fell into its own basement, did it?”

“Looks like it. I wonder what---“

“Another one,” Butterfield said quietly. Tumbled boulders crammed together appeared at the far edge of their lamps’ range, and beneath those lay one small hand. “Didn’t even have time to run---“He checked the pulse, but the when he tried to work his fingers around the wrist, he overbalanced on his haunches and sat down abruptly. The hand came with him. He looked at it miserably, biting his lip, then shudderingly put it down. “Did they run down here when they felt it?”

“Dunno.” Neville climbed on top of the highest rock, and looked over it. “I’ve got fresh air here.”

“Air flow?”

“Yeah. I think we got ourselves the cause right here.” He hoisted himself higher, and the rocks shifted ominously. Butterfield leaped back, but Neville got tossed forward as the boulders shifted like piled marbles. He rolled with it, bouncing from rock to rock till he wound up flat on his back at the bottom of a long slope. His gloves disappeared as he grabbed at anything that would slow his falls.  Pebbles and tiny pieces of debris pattered down around him, but he finally landed in a pile of dust that gave like a plump pillow when he flopped down on top of it. It felt like pieces of glass were poking into his back. He let his head sag onto the ground, his headlamp dancing over the rock walls. Up the slope he could see the bobbing lights of the men as they scrambled over the rocks to get to him.

“Good one, dude.” Wong said. “Anything broken?”

“My ass.”

“Yeah, I wanna see somebody put your hairy ass in a sling. Come on.” Wong offered him a hand, and Neville lurched to his feet with a groan. He yanked his hand away as soon as he could, waving it painfully in the air. Wong handed him his battered radio, ripped off his belt by the fall, and one glove. His hands were raw and speckled with little cuts and scratches.

“I’m too old for this crap.”  

“So retire and give young whippersnappers like me a shot.”

“You haven’t even made it to whippersnapper yet, you’re still an ankle---Oh, God,” he muttered, his jaw dropping.

It was a cavern. He stared at it, awestruck, thinking only that if he’d fallen ten more feet, he’d have gone over the edge. His light didn’t have enough range to hit the bottom. He tossed a rock over the edge and waited, rubbing his scraped hands as he counted off the seconds. It took six seconds for the rock to hit the bottom.

“Damn,” Wong said. “How big?”

“I don’t know,” Neville said quietly. “That thing is huge. Frickin’ huge. But the vault’s intact, and this isn’t Carlsbad.”

“Could it have been…?” They looked at each other, the same thought on their minds.

“I dunno,” he said. He’d seen cases of undiscovered cave systems getting discovered when some foolhardy construction project had pierced the roof of a vault and brought it all down. If that was the case here, then there had been two vaults stacked on top of one another. “If there was another one, it should have brought this one down, too.”
“Think it could go, too?”

“It’s possible. Anything’s possible.” He checked his radio, but either there was no reception this deep or he’d finally broken it. “Head up and give the word, okay? We’re going to need some talent down here.”

“Kay, boss.” Wong turned and began the long scramble up the slope. Neville turned back and looked at the dust he’d landed in. Every surface was coated with it, and there were piles of it everywhere. It looked like people had been systematically emptying huge ashtrays down here. He kicked one of them experimentally and it almost seemed like the dust flinched from his boot. Trick of the light.

The other searchers hung back, awed by the sheer size of the cavern. He waved a couple of them back up to the surface, but Gibbs he beckoned over to him.

They were standing on something like a balcony at the very edge of the cavern, and he could see beneath them another rock formation like the one they were standing on. More dust. Something else---something pale. Something that wasn’t grey. In the dim light, it took him a moment to realize what he was seeing.  More bodies. More young girls. There was no easy way to get there, though, and he wondered how they’d gotten there. Fallen? Carefully, he played his light over them, noting splashes of blood. Or pushed? They hadn’t seen a male victim yet. He nudged Gibbs. “Look at that.”

“More bodies.” Gibbs looked closer. “Don’t look like it was the collapse that got them, do they?”
“What do you think?”

“From here?”

“Give it your best shot.”

“That’s definitely a stab wound, there.”

“That’s what I thought.”

Neville braced himself on the rock, then flinched back, hissing. “Great time to take a tumble. Glass everywhere, and me losing my frickin’ gloves.” He backed away from the edge and examined the palms of his hand. Sure enough, they were crusted with bits of rock and glass, and blood welled thickly as he pulled the splinters of glass from his hands. He turned to Gibbs. “We’ll have to rope this off. I think we got a crime scene here.” He shook one hand viciously in the air as the pain from the scrapes flared. “I hate splinters. Feckin’ things. Don’t see my first aid kit, do you?”

“Nope, boss, I think that went the way of your other glove.”

“Great, just great. Just what I need. Gotta rope this off as a crime scene, and some rocket scientist is gonna find my glove and tell me I did it.”

“Here.” Gibbs unclipped his own first aid kit from his harness and handed it over, but Neville shook his head at it.

“I’m going to have to get these taken out and cleaned. Bugger. All right, let’s go up. Don’t want to contaminate this scene. Did those two have both their hands?” He pulled another splinter from his palm with two fingertips and held it up for Gibbs to see. It was a long, vicious thing, fully a quarter of an inch long.

“Looked like it.”

“The one upstairs sure did. So we’ve got at least four victims.” He stretched his hands out and winced, ignoring the drops of blood that dripped from his fingers. “Gotta get the feds in here. Let’s go. We need some serious linkage to go any further. We’re clearing out till we get this lifted off this pit.”

They headed back up the unstable slope, Neville wincing as he had to use the wall for support. “Splinters, man---give me a broken leg. Like they give you a medal for a splinter. Hurts like hell, but the damned thing is so small, nobody respects that! Ouch, bloody thing…”

The light faded as they worked their way up the rubble to the circle of light at the top. Behind them, the dust danced in the breeze that came sweeping in from the cavern, weighted down only by the few drops of blood that had fallen to the ground.

The blood glittered for a moment before sinking into the dust. Like flour, it clumped around the liquid, and then, the lumps began to grow and move. The pile of dust shifted and solidified, spreading across the floor. Long tendrils formed limbs and arms, fingers and toes. The rough texture became smooth, and the skin flushed with color. A tentative pulse sounded, then leveled off into a rhythm.

Unconscious, the form curled onto its side, cradling a burned right hand to its bare chest. The only sound in the cave was its soft breathing.



Chapter 3

“Your feet are cold.”

“Vampire, remember?” He poked her in the stomach so unexpectedly that she snorted ungraciously. He laughed—very softly---into the back of her neck.

“So the secret weapon that you’re going to unleash on the First is the awesome power of---noogies?!” She finished incredulously. She coughed to keep from making more noise.

“Oh, no. I’m going to give them Indian rope burns.” He leaned over her shoulder to demonstrate on her left arm. She looked at him as if he’d suddenly been transformed into Geekboy, the Superhero of Nerds the World Over, before her very eyes.

“Where did you get that from?”

He shrugged, stretching out on his side behind her again. “Dawn.”

“Recently?”

“Not exactly,” he said softly. “She was doing it to Andrew.” His tone lightened, with an effort. “I took notes.”

“Don’t worry. Once this is over, I’ll lock you two in a room together and you can work it out.”

“It’s not bad.”

“That’s not good enough.”

“She’s not a puppy you can house break, Buff.”

“And you’re not a vampire who should get anything less than---“

“Besides,” Spike said dryly, “You’re going to have to lock me and Angel into a room, too. You’ll need a schedule for all this locking and unlocking.”

“Well, I don’t think that’ll happen.” Buffy said comfortably. “God, you two. You’re like me and Dawn, fighting over the bathroom! I’m so glad there’s no reflections involved, otherwise it would get really ugly.”

“I’m not the one with that---hair.” She should feel him give a mock shudder.

“Yeah, you don’t have hair issues at all.” She leaned against him for leverage and patted his hair. “I like it better without that stuff.” He stiffened, then pulled her hand away.

“I like that stuff,” he muttered defensively. Then, he cleared his throat, and asked, very casually: “You do?”

“Yeah. You knew that.”

“No, I didn’t. You never told me.”

“Yeah, I did.”

“No, you didn’t.”

“Yes, I did!” She wriggled over till she was on her back. “Did too.”

“Vampires have very good memories, Buff, and I don’t----“ She leaned into him, then, and kissed him, her hand falling comfortably on his chest.

“That’s how I told you,” She said firmly.

“Cheater.”

“God, vampires----“ She flounced back over on her side, but he spoiled her mock irritation by pulling her back against him, and locking his arm around her waist. Without even being aware of it, her hand began to stroke up and down his forearm, back and forth, back and forth. “I didn’t mean you, by the way.”

“Oh, of course not.”

They lay silently for several minutes, the hum of some mysterious piece of machinery soothing them with its monotony. “Should have done this earlier,” Buffy muttered sleepily.

“Make up for it later.”

“All the time,” she whispered. “Just like this.”

“Hm,” Spike sighed into her neck, and then he was asleep.

Asleep, he breathed, something he’d never given up. In the silence, she sleepily stroked his arm, and listened to the noises of the Potentials settling down to sleep. His body relaxed against hers, and her eyelids started to feel heavy. Some small bit of tension remained, though, something nagging at her. Her eyes snapped open and she studied the darkness. The phone was ringing, and she knew it was the First, trying to discomfit her in her sleep. She couldn’t sit up, though, because that would wake Spike up and he’d earned his rest. After all, he’d sacrificed himself----


Her eyes snapped open.

Bright sunlight, not the dim shadows of a basement, made her squint. The phone was ringing with angry persistence, and she sighed with irritation. It’s always the good dreams that get interrupted, she thought resentfully. “DAWN!”

“What am I?” Dawn demanded grumpily, stalking toward the phone. “The hired help? Why are you on the couch, anyway? Hello!” She rolled her eyes and held the receiver up like it was something greasy. “It’s Angel,” she said with revolting sincerity.

“Wow, you are so not a morning person,” Buffy grumbled, but Dawn tossed a look over her shoulder that would have boiled steel and staggered back to her room.

“You know, if you stayed here, you’d have a chance of avoiding her,” Angel said dryly. Buffy curled into a sitting position and tucked her feet beneath her. Her eyes were dry and felt swollen from heavy sleep, and she rubbed her eyes with her fists. “There’s a lot of rooms to hide in.”

“The thought had occurred to me.” She stifled a yawn with the back of her hand. “I was so not like that when I was her age.” Thump! Buffy thought, as Angel hesitated for a moment. She could almost hear him biting his tongue, and she wondered if she’d done it deliberately. At Dawn’s age, she’d already died once, had sex for the first time with her boyfriend—namely, Angel---and thereby set his evil alter ego loose to try and destroy the world. She’d also run away from home. Dawn had…shoplifted. It caused Angel some discomfort, she was certain, but she wasn’t sure precisely how much. Nor did she know if she was doing it deliberately. Spike would have snorted and nailed her for it. Angel, however, sighed and stepped around it.

“Well….” He said cautiously. “She sure got the tall genes.”

“Oh, yeah? Bite me,” Buffy said perkily.

“So I guess the concept of irony has pretty much been erased from your brain, huh?”

“At seven o’clock? Oh yeah it has. So what’s up?”

Once again, he bit his tongue. “Giles called. Said he was worried about you.”

“Did he? He offered me a job.”

“You’re already a Slayer.”

“There’s lots of Slayers now. They really don’t need many more of them.”

“So…what was it?”

“Oh, don’t worry Angel. No flipping burgers for me---in LA. He thinks, ah, I could be a Watcher.” She waited for him to say something skeptical, and her tension caused her another one of those uncomfortable little moments. His opinion mattered to her, somehow, some way, and his disapproval hurt. Ever since they’d arrived in LA, she’d felt nervous around him, but she really couldn’t point her finger at any specific reason.

“That would be…interesting,” Angel said cautiously. “Giles would like that.”

“I don’t know. I think it might or it might not be interesting. And Giles? He’s got some idea he’s not telling me. I could see him becoming sort of manic over it, you know? “

“Well, what do you think?”

“I never thought I’d say this, but---Slaying is boring now. Watching would be…different.”

“You’d have to have a chapter in the history books,” Angel said. “All by yourself.”

“I don’t care about that.” I just want to do the stuff that gets you into the history books, not read them or anything, she thought. I want to do something again. “You know, it’s just….I tried to have a life when I was a Slayer, but it never really worked. And now I can have a life, and I just don’t care. What’s living? Shopping? Shoes? That’s like---like decorating the tree isn’t Christmas. It’s like Valentine’s Day isn’t love. I don’t know what to do. I feel like I’m going through delayed puberty.”

“I don’t know, Buffy.” Angel said quietly. “It’s been so long for me…But I don’t think trying to go jumping into something is a good idea. It’s only been---what?”

“A few weeks,” Buffy shrugged.

“You act like someone’s got a gun to your head, demanding that you make a big huge decision.”

“It just feels like I can, all of a sudden,” Buffy said quietly. “And I don’t know how to do it. Unless there’s pointy sticks and danger, I don’t know what I’m doing. It’s not, you know, good and evil any more. Unless Dawn is listening to Britney Spears or something.”

“Do you really want danger?” Angel asked reasonably. “It wasn’t fun for you, before. You just got used to it. Maybe you think you miss it, but that’s just because it was all you had. You didn’t really have anybody who could….really take on as much as you could. Who could back you up.”

“There’s all the Slayers now,” Buffy said softly. She heard Angel sigh loudly. Then she gulped---That wasn’t what he’d meant, was it? “And that’s a good, good thing. Really. But…now what?”

“It almost sounds like you want to be the only Slayer again.”

“No.”

“Just an observation, Buffy,” Angel said. “Now you know what it’s like, getting turned. Your world’s gone. You can’t just…adjust to it, suddenly.”

“Okay, I know, really.”

“But you can’t run away from it, either.”

No, Buffy thought, that’s your job.

There was a commotion in the background, and then she heard a rhythmic electronic beeping. “Xander!” Angel shouted. He gave an immense sigh. “Xander’s cooking.”

“I’ll let you go,” Buffy said gratefully.

“Just relax, Buffy.” Angel said quietly. “You’ve got all the time in the world.”

She hung up the phone and stared at the blank TV set. The screen was dusty, testament to its infrequent use. LA’s morning shows were nausea-inducing in their perkiness, but she’d whipped through her library books again, and there was something nagging at her about her conversation with Angel. She tried to recapture the dream his phone call had interrupted, but it had vanished, leaving her clutching at wisps of comfort---Spike’s chest against her back, his breath against her neck. She pointed the remote at the TV set, muted the volume, and shuffled to the kitchen to make tea. Damn Giles, she thought grimly. I’m even drinking tea now.

While the water boiled, she looked around the neat little kitchen, and then finally caught herself looking at the palm trees outside the window. Palm trees, so Californian. Maybe that was the problem. Maybe going to England would be just what she needed, to get away from all the memories. She was stuck halfway between her old world and her new world, with nothing to bind her to the past but her own reluctance. Leave the shreds of what was left behind her, and she could move on.

The phone rang, and she jumped. She turned down the water so it wouldn’t boil over, and then skidded into the living room to grab the phone before it could ring again.

“Buffy?”

“No, this is her clone. Hey, Xander.” Then she realized her perkiness was misplaced. He took a deep, shaky breath. “Xander, what is it?”

“They, uh----“ He couldn’t go on for a second. “They found Anya, Buffy. I have to go identify her. It looks like they found some of the Potentials, too.”

“Oh, God, Xander, I’m so sorry.”

“Nope, nope, I’m----I was hoping for this to happen, you know? I can give her a decent send-off now. I’m going to get a really fancy headstone, with all sorts of---“ He sniffled miserably, and then regrouped. “I still have the rings, you know? She’d want those with her. It’s the least I can do.”

“She’d like that, Xander.” She sank into the sofa, and clicked off the silent TV without glancing at it. “Do you want…company?”

“Could you, Buff? I’d really appreciate the backup.”

“Like you have to ask. Should I come over there?”

“Yeah, Wes would like that.”

“Sure. I’ll just shower and all that.”

“Okay. Thanks, Buff.”

“What for? Best friends, Scoobies and all that. Hey! Maybe we should get tattoos.”

“We could do that. We could make all the new Slayers do that, too.”

“That would be cool. In a biker kind of way.” She paused, looking around the sunny room. “Just wait for me. Don’t you worry about anything. I’ll be right over.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Xander said with a sniff. “Don’t think I can.”

She hung up the phone gently, then went to tell Dawn.



Chapter 4

Xander was fine until they pulled up into the parking lot and saw the words carved into the lintel over the entrance: Medical Examiner’s Office. He froze for a second. Then he made a big show of turning the engine off, checking the glove box, fiddling with buttons. Buffy got out first, stared up at the carving, and wiped her hands on her jeans. Xander was still slumped inside the car, and Buffy looked at him with sudden sympathy. “Xander?”

“Hm? Oh, just a sec, I’m, uh, I’m just---“

“Why don’t I go in?” She said. “You can, you know, find what you were looking for in the glove compartment. And, then, you know, you could---“

“It’s not that. I, um, I have to do this thing, here, before I can lock the car and---“

“I know.” Buffy crossed around the front of the dusty car, and leaned over his open door. He had one foot outside the door, and his hands dangled limply on his thighs. “What are friends for?”

Xander blinked up at her, then laid one hand near hers on the window frame. She moved hers to cover his, and he turned away and licked his lips. “Thanks.”

“Don’t know what you’re talking about, Xander.” She waited for him to meet her eyes, but he was staring downward again, and she tactfully turned away.

The empty lobby could have been mistaken for a doctor’s office except for the bullet-proof glass window. Something was wrong about the office, wrong in a good way, and it took her a moment to pinpoint it. Nobody was waiting. Nobody except her, and the friend she’d left in the parking lot. She stepped up to the glass, and tapped on it. A head popped up behind a counter in the back of the office, and a slender young black woman strode briskly up to the air holes and smiled encouragingly at her. There was something kind about the woman’s face, and Buffy found herself relaxing. “Can I help you?”

“Yes. I’m here to identify---“

“Oh, yes. Which one?”

So much for optimism, Buffy thought. How many more are there? “A friend of mine. I think she would have been at the school?”

“Sister?”

“Friend. Her ex is, ah, waiting---“

The young woman looked at her steadily for a moment, and Buffy dropped her eyes to the nametag on her blouse. CORA, it said. “That was very kind of you,” the other woman said, and then waited a minute, as if to let the sentiment sink in. A buzzer sounded, and Buffy jumped. “Come on in.”

It was a perfectly ordinary office, except for the metal door at the far end of the cubicles. This, too, required a buzzer, and Cora stepped aside and let Buffy go through first. She found herself in a wide cool hallway with fluorescent lights and scarred green linoleum. Empty mental gurneys lined the right side of the hallway, and the smell of antiseptic was strong. A double-width exit door with a lighted sign over it stood at one end of the hallway, and an elevator at the other end. It was to this that Cora led her, guiding her inside and pushing the buttons. When they stepped out, the change in temperature from the stuff office was enough to make her shiver. Cora gently laid a hand on her back. “Have you ever done this before?”

“No,” Buffy whispered.

“Well, what did your friend look like?”

The question struck Buffy and she turned to look at her curiously. “How many people were there?”

“You said she would have been at the school? The high school, right?”

“Yes.”

“We’ve found four dead girls there so far, and one survivor. I’m sorry.”

“Four,” Buffy said softly. “I might know them, too.”

“Why were they at the school?”

Ordinarily, Buffy would have been uncomfortable lying, but this time, the untruth sprang easily to her lips. “We also had a plan that we would get together at the school, in case of an emergency.” She licked her lips nervously. “Were they---?”

Cora seemed to read her thought. “They’re not in bad shape. I’m sorry---what’s your name?”

“Buffy Summers.”

“I’ll have to get some information from you. There’s an investigation going on, you realize?”

“Into---what?”

“All of the girls had defensive wounds, and one of them was stabbed to death. It looks sort of suspicious.”

“Uh…”

“I’ll let the police fill you in. If they’re your friends, you can really help us out by filling in the blanks.”

“Blanks?”

Cora gave her a compassionate smile. “I’ll give them a call, okay? That way you can get all this stuff over with.” She licked her lips. “Are you ready?”

“No.” Cora squeezed her arm comfortingly, but Buffy didn’t smile.

“There’s a waiting room with a video monitor in it. They’ve been cleaned up and you’ll only see their faces. Can you handle that?”

Buffy nodded slowly. The expression on Angel’s face after she’d stabbed him, and this woman was asking her if she could handle the sight of---? She shook it off and nodded again. Cora guided her down the hallway and through a door labeled Viewing Room. Couches lined three of the walls, and a TV monitor sat in the center of the fourth. She stepped right up to it, but Cora hung back, and whispered instructions into an intercom. Then she switched it on, and Buffy held her breath as the image appeared.

Anya’s hair had been washed, and a sheet covered her from the neck down. She could have been sleeping, except for her pallor. “That’s Anya,” She said quietly. Cora stepped back and issued more instructions through the intercom.  Anya was moved out of the way, and another sheet-shrouded form was wheeled into sight. Hands pulled the sheet back from the head. “Yes, that’s Rona,” Buffy said in the same numb voice. The process was repeated until she had identified Molly, and Chao-Ahn as well.

“That’s it,” Cora said quietly.

“I, uh, promised, her ex-fiancée that I’d check, and then he could—“

“Okay,” Cora said. “Let’s go back to the office. There’s some paperwork we have to do.”

“I’ll go get him, then.”

“Do you have phone numbers for the next of kin for the others?”

That stopped Buffy in her tracks. “Uh---uh---you know, I might have to make some phone calls.”

“Okay, that’s okay.” Cora said. “That’s okay. At least their families will know what happened to them now. At least they can bury them.”

Try catching dust, Buffy thought. Try finding it and burying it.  Cora buzzed her out into the lobby, and she stood in the air conditioning for a moment, bewildered. “I’ll be right back.”

“I’ll be here,” Cora assured her.

Outside, the bright sunlight made her blink, and she couldn’t remember for a moment where she was. The sight of Xander’s car restored her bearings, and she took a deep breath. Better get it over with, she thought. Start now. She watched her shoes kick dust as they found their way to the driver’s side of his car. “You can go in now, Xander.”

He looked up at her blankly for a moment, and she wondered if they both had the same look on their faces. “Was---?”

“It wasn’t bad,” She said quietly. “Except for, you know---“

“Okay.” The springs squeaked as he stood up stiffly, and the seat was warm with his body heat when she slid into it. She rested her forehead on the steering wheel for a moment, trying to recapture the feeling of the dream she’d had the previous night, but the conversation with Angel seemed to have obliterated it. The sun was very hot on the parts of her that it could reach. She maneuvered into the back seat, which didn’t have the sun beating into it, at least.

Watcher Buffy Summers, she thought. Miss Summers. Away from California? Away from memories? Away from all her moorings, which now lay in the bottom of a pit called Sunnydale. Part of her loved the sunshine, but part of her knew that from now on she would associate it with this sickening hot parking lot, this slow tick of minutes. She couldn’t do anything for Xander, not without a time machine to take him years away from his loss. She laid her head back on the head rest, and laid her arm on the open window frame.

She might have dozed a little in the heat, jerking awake as car doors opened close by. Blearily, she lifted her head and tried to focus. All she could see was a dark vehicle parked several spaces away, and the torsos of the two men who’d gotten out of it. She watched them move to the sidewalk in front of the building steps without changing her position, and knew they were cops even before they got to the first step. Cops, she thought wearily, and dozed off again. Cicadas buzzed all around her, a sound that was almost soothing in its familiarity.

“Buffy Summers?”

“Gah!” she exclaimed. She stared at the roof of the car. With some effort, she lifted her head and looked around with blurry eyes. There were men standing beside the car, and neither one of them looked like Xander, although all she could really see was their belt buckles. Well, that’s not Xander’s belt buckle, she thought, looking at a metal representation of a bucking bronco. “Who’s there?” She pulled herself stiffly over to the window and looked up. Both men took a step back, and then crouched so she could see their faces. “Who are you?”

“I’m Harry Jordon from the Lawrencia PD, and this is Leo Tate from the Sunnydale force. We’re investigating what happened at Sunnydale High.”

She was instantly, sharply awake. “What did happen at Sunnydale High?”

“We were hoping you could tell us that.” Jordon said. “Here we’ve got a natural disaster, and we wind up with what looks like four murder victims, and some guy in a coma. You knew them, evidently.”

Buffy stared at him, then turned to look at the other one. “Murder victims? What?”

“Cora said you’d identified all four women---or girls, really. We’ve already run their prints, and nothing. And we’ve got this guy in the same area, but he’s naked, got no priors, and he’s out for the count.” Some guy? Buffy thought. Tate held up a Poloroid, and she slapped it out of his hand in her eagerness to grab at it. All she accomplished was knocking it to the ground. She scrabbled for the door handle, and practically fell out of the car, while the two detectives exchanged looks and backed away a couple of steps.

The photo lay face down in the dust, and her hands shook as she picked it up. Her own heartbeat resonated in her ears, and if the detectives said anything to her, she didn’t hear it.

It could have been a morgue photograph---the body was covered to the shoulders with a sheet, the eyes were closed, and what was visible of the surroundings indicated sterility. There was one big difference, though. Death blanched the skin of its victims. This man, in this photograph, had pale skin, but it was flushed with life, even though his face was slack in unconsciousness.

Buffy raised huge eyes to the two men in front of her, holding the photograph up as if they weren’t familiar with it. “What? Is? What?”

“We were hoping you could tell us that, Ma’am.”

“Can I see him?”

“You know him?”

“I think so,” Buffy whispered. “I think I do.”

Once again, the two exchanged looks. “Yeah, let’s go,” Tate said. “You stay here with the guy.” He turned to her and casually held out his hand for the photograph. Buffy jerked it back out of his reach, and crossed her arms on her chest, with it still in one hand. Her lips were so tight they looked as if somebody had pulled them shut with a drawstring. “Okay----boyfriend of yours?”

“Not exactly,” Buffy snapped.

“Can you identify him?”

“Sort of.”

Another look passed between the two men. “So you know this guy and the girls,” Jordon said. “You can identify the girls, but not the guy.”

“It’s sort of complicated.”

“I’ll say,” Tate said. “Well, let’s get going, okay?” He eyed her sardonically. “Oh, by the way? You can keep the picture.”





The hospital in Lawrencia was surprisingly calm, but most of the residents of Sunnydale had fled before the collapse, so there hadn’t been a lot of casualties. This ought to have registered more on Buffy than it did, but four of those casualties had been people she knew. Tate talked tentatively about the search and rescue operation, but it only gradually dawned on Buffy that there was something off about his choice of topics. The third time he mentioned something that sounded like ‘defensive wounds’ she turned around and stared at him. “What are you talking about?”

“Your friends,” Tate said. There was a certain edge to his tone that made her look closely at him. “They were killed by falling debris, but all of them had defensive wounds. Your friend Anya was stabbed in the back, and so was at least one of the others. We find this guy there naked. He’s got some bad burns on one hand. This is one of the worst natural disasters we’ve ever had here, and, frankly, it looks like someone took it as an opportunity to even some scores. What are we supposed to think?”  He pulled into the hospital parking lot, turned off the car, and gave her his undivided attention. “I’ll be frank with you, Miss Summers. I don’t know what to think, really. But those girls died fighting for their lives.”

They both got out the car, and Buffy took the opportunity to look at him over the roof for a moment. It got his attention. “I don’t care what you think, Detective. Just so long as it’s thinking, and not jumping to conclusions.” She ducked ahead of him and hit the entrance first, then stopped in her tracks, flustered. Where on earth was he? She couldn’t very well ask for him by name, unless the cops had christened him like a ship. A mental image of the cops swinging a bottle of champagne at Spike’s head popped into her head, but it made her jaw drop. Bad, very bad, she thought. Losing it bad. The detective came up behind her and pointed down the hallway. “John Doe’s down here.”

It was on the tip of her tongue to snap at him that he wasn’t dealing with some John Doe, but she thought better of it. She didn’t know what happened, and she didn’t know what she was dealing with. Her pace slowed as she realized something else: if it was Spike, she didn’t even know what to call him.

At the end of the hallway, a bored-looking cop sat slumped in a hard plastic chair, chin in his palms. At the sight of Tate he leaped to his feet, but Tate waved him off and straight-armed through the door. Buffy, one step behind him, slammed into his back as he came to an abrupt stop three steps into the room. Cautiously, she peered around his side, and let out her breath. The detective might as well have evaporated into air molecules for all the notice she gave him. The photograph fluttered from her hand as she tiptoed forward.

She stood at the side of the bed for several minutes, staring, then reached out a hand. It hovered over his chest for a moment, while behind her the detective hissed in a sharp breath between his teeth. “Relax,” she muttered. And then she laid her hand on his chest.

It was warm, and his heart beat within. His arms lay motionless on the sheet, and his right hand was bandaged to the wrist. She looked at the knuckles of his other hand, but they were undamaged. At least he didn’t have to dig his way out of his own coffin, she thought. Slowly her hand relaxed against his skin, and she exhaled the breath she’d been holding. Without looking up, she tossed over her shoulder, “Go away.”

“Miss Summers---“

“Go away. I’m not going any where. I’ll give you my phone number, my address, my ATM password. Just leave me alone.” She paused. “Leave us alone.”

There was a snort behind her, and a long enough hesitation to indicate to anyone watching that no detective was going to be pushed around by a slip of a girl who didn’t even look at him. Then he left, and he might as well have never existed.

She pulled up a chair next to the bed, and folded her arms on the mattress next to him, laying her chin on top of them. She knew she had to plot and strategize. She just didn’t care. Was this how it had felt for him, when she’d come back? She winced at the thought. What if he was as screwed up as she’d been? What if he’d been pulled from heaven, too? A vampire in heaven? She thought. I’ll never be able to explain that to Angel.

And I don’t especially care, either.



Chapter 5

Xander hovered in the doorway, unwilling to wake her up. Spike was breathing so softly that it was inaudible, but he looked alive. There was color to him, and while his face was relaxed, it had that intangible look of life that Anya’s had lacked.

“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.”

“Oh, Xander---“

“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.”

“Enabler.”

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.”

“I won’t.”

“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?”

“I’m good.”





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.

“Mmmph.”

“Giles?”

“Mmrrph.” There was a deep groan, and Buffy wondered what she’d interrupted. Great. Another Freudian moment.

“Giles?”

“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.”

“Which is?”

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?”

“Yes.”

“What if he’s----“ he took a deep breath. “You must consider the possibility that, he might not be---“

“What?”

“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.”

“Oh.”

“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.”

“You think?”

“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.”

“Oh, definitely.”

“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?”

“Miss Summers---“

“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?”

“That’s not---“

“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.”



Chapter 6

The apartment was dark except for the light on top of the stove. She stepped inside carefully, holding the door so it wouldn’t squeak, but the apartment felt, to her Slayer sense, empty. No one was holding their breath somewhere in the closet or the bedroom, waiting for her to relax, whether it was a vampire or a guilty younger sister. Good. Maybe there’s some chocolate chip cookies left. Some peace and quiet would certainly help. Somuch for boredom. Yeah, good one. Boredom. She flopped down on the couch, kicked off her shoes, and tossed the pillow onto the floor, preferring to stretch out her neck and spine. Her back thrummed with relief. For the first time in weeks, she found it possible to clear her mind, and not worry. The jacket joined the shoes after a bit of a wriggle, and she stretched her arms over her head.

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.”

“Oh?”

“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.”

“About what?”

Buffy hesitated, then said, “Spike.”

“Oh.”

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.

“Dawn---“

“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.

“It’s Spike.”

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?”



Chapter 7

The police officer on duty was another one Buffy hadn’t seen before, even though she gleaned this information from his back as she snuck past him to the room. He was leaning over the receptionist’s desk, flirting in a rather heavy-handed way with a nurse whose facial expression indicated that she was getting her toenails pulled out with pliers. The butt of his service weapon jutted out temptingly from the holster on his hip, and she rolled her eyes. The nurse’s eyes met Buffy’s as she crept past, and they exchanged a look of complete sympathy.

It didn’t occur to her to knock at the hospital room door, and later she would wish she had.

Spike was sitting up in bed, his bare back turned to her, the pajama bottoms bunched low around his waist. She froze. I didn’t plan for this. I should have had a speech. Some flowers…A card! I should have gotten a card! New, from Hallmark: So glad you’re not a vampire any more! Except you liked being a vampire, and might not want to be human! And then there’s---

“Sorry! I pushed the wrong button---“ And then he turned, and saw her. His face changed, and it seemed that there was nothing in the room visible to her but his eyes. She could hear perfectly the squeaking of the nurses’ shoes going by in the hallway. Somewhere, an intercom beeped, but her eyes never wavered from his. The room seemed to be roaring around her, but she heard a man laugh out in the hallway. She was afraid to take her eyes off him. If I look away, he might vanish. He swallowed, hard, as if there was something in his throat. “Buffy.” Not a question, but a statement.

She nodded, as if her identity had been in question somehow, and his next demand would be for ID. She wondered, insanely, if her ID was in her pocket. Behind her, beyond the hospital room door, voices chattered and other peoples’ lives went on. Hers seemed to be frozen here, immobilized forever in one crystalline moment. The utter impossibility of saying anything adequate came to her again. Why, yes, it’s me. How’s the living thing working out for you? How are you? What are you?

He slid off the bed slowly, as if he wasn’t entirely sure there’d be a floor there. Carefully, like a man walking across ice shards, he made his way around the foot of the bed. He was bare-chested, hair loose around his head. Her fingers curled with the desire to touch him. “Did you do --this?” He had both hands on his chest in the same tentative way he’d stood up, as if he wasn’t entirely certain that there would be anything of substance greeting his fingertips.

Buffy shook her head mutely, her hands rising, echoing his gesture. “Are you okay?” she whispered.

Frozen, his eyes bright, he shook his head. Then he nodded. “I don’t know.” He shook his head again. “Can’t talk at all, that’s for bloody certain.”

“Is your throat sore or something?” Buffy blurted out.

Spike shook his head again. He spread his hands helplessly, then laid his hand over his heart. “Not my throat,” he whispered. Her own throat felt like it had been sandpapered. “What happened to me?”

She had to open and close her mouth a few times before words and brain worked at the same time. “I don’t know.”

“But I’m here.”

“You’re here,” Buffy whispered.

Spike shook his head again, his eyes wide. “But not there.” He tried to smile, but he looked too shaken to manage it. He nodded at where she stood, across the room from him, and she blinked as it hit her. She seemed to have forgotten how to walk, because it felt like she was doing something else, something that didn’t involve muscles or floors or stupid things like reality. “No,” she breathed. “Not there any more.”

Rush and stop, run and freeze. She was in such a hurry, she was moving through quicksand. His skin was so warm that she could only touch him with her fingertips, familiar and alien all at once. Her touch made his jaw drop, and she had to hesitate for a moment, her fingertips skimming his face, his lips, his throat. He sagged against the wall, but reached out for her so she came with him, his hands seeking her curves as if it were for the first time. There were moments of clarity in the rush, in the sloth, moments where she could see, moments where she was almost blinded. Everything about him was fresh, but haunting. His hair clutched in her hands as she buried her face in his neck. That sensation was old, but the shiver that came with it was brand new. She looked for something old, found something new instead. Oh, the back of his neck beneath her hand. She leaned into him, melting and changing, trying to brace her weight off of him, and then giving up that struggle with a sigh. She sagged against him, forearms against the wall on either side of his head, lips brushing his as they moved. Too much. One more twist, one more turn, and then they were sliding down the wall together, mouths coming together at the bottom with a shock.

Oh. Oh. His mouth was new to her, everything changed subtly so that she had to explore. He was panting between kisses, much more intensely than he had as a vampire, and it was exciting, this evidence of his eagerness. She had to pull back now and then, her fingers laced through his hair, startled. There were too many new impulses to experience all at once, and she retreated, stared at him, her eyes huge.

A tap at the door signaled reality, and she jumped to her feet, yanking Spike with her. He stumbled, and she automatically steadied him, reluctant not to be touching him. Skin. Warm, soft skin. Spike blew hair out of his eyes and she stared at him, realizing it was a gesture she’d never seen before. “Okay,” she called.

“How are you doing?” It was a doctor, a rumpled professorial-looking man with wildly curly gray hair. He had a neatly-trimmed beard and mustache, but the hair on his head appeared to be rebelling. “Much better, I see. Ready to go home?”
“The police---?” Spike asked. “And---clothes?”

Good thing one of us can think, Buffy said. She had to cross her arms on her chest to keep make her hands behave.

The doctor shrugged off the questions. “They’re Sunnydale police. I’ve already told them what I think. I’ll tell them again if necessary.” He rolled his eyes, as if to indicate that he believed this was unfortunately likely. “They know perfectly well I’ll be the one treating whatever no doubt self-inflicted wounds they might endure. All I have to do is let them know that I control whether or not they get anesthetic. And clothes? The nurse can get you some sweats. If you have any other questions---?” His tone, while acerbic, was kind, but hinted that the very idea that there were problems he couldn’t solve was almost amusingly presumptuous.

Buffy meekly raised her hand. “The officer out there?”

The doctor glanced at the ceiling, as if beseeching some deity for patience. “That department thinks they have the power to put an officer in my hospital. It was just free extra security.” He made a note on his clipboard, then looked up. “I’ll take care of that personally. Anything else?”

“Uh, no.”

Silence. Hospital, Buffy thought. Reality. Reality meaning what?

She turned to him. “That’s it? What did you tell them?”

“The truth,” he said slowly. “Part of it.”

She had to smile. “Which part? The whole vampire thing?”

He leaned against her, studying her face, biting his lip. “Left that part out.” Her hands were shaking, and something seemed to have changed with the doctor’s interruption. Just another girl with her boyfriend, Buffy thought. Except that’s not me. That’s not us. We’re---what? The way he was looking at her, she found it hard to care, harder still not to flush. It was like being a virgin again, she was so nervous. He touched her nose with his, eyes drifting down, hands cupping her face. She could see his chest moving faster as his breath got tighter, and she smiled a little breathlessly herself. She wriggled backward, up on the bed, pulling him between her legs by the string of his pajamas. This loosened the knot, and she shivered suddenly, as the fabric slid down far enough to reveal the dark edge of his pubic hair. He planted his hands on the bed beside her hips and his mouth on hers, and kissed her so thoroughly that she gave serious thought to whether or not the door was lockable.

This question was answered in the negative when another knock came, just seconds before the door squeaked open.

Buffy straightened, and bonked her forehead into his, but it at least gave him a moment to pull his pants up. He took a deep breath and stepped decisively to the door, where a nurse bearing a pile of folded-up gray material was eyeing Buffy curiously---a little too curiously, Buffy thought. “Thanks, that’s very nice of you.”

She glanced from Buffy to Spike and back again, then smiled. “You might not feel that grateful when you see how much they charged you for them.”

“Thanks,” Spike said tightly, putting one hand on the door. She smirked at him, then backed out. She ought to have one of those beeping things that trucks have for when she does that, Buffy thought, the memory of the nurse’s expression smarting beyond reason.

“So what did you tell her?” Buffy asked dryly.

Spike leaned against the door, frazzled by the interruption, then caught her words. He looked as if the possibility of jealousy had never occurred to him before. It only took a moment to sink in, and then he stared at her, a look of frank amazement on his face. “Are you jealous? Really?” He looked as if he wanted to write it down somewhere.

“No, I’m not,” Buffy said. “Because---“ And then it hit her. Human meant all sorts of things---huge things. But little things as well. Spike’s love for her had made him special amongst vampires. Among humans, it was normal, and apt to change. Her jaw dropped with the thought. She could have gotten him back again, only to lose him to someone else. What was there to keep him from falling prey to all those human emotions?

“I didn’t mean it,” Spike said quietly. “I was just teasing.” He fumbled with the sweats, turning his back to her, and dropping the bottoms to the floor.

“I didn’t---I was just startled---“ Buffy said. “I’m still kind of in shock here, you know---I guess less than you.” She was too bowled over to appreciate the site of his naked body, where minutes before it had left her breathless. Something about saying these things across a room struck her as wrong, and she swiftly stepped in front of him, grabbing his hands and tossing the clothing aside. “It’s a shock, okay? I thought it would be easier for me than it would be for you. I don’t think that’s true any more.” She kissed him deliberately then, pressing him against the door, bringing his hands firmly to her breasts. He stiffened for a second, then pushed her backward, and for a second she thought he was pushing her away. The second bed in the room was behind her and she understood only she bumped down onto it. In a second, he was on top of her, and she pulled him, wrapping her legs around him to get him as close as she could, seeking out his mouth for a gasping, back-clawing kiss.

The intercom sounded outside, and they stopped, staring at each other’s flushed faces. Regretfully, Buffy sat up, thinking, that didn’t change. A glance revealed an erection that the sweats only accentuated. Neither did that. Another glance revealed that Spike looked chagrined at the fact that he had less control of this body than the old one. Buffy reached out and touched his arm. “Some things don’t change.”

Spike pulled the sweatshirt on. “That’s not comforting.” She pulled him closer, intending to soothe his ruffled feathers, and was rather startled—shocked, even,---when he shook off her arm. “I can’t go out like this,” he muttered. He eyed her with a little of his old humor in his eyes. “And you’re not helping.”

“Oh, I’m not?” She reached out and cupped his penis through the soft fabric, catching her breath as he jumped at her touch. “I’d love to.”

“What, here?” he whispered, and he sounded almost dismayed. She tightened her grip, and realized he was shaking.

“Yes, here,” she said precisely. She kissed him, slow and wet, and knew then that she wasn’t exaggerating to make him feel better, even if she’d intended to. There was something going on with him, and, she thought, why wouldn’t there be? It had to be a tremendous shock. She wasn’t good with putting things into words like he was, but she knew how to show her feelings at least. “Anywhere---for you. Any time. You think it was the Big Bad I wanted, don’t you?” She kissed him again, but he pulled away to look at her, to see her eyes. “It was always you. Still is. What do you want me to do?”

“It’s not---“ she slid her hand beneath the fabric and touched the soft skin of his erection. He shuddered as if she’d shocked him. “God. I’m not---I’m not just ordinary now. There’s rules. Before, I was---I was a rebel for loving a Slayer. Now I’m just another---“

“No, you’re not.” She traced his contours with a fingertip, her own pulse jumping. Oh, my, he was close. “You’re you.” Another kiss, her hand moving faster, and then he stepped back.

“Buffy,” he said, and then shook his head. “It just feels different now.”

“Oh,” she muttered. “Worse?”

“No---God, no.” He glanced down, lips twitching as he beheld the wreckage. “Why do you think I was so glad to be a vampire?”

“I have no idea. You said you were such a—a git when you were human, but guys are so stupid about stuff like that.”

He looked at her, startled. “What do you mean?”

“Oh, why did you think you were a git? You seem perfectly okay to me.”

“It’s been an hour. Part of that we spent kissing.”

“Something wrong with kissing?”

“No, but---“

“Are we talking about our relationship?” Buffy asked.

“I don’t know.”

“That means yes, doesn’t it?”

“It means, I don’t know.” He looked at her as she’d hit him over the head. “See? That thing you did just right there. That girlfriend thing.”

“What girlfriend thing?”

“That girlfriend thing. That thing where you said ‘that means yes’, girlfriends do that all the time. That is so---human. Vampires don’t do that. Why waste time on that?”

“When there’s killing to be done, I guess.” Buffy hopped down off the bed, more than a little annoyed. “So---what?” She stared at him, trying to get her thoughts in order, all of which were pretty unpleasant. “Aren’t I---?”

“Before, you were the Slayer and I was a vampire. It was---different.”

“You---Are you breaking up with me or something?”

“No! No, I’m not, but---it’s weird.”

“Spike, our whole lives are weird.”

“Especially the part where I didn’t have a life. I had a---an unlife.”

“But that’s good? And even then, I died twice. Really, there’s weird and then there’s--“

“I think I overtook you in the weirdness sweepstakes, luv.”

“I think we’re even.” She leaned against the bathroom door. “You’re not a git.”

“Thank you,” he said sarcastically.

“Even if you were, it wouldn’t matter to me.”

“I’ll remember that when people start---“

“What are they going to do, Spike? Laugh at you? Did it ever occur to you that maybe, just maybe, all the people who thought that about you---and told you, too, I guess---were just complete and utter assholes? The Nineteenth Century version of the Cordettes?”

“The what?” He shook his head as there was something blocking his ears.

“Cordelia’s fellow….people. Things. Mean people.”

“I wrote awful poetry.”

“You told me. I don’t care. You stayed with my sister after I died.”

That drew him up short and he stopped for a minute. “I, uh---had awful hair.”

“You’re lying,” Buffy said flatly. “I love your hair.” She stopped for a minute. New, improved, potty mouth Buffy coming up, she thought. “Everywhere.”

Oh, she thought, he turns colors now, and the knowledge that she had to rediscover him all over again made her knees weak. “You weren’t there,” he shot back.

“Well, you’re not there now, and I am---I mean, here, that is--- and I really, really want you, so---? Unless you don’t want me.”

“Buff, that’s never going to be a problem. You know that.”

“Okay, so why is it a problem now, then? Huh?”

“I’m not sure,” he said tiredly.

“Oh, wait, is this just because you’re human?”

“Buffy, I love you, but where have you been this whole! bloody! time?!”

“I’ve been listening, but no, I mean---did the sarcasm come from the demon? Or what?”

“No, the sarcasm came from the sheer exasperation of----“

“Oh, okay, that sounds like you.”

“No, it doesn’t,” he said sulkily. “I don’t even sound like myself. I don’t even---“

“Well, whoever you are, whoever you think you are, or aren’t, or---whatever, you’re still you,” Buffy snapped. “And you’re confusing me, which ought to be comforting, because that’s what you did before.”

“Both of us can’t be confused.”

“Oh, yes we can.” Buffy stepped forward and grabbed his hand, yanking him into the bathroom. She snapped on the light, and guided him in front of the mirror. “That’s you. I want to sit and look at you forever, because I thought I’d lost you.” She stroked his hair, brushed his lips with one finger tip. “You know, it’s harder being human. I’ll give you that much. And I expect a lot---because of what you’ve already done. What you’ve done for me.” And to me, added Potty!Mouth Buffy, but Buffy bit her lip and forged ahead. “It’s harder being human,” she repeated. “Less weapons to work with. And you think—even though you’re wrong---that you weren’t that great when you were human. I wish I’d been alive back then.”

“No, you wouldn’t,” Spike said dryly. “They’d have tossed you out on your bum first time you---“

“First time I did what?” Oh, my, look at the lock on that door. “First time I did this?” She shoved both hands into his sweats and was terribly gratified when he jumped. “Or this?” She dropped to her knees before him, pressing him to the door. To lock it she had to take one hand off him, but it did give her a chance to push his sweats down. That done, she took him into her mouth, swirling her tongue and finding all sorts of new flavors to explore. Spike froze for a second, then gasped as she sucked as hard as she could, his hips twitching once as he went rigid with shock. Then he reacted.
“God, Buffy---“

She let his penis slip out of her mouth, horrified at the look of utter misery on his face. “What?! You—I---“ She backed away, hitting the edge of the bathtub and sitting down on its edge numbly. “You don’t want me.”

Spike laughed weakly, pulling his pants up. “Evidence to the contrary, pet.”

“Well, then---“

“Oh, God,” he sank down next to her, put his head in his hands and laughed. “When I woke up, the first thought I had was that I’d lost you, that I’d failed. And then my second thought was…” He waved at all the mauve porcelain. “How do I tell you….certain things?”

“Hah,” Buffy scoffed. “Try making me care about certain things.”

“I want you to care,” Spike said quietly, and she flinched a little.

“Spike---Don’t get me wrong, please, but---Don’t you think it’s kind of an insult that you’d think I’d care that you were a dork? You tried to kill me all those times, but you changed, and I got over it. Killing is a lot more serious than being a dork. And I haven’t seen any evidence of inherent dorkhood.” You’re sweet, she wanted to add, but she knew enough about male sexuality to know she might as well tie a pink ribbon around his penis and call it something like a ‘pretty little thing’ if she wanted to offend him more successfully.

He looked at her seriously for a moment, and she could see him gathering his nerve. The idea that he would do this in front of her gave her some hope. He still trusts me, whether or not I deserve it. “Well,” he said quietly. “How about virginity, then?”

It took her a moment to realize what he meant, and that gave her a moment to think. “You mean..you?”

“Right. Go ahead.”

“Go ahead…what? I was going ahead,” she said sarcastically, “and then you stopped me.”

“In a hospital bathroom,” Spike pointed out.

“Oh? Oh! Oh,” She muttered finally. “God, now I feel like a dirty old woman.”

“Sorry.”

She looked at him closely. “No, you’re not.”

“Sort of,” he shrugged.

She took a deep breath. “Is it me?”

He looked around, and gave a disgusted snort. “What do you think?”

“Well, I feel like the Whore of Babylon now, so---“

“I just---“ he shrugged uncomfortably. “It’s a bathroom. I don’t want---“

Something in her heart turned over. Her feelings for him were composed of many different elements, but she’d never felt this bewildering touch of compassion before. She’d hated him, found him irritating, alluring, mysterious, scarily intoxicating, but that admission for the first time gave her a glimpse at the real individual beneath all the layers of his history. And she was startled to find that she liked this person, very much. He started when she kissed him on the cheek. “You’re going to hate me, and you’re going to get all guy like about this, but you’re sweet.”

He winced, and she felt that twinge of pure affection again. “Thanks. I’ll go kill myself now with something pink.” He looked thoughtful for a moment. “I think there might be frills involved.”

“No, you won’t. Let’s go home.” She leaned closer to his ear, suspecting that might make him more comfortable. “And guess what’s going to happen then?”

He gave her a narrow-eyes Spike sneer, and she had to laugh out loud. “Monopoly? Charades?”

“Charades?” She got to her feet and he followed. “How old-fashioned.”

“Have some respect for your elders.”

“Just wait,” Buffy said gleefully. “Talk about respect, old man. We’ll see.”



Chapter 8

Buffy unlocked the door and poked her head in. “Dawn?”

There was no answer. This didn’t necessarily prove anything, pro or con, but it was hopeful. She stepped into the apartment and looked around. Spike followed after her. “I just have to make a phone call.”

“Okay,” Spike said. He wandered into the living room and looked around, but there wasn’t much to catch his eye; the apartment had come pre-furnished, and nothing had yet been salvaged from the wreckage to give the place any individuality. He kicked off his flip flops and padded down the hallway in his bare feet. Two bedrooms, with one large bath between them. He could just see Buffy in that bathtub, and he swallowed and closed his eyes. She could see his emotions now, the same way he could see hers, and it wasn’t as if he’d been that good at concealing them as a vampire. The thought left him feeling sick. It wasn’t that bothersome when it was just Buffy. He didn’t want anybody else seeing what a twit he was capable of being.

Buffy seemed to regard his new humanity as a gift, but he wasn’t so sure. No more super strength; no more Spike. He’d taunted Riley with it once, but that had been before all the deaths that had changed her so much. Being one of just many Slayers appeared to have been the right decision in more ways than one. About himself, he simply wasn’t so sure.

He didn’t hear her till she was right behind him. Something else lost, he thought. “Hey.” She slid her arms around his waist, and it went straight through him. He turned, and they were kissing by the next breath. He pulled back and looked down at her. “God, you’re beautiful.”

“So are you,” she whispered. She rubbed her face on the front of his sweatshirt. “Even in this.”

The sexual encounter at the hospital hung over them, leaving both tongue-tied with possibilities and inertia. His vision was back to being William-bad, but his skin seemed extra sensitive, picking up the sensation of her erect nipples pressed against him---and her ribs. A hundred years with an insane woman made him bite his tongue about her thinness, but he plotted a feast sometime in her future. He tried to find his snark, but it evaporated, looking down at her face. “God, I missed looking at you. You’ve got a face like water,” he breathed. “Did I ever tell you that? It’s like quicksilver….” He traced the curve of her face with his fingertips, as if more contact would burn him.

“You didn’t tell me that,” she whispered. “You did tell me you were a bad poet, though. Obviously a big lie.” She buried her face in his chest again. “I missed sleeping with you. We never did that except for the last two nights.” She looked up at him. “I thought of all the time I wasted, when we could have been like that. I woke up and I…looked at you,” and then she had to kiss him. “And touch you.” Another kiss, deepening into open-mouthed exploration, sent his blood rushing through his veins and made him rethink the whole human body thing. “It was nice.”

“Not as nice as this,” he muttered. He turned and pressed her into the wall, as much exploring his new body as hers. The sensations were so different that it might have been the first time entirely, and he conceded fuzzily that this wasn’t all bad. He got his thigh between her legs, and she shifted eagerly, arching her throat back for him to kiss, even while she hitched against him. With a gasp, she found exactly the right angle, and he instinctively grabbed her thigh and thrust against her.

He’d always loved watching her face as they had sex, even though she still tried to stay in control then, too. A lot of the time it had simply been too much for her, and he’d cherished those moments, when pleasure or something else had made her drop her barriers, and he could imagine that she was looking as deep into him as he was into her. Sometimes she’d be limp and pliable afterward, silent but relaxed, and he’d seen glimpses, then, of what it could be like with her. Only glimpses, stolen snippets, flashes. Now she looked right into his eyes and let herself go, grabbing the nape of his neck, pressing her forehead to his, so that he could take her gasps into his mouth, into his body. He was so close himself that he shook with it, and when she kissed him, she felt him shaking, her lips curving into a smile as she nibbled at his mouth.

She was rubbery-legged when he let her go, bones turned to noodles as she backed into the room, leading him with her hands and her kisses. He doffed the sweatshirt as they went, and she sat down abruptly on the bed, staring. “What?”

“I’ve never seen you in sunlight,” she said simply.

The reality of it washed over him along with the sunlight, and they just looked at each other for a long, long time. Then he went to the window and pulled the curtains open, yanking the blinds up. It didn’t matter that the sight that greeted him was the freeway; what mattered was that she was staring at him, and he wanted to really see her. He turned his back to the window and dropped the sweats. “I saw you before, in daylight.”

“With the Gem of--?”

“No, other times. I’d find the right place, the right angle, and I could see you and be safe. Golden girl, that’s what you were.”

“Now you can join me,” she said, but her tone was uncertain.

He spread his hands in the light, and she found herself looking at him, golden in the light from the room. His hair was growing out, and the roots glowed golden. Even his pubic hair had a shimmer to it. “It was really hard, though.”

“What?”

“Doing that. Watching. Taking the opportunity. Not a lot of chances. Had to avoid certain people----“

She stood up and tossed her top off, but he grabbed her hands. He unhooked her bra, throwing it aside, smoothing his hands over her back and then her breasts before sliding to her jeans. She steadied herself by holding onto his shoulders as he unbuttoned them and slid them down, but had to smile when he realized he’d forgotten to take off her shoes first. “Oh, bugger.”

This produced another, larger smile. On another woman, he’d have labeled it an outright grin, but he hadn’t seen his Slayer smile like that, big and happy and giddy, in years. She sat down on the bed, and stuck one foot up in the air at him, and he yanked off the shoe, sighing. Bare-footed, she tickled his stomach, then paused, looking at him, hooking her foot to his hip, pulling him closer. “God, I never really looked at you, that whole time.”

He picked up her other foot, forcing her lie back. “I noticed.” He pulled the shoe off, looking down at her foot, then leaned over, pulling her jeans down her legs. “Sometimes you did, though. Accidentally.” Triumphantly, he discarded the jeans, and swallowed hard. Time was, as a proper young man, he’d have killed to see a girl like this---clad only in her knickers, hair all mussed up, lips swollen, and pretty pink nipples. Now, reality and unreality seemed to be hitting him with alternate blows. No need to hide, not from her friends, not from the sun. No need to keep certain hours, certain limitations. For that, he’d traded immortality and strength. Buffy chose that moment to stroke his burgeoning erection with the tips of her toes, and he thought, Not a bad trade at all.

“How could you love somebody that---that---“ Spike crawled onto the bed next to her and propped himself up on one elbow, making encouraging motions with his other hand. “You’re not going to stop me, are you?”

He dropped his head to her shoulder and her hands were drawn, as always, to his hair. “Not a chance,” he drawled. But her touch ended any thinking he was capable of doing. She pulled him closer and he eased onto her body, his blood flaring with awareness. She reached up for a kiss and he stretched into it, wanting to dive into her, pulse pounding suddenly everywhere. His hands were urgent, trying to touch her everywhere at once, and she responded with little noises and motions, her own hands sliding all over him, too busy to keep track of. That was fast. She was pulling and tugging at him, and he wriggled agreeably, not even aware of the way they were shifting and moving, not until he felt fabric and pulled back from her mouth. He dropped his forehead to hers, shuddering with the force of his own blood. Buffy tipped an impudent look at him, and gave him a siren’s smile, then reached down for his cock, already hard, almost painful. “Oh, God, don’t do that,” he breathed.

“Why not?”

“You don’t--? I’ll---Oh, God,” he muttered. She wriggled under him, pulling her panties off, and suddenly he was rubbing against not fabric—which in his condition might just as well have been sandpaper----but against her smooth flesh, wet and inviting. His heart stopped, and then he sagged over onto his back, his erection bobbing, and Buffy stared at him in shock. One moment he’s here, the next minute…what happened?

“Spike…” Her thumb naturally found the ridge around the head of his cock and his eyes simply went blank at the sensation of her hand closing around him.

“Stop. I can’t take that.”

He grabbed her wrist, and she frowned at him. “You seem to think you shouldn’t,” she said dryly. “That’s kind of what I have the problem with.”

“I won’t last, I know it, I’ll---“

“That’s fine,” she said impatiently. “You think it’s not?”

“I don’t want to be,” Oh, God, he thought, I can’t even talk like myself any more, listen to me wibbling, “the sort of git who goes off at the drop of a hat and---“

She bit her lip, but she was smiling. “You told me you were a virgin.”

“My point exactly.”

My point exactly.”

“It won’t be any good.”

Now she was the one propped up on her side next to him. “It’s not about that, Spike.” She glanced down, her lower lip trembling just the tiniest bit. “You know, even before? It wasn’t about that.” She laid her head on his chest, her hand smoothing over his taut stomach, but staying clear of any erogenous zones. “It was this,” she whispered. “Even then. Not, you know—orgasms. That was just…what I told myself. But it was this…I almost convinced myself, too. But---no. That’s just a---“she smiled suddenly. “Side effect.”

He reached up for her face. “Not even the slightest bit?”

“If it were sex, it would be. That’s different. This is different.”

The kiss was tentative, as was his smile. “Are we different?”

“Everything is,” she said. “Everything is.”

There was that sensation again, the weird contrast between the old world, experienced afresh. Why did her hands on his cock make him shake so bad, when all that had changed were a few revved-up internal organs? So his heart beat now, so his blood was his own. He felt like he’d never seen her before, the way she bit her lip as he slid on top on her, the way it was entirely new and electrifying, the way the head of his cock just found itself pressing into her pussy.

What was new, too, was the effort. His heart was pounding so loud he could hear it, but it seemed to stop as he pushed inside her and she seemed to clutch all around him. It wasn’t just tight, it was like being gripped in a wet, hot fist, and he could feel pinpricks of sweat break out all over himself. Breathing became something he’d read about somewhere. He shoved forward again, and he was as far inside her as he could get, but none of that mattered because her hands were pulling him closer and harder against her. . And then her hips lifted and every molecule on his cock screamed and he was pressing his forehead to hers, his own hips pulling back, his back arching with pleasure. He remembered to breathe, then, finally, but that wasn’t important, because it interfered with kissing, and kissing was crucial to his existence. Oh, God, the rhythm of it all, the way she moved with him and against him and around him, her mouth meeting his with a groan at the top of every stroke, kissing and sucking at his throat as he receded with an arch.

He managed to find a tempo, slowing down to a pace that made the bed creak in waves beneath them, but she spoiled it, smiling at him between little gasps and little kisses. “You--liar.”

“What?”

“Just—like---before.”

“What?”

“Bad—poet—and—I’m---never---ah,” she breathed, but he was laughing, and it was making his body hit all kinds of new places. “Oh…” Caught between humor and shock, pure instinct took over, and she clutched at him. Whether it was to make him stop or make him keep him going he wasn’t sure, but she bit his shoulder as everything tightened inside her and then shattered. She was convulsing all around him, and he surrendered to what seemed like a tidal wave. It went on forever, rolling from the tips of his toes to the top of his head, and he came back to find himself slowly blinking away the white spots in front of his eyes while his heart pounded in his own ears. She was blinking up at him, her lips parted, and he felt like someone had wrung out his spine like a dishrag. Aftershocks kept his hips moving, slowing bit by bit, and she cupped his bum in her hands, feeling the muscles flex and relax as the impulses faded away. Slowly, slowly, he crumpled on top of her, breath and heart returning to normal. There was no force to their kisses, they were so soft, brushing and breathing, trying to paint each other face’s with kisses, flushed, sweaty, shaking.

His brain cells began to work, and he realized it couldn’t be pleasant for her, with his dead weight on top of him. Shifting required slowly separating himself from her body, and he was oddly reluctant to do that. So was she, clutching at his arms as he pulled away. He felt like he’d just participated in some masochistic athletic event. She moved with him as he slid to her side, turning so she could wrap one leg around his waist, wriggling close. He couldn’t take his eyes off her, and she was evidently having the same problem, till finally the smile on her face became wider than was polite and she rolled over on her back, flung her arms out on the bed, and sighed out loud.

“What?” He demanded.

“What did I say?”

“Uh…What did you say, pet?”

This got him a sideaways glance. “I don’t remember either.” She rubbed her face with both hands. “But it was something about you being insecure or something---and, you know, you were wrong, did you notice?----and, oh, well, I was right. About whatever it was that I was making a point about.”

“Very concise.”

“I wish I could remember exactly, too. It was---“ She shoved him onto his back and dragged herself over him with an unselfconsciousness that startled him. “It was pretty good.”

There was something hypnotic about her skin, he noticed. Funny, the way it was striking him now. All the things he’d been denied before. He traced a path up and down her arm with his free hand, not sure how the other hand wound up laced through her hair, except that it seemed to belong there. She nuzzled his chest, trying to burrow into his skn, and he wondered if all the other barriers that waited for them could be conquered with good humor and her faith in him. Her fingers circled a monotonous track on his chest, and he found that he simply didn’t care. “This is pretty good,” he whispered sleepily.

“Better than good. What did I tell you?”

“I’m going to have to take notes from now on, aren’t I?”

She sighed, and she was asleep. Drifting away on a tide of even breathing and warm skin, he suddenly saw a future so full of moments and minutes like the one he was in that he wouldn’t have to hoard them. He’d have full days and nights of her, and he’d have to pick and choose the moments he savored, because there’d be so many. Not for him the lonely shadows, not any more. Just the thought was exhausting. He fell asleep with his lips pressed against her forehead.



Chapter 9

Buffy paused in the door way of the bathroom and shook her head. The sun slanted across the room, and across Spike’s form, lying face down on the bed. One foot dangled off the edge of the bed, and there were a few scratches on his back. She wasn’t sure if she was shaking her head at herself or at him. She tiptoed over to the bed and eased herself behind him, stroking one hand down his side. His ribs were entirely too prominent, but that might be because whatever body fat he had was in his behind. She smothered her smile into his neck, along with a twinge of unreality. The sun was warm, but it made her feel dislocated. Spike. Me. Sunlight. Wait. Re-adjust. It’s just new, that’s all.

He sighed, and then reached back, sliding his hand down her thigh with one hand as she wriggled closer. “What time is it?” he murmured.

“About two.”

This was greeted with a yawn. “Is there anything going on?”

“The agenda for today is napping. And for a change of pace, later on, there will be napping.”

She could tell he was hesitating about something, and she counted the breaths till he finally said something. “What about Dawn?”

“She’s at Angel’s.”

Spike was silent for several moments too long, then said cautiously, “This is good?”

“I think it is,” she said quietly. “It used to be different. She used to really give him a hard time.” With that, he eased onto his back, his expression guarded. What’s this? She thought nervously.

“How?”

“How---huh?”

“How does she give him a hard time?”

“You’re not going to find out from me.” She studied him for a second, then dropped her head to his chest.

“Oh, that’s just fine,” he said. “I’ll wait for my moment.”

“Thanks for the warning,” she said dryly. “I’m sure your big chance will come during one of those poker nights they have.”

“Dawn…plays poker?”

“You sound…” She lifted her head to get a better look at his expression. “How do you sound? You don’t sound mad, I know that.”

“Maybe it’s pity,” he said. “She’s playing poker with Angel?” He grimaced. “Pity, luv. Definitely pity. That’s…just….wonderful. How is she going to learn anything from him? He’ll go on and on about the art of it, but he won’t show her how to slip that card up her---“ He hastily changed tacks at the sight of Buffy’s skeptically-narrowed eyes. “Oh, right,” he muttered. “Vampire with a soul and all that rot. Can’t see his hand in the mirror, can she? Never know he’s cheating, will she? And he does, too. But he even cheats in a boring way.”

“You’re channeling something scary there, Spike.”

“Well…It’s just that poker is…fun. It’s not something I associate with Angel. Not bloody something I should have to. Vampire with a soul, blah blah blah. Dawn told me that…you used to cry a lot when you and he were…together.“ He had the facial expression of someone who’d bitten into a lemon expecting an orange.

“Oh, boy, she told everybody that. And when exactly was this?” Buffy sighed. “I’m tempted to read her diary.” Then she blinked. “Oh, my God, she doesn’t have a diary, does she? It’s somewhere in Sunnydale.” She shifted herself off him till she was face down on the blanket. It took some getting used to, the new temperature of his body. “Can’t even think of stuff like that any more----it’s all down at the bottom of that pit. I can’t even think about basic things, because everything, everything is down there. It’s all lost.“

“Well…. I was lost, too,” Spike said. He picked at the blanket, dropping his eyes. “Not for the first time.”

“I’d blame the Watcher’s Council,” Buffy said quietly. “If they were around, really. Or the Initiative.” There was something uncomfortable waiting to be discussed, lurking in their conversation, and she tried to detour around it. “So…when did you and Dawn do all this talking? What did you say to the cops, anyway?”

“When you were---gone,” Spike said. “Did a lot of talking then. And the cops? Ah, I just looked pitiful and confused---did my Andrew impersonation.” Buffy snorted. “And the doc was a right bastard about those cops, too---I should’ve taken notes. He’s wasting himself as a human.”

“And you think a better career choice would be---?”

“Oh, he’d make a good demon. Not quite certain what was going on there, really. But that was his bloody hospital, you know.”

“He owned it?”

“Oh, no, not like that,” Spike said dryly. “He was the king there.” He looked wistful. “Know the feeling.” He dragged himself back to his subject with a visible effort, not noticing how Buffy’s face froze for a second as he looked off into the distance. “Started to get worried that he thought that the patients in the hospital were his, too.”

“Well, at least it worked.”

“It did.” He stroked her hair, softly, then touched her cheek. “You found me, didn’t you?” Then he cocked his head. “How did you find me, then?”

“The police asked me to identify the---the---girls.” She swallowed. “And then they just sort of mentioned you, not by name, you know---What name did you give them?”

“Oh, Smith,” he said dryly. “Figured Doe would be pushing it.”

“Well, you know….” She bit her lip for a minute, then gingerly continued. “Why didn’t you say something a bit more….unique?”

“Not enough time to think about it, with them hoverin’ over me like---bugs. Big, glaring, irritating bugs.” Spike shrugged. “Cops were pissed already that you’d snuck in there the once. Think they were expectin’ just to sign off on that case, long as I was out of it, and now…Don’t know what they thought you were doing. It’s not as if you banged a gong under my ear, is it? I think that’s what got the doc so pissed.”

“What? At me? The police? O the doctor?”

“Bit of everything. Police because they do like to blame stuff on whoever’s closest.” He shook his head. “The doc because you weren’t really supposed to be in there. His hospital, remember?”

“He was nice to me.”

“The police didn’t like you. So that tipped the balance, even if you did sneak into my room.”

“Oops.”

“Next thing you know, they’ll be blaming you for the whole thing.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time,” she said dryly. A glance at the closet door revealed the shapes of all her new clothes, and she shivered suddenly and laid her face on the blanket, shifting away from him.

“What?”

“It’s just---no rules now, are there? Before----it was breaking the rules.” She shivered again, as if something cold had walked across her back. Before, she thought, it was fight and have sex, and know that he was a vampire and I was a Slayer. Looking at him, she realized that it had actually been sort of comforting. She’d never had a relationship with a normal person before, assuming normal could be said of a former vampire. Unless he joins the CIA, she thought, he’s more normal than I’m used to. A flash of sheer terror made her swallow suddenly. I do not know how to do this. I do not know how to do this. Then she thought: successfully, that is.

“What?” Spike said again. “You have this frown on.”

“Oh, I was just thinking about---Dawn’s diary.”

“We can just get her another diary.” He grinned cheekily at her. “And then you can read it, while I deny all knowledge of how the lock got picked, and play good cop to your bad Slayer.” She smiled weakly, thinking, are you going to steal one like you used to? Nobody cares when you’re a vampire. But every little thing is important when you’re human.

“Oh, thanks.” She rested her chin on her fists and looked him in the eye for several long minutes. “Do you feel weird?”
Spike looked back, mouth opening and closing. “I’ve been feeling so odd for so long that it almost feel normal. Is that what you mean?”

“I don’t know.”

“That doesn’t exactly narrow it down, luv.”

“I know,” Buffy muttered. “But that’s what I’ve got.”

“Been hard for you, I expect.”

“I thought I was doing good.”

“That’s when you should be worried.”

“Oh, thanks,” Buffy said dryly. She sat up and stretched, sighing, and then looked around the room . It was all so ordinary, lying in bed on a sunny afternoon with her boyfriend. There was no battle of good and evil going on here, no great love story between a star-crossed Slayer and her demon lover. Something inside her seemed to shrink. This small apartment, this small life. Who is this? She gave him a rather watery smile and headed unsteadily toward the bathroom.

Spike looked at her departing form for a moment, puzzled. Then he got up and went to the bathroom door, hesitating for a second. Handcuffs, he thought. Hot candle wax, sex on breaks, sex in alleys, sex on floors. But knocking at the bathroom door seemed suddenly so…intimate. So common and yet so momentous. The shower started, and he hovered still in the doorway, even though she’d left it partially open. “Buffy?”

Hesitantly, he stepped inside, and he realized he’d barely raised his voice. She had her hands braced on the wall of the shower, the stream of water pouring full onto her face. When she didn’t acknowledge his presence, he swallowed again. Probably just the water, he thought. That’s right, it’s the water. He pulled open the shower door behind her and she lifted her face from the water and looked at him over her shoulder. A dozen quips rose in his mind and evaporated on his tongue like cotton candy. He slid his arms around her, turning his own face into the spray, the bandage on his right hand getting soggy.

Buffy stiffened for a second, then slowly eased into the embrace, her whole body seeming to sigh with familiarity. She’d always liked that about Spike, how they were close enough in size that he didn’t loom over her, and now the warmth of his skin was a pleasant counterpoint to that of the water. Freak, she told herself. No matter what’s going on, you’re going to find some way to be confused? It is confusing, she thought. Even Giles said so. She turned around in his arms, but he had to breathe and the water kept getting in the way. She giggled, just a breath, and turned, leaning against the wall, and he leaned against her for a moment before kissing her. Her tension was seeping away. Once, they had taken every opportunity for surreptitious sex, rushing and hiding, but now she realized that they didn’t have to hurry. It was sort of oddly comforting. Human Spike had limitations Vampire Spike had lacked, however. Letting herself relax into the kiss, though, letting herself get used to the newness of it all, she found that she liked the idea of just kissing, just feeling the muscles move in his body against her, finally getting a chance to touch all that skin that she’d grasped at so frantically during sex. She still wasn’t used to his temperature, the way it changed the taste of his mouth, made his kisses seem more vivid. It was startling the way something so simple changed everything. She found herself oddly tentative, kissing and retreating, pulling back just a bit. No hurry here, no rush to a climax, just slow and thorough, and finally she realized that her nerves had calmed. She pressed her forehead to his, touching his face with her fingers. “Ignore me. I’m just being weird.”

“I’m used to it.”

“No you’re not.”

“That sounds like a threat.”

“Uh---maybe an explanation?”

“Right, then,” he said agreeably. Reluctantly, she slid away, getting her hair wet enough to shampoo. Spike grumbled a little, but stopped when she got the soap and began swirling it over his chest. Her hands were unsteady. Somewhat uncertainly, he lathered her hair for her, and she stepped away only when it was time to rinse. The bandage on his hand was soaked, and he took it off, tossing it toward the little garbage pail across the room, and missing. They switched places, slipping past one another in the narrow space, and only when his back was to her did she allow her face to relax. That strange feeling that had departed when he kissed her returned with a vengeance. Taking a shower, lathering each other’s hair---these were the things she’d always avoided with him. They were so normal, so confusing. She stepped closer and suddenly slid her arms around him, dropping her chin to his shoulder. Spike jumped a little, then stilled.

“Buffy?”

“Okay,” she muttered. Holding him was what worked, then; she felt better somehow. I’ll have to remember that, she thought. “Just general weirdness.”

“This can’t be new to you.”

Yes it is, she thought. Oh, yes it is.

After a bit, she released him, her face flaming, and scrubbed at his hair. Clean, it was curly and boyish in a way she couldn’t define, and something tiny twisted in her heart. No more bleach, she thought, and another one of those odd little twinges sliced through her. He rinsed, ducking under the water, and she quickly stepped out of the shower. By the time he turned the water off, she’d wrapped herself in a towel, and picked up the discarded bandage with fingertips to toss in the garbage. When he got out of the shower, he looked sheepish. “Sorry.”

“What?”

He nodded at the garbage. “I missed.”

“It’s okay.” She managed a cheerful expression. “This gives me hope that there might be somebody who plays basketball worse than me.”

“You play basketball?”

“I would if I could find somebody really, really short---and really, really clumsy,” Buffy said cheerfully. “Okay---not my best joke.”

“No,” Spike said dryly. He ducked beneath a towel to scrub vigorously at his hair, and when he surfaced, she’d gone. He blinked around the steamy bathroom, eyes distant. A little monster, he thought sickly, as if he was hearing someone else’s words.

He patted dry with one hand, after examining the round red scar on his hand. Anyone who’d seen the original medallion would know what it was, and he wondered how many people or things could do precisely that. He wrapped himself in a towel and padded into the empty bedroom, hot now with the afternoon sun. The sound of traffic attracted his attention, and he followed it to the living room, where a small balcony faced the hills, on the other side from the bedroom. He stared, entranced, stepping to the rail in his towel.

That was where Buffy found him, leaning against the railing, head tipped back, eyes closed, motionless except for his chest, as if he were breathing in sunlight, instead of air. Hearing her, he blinked and looked at her, blue eyes swimming. He stared a long moment. “You did this.”

“No,” she whispered. “You did. You did it all on your own, Spike.”

“You were always there.”

“I was bad for you,” she said, but her voice cracked. “You did something really good, Spike.”

He shook his head, dazed. “You weren’t yourself.”

“But you were.” She took a deep breath.

“I don’t know if I know who that is anymore.”

She led him to the sofa, and made him sit down, where the sunlight drenched him, and turned his hair to spun gold. She sat next to him with her feet curled up under her, and ran her fingers through his hair while he stared at her as if trying to remember who she was. He took a deep breath, and dropped his head to her shoulder, and she slowly sagged down on the couch, till they were lying entwined, side by side and wrapped together. He couldn’t talk, and she didn’t know what to say. Well, Buffy thought. At least that’s something.



Chapter 10

Sunlight.  The sunlight was all wrong.

Buffy blinked, slowly lifting her head from the cushion. Spike muttered behind her, and she realized they were still on the couch. His hand tightened on her side, and she glanced down. Her fat fuzzy robe had fallen slightly open in sleep, but his towel was completely off, and the sunlight painted the light hairs on his skin with gold. His hand dangled on her waist, and she studied the fingers as if she’d never seen them before. Well, not so clearly, she thought. He had such long graceful fingers.  The novelty of sunlight and Spike struck her again, and she could only glance around the room with some distaste. The contrast of the mundane little room and the enormity of what had happened to Spike made her dizzy. She half expected to find his flesh turned to air, but he was solid when she traced her thumb over his hand.

She twisted and looked up at him as he squeezed his eyes shut hard. With a yawn, he rubbed them. Settling onto her back enabled her to see his whole body, and it took her a moment to realize he’d opened his eyes and was watching her.  Somewhat guiltily, she looked up. He shook his head a little, but he looked a bit amused. “Better?” she asked.

“Tired.”

“Well, it’s got to be stressful,” Buffy said. “When I—came back---that was part of it. Exhaustion.  Maybe you’re exhausted.”

He remembered sliding inside her, the sensation as vivid as if he’d never experienced it before. It’s you, Spike thought. He looked around the small living room, and sighed. My new world. His new world had been furnished by someone who was evidently a big fan of Martha Stewart.

“I should get dressed,” Buffy said. That was something he had always objected to, but now he was studying her face.   “I have to tell Dawn about you, and I don’t think I should do it over the phone.”

“How, erm…” She watched Spike turn pink around the edges, and then he did something that puzzled her. He shifted and pulled the towel around him so that he was covered again.  A gap in her own robe exposed one of her breasts and she had to stifle the urge to pull it closed. She flushed just a bit. Even lying with him calmed that weird fluttery feeling in her stomach, but she wondered what it was doing to him if his impulse was to cover up. She sat up, rebelliously letting her robe sag still further open.

“How are you going to tell her?” Spike propped his head up on his palm behind her.

“Good question. I’m hoping the Inspiration Fairy will make a visit.” She rubbed her eyes. “I have to say, talking to her about sex would be a joy after this.” When she leaned back a little, she found, she could touch his stomach, and seemingly without thought he slipped his hand around her waist. Her pesky nerves instantly relaxed. Aaahhhhh….

“You haven’t talked to her about sex yet?” Dawn. Sex, Spike thought, and cringed. Oh, God, don’t make me go to PTA meetings.

“No, and I hope I never will. She’s so different from me, and I don’t want her doing some of the same things I did when I was her----Oh, my God, I’m Mom, all of a sudden.” She flopped back on the couch and stared up at the ceiling. “I’m middle-aged.”

“No, you’re not.”

“I just quoted from the Mom rule book.”

“I can get you a cane if you like. How old are you again? Twenty-one?” They hadn’t even bothered with a birthday party that year, he realized. The year of the First Evil. And then there was…the two of them, all over again. All those cautious overtures, the wary compassion, the emotional foreplay for things they’d already done.What a backward pair they were. He rubbed his eyes again. Headaches, he thought. Nobody reminded me about headaches.  “Or Twenty two?”

“Not if you count my age in Slayer years,” Buffy said dryly. “I’m hundreds of years old. I’m like—Methuza---Methu--that really old guy in the Bible.” She looked at him curiously. “How old do you feel?”

The question left him shaking his head. Physically? Mentally? Emotionally, he was at sea. Her face, her eyes---those were the things anchoring him.  Physically, nothing hurt. Mentally, he had no idea. “Dunno, love. How’m I supposed to know? Feel like a schoolboy sitting out in the hall while the headmaster goes on about what to do with me. Don’t know what’s happened, what’s going to happen.” He did not mention that in this little scene, the headmaster looked a great deal like Giles. He suddenly realized that Giles was taller than him.

“Does anything hurt?”

He had a very sappy desire to indicate his chest, which had started aching again, but what with the loss of the vampire strength, he wasn’t too happy about admitting to other reductions as well. “Bloody odd,” he said finally. “Everything feels---strange. New, in a way, but familiar and-----“ And less, he added mentally. On the one hand, the way the sunlight felt on his skin—and the way it looked on her---was beyond the powers of his vocabulary. On the other, there were so many little things grating on him. I bet even Xander is taller than me.  I don’t get to be cynical about other people, he thought suddenly. They get to be cynical about me.

Bugger.

Buffy watched a frown take shape on his face, and reached out to touch his face. Whiskers prickled her fingers. Bodily function, she thought, and then blinked. Bodily functions, why did that make her stomach flip flop all of a sudden?

She sat up abruptly, so fast that Spike had to press himself back against the sofa cushions to avoid getting head-butted. “Oh, shit,” she muttered. The tie of the robe was hopeless tangled somewhere underneath her, and rather than wrestle with it, she abandoned the robe and left it behind to head for the bathroom. Spike eyed her retreating form with a mixture of curiosity and bewilderment. Then he looked down at his towel with the same expression. Why was he clutching his towel and why was Buffy the one wandering around naked? He wasn’t William any more. He didn’t precisely know what or who he was, but he was not going to relive that life. Then something occurred to him. What if this wasn’t a reward? What if it was a punishment? Where had that little tid bit been in the fairy tale? Vampire turns human and never thought to check the fine print.  

Even before she got to the bathroom, Buffy knew it was a futile gesture. Water under the bridge, and all that stuff. Sex with a vampire is a lot easier than sex with humans.  Good one, Buffy. Well, hell, she thought resentfully, the facts of life in Slayerville are---or were---a little bit different. Now that he had a body instead of just being one, there were all sorts of little things that needed to be taken care of---millions of them, as a matter of fact. Just have to use birth control, she thought. That had always been Riley’s job. She wondered how Spike would feel about that.  This is too---real, she thought dismally.  It wasn’t as if reality and sex had ever mixed for her before.

It’s so much less complicated to have sex with vampires, she thought, then glanced around guiltily to see if someone was reading her mind. Humans are complicated, and----she sat down, glad that Spike couldn’t see the glum look on her face. All those complications, she thought, but no drama, no significance, no earth-shattering rule-breaking. No sonnets. Nothing going in the history book here.  My new life.  She sighed and flopped backward on the bed. “No complications, my ass,” she grumbled. “Just leave that to me.”

Spike tapped at the door frame, and Buffy winced. Knocking? She thought. He’s knocking? Spike doesn’t knock, he’s---- She pulled herself up on her elbows, noticing the way his towel was slung precariously around his hips. All those times he’d wandered naked around his crypt while she tried to avoid thinking about what they were doing, and now he was wearing a towel. He was shaking his head very slightly as he looked at her, as if denying that she was actually lying there naked in front of him, like an offering. She flushed a bit, wondering if he was remembering the way she’d clutched at sheets and rugs and jackets, never exposing herself to him. Well of course I did, she thought suddenly. I had to---what? The sensation returned to her as if she just had to turn her head to be back in Spike’s crypt. All those times she’d avoided his eyes, acknowledging what they were doing. It was more vivid that more recent events.

“You’re going to get Dawn?” Spike said. He looked like he was dazed.

“Yeah. You want to come with?”

“Uh….” He glanced around, and his eye fell on his discarded sweats, huddled in a pile on the floor, on top of his flip flops. Clothes. The simplest thing in the world. He did not have any of his own. Nor, he thought, did he have any means of getting any. He was now in the position of having to ask someone to get him some.  The thought of saying anything about it practically choked him. Then someone else would know he didn’t even have any clothes of his own. He looked around for escape. Couldn’t very well rob people, now, could he? Vamps never went to prison, but petty criminals certainly did. Bloody fuck. “When----when-----“ He banged his head lightly against the door frame, trying to get thoughts moving. He thought of the moment in the sun, the plan to spoil Buffy with lavish feasts, and wondered what he could do.  Buffy chose that moment to say something unfortunate.  “Giles said he’d get paperwork for you.”

Spike looked at her for a moment as if trying to understand what language she was speaking. “What?”

“You know---ID, stuff like that….”

Identification. Just somebody else in the database. “This fast?”

That had been her worry. “Well, it could help, it could hurt…But it’s good to have.”

Being William Smith had been just a dodge. It was the last thing that set him apart, and he wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to get shoved in amongst everyone else who had a name.

“Well, he didn’t exactly offer it to do it out of the depth of his feelings for you but he did concede after a while that he’d do it.”

“How long did he say it would take?”

“A few days. They’ll be coming from England.”

“And then?”

“It’s up to you,” She added the second sentence after something dark formed in his eyes, and she couldn’t identify the expression.

“I don’t know where to start,” he muttered. Clothes, he thought. The means to get them.  He glanced at Buffy. Rather doubtful she’d approve if he got the money the old-fashioned way—by stealing it. That meant…. He stared out the window as an appalling vision of his existence formed in his head. A job. Employment. He’d be well and truly ordinary if he went that route. When one was a vampire, laying about one’s crypt all day wasn’t the same as being unemployed----it was a sign of the very rebellion of one’s existence. Take that, laws of God and man! Observe the vampire watching the telly in defiance of science, good taste, and labor laws!

He’d last had a job a hundred twenty odd years ago. It had been utter hell. Trying it again at this stage would be beyond hell.  His education was out of date, he hated working---at least what he’d done before----and he suspected that being around humans without the ability to scare them would drive him nuts. He suddenly felt very old.

“So don’t start,” Buffy said reasonably. “Not just yet.” She propped herself up on her elbows, which made her breasts bob enticingly.

“I have to at least think about it.”

“About what?”

“A job,” he muttered.

“Oh.”

“Jesus,” he sat down next to her and sagged onto his back. “I don’t know how to do anything but lay about and be useless.” And cut a dashing figure while doing it, he added mentally, but this was not an employable skill.

“You’re not useless.”

“I’m not useful.”

“Not yet,” she specified in a purposeful tone that made him dizzy with visions of doing KP dancing in his head. “Jeez, Spike, get a grip, it’s not like you’ve been hanging around for a year or something.”
“That’s easy for you to say.”

“Because it’s true.”

“Bugger. Was it this irritating when you were depressed, and I was the one with all the energy?”

Buffy considered it. “Pretty close.”

“So…are you irritated?”

Buffy considered it. “No,” she said. “Concerned, that’s what I am.”

He eyed her. “Concerned?” Concerned for much of the previous year had meant, platonic. He leaned closer. “How concerned?”

Oh, boy, Buffy thought. I have to talk to Dawn about sex and Spike about birth control. On the plus side, however, as he kissed her, she managed to divest him of the towel. She made a mental note to make sure that all the towels in their bathroom---Dawn had her own bath---got replaced with towels that were big enough to dry off with, but not big enough to wear.

“I saw that,” Spike said.

“What?” He settled himself more comfortably into her skin, and she helped, sliding her hands up his back. “Oh, that, well---“

“Nice wrist action there, as you flicked it away.”

“All those years with stakes.”

“Good to know it’s got other uses…” And he kissed her again, and she sighed happily, wriggling with anticipation. This got her a throaty chuckle in response, and her hands became more urgent. Talk later, she thought. A nice, non-weird talk…

Somebody knocked on the apartment door, and Spike lifted his head with a groan. “Bloody hell.”  He kissed her again, and she murmured appreciatively. But when the knocking started again, she started abruptly.

“Oh, crap,” she muttered. “They’re not going away. What if it’s that stuff from Giles…?”

Spike waved a hand wearily. Obviously sex during the day had some drawbacks. He flopped over on his back to catch a glimpse of her leaving the room to get her bathrobe.

First chance he got, that robe was going in the trash. What did she need a robe for, anyway? She could walk straight from her bathroom right into the bedroom.

With something considerably less than good grace, Buffy grabbed her robe from the couch, jerked it on, and tied it shut with sharp motions. She counted to ten at the door, half-hoping the interloper was gone, half-hoping they were still there so she could yell at them.

The first thing she saw was Leo Tate’s Sunnydale PD badge, right at her eye level. He glanced at her bathrobe, then around her. “Well, hello there, Miss Summers. I took your advice.”

“You what?”

“I took your advice. I went out and I detected something. May I come in?”



Chapter 11

“May I come in?”

Buffy stared at the badge, hypnotized. Funny how it’s always people that seem to inflict the most damage, she thought, not monsters. “Hell, no,” she snapped. “Is he under arrest?” Spike slapped his hand over his mouth, simply because he wasn’t in a good position to slap it over her mouth. The idea of being arrested while nude was appalling, so he yanked the despised sweats on swiftly. Wonderful. Just wonderful. The name Spike will go over so well in prison.

“We’d like to ask some questions.”

“I’d like a pony,” she snapped again. He took a step back. “Guess which one of us is likely to get their wish?”

“It’s not a wish, Miss Summers. I can---“

“If you could, you would have already.” With some effort, she refrained from biting off her words this time. “You think those girls were murdered, because otherwise, you and your whole department look really bad. No, not even that. Just kind of pathetic.” She chewed her bottom lip for a moment. “Is that it?”

“I could come back with a warrant.”

“Better come back with a pony,” she advised instead. “At least that way I’ll open the door.” She braced her hands on her hips to get him to step back, and he quietly backed away. Aiming for a loud, conclusive noise, she yanked the door back for a slam, but when she tried it, the thick carpeting and the insulation in the door frame prevented the door from slamming in a really satisfactory kind of way. So she kicked it. Unfortunately, she was barefoot, and all she got for her efforts was a loud thump and Spike’s look of pitying disgust after he rounded the corner and found her hopping around with one foot in her hands. It was so exactly the sort of look the old Spike would have given her that she stopped hopping around the hallway in pain and stared at him.

“What?”

“You know, I was going to ask that question.” He glanced down at her abused foot, which she was hunched over, clutching with both hands. “What did you think you were going to accomplish?”

“Get rid of the detective, and make a satisfyingly loud noise.”

“One out of one, not bad.”

“I’m injured, and you’re mean.”

“You’re injured because you kicked a door.”

“So?”

“You should have kicked him,” he said dryly.

“Well, thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” He nodded at her foot. “Does it hurt?”

“Not as much as my pride. Ouch.” She flopped down on the floor and leaned back against the wall. With a wry grin, he slid down opposite her and tentatively picked up her foot, stretching out his legs. She swallowed at the cheeky look he gave her, then shifted as those long fingers went to work on her injured foot. Sure, she hadn’t done anything to her arch, but it sure felt good. “You know, that’s not where it hurts.”

“I know, but you tell me how I’m supposed to rub a stubbed toe.”

“Point taken. Good bait and switch, though.”

“So I thought.” She put her other foot in his lap as a hint and he gave her a long-lashed look before beginning to press and rub the muscles in that one. She shifted, and he moved a bit to accommodate her, so that their positions mirrored each other. The whole time, his fingers continued to press and explore, rubbing relaxation into her muscles. It was heavenly.

“Where’d you learn that?”

“Where’d birds learn to say, “Nothing,” when they’re really pissed off?”

“There’s a memo.”

“Ah.”

“’Nothing’?” she quoted. “What does that mean?”

He shook his head at her. “Ask a girl what’s wrong, and she’ll say ‘nothing’.”

“Is that like a guy saying, ‘I’ll call you’?” She asked sweetly. Any twinge that she might have experienced at Parker’s phrase was not strong enough to withstand the soothing way his hands felt on her skin.

“I’ve heard of it,” he said thoughtfully. “Harm used to go on about that a bit.”

She looked at him, once more at sea. Sitting, getting a foot massage from her…boyfriend. It was so…normal. She pulled her feet from his lap, tucked them under her and crawled over next to him. “I bet.”

“Yeah,” Spike said, still in that contemplative voice. “She did.” He glanced over at her .”Didn’t quite believe her much of the time, you know. Wasn’t a total fool.” There was a slight tinge of indignation in his voice, and she stifled a grin. He sounds so respectable, she thought, and knew that if he could read that thought in her mind, he’d withhold foot rubs and God only knows what else forever. “She wasn’t bad, really.”

“Oh, boy, I am so not gossiping about Harmony,” Buffy said.

“Oh, no? What about….Hm…” Spike gave her a rather evil look.

“Hey,” Buffy said nervously. “No need to go over all those exes.”

“Oh, come on,” he said. “We have a lot in common.”

“Do you have a kid sister who used to be a Key?”

“No,” he said, and then his grin softened. “Did have a kid sister, though.”

Spike had never spoken of his human existence with her, not really, and she gazed at him, startled. Thinking of him with a family felt almost as odd as feeling his pulse. “Really?”

“Three. And an older brother.”

An older brother, Buffy thought. That explains a lot.

“Really.”

“Really,” Spike confirmed. His eyes were faraway now. “Played a lot of cricket, Paul did. Big fellow. Took after my Dad down to the last little detail.”

“Really?”

“Oh, yeah. Definitely the sort to go on down the pub every evening.”

“Your dad, too?”

“Father? Respectable, but….not as much as he’d like people to think.” Something clouded his eyes. “What about Dawn?”

“Oh, boy, that’s right. Damn police.” She scrambled to her feet. “Want to come with?”

Spike glanced down at his sweats. Christ, he thought. I look like a shoplifter who’s just lifted a couple of plums and a banana. Just the way I want to be re-introduced to Buffy’s kid sis. “Like this?”

“You were in the hospital. They don’t exactly hand out jeans and black leather there, you know. She’ll understand.” About that part, she added. She couldn’t understand why Spike was back yet herself, so it was doubtful Dawn would, either.

“Yeah, but….” He sighed and looked at his feet. For some reason that depressed him. Good bye, Docs, he thought, and that tipped the balance in favor of not going. “Look, it’d be better if you just told her on your own. It’ll be a bit of a shock, you want to ease her into it.”

Buffy looked at him. “A shock for research girl?” Then she reconsidered. The deeper Dawn went into research mode, the more she left behind all the normal teenage stages. It reminded her, frankly, of Willow. “You might be right. But…you want me to explain to her why you’re wearing sweats? She won’t care.”

“Well, I will,” Spike said dryly. “It’s….” He raised his hands helplessly.

“Fine, fine, fashion boy, go right ahead.” She headed back to the bedroom. “It could be worse.”

He thought of Xander’s gaudy Hawaiian shirt with a shudder and realized she did have a point. However, with that shirt consigned to the depths of Sunnydale, his current ensemble had to be the place holder for fashion horror gold medalist. “Not by much,” he shot back.

“You had one outfit before.” She pointed out. He followed her voice to the bedroom and peered around the door frame. “How come you’re getting all weird now?”

“Because it was mine!” he exclaimed. Good lord, could the woman not see the importance of that? “And it was….”

“It was what?”

“It was….” Too late, he saw the trap. Answer honestly, and she would mock him as he’d mocked her all those years…as a fashion slave. Lie, and it would be transparent. “Mine,” he finished. “Those were mine.” No one could try and wear black without looking like his imitator. No one had owned that outfit like he did. More than that, it was just the familiarity of it that he missed. He felt naked without his leather coat; he was simply accustomed to its touch on his back. He’d earned that coat. Now he recognized that earning his armor, so to speak, was not possible. Humans didn’t do that kind of thing. “They were my clothes. Not anyone else’s.”

He was surprised when her face softened. She stepped up to him and touched his face, looking into his eyes. “They were. But do you want to go backward or forward?”

“Don’t have much choice, do I?” He neglected to mention that going forward entailed making decisions he’d avoided for over a hundred years. One of the reasons he’d liked his clothes was because they neatly sidestepped any issues of conformity or fashion. Those were his clothes; no one else could wear them and look like him. It didn’t matter if grunge was in or punk was back. He had always been Spike, and he didn’t have to concern himself with petty human issues.

“Yeah, you do,” she said softly. “You get to decide who you want to be now.”

“I do?”

“Yeah,” she said seriously. Then she smiled. “Of course, I may put a vote in here and there….” With that, she stepped back rather regretfully, and yanked a sundress over her head. She kissed him with a sigh, and left him to think about what she said, and he couldn’t shake the feeling she’d maneuvered the whole thing.

All this time, he’d worried about what other people would perceive him as. He’d never really considered what he thought of himself, for all his fretting.

He laid down on the bed in the slanting sunbeams, and looked up at the lazily turning ceiling fan blades. Something in his chest seemed to loosen and relax. He didn’t hear her leave, but then again, she probably didn’t try and slam the door this time.



It was funny how you could just forget you were hanging out with vampires and demons. Okay, with Lorne it was sort of hard to overlook the whole green, horned thing, but with Angel, unless he was sitting in front of a mirror or something, you could totally forget he was a vampire. For long periods of time, Dawn did just that.

Something was definitely going on, though. He was different this afternoon. A lot of the time, she just didn’t see him this time of day, and the poker games would be her and Lorne and Harmony and whoever else happened to be around. Wesley wasn’t much of a poker-playing kind of guy although he’d try in a quiet way, but Gunn would play a hand or two---badly---to humor her. Fred played for a few games, but she won so much that after a particularly bloody streak of twelve wins, she was banned for life. Besides, if it was one of those days when Angel wasn’t around, and it was Wes, Lorne, herself and Gunn, it got kind of weird.

Now, though, Angel was here, and it was weird, and she didn’t understand why.

He’d been distracted all through the game, and that was no surprise; he’d been sort of distant when she came in. Normally, he alternated back and forth between two extremes with her. When she was in a feisty mood, he’d make dorky Angel jokes until she was placated, or if he was in brood mode, he’d just make one or two-word replies till he just vanished.

Now, though, he was here, but he was in brood mode. It was like he was in a bad mood, but he didn’t want to brood on his own about it. Great, she thought. We get the group brood. She pushed her puzzlement about his weirdness out of her mind---live two hundred years, you were entitled to some mood swings----and concentrated on her hand, which sucked as usual. A glance over her cards showed Wes not even looking at his cards, but sort of staring off into space in a way that made her rethink the whole older guy thing, while Gunn frowned at his in a way that told her he wasn’t thinking about his cards at all. Lorne’s cards were flat on the table, and he was giving everyone the same look: a combination of pity and impatience.

“Is someone going to bet here?” He demanded.

Angel shrugged; Wes sighed. Gunn rolled his eyes, and Lorne grimaced. “This is hopeless.”

“Your hand?” Dawn asked.

“No, sweetheart, my existence. Fold.” He gave all of them an exasperated but fond look and got up. With his movement, Buffy’s presence in the doorway became apparent. Dawn leaned sideways to get a better look at her. Oh. Not good. Buffy had The Look on, which meant something significant. Hm. It wasn’t a bad look, but it was still pretty serious. Hm again. Had the insurance company kicked up a fuss over the settlement? Had their dad had an attack of conscience? “Why, hello, gorgeous. Don’t you look….” Lorne’s voice trailed off. “Interesting. You look really interesting, sweetness.” Behind her, she felt Angel go rigid in his chair. No one else paid Buffy any more attention than the, ‘oh, hi Buff’ level. They went back to frowning at their cards. Oh, boy, not good, she thought. Now why would Buffy be serious about something that had Angel all tense? Hm. Couldn’t be professional, she thought; they were really on the same side, even if they disagreed on methods.

Was it personal?

“Hey, Buffy.” Buffy crossed the room to her side, and Dawn studied her curiously. “What’s up?”

“Uh…It’s kind of ….” Buffy hesitated, and then finished. “It’s…weird, Dawn.”

Dawn looked around the table. She had been playing poker with a vampire, two humans—one black, one white---and a green demon. She wondered nervously just what Buffy thought could be more weird. “How weird?”

Everyone around the table was calm but silent. They must know already, she thought. If it was good, that was okay, but if it was bad….well, that was okay, too. So they’d found out about it first. Too much bad news lately. Postponing it was good.

“You want a scale?”

“Yeah, give me a number,” Dawn said. “That would be good.”

“It’s about a….”Buffy stopped, flummoxed. “It’s a seven, I think.”

“Bad weird or good weird?”

Buffy glanced uncomfortably at Angel, who Dawn saw, had gone from brooding to tight-lipped in about one second. “Let’s head for home, okay? I’ll tell you on the way.” Dawn gave a half-hearted wave to the guys, who had dropped their cards on the table and were pushing their chairs back and yawning and stretching. She thought again, It can’t be that bad. Nobody was acting like they’d just had bad news. But weird news meant ambivalence. She could handle that.

Outside, she glanced up appreciatively at the mild sky and took a deep breath, bracing herself.

“Is it Anya?”

“No, it’s not. She’s still…”

“Okay,” Dawn interrupted hastily. “So…Did somebody get hurt?”

“No. No injuries. Look, why don’t you stop asking questions, and I’ll….” Buffy’s hands were clenched into fists from tension. She walked a few steps in front of Dawn, and stopped with her back to her. “It’s….” She took a deep breath. “It’s Spike, Dawn. He came back.”

There was silence behind her, so Buffy turned. Dawn was standing in the same spot three feet back, frozen like a pillar of salt in place. “What?”

“He came back.”

“Who?”

“Spike.”

“But he---you said he was---“

“It’s more than that.” She didn’t want to be reminded of the days immediately after the disaster, when she’d had to say one thing---the sensible thing---while holding an entirely different hope in the back of her mind. “It’s more than that. It’s just….It’s weird. Even for here…it’s unexpected.”

“Good unexpected or bad?” Buffy started walking again, aware that people were watching them.

“Good.” She gulped. “It’s--Spike.”

Dawn just stared at her, her mouth open. “What do you mean, it’s Spike?”

God, this should be so simple, Buffy thought. But the words seemed too small for her thoughts. “Spike is….Spike came back….Spike….”

“Spike came back,” Dawn repeated numbly. Unlike Buffy, who was walking slowly and steadily, Dawn was proceeding in fits and starts. She stopped and threw her arms apart in exasperation.

“Yes.”

“Spike came back where? How?”

“Here,” Buffy said. “Here. Spike is here.”

“He’s back.”

“Yes.” Question and answer, Buffy thought. This is good. I can handle this.

“You said before…”

“I said…” Several centuries ago, she’d been sure he must have dusted in the ruins of Sunnydale. His hand had been in flames when she clasped it in her own. For a vampire, that could mean just one thing. Now she couldn’t even bear to repeat anything she might have said back then. “I said what I thought happened.”

“But he’s back,” Dawn said. “You were wrong, weren’t you? He’s back.” Oh, no, Buffy thought. Dawn’s eyes were brightening in intensity as the two sisters faced each other. “So…this whole time, we thought he was dead, and what…? Somebody finally found him? Was he mad?”

“Dawn….”

“Was he hurt?”

“Dawn---“

“I hope they found him at nighttime at least…What?” Dawn broke off as she saw the look on Buffy’s face. “What? Was he hurt?”

“No, it’s not that….” Buffy fidgeted and Dawn crossed her arms very firmly, as if to ward off whatever news was still forthcoming. “I don’t know what happened just yet, okay? Or why. But there’s something else.”

“Bad?” Dawn demanded. “Something bad? What?”

“He’s human.”

That did it.

Dawn’s mouth opened and closed several times, but no sound came out. She shook her head, blinked, and grimaced at Buffy. Still no noise. She stared at the ground, taking deep breaths. “He…Huh?”

“He’s human.”

“What?”

“Human.”

“Are you sure?”

“Pulse and all,” Buffy said perkily. She’d gone to sleep already with that pulse under her ear, and just thinking about it made her want to check it yet again, feel it beneath her hand or her skin.

“Human.”

“It still hasn’t sunk in, has it?”

“No. Did you say human?”

“That I did.”

“Oh, boy. Oh, boy.” Dawn sat down on a low retaining wall with a thud. After a moment, she leaned over and rested her chin in her hands. Every now and then she shook her head, as if something in her line of sight was misbehaving. Several more minutes ticked by before she looked up. “You know…”

“What?”

“What’s he going to do for a birthday?”

“Uh, I don’t think anybody’s thought about that just yet.”

“Well, you know…”

“I’m sure it will be on the list of considerations,” Buffy said soothingly.

“Are you sure he’s human?”

“I’m sure.”

“Does this mean he Shansued?”

“He huh?”

“Shansued,” Dawn said impatiently. “It’s something in a prophecy. It’s something about how a vampire, if he, uh, I forget, fairy tale blah blah blah stuff---he’ll be turned human. Oh, my God. Does Angel know?”

“About Spike? Yes, he does.” Oh, boy, this is going to be so fun, she thought. A part of her just wanted them to get it over with, but now that Spike was human, she figured that was impossible. “Was that prophecy supposed to be about Angel?”

“Well, I think he thought it was.”

“Oh, boy,” Buffy muttered. “So not good.”

“Well, for Angel, it’s not,” Dawn said thoughtfully. “But for Spike it is.”

“How do you, uh, feel about that?”

Dawn gave her a scathing younger sister look. “What are you, Oprah?” She shrugged. “I don’t know yet. There’s just got to be a way to, you know, get over all this stuff. But I haven’t gotten there yet. It’s just so much. It’s like this contradicts that, and then there’s this thing over here. You die and come back. You and Spike have a thing, then he tries to---“

“Dawn…”

“Yeah, whatever, Buffy, but it’s complicated. And then he goes and gets a soul and loses his mind. Then he saves the world. Now he’s human. He goes through more changes than Madonna. That’s why people don’t like her.”

“You don’t like Spike?” Buffy asked softly.

“I don’t, no, that’s not what I meant, Buffy, just relax…I don’t understand him any more,” Dawn said. Buffy’s face fell, and Dawn reached out and patted her shoulder. “I used to, I thought, but now I don’t think I do.” Angel’s easy to understand, Dawn thought. He stays the same for hundreds of years at a time. “But I’ll try. I really will.”

“What does that mean?”

“Well, it’s not going to be Oprah, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“Oh, thank God.”

Dawn got up and brushed off the seat of her jeans. “I’m more of the Dr. Phil kind of person myself.”

Buffy gave her another look. “You mean, you’re a loud opinionated blowhard who just goes off at the drop of a hat?”

Dawn rolled her eyes. “I just like to be decisive.”

“Oh, is that what you call it when you set a TV limit?”

“Come on, Buffy, you were watching some stupid DVD over and over.”

“It had vampires in it,” Buffy said. “I got sort of homesick.”

“For vampires?”

“Slaying.”

“Well, why don’t you take some of Angel’s guys and---Buffy?”

Slaying, Buffy thought. A dim memory, formed by some brief event, coalesced in her brain. Slaying. Then the hospital visit. And the next day, Spike awakening. It was like a word hovering on the tip of her tongue, waiting to be spoken. “What?”

“You’re thinking about Spike, aren’t you?”

“Uh, sorta. Look, Dawn, be nice to him about the outfit, okay? He’s feeling really….”

“Lost?” Dawn asked.

“Yeah,” Buffy said. “How did you know that?”

“That’s how I felt when you were gone.” She shrugged, nervous at having been so blunt about it. “Why do you think Angel never goes and does all the weird stuff Spike does? What happened to Spike might happen to him. It’s got to be real scary. Weren’t you real scared when you came back?”

“Yes,” Buffy said. “Yes, I was.”

“Well, see….there. But we can’t baby him or anything.”

“Yes, Dr. Dawn.”

“Oh, shut up.”

“Be nice.”

“I will to Spike. You’re my sister. I’m contractually obligated to get on your nerves.”

“Okay, then.”

They headed home.



Chapter 12

“Would you stop fidgeting?” Buffy held up her keys to separate the one for the apartment.

“Why do you still have the keys to the house on your key chain?”

“Uh…” Buffy looked around for an excuse. All she saw was the hallway plus all the apartment doors. “Did you throw yours away?”

Dawn’s face tightened for a minute, and one corner of her mouth turned down. She glared. “No,” she said sharply. “But that doesn’t mean anything.” Buffy noted one small chin-tremble, and looked tactfully away.

“Of course not.”

“It doesn’t. I just haven’t had the chance to throw them away yet.”

Buffy nodded, turning toward the window at the end of the hall so she could act like she needed extra light to find the right key. All those keys to doors that were now lying on the bottom of a pit. Mom’s house key, her car key, even though the car had been sold to pay bills. The key to Giles’ old apartment, and the one that let her into the new school. That was all she’d salvaged. She glanced at Dawn before shaking the right key into the right spot.

“What?”

“Nothing.” But just for a second Buffy touched her sister’s hair. So much had happened that sometimes the unreality of it all, contrasted with the simple day-to-day conditions of their lives, made her reach out for something to reassure herself that it was all real. Ah. Solidity. It was real.

The door creaked open. We need a better door, Buffy thought resentfully. Something I can slam. “Spike?”

There was a stir in the bedroom, and Dawn sank back against the door. Buffy noticed her lips were pressed tightly together and her eyes were huge. “It’s okay, Dawnie. It’s Spike.”

“I know, I know.”

They couldn’t even hear him coming because the carpeting was so thick. When he came round the corner, it was a bit of a shock. The tee shirt hung to the top of his thighs, swallowing his form, and emphasizing how slight he actually was. Dawn realized with a shock that she was almost as tall as he was. He’d left off the flip flops, and Buffy wondered if he felt they were more compromising to his dignity than bare feet.

Dawn stared, and Buffy glanced from one to the other before edging away. “I’ll just---leave---go----Uh, dinner….” Neither noticed her departure.

Dawn stared at his hair. “I always wondered what it would look like, you know, if---the stuff you put on your hair….“

“What? Oh.” He patted his hair as if surprised to find it there. “Yeah.”

“Are you, uh---going to bleach it again?”

“I, uh, hadn’t thought about it…..”

“Well, Buffy could help with that, if you know, you decide----“ Her throat was so dry that something clicked and she was unable to continue.

“Not making many decisions these days, pet.”

“No?”

“No.” Dammit, he thought. Not one bloody coherent thing forming in his brain. No bloody thing at all.

“Are you really you?” Her voice seemed squeaky to her. Maybe he wouldn’t notice.

“Yeah, I am. I think so.” Her voice has gone all thin, he thought.

“Well….There were a lot of---changes….You did----Are you crazy?”

“No. No, I don’t think so.”

“So you’re not going to be weird?”

“That was a while ago, pet. You know that.”

“Well, there was….other stuff….there was….” Her face flamed.

He spread his hands helplessly, knowing what she was getting at, but he wasn’t going to use the sudden upgrade to the ‘living’ category to avoid what he’d done. “I just have a pulse now.”

“Oh,” she muttered.

“You’re…You could answer some questions, too, you know,” he said quietly.

God, he made her so confused. Giles was intimidating, and Xander was still the guy she sort of had a crush on, but Spike---He’d always been nice to her, in a manner that differed even from the way Xander treated her. For some reason, she’d always felt that she wielded the power of the little sister over him, that it had an effect on him that it didn’t have on Buffy, something that made him stern with her while at the same time he indulged her. Spike wouldn’t have kidnapped her because Buffy told him to. Spike might have roared with rage if she disagreed with the kidnapping, and then grabbed her and hauled her off, but he’d have been blunt about it, and not snuck around.

She didn’t want him to be the guy who’d almost raped her sister. She wanted him to be---not her cool surrogate older brother---but that fun uncle who taught her how to smoke and drive and never seemed entirely real. Ever since Xander had told her what Spike had tried to do—and his motives had gradually become clearer----he’d seemed real in a way that made everything seem more fragile, including herself. Spike wasn’t supposed to snap like that. He was supposed to always be there, patient in his own impatient, bad-tempered kind of way, and devoted. He was her constant. She didn’t want to think that maybe she’d been his---before she’d turned away.

“I don’t know if I could…” she whispered. “…answer.”

“Would you try?”

She sank down to the ground, just as Buffy had earlier. Spike took a few tentative steps forward, and slid to the ground opposite her. Somehow, seeing his bare feet seemed to bring it home to her. Bare feet. It was surreal. Spike would never be seen without his Docs. She hadn’t even known if he wore socks. She stared at his feet for several moments, long enough for it to be apparent to him, then lifted her eyes to his face. “What about you?”

He took a deep breath. Now was not the time to be evasive, but it wasn’t like he could understand much himself. “Is that going to be it, then, Bi---“ He stopped himself abruptly, not sure she’d accept the old nickname from his name. “What are you going to ask?” It was tacit permission to ask to her heart’s content, and of course, it silenced her.

Why?”

Leave it to Bit to not pull her punches, he thought. Bloody Summers women, always going straight for the gut.

Nothing he could think of seemed any better than an excuse. Making excuses to her—and he knew she’d see them for that----would scupper any chances they had. He knew why. He just didn’t know if he could put what was in his head into words. “I don’t know if I can put it into words, B---“

“Why?”

“Because it’s harder to say things like that, than it is to feel them,” he said finally. “Everything I think of to say makes me sound like a bleedin’ lawyer.”

“Well….”

“Makes it sound like I’m makin’ excuses, looking for an exit that I can crawl out of.” That’s so human, he thought. Making excuses. Lessening the blame. I was cursed, he thought maliciously. Not my fault.

“Well, who else would be to blame, then?” She looked at him warily. He certainly wasn’t going to blame her for being angry, was he?

“No one but me. No one at all.” He ran his hands through his hair, squeezing his eyes shut. Instantly, images were flashing across his own little private movie screen, images of Buffy. Her face. The sun on her hair. “But I have to say that I, uh, I---“

“You what?” There was great suspicion in her voice, and he wondered if he could even put it into words, with her glaring at him. He wondered if he should even try.

“I was a vampire. I thought I’d changed, but…I hadn’t.” Couldn’t even fool myself. “So I went and got myself changed. It wasn’t an accident, Dawn. I did it for a lot of reasons, but…. It doesn’t erase---It doesn’t change….It didn’t fix….“ he took a deep breath----“anything, but, bloody hell! Doesn’t that count? Doesn’t that matter?”

It hit her like a wave washing over her feet, only hinting at the storm surge behind it. He was talking about Buffy. Sure, that made sense---it wasn’t like she, Dawn, had come back from the dead, after all. She’d been his whole world, until Buffy came back and----then she became his whole world, hellish though it had been. Something told her she had to hold out. She didn’t know what ‘it’ was, but it was important she listen to it. It was too confusing a matter to be decided, sitting here on the carpet in the hallway while Buffy banged around in the kitchen. He’d meant so much to her; shouldn’t she mean that much to him? Couldn’t he wait just a little longer? Let her be angry just a bit? Couldn’t he try a little harder? She knew Xander resented Spike. She knew Buffy had been weird her first year back. She knew there was all sorts of weird history. But what she didn’t know was how to fit it all together, and why she was on the outside of it.

She wondered if he was thinking about Buffy while he talked to her.

“It’s been more than a year,” he said quietly, as if he’d read her mind. And that just made her mad. There had been various things so where did he start counting? She knew where. He’d disappointed her so badly---and maybe vice versa, the little voice said again. She knew she was being a little unfair, but for more than a year she’d able to avoid thinking about it. Why did she have to start thinking about it again now, all of a sudden? Because he wanted her to? In a way, it had been easier when he’d been insane. All sorts of issues could be avoided by insanity. All sorts of questions did not have to asked or answered. She’d been able to make all sorts of excuses for him, and not question why she was doing it.

“What did you want to ask me?” she demanded. Abruptly, she stood up, towering over him on the floor. I might turn out to be taller than him, she thought. She wanted to sit back down on the floor again, so at least they were the same height. The thought came to her that she couldn’t count on him to be her protector any more, that she’d have to protect herself---and maybe him as well. He’s not my surrogate big brother any more, she thought sadly. Changed too fast and I missed it.

Spike stared up at her, startled. She’s gotten so tall. It was the sort of thing one didn’t notice when one had gotten out of the habit of being next to her. When was the last time they’d actually talked, the way they used to? “I can’t remember now,” he said quietly.

“Oh.”

“Later I might remember.”

“Okay.” She looked around for an escape, and the smell of something burning gave her her window of opportunity. “I have to go help with dinner.”

No time for jokes. He nodded silently, but he waited till she was around the corner before he got up. The tee shirt flapping about had started to irritate him. He could only imagine what effect it had on anyone else who’d known him as Spike. He’d kill himself before Giles or Xander saw it.

Buffy found him in the bedroom when he didn’t answer the call for dinner. He was lying flopped across on the mattress, staring down over his crossed forearms at the carpet.

She sat down quietly next to him and he reached back one hand. Despite everything, it was gratifying the way she took it and held it between the two of hers. “So how did it go?”

“Custer? Apaches? Sound familiar?”

“Hm,” Buffy murmured encouragement.

That went better. People shouldn’t have to survive what they can’t tolerate.”

“Well, look on the bright side,” Buffy said. “At least there was no scalping.”

Spike looked at her. “You know what it is?”

“What’s it?”

“The general problem with this?” He gestured at himself, but she was afraid that it might apply to everything---life, liberty, the pursuit of Doc Martens. “I’m still thinking like a vampire.”

“Well, I made your steak medium rare if that’s---Oh.” She was silenced with a dour look. Oh, boy, she thought. Angel might brood, but it looked like Spike was going to have a tantrum. “What do you mean, thinking like a vampire?”

“I did it for such a long time, I can’t help it.”

“You mean you think about killing people?”

“No. I think about knocking some sense into people---and I mean myself foremost, you know. And how….” He took a deep breath. “What I did to you.”

Five words, she thought, and her face flamed. “What you tried to do,” she corrected. “I don’t want to talk about it, Spike.”

“We’ve got to, some time.” Rolling over on his back, he found her flushing, her hair tangled from the heat in the kitchen. Entirely without conscious thought, one of his hands found her cheek, and she turned into it silently.

“Well, if we talk about it, we’re not going to stop, are we? That’s the problem. I’m supposed to be good and you were supposed to be bad. And we did a lot of switching back and forth. And I don’t want to talk about it till….I don’t really know,” she admitted. “I really don’t. One day we will.” One day after my retirement party, after they give me a nice little plaque. My luck, it will probably be a plague instead. ‘ To Buffy Summers, for fifty years of boring service in a boring-but-well-paid-job—‘

“We didn’t switch back and forth. It was----“

“Spike?”

“Yeah?”

“Don’t go all twelve steps on me, okay? I don’t think Dear Abby is ever going to be able to handle any question I might have about relationships, you know? ‘Dear Abby, my ex boyfriend used to be a vampire, but now he’s human, and how long does it usually take to adjust and what are the stages?’ Wouldn’t it be nice if there were some kind of person like that for supernatural creatures, though? It would be a start.” She looked thoughtful. “You know, it could be a whole new industry.”

“There’s Giles.” Then he bit his tongue for saying it.

“Yeah, but I’m not ready to deal with the eye-rolling and the ‘oh, dears’ just yet. Don’t get me wrong,” she added hastily. “Love him, I do---even though I’m talking like Yoda for some reason----but, you know, it would just be kind of nice to have a relationship without interference? Just on my own. Just me and you. I swear, I think sometimes, with my friends and everybody getting a word in, it’s like being in a---a----sep-some or whatever.”

“There’s Dawn.”

“But that’s different.”

“How?”

“She’s family. She has to be involved. The rest----well, I never wanted veto power over who they dated. I don’t see why they have to over mine. Am I secretly Amish or something?”

He was momentarily diverted by the notion of Buffy in a bonnet, but returned to the subject at hand. “Meddling would have been fun.” He raised one eyebrow mockingly. “Could have avoided all sorts of---“

“It wouldn’t be any fun. Besides, I always had my hands full with my own---never mind.”

“What makes you think it wouldn’t be fun?”

“I sense some payback issues here.”

“Who, me?”

“Who, you?” She mimicked him, but when she tried to raise her eyebrow in imitation he smiled. “It’s enough like a soap opera as it is, okay? Soap operas and Dear Abbies. You know, maybe normal is over-rated.” She slid down till her chin was on his chest. He slid his hand in her hair and touched her face with the tips of his fingers. The sun played tricks on his eyelashes, turning them into translucent gold. The heat of his body coincided nicely with that of hers, and he shifted up on his elbows, cupping her face for a kiss. “Maybe not,” she muttered.

A knock on the door made them both sigh and shift, Buffy just a bit so that the erection she felt against her thigh wasn’t visible, and Spike so that the hand that had found her bum chastely repositioned itself on her waist.

“Sorry,” Dawn muttered. “But it’s Giles.”

“The phone didn’t ring,” Buffy said. She glanced at the phone next to her bed.
“Beats me,” Dawn said. “Maybe it was the moaning or whatever that drowned it out.”

“We were not----“

“Oh, yeah?” Dawn asked. “Next time I’ll tape it.”

Buffy glanced over at Spike. “Don’t you dare remind me what I said.”

She reached across his stomach to grab the phone, expecting to hear a dial tone. Instead she heard an impatient sigh. “Giles?”

“Hello, Buffy. How are you?”

She bit her tongue. Thanks for asking! Why, I’m lying on the bed with Spike and if I move my hand just the slightest, it’ll be in his----“Oh, I’m fine, Giles. And you?”

“I must have interrupted you doing something.”

“No, no, not at all.”

“I’m required to ask this question, by the way. How is Spike?”

“Conscious, alert, and, uh, unidentified.”

“I’m working on that. It would help if I knew what his real name had been.”

Oh, boy. “Maybe you two should talk about that yourselves without me acting as interpreter.” She held the phone out to Spike, who gave it the sort of look he’d once have given a gasoline-soaked stake. For a long moment, he looked from it to her, then back again. She waited to make sure he wasn’t going to hang up or anything, then tactfully left the room.

Giles saved him the trouble of trying to figure out what to call him by jumping in with both feet. “Spike. Do you remember anything about….what happened to you?”

“What do you mean?”

“I need to know what you remember of your….experience.”

“I just remember the medallion lighting up like a rocket, and then I started to----“God, he could still feel it, burning all through his body. “It didn’t hurt. It felt like hot bathwater, really. Sort of tickled.”

“And when you came back?”

“Nothing much. Doctor said I wasn’t quite in a coma, just worn out. And then I just woke up one day.”

“Do they have any idea why?”

“Nothing they talked to me about. I’m just the patient to them.”

“Hm.” Giles sighed, and then Spike heard the scratching of a pen on paper. Leave it to Giles to take notes by hand instead of tapping them into a computer. “What about your name?”

What about it? He was silent so long that Giles prodded him. “Spike?”

“Yeah? What about it? What if I don’t remember it?”

There was a frosty sigh. “I find that hard to believe, Spike. It might just make things easier. And….” This time was Giles’ turn to pause. “You might have distant relatives.”

Relatives, he thought with horror. Then something else took over: people who would take him in. People who wouldn’t know who or what he’d been. He could invent himself with them, and they’d accept him---or not, he admitted grudgingly---but it wouldn’t be an uphill battle. He wouldn’t be the guy formerly known as Spike. He’d be---who, exactly?

“Well, then, let’s keep them distant till I know what to make of this whole human gig, okay? What if I forget and start gnawing on people’s necks?”

“I’m sure you’ll be reminded when they yank you off,” Giles said acidly. “Well, if you don’t remember or won’t cooperate, then I’ll have to see what I can do on my own.” With a click the dial tone returned, and Spike stared at the phone. Humans.

Buffy returned in time to see him sag back onto the bed. “Tough day at the office?”

“The boss hates me.”

“That’s….well…..Hm.” Stumped, she looked for something polite but realistic to say. “That’s not entirely accurate. I mean, Spike, just for hairpin turns and stuff, he’s got reason to be sort of…impatient with you.”

He looked at her for a second, but she looked perfectly calm. “And you?”

“It’s the sudden exits that get me,” she said.

“C’mere.”

Agreeably, she lay down next to him, stretching out on his side. “You think I like being like this?”

“Human?”

“No, what you said…You’re bang on about it. This, that, back and forth, always running about, changing my mind or my----“

“Existence?” She suggested.

“Had nothing to do with it.”

“You must have had something to do with it. The medallion was for a champion. Maybe this is what happens to champions.”

He refrained from mentioning that he was lying on a bed in a little apartment, wearing sweats and a tee shirt that were both three sizes too big. The underwear they’d offered him at the hospital had been two sizes too small. A champion should at the very least be entitled to underwear that fit. She kissed him just then, and none of that mattered in the slightest, because he suddenly felt very champion-like indeed.



Chapter 13

Dreams had always been her enemies. She’d had happy dreams as a child, but of course Slaying had changed all that. The best dreams she’d had since being Chosen had been the ones that had just been regretful. She’d dreamed of Spike, curled up with him on his cot before his death. Her dreams of Angel had been numberless, all involving bittersweet happiness, then terror. There had been one of her mother, leaving her bereft when she awoke, but it had not been repeated. Her mother was gone, and she hoped safe. Her friends and loved ones were still vulnerable because they were alive. Dreams of real, living people made her think of present danger and impending loss.

She tossed and turned, never quite waking, never quite swimming up to the surface. Sometimes, there was warmth at her back, sometimes beneath her cheek. Sometimes there were arms around her, or she felt hers around someone else. A heart beneath hers, and then she felt someone else’s cheek against hers. None of it was enough to wake her. The sun did that.

She’d had a restless night, and blinked blearily around the little room. Sunlight. Spike. Spike? Oh, shit! Vampire! Sunlight! Where was she? It wasn’t her room at home….She blinked again, her brain slowly waking up. Spike, a beam of light suffusing his body. Sunnydale collapsing into the ground, the yellow school bus, the scythe…

Spike was completely unconscious, sprawled out on the bed like a beached starfish. No wonder she’d had a restless light----he was spread out like a smug tomcat. Must get bigger bed, she thought. She glanced doubtfully around the little room, which had been acceptable as a single-person room. Her bed was a full-size. A king-size bed would leave a little teeny space around the edge of the bed, and provide all-too-visible evidence of her priorities.

With a sigh, she sat up and stretched. She glanced around for her robe, but it didn’t look like it was where she’d dropped it. Stifling mutters about men who picked up---somebody had done it, and she doubted it was the Easter Bunny---she got up and assessed the damage. What had he done, gotten up in the middle of the night to abscond with her bathrobe?

The bathroom hamper was full, and the toilet seat was up. Her bathrobe was in the very bottom of the hamper. She shook it out, shaking her head disapprovingly at the toilet seat. Vampires, humans, centuries of tragedy, star-crossed lovers, Heaven, Hell---and he still leaves the toilet seat up. It had to be part of the male DNA. Never had to worry about the toilet seat when he was a vampire, she thought. It was so odd being able to be annoyed about something that wasn’t life-threatening that she stopped brushing her teeth and thought about it. Good? Bad?

Life, she thought. Wow. Life had been a hobby, and Slaying her job. Now it was the other way around.

She tiptoed past the bed on her way to the living room, but she could have stomped past, blowing on a trombone and it didn’t look like he’d wake up. The sunlight gilded his cheekbones and mussed hair and made him into Adonis. Not fair, she thought. In the morning, she looked and felt like Raccoon Woman, the somewhat-less-than super superhero.  He had longer eyelashes and a smaller behind than she did. Damn the man.

She sank down on the couch with a small smile on her face. Man. Like her, he was mortal. And somehow, it seemed like that had removed whatever barrier there had been between them. With it went the feeling that they had no time. It just made no sense at all.

Nothing made sense. There was just no explanation for what was going on, and she wasn’t sure she wanted one. Wasn’t it possible to just relax for a while?

Of course, the answer to that was a brisk No.

My long distance bills are going to be murder, she thought, but her fingers were already dialing. For a moment, she paused. It doesn’t have to be about advice, she thought. This is just a friendly call about fake IDs and new identities. Yeah, that’s it. On the other end, someone picked up the phone on the second ring. “Well, hello, Buffy.”

“Caller ID is a scourge,” she grumbled. “I never get to pretend to be the pizza person anymore.”

“Were you really going to try that?”

“I’m not saying anything,” she muttered. “Your batteries on that thing might run out.”

“Ah. It’s nice that you have time for hobbies.”

She could practically hear him rolling his eyes. It was comfortingly familiar---a little too familiar, actually.  The last time he’d gotten precisely that dry tone in his voice it had been provoked by a miniskirt that was both short and colorful. She reminisced fondly. Ah, the good old days, when breaking a rule meant facing fashion ostracism.  Those were the days. She missed his disapproval, she realized suddenly. It gave her a boundary of sorts, marking the far edge of possibility. When she tried to set her own, it felt like she had to build them with sand, where Giles’ seemed made out of granite.

To set those limits, Giles drew on an impressive selection of gestures, phrases, and the dreaded dry tone of voice. He had such an extensive repertoire of dry tones that they almost seemed to require some sort of Olympic commentary. “Jim, would you look at that? An eyeroll with amazing rotation and a clean shoulder shrug. He’s going to knock the German team right out of the top spot. I’d give it a perfect six oh.”

With some difficulty, she dragged her attention away from the imaginary Giles in her head, who was glaring down a panel of Olympic judges.  Unaware that Buffy’s brain had put a number around his neck as he stood before the judging panel---Buffy noted that the East German judge was wearing the most God-awful Pucci-inspired muumuu---- he had continued to talk, and she scrambled for indications as to what about.   “I’d call more often, Buffy, really I would, but I’m so busy here that---“

“Want some help?” The fact that her offer came with the non-negotiable presence of Spike---and removed him from the police sights----was just a bonus. Helpfully, the vision of Giles competing in the sarcasm event at the Olympics faded away.

“Oh, I’d love a visit, Buffy, really I would, but the fact is that I don’t even have anyone here to whom I could delegate anything.” He paused, and she heard a cautious intake of breath. “I’ve no doubt you’ve been too busy to consider your next move, but…”

“Actually, I have been considering it,” Buffy said. “My next move. What you said. About the whole Watching thing.”

“Ah.” He sighed and she heard noises. There was the crackle of paper, the snap of something, and she realized he’d been switching the phone from one ear to the other so he could write something. Giles, multi-tasking again.  “And?”

“Well, I didn’t reject it,” she said cautiously. “It’s just that….Giles, I don’t know if I could do the job the way you do it.”

She counted the seconds to gauge exactly what his silence meant. Two seconds he was just waiting to say something sarcastic. Three meant he was torn between sarcasm and seriousness. Four meant he was going to say something both serious and sarcastic. Five meant he’d taken what she’d said and run with it, and enthusiastic hypotheses awaited her—doubtful in this case.  If he got as far as ten seconds, she knew he’d either thought of a reason the whole idea was screwed up but salvageable or else was completely untenable and didn’t know how to break it to her. Fifteen seconds meant dire news.

At two and a half seconds, he took a deep breath and sniffed. “Does this mean you’re actually considering the idea and want to try it or have reconsidered entirely, and want to back out gracefully?”

“It means I don’t know if I could be as good a Watcher as you are, and I don’t want to be like those awful football players who go on to coach and never win a game and get fired and then sell cars and become bitter and drink beer all the time.”

The silence that time stretched to seventeen seconds, and she held her breath the whole time.

“I’d recommend whiskey, actually,” Giles said finally.

“What?”

“I said I’d recommend whiskey, not beer. At least not American beer.”

“Oh.”

“In your rather impressive assessment of the condition of American athletics, you specified beer.”

“So I did. And?”

“Well, Buffy, it’s just that you’re free to forge your own model now. No other Slayer has ever been in a position to retire. If you choose to perform your obligations wearing a spangled pink tutu, there’s no one who can gainsay you because you’re the first. Of course, generations of Slayers-turned-Watchers will curse you for instituting a reign of pink-tutu-wearing----“

“Okay already.”

“I’m honestly at a loss as to whether this means you’re thinking about it and tending to regard it seriously, or whether you’re just looking for an escape.”

“A little of both.”

“Really? Why?”

“How dangerous is Slaying now? With all of us? Can we back each other up effectively, or is still liable to result in tactful death certificates and unpublicized funerals and---?”

Giles took a deep breath suddenly, and she realized what he had to be thinking of. She’d never asked about her own funeral or how the details had been handled.

“How did you know about that?” He asked quietly.

“I didn’t.” It was impossible not to shrug as she said it. Death, even her own, was part of the job. “Lucky guess. Dawn couldn’t have handled it, and Dad wasn’t around, was he?”

“Ah.” That level of bluntness required spectacle-rubbing, she was sure. “Well, no, not immediately, he wasn’t.”

“It’s okay, Giles. But that was then. This is now. Is that what I’d face, being a Slayer-turned-Watcher?”

She heard a soft intake of breath. “It’s never going to be---“

She waited. “Safe?”

“Yes,” he said. “It’s never going to be safe. But it’s not as dangerous.”

“Ambivalence,” Buffy said dryly. “It’s a many-splendored thing.”

“Buffy….”

“What?”

“What is it that you want me to say?”

She sat in the comfy little living room and looked around. Yes, it was comfy, but that was principally because it was kind of boring. Nothing threateningly original stuck out and made you wonder about the person that rented the apartment. No, there was nothing unique about it. No weapons chest from Xander sat in the corner, and the furniture was new and unscarred by demon attacks or vampire boyfriends. No demon mask that raised the dead----or just looked like they could. No stakes lurked under the couch, discarded during make out sessions with the vampire boyfriend. It could have been anyone’s apartment, and she could have been anyone’s girlfriend. “I want you to say that….I won’t lose anyone else.”

Giles stayed silent a full twenty seconds, or about two dollars’ worth, Buffy calculated.   “I can’t guarantee that,” he said finally. “I can’t guarantee anything.”

Well, isn’t that a wonderful change of pace, Buffy thought glumly. She tried to think of something else, and it just wasn’t coming. “What can you guarantee? Anything?” That came out more bitter than she expected.

“I can only guarantee you the best training that I can provide, and my eternal support. We could find you a flat in London, make sure all your paperwork’s in order, and from there on, you will have to forge your own way. It’s up to you to decide how to eventually relate to the Slayers who you would guide. But if it’s any consolation, you will have a unique understanding of what they’re going through, and they’ll be able to count on you far more than you could count on me.”

Her throat tightened. “You know that’s not true. I counted on you.”

“I should have quit with the Council a great deal sooner than I did. I’ll always regret that.” The question is, Buffy thought, why are you regretting this now? Will that be me, with every mistake I make? Is it all about regrets?

“Hah!” She exclaimed. This conveniently enabled her to avoid a sniffle. “But then there was all that back pay.”

“Minus taxes,” he countered grimly.

“You mean, you haven’t, uh--given yourself a bonus since then?”

“That would be unscrupulous.”

“Never mind,” Buffy said. “Don’t incriminate yourself or anything.”

The silence this time was comfortable. “You do have to take credit for this, Buffy,” he said quietly. “Slayers can now consider retiring and becoming Watchers. They could pass on their training to their daughters.”

“Oh, boy.” This brought up an entirely unforeseen vision of herself at sixteen or so, arguing with her mother about how her mother’s teenage pastimes held no allure for Buffy. Dawn had been cloned or created from Buffy’s own blood, and her interest in Slaying was minimal.

Blood, she thought. Blood, why is that important? Slaying, splinters--the last blood she’d spilled had been her own. She snapped back to the conversation with a tiny head shake at her own distraction.  “Uh, Giles, not to change the subject….”

“Which of course means you’re going to do precisely that.”

“Yes, I am. The police came back.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“The police came back. The Sunnydale police. They think that Spike killed some of the Potentials.”

“That’s extraordinarily stupid, Buffy. Of course he didn’t.”

“Well, you know that, and I know that, but getting them to know that is going to take a two by four and some extra brain cells.” She picked at the sofa cushions. “Did you send the ID stuff for Spike?”

This time it was Giles’ turn to fidget. She could practically hear him twitch, and it was bittersweet. Funny how that had slipped her mind. She’d forgotten that already, what with the weeks of separation. He fidgeted when he felt bad. This was entirely different from the way he fidgeted when he was impatient, irritated, or just plain exasperated. “Well, no, actually, Buffy, I hadn’t. I asked him about his real name, and he wasn’t….cooperative.” Many interesting synonyms were enclosed in that curiously-stressed word. “As it happens, it’s probably to his advantage not to provide me with his real name.”

“Well, you can’t look up his old yearbook pictures,” Buffy said thoughtfully.

“Buffy,” Giles said acidly. “They didn’t have yearbooks back then.” She knew perfectly well that whatever they were called, Giles had intended to find Spike’s and no doubt whip out the pictures at the most embarrassing moment possible. “But after thinking it over, it really does make it easier. I can find any  name, provide it to Spike, and once he’s back in England, simply give him another and guarantee that he vanish from the record entirely.”

“Er…how long will that take?”

“Hm,” Giles said. “A day to find a name---the Council was good about aliases---and perhaps three days after that to express it to you. Can you hold the police off till then?”

“Can they arrest him, do you think?” She did not mention that she’d hoped he’d already been looking for a name. She felt rather jealous of this Council business that had usurped her from her position in his priorities.

“I shouldn’t think so,” Giles said. He sounded startled at the thought. “Spike didn’t do anything, so there’s no evidence that he did do anything---“

“Except saving the world,” Buffy said quietly.

“Well, that’s not something the Sunnydale Police department would know anything about, would they?” He cleared his throat and managed to sound irritated while doing it. Only Giles, Buffy reflected, could manage to pack even the most ordinary of gestures with annoyed significance. It must be something they taught in Watcher School, she thought. Instantly her mind conjured up something like Hogwarts, and she recoiled at the notion of long horizontally-striped scarves. They make your hips look so big.

“No, their expertise lies in arresting the nearest person,” Buffy said dryly.

“Well, if they’re pursuing him like this, one has to wonder why they’re so persistent.”

Buffy hesitated. “They always used to give up when somebody stood up to them,” she said. And I was always the one they were after, she thought. You were always the one that stood up. “I did tell the one guy to go away, thought,” she said. “It was very Watcher-like.”

“Watcher-like?”

“Well, I always used to get into trouble, and you always used to push the police around.”

“Really, Buffy, that’s at least the second time you’ve indicated that my methods were less than professional.”

“Oh, you were professional,” Buffy said. “I’m just not sure which profession, though.”

Giles’ voice was so dry it was positively arid.  “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” I’m just keeping in practice. What if there’s nobody there to snark at him the way I used to?

“Hold them off a bit longer, and we’ll be fine.”

“One big happy family.”

“Well, I shudder to think what that makes me.”

“What did you say that one time? Something about an uncle?”

“Ah, yes, a rakish uncle. I think I might have mentioned debonair.”

Buffy smiled to herself. “Rakish uncle, it is. Just, uh---could you fax that stuff, do you think?”

“Oh, good Lord,” Giles said. “And I’m looking right at the bloody thing, too. A day then, Buffy. Just hold them off for a day or so.”

“I’ll try,” Buffy said doubtfully. “Not like I might have much choice.”

“You don’t,” Giles said.

“That was reassuring.”

“I try to be. Must go now, Buffy.”

“Bye,” she said quietly.

“Good luck.”

Why did that sound so pessimistic? She thought. She stared at the phone for a moment, wondering if perhaps they should check into a hotel room to get away from the police. Then there was the novel concept of getting a lawyer. It might be worth it just to see the look on Angel’s face when she asked him for professional assistance.

“Giles again, huh?” Dawn said behind her, and Buffy jumped slightly.

“You’re psychic.”

“That’s me, the psychic sister.” Dawn set her cereal bowl down on the coffee table and blew on her cup of tea. “So what’s going on?”

“We need to get Spike a name and a lawyer, although I’m not sure in which order.”

“Can I be around when you ask Angel for the lawyer?”

“I’m not sure I, ah, want to ask Angel to use one of his---er-----“ Minions was the word that kept coming to mind. “---lawyers,” she finished. “I don’t know if I want to do that.”

Dawn stirred her cereal vigorously and maneuvered the maximum number of raisins into one spoonful. “Why? Because they’re evil lawyers?”

“Isn’t that kind of redundant?”

“Maybe. Angel sure hasn’t offered the family-and-friends tour though, has he?”

Damn, Buffy thought. Leave it to Dawn to make her think about something she’d been happily avoiding. “I just don’t want to be one of those exes who keeps asking for favors, though.”

“Who cares? As long as they’re not sexual favors because then---ew.”

Buffy made a face. It seemed depressingly elderly to realize that the thought of sex with Angel now made her think of leftovers long past their prime. “I sort of thought you and Angel were---weren’t----“

“What?”

“Well, weren’t you and Angel sort of getting along?”

“What?” Dawn was shoveling cereal into her mouth like a Teamster who’d been on a hunger strike. “I don’t hate him, if that’s what you mean. But I don’t trust him, either. And if I don’t trust him, I can’t exactly like him, can I?”

Buffy looked down at the sofa cushion. “Do you trust me?”

“Duh!”

“Really? You do?”

“Of course, doofus. You’re my sister. If you screw up, I can just yell at you. If I yelled at Angel, he’d either disappear or turn evil.”

Well, that was an interesting take on redemption, Buffy thought. “What about Spike?”

“I don’t know,” Dawn shrugged. “I don’t know whether it’s good or bad that I might be able to beat him up now. Because then anybody could.”

“I wouldn’t let him hear you say that.”

“Which part? The part about I-don’t-know or the part about me-being-able-to-maybe-beat-him-up? Or maybe-anybody-being-able-to?”

“All of the above.”

“Oh. Well, how about this? He’d like this.” Buffy braced herself. “ I’m going to blackmail Angel.”

Buffy grimaced at her. “Did you not get spanked enough when you were a little glowy pre-adolescent Key?”

“Probably. Plus I’m bored. Besides, it’s a guaranteed job. Why bother looking for work when I can just----“

“-----live off the proceeds of your career as an extortionist?”

“I just want a job.” Dawn poked dubiously at the now-empty bottom of her cereal bowl. She lifted the bowl to her lips as if it were a tea cup and slurped the remaining milk down. “But who wants to look for one?”

“God, Dawn, were you born in a barn?”

“I don’t know, really. I mean, do we really know where I was born?”

“Good point. However, still not getting the whole blackmail/extortion thing.”

“I was just thinking, you know----I need a job. And Angel just won’t say anything about, you know, his big promotion. Or demotion,” she added thoughtfully. “Whatever it was. But he sure has enough time to play poker when he should be working.”

“Maybe he’s keeping, uh---vampire’s hours,” Buffy said.

“Maybe. But he just won’t talk about it.”

“Maybe,” Buffy said tactfully. “Maybe it’s none of our business.”

“What about Cordelia then? Isn’t she a friend?”

“She was,” Buffy said. Well, okay, in a ‘you’re-in-another-city’ so I’ll let go of all the stuff you did to me in high school kind-of-way, at least till the re-union. She deflated slightly as the thought suddenly occurred to her: What if there’s no re-union for Cordelia?

“Well, why wouldn’t it be our business? Fighting evil and stuff.  Besides, I want to see the look on his face if I show him a Polaroid of Spike without a shirt or something.”

Buffy just stared at her, shaking her head. “You what? Of what? Of who?”

Dawn stirred her tea. “I figure he’ll either want to see more, because then he can brood more, or else he’ll offer anything to make it stop. So, either way----employment.”

“I always knew little sisters were demons,” Buffy remarked. “Now it’s been proven.”

“Come on, you mean you haven’t wondered?”

“What Angel’s reaction to Spike would be?” Buffy asked, then answered her own question. “He kind of sort of knows. But it’s not an issue I really want to press, you know? Sleeping dogs. Exes. Same diff.”

“Wimp.”

“Yeah, says the girl who had to get a doctor’s note so she couldn’t dissect a frog.”

“Hey, at least I didn’t flunk it like somebody I know.”

“Hey, Apocalypse, remember?”

“That was your excuse for everything in high school!” Dawn exclaimed. “So not fair.”

“Hey, Slayer, world-saving, sorry about that.”

“So what are you going to use for an excuse now?” Dawn asked curiously.

“Oh, boy,” Buffy gulped. “I have to think up all new-excuses.” She thought about it for a minute, and the reality of it hit her completely. I don’t have any excuses anymore. There was no justification for not being normal, not now, not any longer. Oh, boy.

Watching, she thought. “Dawn,” she said cautiously. “What do you think about England?”

Dawn sipped her tea and then stuck out her tongue and flapped her hands at the heat. “Ow. Why? Merry Olde? Cool accents. Bad teeth. Austin Powers. Er—Princess Diana. Um…King Arthur. Is there going to a be a quiz or something?”

“No, I’m just thinking of home-schooling you.”

“I wish. I could study in my pajamas and read books about demons all day. Are the demons and stuff in England really cool and old, or are they just the kind we’ve got here?”

“I,uh, don’t really know.” Buffy took a deep breath. I’m not that lucky. “What would you think about going to England and doing just that? You know, studying with Giles, stuff like that?”

“With Giles? Is he running a school now or ----Oh, wait. You want me to b a Watcher? Or something? What? This is confusing.”

“Giles suggested that I could be a Watcher. You could ask him about you being a Watcher, too. I, uh, never really thought about it.”

“You could have asked, you know,” Dawn said coolly.

“I could have asked if you wanted to be a rodeo clown, too, but----“

“Okay, okay---Wait, you just don’t want me to be an extortionist. Hah!”

“I’m more altruistic. I just don’t want Angel to be the first vampire in history to have an aneurysm.”

Dawn looked around, thinking about it. England----very interesting. Well, okay, anything would be more interesting than LA, which she hadn’t liked the first time around. Being the sister of the girl who tried to down Hemery High had not been good.

Goofing off, she thought. Maybe boys with English accents. Castles? Touristy stuff. “Er---is this like a big significant moment right now, where I have to decide?”

“No,” Buffy said.

Dawn raised her eyebrows and gestured for Buffy to spit it out. These gestures involved creative pantomiming.

Buffy took a deep breath.  “Tomorrow is.”



Chapter 14

The shopping expedition almost didn’t get off the ground. Well, Buffy’ shopping expedition, that is. Spike’s never achieved liftoff. He fussed with the sweats and tee shirt, then spent a half hour poking and prodding at his hair in the mirror before flopping on the bed in exasperation. This was so new that she wasn’t sure whether to comfort him or act like a drill sergeant. Eighteen months ago, Buffy would have been so wrung out and torn apart that she wouldn’t have tolerated it. Now she filed it away with Potential Boyfriend Blackmail Opportunities, and reconsidered Dawn’s ambitions with a new attitude. She refused to consider seriously the notion that human Spike was going to keep having these whiplash-like mood swings. It didn’t occur to her that maybe he should be allowed to have them for a while, much like a toddler working its way through its developmental temper tantrums.

“I am going to take a picture of you like that,” Buffy said.

“Go ahead.”

“Uh…Spike….? Who cares? It doesn’t matter to me what you wear.”

Spike exhaled in the manner of a man trying to count to ten. “It does to me.”

Here we go again, Buffy again, but she had to feel for the guy. It almost seemed like divine retribution for all the times she’d experienced the whole ‘I-have-nothing-to-wear’ panic attack. Now, frankly, she didn’t care what she wore, and by extension, what he wore, either. How did she get that across?

It would be very, very, ironic if I suddenly became fashion-optional and Spike became the couture-whore, she thought. “Look, all we have to do is get you one outfit to shop in, okay?”

“Not like this.”

“Just one.”

“No.”

Another thing to avoid considering was how miserable he looked. She wouldn’t be doing him any favors by indulging his bad moods the way he had once tolerated hers. That did not mean, however, that she couldn’t promise herself an opportunity to cheer him up later. Some instinct inside her warned her neither pamper him too much nor be too harsh with him. With something like pleasure, she recognized the Mom gene awakening. There was a twinge that Joyce had not lived to see it in action. She’d have been proud.

“Last chance,” she sang at the door. “You’re leaving yourself at my mercy.”

All she got for her gloating was a very disgusted-sounding snort from the bedroom. She jingled the keys in her hand as one final warning, but all she got was another snort in reply.

She locked the door behind her and headed out. In an odd, guilt-inducing way, being on her own was kind of nice, although if she had actually arranged this little pocket of solitude deliberately she’d probably have to resort to self-flagellation to get over the indulgence. She had Xander to check on. She had Dawn to supervise. If she failed to do the latter correctly, she had to pick between visiting her in California Youth Authority, or dealing with the icky Angel issues which would result from using his law firm to get Dawn’s record expunged—if she tried blackmailing him. Wasn’t that a conflict of interest?

Now there’s a dilemma, she thought. Dawn thought it would be fun to blackmail Angel about his weird law-firm deal. She herself had been quite happy just drifting since the Hellmouth had been destroyed, but now she felt like she’d been dozing and it was time to wake up. It was oddly pleasant. It was also rather uncomfortably vivid.

Clothes. For Spike, she thought. It was very important to make sure she brought something that he could go out in. Clothes shopping for the guy had Mom-like connotations that were not at all the good ones of taking care of the people she loved.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the tall buildings of downtown LA, and she turned and looked for the towers of Wolfram and Hart. I wonder if Angel’ll want a shingle too, now? Oh, to be the publicity firm that takes that account.

Somewhere, Xander was trying to make funeral arrangements for Anya, and at least two police detectives were trying to figure out if a skinny unnamed Brit could be nailed for several homicides that weren’t, actually, homicides. Unlike all the victims that the police had allowed to fall, unprotected and sometimes unmarked, the Potentials who had died fighting the First deserved a better soubriquet. What did you call someone who’d died a good death, in battle, on behalf of others? She wondered for a moment if that was a good enough question to use as an excuse for another Giles phone call, then realized she was pushing her luck.

Somewhere, Dawn was plotting blackmail, and Angel was probably dealing with it. Maybe there were teams of demonic lawyers involved. Somewhere, too, there had to be someone who could help her deal with the various issues that permeated the whole I-must-buy-my-new/old-boyfriend-clothes-that-don’t-refer-to-his-previous-identity-but-don’t-insult-his-new-personality, either.

That thought made her sit down on a bus bench. Should she just buy Spike jeans, a tee shirt, and Doc Martens, and then haul his butt out to do his own shopping? Such an outfit might be interpreted as her longing for the old Spike. However, not buying such an outfit could be interpreted as rejection of his whole vampire-phase. What about a suit? She coughed suddenly, trying to hold back a giggle that she felt would be unseemly. What, are we grown-ups now? Then she stared off into space for a moment, flushing at the memory of the impulse in the hospital bathroom, that rush of mortality and possibility. How did you sum that up in fabric and cut and stitch? She put her head in her hands. She couldn’t remind him of his past self, but couldn’t reject it, either. She couldn’t buy anything that might be interpreted as imposing her wishes on his personality. More than that, she remembered that little moment again, where Spike’s exasperation had taken such a suddenly charming turn. Who would he be now? If you had that opportunity to start over again, leaving all your baggage behind, what would it be like?

She stared at the skyline again, awed by the immensity of it all. Mom, why can’t you be here? It was with something like pride that she recognized the new strength that prevented her from indulging in what had been a constant refrain the previous year. Come back. Come back. I miss you. Help me. The loss would always be there. Now there were other things that balanced it.

She looked around, oddly proud of herself for disliking the whole concept of shopping. Where on earth could you go when you suddenly realized you had no interest in shopping? What could you do? She turned to the west, and there it was.

Beverly Hills.



If nothing else brought it home to her that she had changed, wandering disconsolately in her old shopping stomping grounds certainly did the trick. It was the season of frou-frou, and she wandered amidst ruffles and lace and wondered how on earth she’d manage to take out vamps in those things. She could certainly afford---professionally---to buy stuff like that, if she wanted to: once she’d resented every vampire-incurred wardrobe loss. With a mutter of nostalgia, she wondered how long the vamps would last. There were so many Slayers now. An even worse jolt made her look around with her jaw dropped. Was it possible that vampires could be eradicated?

Not for a while, she thought. Not for a long, long time.

There were hundreds of Slayers, though. She couldn’t even begin to consider how many vamps she might have killed in her lifetime. If they didn’t reproduce faster than they were killed…..

Okay, that’s definitely a question for Giles.

Excuse firmly held in mind, she should have felt better. It’s a good excuse, too, she thought defensively, but now she was vaguely nervous. There’s got to be another shoe somewhere, she thought. It’s got to drop some time or other.

Her weapon had always been wood, and it seemed obscurely comforting that knocking on wood was supposed to guarantee good luck. She hoped fiberboard was a good enough substitute, and she knocked on the cash register’s counter.

“Oh, hello!”

Buffy snapped back as a cashier all but leaped up from behind the counter, Jack-in-the-Box style, larger than life and grin fixed in place. After a second, she took another step back, her senses tingling. It had been so long since she’d been around a vampire that she wondered if her vamp-dar was off. Her spidey sense was definitely tingling, but she couldn’t tell in what direction. I’m all rusty. My compass is off. Maybe it was just the lure of the almighty commission sale that made the woman look rather maniacal, but she’d seen the horror movies about clowns---courtesy of Xander----and the woman’s Kabuki-like makeup brought back some very bad movie-night memories. “Uh…Hi.”

“Can I help you? Was there something you were looking for?”

The exit, she almost said. Got any sunlight? was another request she stifled. They were so deep in the building that she couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen windows. Another tingle, and her spidey sense pointed out that all the big department stores in LA were like that---windowless boxes once you got away from the doors. “Men’s clothes?”

“Oh, here, I’ll show you. You’re on the wrong side of the building.” That wide, fixed smile never varied as she stepped out from behind the counter. The clothes didn’t do a great deal to alter the impression of clownishness, either. The woman was dressed in bright primary colors with strong stripes and angles that seemed all too consistent with the sort of psycho that would laugh maniacally and clutch a knife behind her back. Her hair was the only real thing about her, soft and dark and unemphatic. By all rights, she should have been wearing a fright wig.

“Thanks,” Buffy said uncomfortably, then stepped aside to let the other woman precede her. Watch your back, came Giles’ dry voice in her head, and she obeyed it. The wide grin faltered just a notch, and Buffy wondered if she was being rude or….obvious. To someone or something that knew what I was doing, that is, she thought. Another question for Giles. Yay.

“You’ll have to forgive my enthusiasm,” the woman said. “I just moved down here and got this job, and I’m just very happy.”

Information, Buffy thought. “Oh, really? Where are you from?”

“Sunnydale.”

Buffy stopped as if an invisible wall and slammed down in front of her face. It took the woman several paces before she realized that Buffy wasn’t following her. Buffy stood where she stopped and stared at the woman. The freakish smile dimmed, the eyes darkening beneath the layers of paint. If anything, the sight of things moving beneath that…enamel….was even worse. Buffy was reminded of ominous things stirring beneath the surface of nightmare lakes, predators lurking near the bottom, brushing up against unwary toes and feet amongst the weeds. “I’m sorry, dear, are you all right? You’re very pale.”

“I’m sorry, did you say, Sunnydale?” Buffy asked.

“Unfortunately, I did,” the woman said with a sigh. The sigh was exasperated, in the manner of someone discussing something mundane rather than tragic. “Why?” The smile began widening again, the eyes starting to sparkle with glee. “I feel very lucky to have gotten away.”

Slightly sickened, Buffy took another step back. Xander’s parents---and Anya----were dead, and he’d lived. Almost everyone had lost their homes, their memories, their background. CNN had said that almost half the city’s population had lost at least one family member or friend. Even those who had not knew someone who had, and their relief at their own safety was tempered by the knowledge of their friends’ losses. It was beyond Buffy’s comprehension that this woman could treat the event like a simple relocation, and she spoke more sharply than she intended.

“To a city with a big huge fault line?”

“Well, it sure doesn’t have a big huge he---“

A boisterous family of four crossed the aisle abruptly behind the sales clerk and she whipped around to watch their progress.

Hellmouth, Buffy thought. She’s going to say Hellmouth. She backed up still further, and watched the woman’s eyes gleam. She knows about Hellmouths. How? What if we didn’t actually close it? What if we just plugged it a bit after blowing it wide open?

“I’m sorry,” she prodded. “What were you saying?”

“Oh, what was I saying? I’ve been through so much…. Sunnydale. Just awful. I lost a lot of ….”She paused, then, the Kabuki mask relaxing into something that seemed to gloat just a little. “Well, I didn’t exactly know them, but there are lots of people there who made it possible for me to have my new existence here in sunny Los Angeles. People who lost their lives. How could I thank them?”

Myrtle said the nametag on the woman’s bright, bright, chest. It didn’t seem to fit in at Bullock’s Wilshire. Shouldn’t she have some higher class name? Wasn’t that a job requirement for the sales girls here? All the other ones seemed to be named for tragic queens and ballerinas: Natalia, Isabella, Elizabeth, Eugenia, Caroline, Maria, Katherine. Myrt’s was the first name she’d seen that had lacked grandeur and that all-important third syllable. Myrtle was what you expected to find in that trailer park at the west end of Sunnydale, right near St. Stephen’s cemetery, one of the oldest ones in Sunnydale. It was an old-sounding name, too, and this woman didn’t look old at all. Forty, tops. So why the thick, thick makeup? She’d plastered it on way past the jaw line, Buffy noticed, too.

People who lost their lives, Buffy thought. How did that work? How did they help her? “So what happened?”

“Oh, it’s complicated,” Myrtle said. The grin widened. “But that doesn’t mean I can’t be grateful.” My, my, my, Buffy thought. What sharp, sharp teeth you have. Just really intensive incisors, she told herself. That’s all. She’s just got white-trash teeth and white trash makeup. She came down here and goosed her resume, and nobody’s going to be the wiser. Just relax, Nancy Drew. “I wish I could thank them, but they’re gone.” One hand made a flapping motion. Is that makeup? Buffy thought. Is she wearing make up on her hands?

“Gone?” Buffy inquired weakly. “Did they rescue you?”

The grin got even wider. The resemblance to some sinister mask was no longer accidental; it was deliberate. She thinks she’s scaring me, Buffy thought. A flash of heat whipped through her and made her draw herself up to her full height. She doesn’t know she’s out of her league. “Not exactly, “Myrtle said coyly, “but that’s a very apt description.”

“How so?”

“Men’s fine apparel,” she said gaily, waving an arm at the department before them. “You have fun, now.” Slippery fast, she dodged back around Buffy and when Buffy feinted away to turn with her she found herself facing empty space.

A shirt sleeve on a mannequin fluttered as if a breeze had brushed against it, then stilled.

Buffy realized she’d left the apartment without a single stake and glanced around. Not a vampire, she thought. Just some really weird woman who got a job in a real ritzy store despite not being ritzy or glamorous herself. Maybe she just knew the right people to get the job.

The nerves on the back of her neck were tingling in earnest now. I’m out of shape, she thought. That’s all there is to it. I’m not used to this.

Just a coincidence.

I have to find out what made Spike come back, she thought. What if he’s not the only one? If something could make a vampire human, what could it do to humans?



Chapter 15

She found Spike leaning out over the balcony when she came back, turning toward her silently when she came in the room. After a moment, he shrugged a little and looked off to the hills, where the harsh sun was slashing black shapes across the slopes.  He wasn’t pouting, she saw: he was just very, very lost. She dropped the bags and kicked off her sandals as she came over to him. Even now, something of the old Buffy allowed her only to touch his back first, tentatively, as if seeking confirmation. With a glance at her from sober blue eyes, he granted it, and she wrapped herself around him like a ribbon. There was a comfortable silence as she found the perfect place in his shoulder for her chin, as he laced his hands with hers. His heart beneath her hand, and she wondered how she’d managed to spend a few hours away. You sap.

“Have fun?”

The sulk was gone. So was the opportunity for teasing. He was serious now, almost---this was another Joyce thought-----like a kid who’d worn himself out with his tantrum. She shrank away from the memory of how she’d found it humorous. “No,” she said. “You weren’t with me. Ergo,no fun was had.”

“You’re lying.”

“Were you convinced?”

“Polite or honest, pet?”

“Can you be both?”

“Never thought you bothered much for the one if it got in the way of the other.”

There was something rather complimentary about his vision of her, and she gave him one of the smiles that few other people saw, because too often they missed them. It was a small thing, really, that smile----only the slightest lifting of the corners of her mouth, but her eyes glowed with warmth, and the room vanished away.

“So my absence was felt?”

And your mood, she thought, but left that statement for later. He studied her for a moment, then continued on as if she’d answered him.

“And how do we fix that?” He asked, picking the topic. She aimed for girlfriend-like flirtatiousness, but she’d gotten out of shape at it.

“When’s your birthday?”

He cocked his head at her, brow furrowing with bewilderment. “Why?”

“Well, I have a present for you, and I need an excuse to make it legitimate, so---“

“Oh, God, pet, there’s no such thing as a bad present.” He was amused for a moment, then his eyes widened. “Unless it’s a studio portrait of Angel or something.”  Her reaction was carefully neutral, and he dropped his chin at her----the better to show off his cheekbones, my dear----and studied her with the aplomb of a man who knew his girlfriend’s limits, if not his own.

Buffy, grabbing one of the bags, rolled her eyes but didn’t let it affect her stride.

The first thing to tumble out of the bag was Buffy’s present to herself: little red high heels with polka dots. The look on Spike’s face was worth the pang she’d gotten when the cost was reckoned at the cash register. Didn’t a girl need something medicinal to help her get over a nasty little you’re-not-as-retired-as-you-think-you-are jolt?

“Those are not for you,” she said loftily, snatching them up, face flushing as she bent and scooped and tossed. The look on his face rather indicated otherwise, as he raised one eyebrow---the scarred one, she saw-----and blinked at her skeptically. Damn the man, he could probably indicate sarcasm at the molecular level or something.  She could just tell he was picturing her in those---and little else.

Dawn needs to make lots more friends so she can have sleep-overs, Buffy thought. And soon. Like tonight. Like this afternoon. Like this minute.  “And besides,” she added, as if he’d made some statement that needed rebutting, they’re not your size.” She blew loose wisps of hair out of her eyes and stalked back to the bags in the hall, snapping them up with decisive grabs and dumping them at his feet.

He crouched down to poke cautiously into one, blue denim tempting him. She’d figured the basics would serve till he could be lured out of his hole to make up his own mind about who he was going to be now. She’d gotten jeans---not black-----and tee shirts---not black---and some shirts----not red. He had very nice forearms. She’d been seized, in the store, with the sudden mental image of what his arms might look like if he just rolled up his sleeves a bit---just past the wrist bones----so she could watch the tendons move and flick, and have an excuse to demand that he check his watch frequently. She’d even bought the watch.

Other bags held shoes---she’d gotten Nikes, despite a suspicion he’d turn up his nose at looking like a frat rat---and boots. Cowboy boots would probably make him roll his eyes, and Doc Martens were something he’d probably want to, well---steal---himself. She’d gotten work boots, figuring they were masculine enough to make a statement, but not so much that they ventured into parody. The fact that she’d formed that justification in her mind disturbed her a bit. Clothing wasn’t just clothing to Spike: it was shield and trophy and identity, all at once. When had it ever been just covering the naughty bits to him? She had to think for a second. “How did you get your clothes before?”

Spike had sunk down onto the floor, looking at the things in the bags and shaking his head in bemusement. “Nicked ‘em,” he said, not even thinking. “Souvenirs, you know.” He caught himself only after he couldn’t take the words back, and glanced up at her carefully.

Once she’d have flinched: now that was behind her. “How do you….” She probed for a word that wouldn’t hurt like someone feeling for a new cavity with their tongue. “…How do you feel about…this? Just buying them?”

 “Ask me tomorrow, luv, maybe I’ll know then.” Now she knew what she’d seen in his posture, staring out over the balcony. Sadness.

“Could I get a preview of what I’ll face tomorrow, maybe?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know.” His voice was soft. He studied her, his eyes lifting to hers. “Do you?”

Giles faxing that paperwork would be nice, she thought. Even nicer than those detectives getting eaten by Myrtle, the sales clerk who could bring a new whole meaning to the phrase, “sins of commission.” If there is such a phrase, Buffy’s mind added. It was a very Giles-like addendum, and she wondered for a moment where it had come from. She reached out and touched his face, wondering. It still didn’t seem real; it seemed like something that might have come from the same place as Marley’s ghost, something brought into existence from loneliness and boredom and loss. He turned his face into her hand, holding it there with his own. She studied him, wondering if it was possible to go through existence like that, always touching, always connected, like some emotional Siamese twin. There was something lost about it, the inability to put it into words. She didn’t have the words for it. When she touched him, it was as if the compass she carried inside herself suddenly righted itself. Is this what love is? She thought suddenly. He was her true north, the unmoving pillar of her existence. It was frightening to realize that she had long been his fixed point of reference, the pole around which he revolved. The idea that he might be feeling the same fear about her went straight to the pit of her stomach.

Not this, she thought. This is too scary.

“How do you feel?” She asked curiously.

Spike considered it seriously, sticking out his lower lip and devoting some serious thought to it. “Itchy,” he said finally. “It feels a bit like having indigestion.”

“Being human gives you an upset stomach?”

“More like an upset soul. Bad enough being a vampire with a soul, but a human with a soul----“

“You had one before, didn’t you?”

“That was a century ago, luv.” He shook his head at himself. “Not as if I did much with it, did I? What a prat.”

“What would you do with a soul, anyway? Take it out for walks? Teach it card tricks?”

Spike leaned back against the couch and rubbed his eyes. When he looked at her again, his eyes were serious. The notion that she had left the old Spike behind clutched at her heart again. All the new aspects to explore did not make up for the ache at the thought of all the little losses. “I was weak,” he said. “A---A---prat. A ninny. I was----God, Buffy, you should have seen me.” He snorted. “Angel certainly did.” And refuses to forget it, too, added a voice, but he ignored it.

She scooted over next to him and nudged up next to him so their shoulders touched. “Is that why you …..”She tried to find the right words. Changed your personality? Went through a total mental and moral makeover? Became a demon? “So…different?”

 Spike looked down at all the bundles and packages spread around them. “Maybe,” he said simply.

“Is that where you think you are now? Back where you started?”

“Is that what you think?” he countered.

His voice was very, very thin when he asked that, Buffy noticed. Was it that simple? Men, she thought. “I just wanted you back,” she said finally. “As long as you’re you….”

“Not a vampire any more, luv,” he said. “Not sure how much you need another responsibility.”

She thought back to Myrtle, that weird sensation of having her spidey sense tingling in some way that was hard to identify. What was the problem there? Maybe she’d actually suffered from indigestion, and labeled it as something else. She thought back to the woman’s pointed teeth, her thick makeup, the sensation at the back of her spine, the pit of her stomach. “A responsibility?” She scoffed. “You’re not a responsibility. You’re…..You’re….what I want,” she finished lamely. “I was worried I was going to be your responsibility.”

“Why?”

“Because that’s the way it used to be,” she said. “That’s what it felt like, that year.” The year that I came back.  The year that I’d like to erase.  “I didn’t want to be nice, I didn’t want to be reminded of it. I especially didn’t want to be reminded of it by a vampire.”

“And what do I remind you of now? Just another human boyfriend in jeans and---“ He picked up one of the tennis shoes and flicked at it contemptuously. “Trainers?---I could be anyone.”

“No, you couldn’t be,” she said firmly. “You’ll always be Spike to me.” God, this was the time for delicate tact, and she just didn’t have it. “You’re not a vampire, but I bet there’s lots of people you could still frighten.”

“Don’t patronize me.”

“There’s physical fear,” Buffy said. “But there’s other fears, too.”  I’m sure you could terrify meter maids and airheads very effectively, she thought, and mad giggles tried to escape. Stop. Must stop. Want to take on Myrtle for me?

“Have to appreciate the effort, luv, but promise me you’ll never take up poker as an occupation. You haven’t got the face for it.”

“Do you want to be a vampire again?”

Spike looked down at his lap, at the sweats. “That’s the thing, luv, I don’t think I do. I just don’t want to be….like this.”

“What do you want to be?”

“Anything but this,” he said contemptuously, and Buffy’s heart panged just a little bit.

“It’ll take time, Spike.”

“Time’s up,” he said shortly. “I have to do something. I’m going mad already.”

Buffy stood up and brushed herself off. “Okay. How about a walk?”



Buffy was certain that the detectives were lurking somewhere outside, waiting to pounce once they stepped out of the building, so while Spike dressed she slipped outside and did a quick sweep. She looked for short hair, large biceps, a certain swagger, and came up empty. When she got back to the apartment, she found herself confronted with Spike, glaring at himself in the hall mirror. Short hair, biceps, and a recent lack of swagger, she thought. Clad in jeans, one of the plain white tee shirts, and a loose white shirt, he could have been any ordinary office worker on a day off, trying to avoid cleaning out the garage and mowing the lawn.  He jammed his hands in his pockets and stared at himself unabashedly, unaware that she was watching.

His hair seemed to grow in fits and starts, ranging from dark-colored roots to platinum streaks to the honey color that seemed to be his natural shade. Where was he when it was growing like that? Buffy thought, and shuddered. The same place that Angel went? Or better? She remember the glowing fire, the way their linked hands had flamed without pain. She doubted that wherever he went had been where she’d gone. It depressed her for a moment. How many places are there to go?  

Spike abruptly noticed her and whirled, flushing slightly. She was struck, once again, with the idea that they had everything to rediscover, everything to rebuild. Now it seemed a little daunting. In his uncertainty, he did not remind her of Spike at all. Then he rallied. As she watched, he scratched the back of his neck and shrugged off her gaze. “What’re you looking at, pet?”

“Is that a trick question?” She reached forward and grabbed his hand. “C’mon, let’s go.”

Outside on the front step, Spike hesitated. The trip home had been in a taxi cab, and he hadn’t been out in the sun at all. “Afraid of freckles?” She teased.

“Afraid of sunburn,” he answered dryly. “You would be, too, if you were---“he hesitated----“English.” With that, she maneuvered them beneath a palm tree. The shadows on the sidewalk were sharp and black, the sun shining almost horizontally as it approached setting. Spike’s gaze flashed everywhere, and she was uncomfortably reminded of one of the detectives, eyeing everything without even being aware of it, taking in every last detail without missing a molecule.  Spike clutched her hand tight, but barely looked at her, mouth hanging open, eyes wide. A girl in a bikini whipped by on roller blades and he raised one eyebrow, shaking his head.

“What?”

He shrugged. “Put little wheels on boots and then wrap one’s bits in scraps of spandex in the hot sun?”

“You must have seen that before.”

“On the telly. Not at night in Sunnydale.”

“What did you think it was?”

“The tragic result of designer drugs?”

“You drank a lot of beer.”

“Beer doesn’t make you do that.”

 “Was that a hint?”

 “Beer’s a constant,” Spike said dryly. Then he leaned closer. “And the spandex would just get in the way, wouldn’t it?”

“Which explains why I’m not doing either.”

“Beer or wheelie things?”

“Either.” She looked closer at him. They were moving very slowly along the shady side of the street, protected from the glare. “So?”

“So?” He cocked an eyebrow, but his eyes were still trying to take everything in. She shook his hand a little. The first time they’d ever held hands in public, and he didn’t even seem to be aware of it. But everything’s new, she thought. It’s a lot to adjust to.

“Better now?”

He looked around. Beautiful people moved up and down the street, all of them a shade too pretty and none with any rough edges. They looked like they’d been sanded till they were free of imperfections.  He looked more relaxed than she’d ever seen him, eyes as wide as a schoolboy’s, but more than that, he looked somehow more real than the pretty people. There was something deliberate about the way all the actor/model/waiters moved around them, as if they had studied the art of walking and being noticed. All of them had perfect posture, perfect hair, perfect makeup, and perfect clothes. Spike’s jeans were stiff and new-looking, his shirt wrinkled, his hair oddly-colored. The pretty people stared straight ahead and tried to give convincing performances of people who didn’t want or care to be noticed. Spike stared around, trying to take it all in, and unabashedly gaped. For some reason, it reminded her of him as a vampire. Even Angel, she thought sadly, had not stood out that much.  

“I’d be better with beer.”

They wandered along till they found a small café that didn’t look too ‘twee’ as Spike put it, and after some careful scrutiny, the waitress served them. Buffy took one sip and grimaced. Spike, however, swigged like a pro and then leaned back in his chair and crossed one ankle over his knee. Buffy eyed him thoughtfully. “So does beer make you cocky or something?”

“Beer does a lot of things, pet, but most of all it improves things on its own.” He took another swig, eyeing her bottle with a hint of his old mischief. Shades of arguments past, she thought, and grabbed the bottle possessively. He grinned at her, then took another healthy swallow.

“It does?”

He leaned across the table, reaching out and taking her hand. With it laid across his palms he studied it, his thumb rubbing the rough spot that was all that was left of the place where she’d had a splinter.   Too many things flashed across his mind to capture just one and put it into words. More than that, it was too enormous to put into words. All he could do was sip his beer, and leave the things alone. Sometime soon, they’d have to be reckoned with, and he wanted to avoid so much as thinking about that. Why not enjoy this small moment like any ordinary man, having an ordinary beer in an ordinary café with an ordinary girl?

Except she wasn’t that. He leaned back and studied her, turning sideways in his chair to brace himself against the back. Capable of fighting vampires for hours, passionate, brave and just too pissy to defeat, Buffy looked more than a little uncomfortable out of her element and away from her weapons. He signaled over the waitress. “White wine?”

The waitress automatically eyed Buffy, then turned back to Spike. “Leave her beer?”

She has a name,” Buffy said dryly. “And I’m sure he can drink it when he’s done with that one.” She waited till the woman was gone. “Are you laughing at me or something?”

“Buff, it’s nothing, it’s----“ So Californian, he finished, but knew that would have good results.

She attempted another swallow of beer, but the face she made would have been more appropriate glimpsed over the edge of a glass of castor oil. Spike was grinning openly now. “You’re such a lightweight, I wonder how you bested me all those times.”

“Oh, come on, your heart wasn’t it.”

“Was too!” Avoiding her eyes, he leaned back. “Well, at least the first few times it was.”

“Really?”

“Bloody right it was,” he muttered. “Who’s this little thing, thinks she can---Er.” He collected himself with some effort and went on the attack.  “What about you?” he countered. “You could have dusted me just about any time you wanted. Why didn’t you?”

It was Buffy’s turn to look everywhere but him. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. You just had really good luck for a long time.”

“You could have killed me in that church, easy.”

“Too much debris.” She eyed her nails.

“Oh, yeah? Why didn’t you come after me later on? You had to have heard that I was laid up in that bloody chair.”

Buffy struggled to remember. “I don’t think-----I was too weirded out by Angel.”

Spike had no reply to that, and she cringed, wondering if she’d just set up an outburst. He took a thoughtful swallow of beer, and stared at her for a long minute. “I’d forgotten all that, you know,” he said quietly. “Hadn’t thought of that in ages, really.” He traced circles on the table top with one long index finger, a curl falling over his forehead. “I don’t wonder, pet. I don’t at all.”

The back of her neck was prickling. “What---what do you mean?”

A glass of Chablis thumped to the table in front of Buffy and they both looked up, startled, at the smirking face of the waitress. At Spike’s glare, the smirk disappeared as if slapped off and she whirled and fled. Buffy took a fortifying sip and found that it was much better than the beer, which looked like a urine sample and made her wonder if there had been some serious errors at the bottling plant. “What?” She squeaked. “What were you saying? About Angel?”

It wasn’t about Angel, he saw then. It was about her fears. This, then, was worse than the friends’ fear, than the one about being left or shut out. The way Angel had talked about her had done something to him, something he hadn’t admitted then, not even to himself. It had summed up Angelus for him perfectly. The Big Bad, undone by a girl, and reduced to graceless boasting afterward, mocking her naïvte, her inexperience. He should have expected it: God knows, long after Dru had first taken him he’d had to endure the knowing smirks of Darla and Angel. He cringed at the thought of  the way he’d tossed that stupid puppy Abrams in her face. Just like Angel, he thought, except in order to keep people from talking about him behind his back, Angel would have no doubt killed them.

“You ever notice, pet, how some people think they’re talking about other people, but what they’re really doing is giving you a good long look at themselves? That’s what Angelus was like, that year.”

“What did he say?”

There was no way to win this, he thought, and more than that, there was the chance she simply wouldn’t believe him. Open mouth, insert foot, he thought. Bloody marvelous.  “He should be the one to break that ice, luv, not me.”

“Oh, fine,” she said, and he realized he was probably going to be spending the night on the couch. He’d heard that word from various females of various species in various countries, and it never boded well. Both feet, he thought. That was both feet.

Buffy took a healthy gulp of her wine and leaned over the table, careless of the puddles of moisture from his sweating beer bottle. “Oh, like I didn’t know you had something for me, early on. I could tell, you know.”

“You couldn’t know because it wasn’t there. Early.” I’ll probably be sleeping out in the hallway at this rate, he thought.

“Oh, yeah, it was. You were always Mr. Flirty, all the time, with the way you walked and made those remarks----“

“Since when is, “I’m going to kill you” considered foreplay?”

“Hey, vampire, Slayer, opposites attract----It worked for, for-----“

She tossed back another gulp and hoped it was the alcohol that made her brain go blank. Who, exactly, had it ever worked for? The moments ticked by. Not a single name surfaced in her brain.

“We’re not opposites,” Spike finally said. “We have a lot in common.”

“Yes, we do.” Buffy eyed him hopefully. “Such as?”

They stared at each other across the table. “I’m drunk,” Buffy said slowly. “That’s why I can’t----“

Spike stared. “There’s lots of examples.”

“Sure there are. I just can’t think of any.”

“It’s been a while since I had beer.”

“And it’s been forever since I drank. Drunk. Er…”

“You don’t drink, period.”

“You’re a bad influence,” Buffy said, then cringed. “In a----good way,” she added desperately.

“That’s me,” Spike sighed, feeling suddenly neutered. Buffy gulped own what remained of the wine, then hiccupped slightly. “Next thing you know, I’ll need a cardigan.”

“It’s not that cold out.”

“Never mind, luv.”

And then it dawned on Buffy that she had to pay because as yet Spike had no money of his own. Flushing at embarrassing him, she tossed a bill on the table, then grabbed his hand. Only after a moment did she realized that she was overcompensating, clutching at him like he was a life-preserver. She flushed again, and relinquished his hand, only to realize belatedly that that must look like he had something on his hands.

Spike was eyeing her as if someone had replaced Buffy with the bot after pouring the leftover beer onto the motherboard. This was such a relief that once they were outside the restaurant, she leaned up for a kiss, only to find him looking down at her with a puzzled look on his face. “Slayer? Promise me you will stick to Shirley Temples from now on.”

“Why?”

“Because you panic faster when you’re drunk.” He softened the remark with a kiss on the tip of her nose, and she smiled up at him.

“I’m not panicked.” Buffy started walking again, then stopped in her tracks and considered the dilemma for a moment. “Am I?”

Mellowed by the beer, and the freedom, Spike was more laid-back than she’d ever seen him. “No, but you got sort of entertaining there for a while.”

“Why are you so okay right now?”

Spike faced her from three feet away, hands jammed in his back pockets. “Maybe it’s just that it’s me standing here with you.” The sun had faded to the point of being a mellow ball of orange in the sky.  How many second chances do vampires get? He thought. How many second chances do Slayers get? He was feeling better than he’d felt at any point since waking up, and while it might not last, it was beyond anything he’d had in recent memory. It was worth experiencing fully. The fact that that was all the power he seemed to have at the moment made it all the more sweet. Then, too, he was human----and Angel was not.

Buffy wrapped her arm around his waist, and thoughts of the couch receded from his immediate future. “I thought I’d lost you,” she muttered.

“So did I. I mean, I thought you had. That I had. That I----“

“Oh, shut up already.” Head on his shoulder, arm around him, she managed to kiss him and walk at the same time, at least for a few steps. She stumbled over a crack in the paving, and pulled back with a smile. “Race you home.”

“No fair. Slayer speed and all that.”

“Make it up to you,” she said quietly, and suddenly his blood was going so fast he felt like he could beat Olympians. She dashed off into the twilight, and he followed.

It felt odd to be running, breathing heavy, sweating. He couldn’t recall ever having done that as a human, and vampires didn’t of course breathe of sweat. His muscles seemed more evident as a human than they had while he’d been a vampire, when by comparison he’d been a machine. He found himself getting out of breath because he kept forgetting to breathe. It was very odd. The sweat was another factor. He decided that showering would be first on the agenda once they got back to the apartment.

He found Buffy by running into her because she was rooted to a spot outside the apartment door. He peered around her, panting.

Detective Tate gave them the smile of a shark with blood in the water. “Well, hello, Miss Summers, Mr.----what was it again?”

“You’ll have to tell me, mate,” Spike said. “Amnesia, remember?”

“Oh, I imagine we’ll find out. Just like we found out the identities of those girls.” The detective’s grin grew even wider. “Would you like to come down to the station?”



Chapter 16

“Name?”

Spike blinked at him, then at the other police officer. They looked so much alike that it took several go-rounds for the few variations between them to register on him. Dark hair on one; darkish hair on the other. Medium length on one, short but almost medium on the other. “Didn’t we go over this already?”

“Just for our records.”

Spike eyed the video camera skeptically---and cautiously. “Can I get a copy of that when we’re done?”

Yeah, said the cop’s glance. Sure you can. After about forty years. Neither looked away, and Buffy’s head swiveled from one to the other several times before she heaved an enormous sigh and broke the spell. The detective cleared his throat. As if there hadn’t been a staring match, he shrugged and looked down at his blank page. “So….Name?”

“William.”

Scratch scratch scratch. The detective looked up expectantly. What the bloody fuck is he waiting for? Spike thought. Name, rank, and serial number, mate-----Then he blinked as the full dimensions of his predicament became apparent. Somehow, it was much easier to see how much trouble he was in while he was in this depressing, gray little room. Desperate as it had been, the amnesia angle didn’t leave him a lot of wiggle room after the first go-round. It worked for that short period, and that period was up. It had kept him from being looked at too closely, but it also kept him from disentangling himself as well. He had a mental image of smacking himself in the forehead. Well, Officer, I don’t remember much but I sure remember I didn’t kill those girls!

The silence was too revealing, he saw. He cleared his throat in order to enunciate better. This produced a satisfying croak. “William.”

“Got that already.”

But he noticed the detective wrote that down again. Funny how some blokes get all obsessive-compulsive when they can’t be that effective, Spike thought. “Tell.“ He craned his neck to get another gander at the pad and watched as the detective crooked an arm around it to hide it. “William Tell.”

Detective Jordan managed to write that down, too----at least until Buffy cleared her throat loudly and rolled her eyes. She finished it up with a an amazed and disgusted grimace that expressed clearly the concept of, You inept twit. You’re a Sunnydale cop and now you’re out in the real world without a babysitter. The Olympic sarcasm judges in her head were pointing out the Gilesian influence and reminiscing about how she looked like a promising contender to take up his torch should he retire.

“You said Smith at the hospital,” the detective said accusingly.

“I don’t remember,” Spike said with a shrug. “I could have said Bush for all I bloody know, couldn’t I? I do have amnesia, you know.”

“Seems to come and go, doesn’t it?”

“I dunno,” Spike said slowly. Then he grinned. “Does it now?”

“Been to a doctor for it?”

“I don’t remember,” he repeated. “ What if,” and here he paused dramatically. “What if I never remember who I am? Do you think I’d have a new personality?”

“The new one isn’t going to let you get away with murdering those girls.”

“How do you know they were murdered?” Buffy snapped.

“I can’t tell you that.”

“Come on, Detective. You said it was just a friendly chat. If it’s not going to be friendly, I’ll just call his lawyer----” Or make a virgin sacrifice to his lawyer, she amended----”and we’ll just drop the pretense, okay?” It was depressing to realize that the retainers for human lawyers and for demon lawyers probably weren’t that different when you got right down for it. Some painful fees were going to have to be paid. Either she found a way to sacrifice the Olson twins---in the case of one of Angel’s subordinates----or she coughed up pretty much all the insurance money that she had earmarked for her and Dawn’s future, only to have Angel nobly reject it. Either way, she was going to do some squirming.

“You know, you’re right, Miss Summers. It could very well be that those girls---and Anya Jenkins---somehow fell on their swords and bled out in one location before winding up somewhere---” With a visible effort, he bit back the rest of that sentence. “But I don’t think that’s what I’d call really likely.”

Buffy’s ferocity faltered for a moment. “Bled out? What do you mean, bled out?”

Pleased by this reaction, it was the detective’s turn to lean back and smirk. “All their blood. Bled out. It was gone. It spilled somewhere else, unless maybe it was invisible blood or something. We just found some small stains at the site.”

Buffy bit her lower lip so hard it disappeared entirely. “Yeah, so? That doesn’t mean Sp----that he had anything to do with it.” It’s not like the Sunnydale PD ever placed much emphasis on catching the right criminal for the right crime, she thought. Then the Giles voice popped up in her brain and ordered her to remain calm. Easy for you to say, she responded. “No blood? There was no blood? At all?”

“Not much, no,” Tate said softly. . “And that’s as much as I’m going to tell you.”

“If there was no blood, then why don’t you think Sp---William----was one of the victims?”

Spike shook his head at Buffy’s moxie, then recovered his own. “Yeah, mate, why’s that?”

Tate cleared his throat and looked down at his files, obviously relishing his Big Moment. “Those girls were murdered. Our pal here had just one wound, that weird burn on his hand. Which, interestingly enough, you share, Miss Summers.” Her hand twitched. The detective pretended not to notice, but he had to take his time, sipping his coffee, keeping his eyes down. Seconds ticked by. Buffy could practically see the man counting in his head, waiting for the tension to mount, trying to distract her from a little thought that was nagging at the corner of her mind. When the moment was right, he lifted his gaze to hers. “It might not be just him that we’re looking at. Not by a longshot.”

He’d prepared for a lot of reactions. The one that he’d never imagined was an amused half smile that might have been charming had it lightened the expression in her eyes. That never changed, though; she looked like a woman who could twist him in half without breaking a sweat. She shook her head at him, and this time her eyes did warm as she looked from him to Spike. “You’re funny,“ she said. With a start, the detective realized something had changed. She was no longer curious about what was going on: she’d made up her mind, somehow.

“You’re from Sunnydale, right?” Buffy asked.

“Yes.”

“The Sunnydale Police Department, right? Just to make it absolutely clear?”

“Yes,” he said stiffly.

“Well, the fact that you’re so sure William has done it ought to be the biggest sign that he’s innocent that it’s possible to have. I mean, how many murders did your department actually solve? Per decade? Because if I asked you if you solved any for , say, some years, it might be kind of bad. I mean, how many murders is a town like Sunnydale supposed to have in a year? One? No,” she corrected herself. “Not even that. Really, that’s high. It should be one every five years or something. Maybe ten years, right?”

Startled, he nodded before he could stop himself. “But----every town is different. And this is California.”

“Yeah, it’s California all right,” Buffy sighed. She chewed her lower lip a bit as a sneaky idea came to her. She turned it over in her head, as if it were a Rubik’s cube and she were trying to find that tricky pattern. It‘s risky, she thought. It‘s really risky. But it could prove Spike was innocent, it could get him off the hook, and nobody could ever prove she‘d ever said anything like what she was about to say. It was the perfect defense, too-----everyone knew that vampires didn’t exist. Of course, she thought, sizing up the detective, that depended on how stupid he was. She studied him coolly. He didn‘t look unpleasant or pleasant, just sort of…acceptable. At least monsters, she thought, you can spot coming. With mediocre people, there‘s just no warning till they open their mouths. “That could be it. Or, you know, it could be all the vampires.” She watched with some satisfaction as he twitched in his seat. The detective aimed for a sneer, but achieved only a tight lip-pursing maneuver that made him look like he was stifling a burp. “Oh, wait, I’m sorry. Did you not notice them?” She imitated him clearing his throat.

“Vampires,” Jordan said. His voice sounded rather thin. “Really---vampires.” He nodded at Spike. “I suppose your friend is a vampire. And you, too, no doubt.” He leaned back and tried to look relaxed, but a muscle was twitching near the corner of his mouth all of a sudden.

Buffy weighed her options. For some reason, her brain seemed unusually cooperative, and instead of conjuring up, say, the feel of Spike’s hair in her hands, it presented her with a vivid mental image of her holding a set of brass scales. In one scale sat the Sarcasm Option, which consisted of plunging forward gleefully, leaving devastation behind her. On the other hand, there was the ever-present Giles option, consisting of Sarcasm Lite, which was less filling and tasted great. She went instead with the default option, bringing up the rear----the truth. “Oh, I’m not a vampire,” she said helpfully, deciding that if Spike wanted to come out as a former vampire that was his business. “I’m th---a---vampire slayer.”

“A….vampire….slayer?” Jordan’s smile looked a bit more firm now, and it made her nervous. His confidence was increasing----there was no reason for it----and hers wavered. “Is that like the Beastmaster or something?”

Wow, Buffy thought. Somebody can’t afford the good cable package, can they? “Well, the Beastmaster is fictional, you know.”

“And the…what did you call it?”

“Vampire Slayer,” Buffy said helpfully.

“And the Vampire Slayer---Vampire Slayer---isn‘t fictional.” he repeated thoughtfully. “So I take it that you kill vampires, don’t you?” His smile inched wider, and Buffy noticed what an unlovely smile it was. She noticed things about his face that she hadn’t seen before; the way the crow’s feet at the edge of his eyes deepened till he seemed to be staring at her from inside a cavern, the way his laugh lines were particularly harsh and exaggerated. He looked like one of those trick drawings where a twist of perspective was all it took to change a pleasant picture of a lady at her vanity into a grinning skull.

Well, he’s distracted at least, Buffy thought. Of course, he was probably distracted with the notion of blaming her for Sunnydale’s ridiculous murder rate, but still, she’d be willing to bet that Spike had receded in his mind.

“I can’t believe I lived in Sunnydale for all those years and you never noticed.”

“Oh, we noticed, Miss Summers. We just never had enough evidence to do anything about it. About you.”

Good save, she thought, except for it being, like, not good.

“What did you do before I got there? Attend funerals?”

He winced slightly, and she moved in. “And you didn’t notice as many funerals after that, did you?” Class Protector, she thought, and the loss of that one tiny moment of recognition stung anew. Honor Society certificates couldn’t compare with her little Class Protector parasol.

“What I noticed…..”

“What I don’t understand is why, mate,” Spike said quietly. “Town that size, the cops just ignored all the open graves, all the missing persons. I never could figure out what you lot did with your time.” It being California and health-conscious, he’d never seen cops in the all-night donut shops or the bars. Too fattening. He’d never seen them at the Bronze, at Buffy’s house, or any time they actually were needed. He’d heard stories of cops mistreating and pushing around the weaker vampires, the ones who got vamped thinking it’d change them from high school losers into Lestat. They wound up as minions, bullied by humans and vampires alike, never able to learn the skills to move up the ladder, till some cop dusted one with a sharpened stake concealed as a billy club. The cops who grasped something of what went on in Sunnydale---and reacted to it------were almost as bad as the vampires. The walking superstitions that existed in the town seemed to prove that different laws applied, and at least some of the cops had believed, very definitely, in different laws. At least the average Sunnydale cop still believed in some laws, however ineptly they applied them. The other cops believed in making their own.

Spike leaned forward, studying the other man. He was wearing a shirt and tie, he noticed. What was under that collar? It was California and all the other detectives they’d seen in the building had been wearing open-necked shirts without ties. Then, too, with the spotty air-conditioning at Parker Center, ties would be torture. Why would a man wear a tie when everyone else was in shirt sleeves because of the heat?

Riley, he remembered, had taken to keeping his sleeves down once he’d embarked on his own brand of unfaithfulness. He couldn’t handle reality and then he couldn’t handle Buffy, and he’d blamed her for it----more than that, he’d done the one thing that couldn’t have hurt Buffy more. He’d always believed in a sunny world where logic was the ultimate weapon, only to find out that the night was a lot more frightening than he’d ever imagined. And he’d embraced it rather than her.

Riley and this guy, he thought.

Some cops turned bad and went on the take. With Sunnydale cops, it was worse, somehow---the way they went after the minions and the more harmless demons. After all, vampires were demons, and beneath them, the lower orders of demons included things like the Schedkather Gardening Demon, a furry little creature from a dimension afflicted with monster weeds. They were compelled to re-arrange garden furniture when accidentally transplanted to California and when in particularly foul moods they would re-arrange recycling and eat all edible garbage. They were three feet tall, afflicted with toadstool-like acne, and so nearsighted that they had to feel their way around the turf. Some Sunnydale cops had dealt with a recent infestation of them by rounding up the little creatures and using them for target practice.

Must be getting’ soft in my old age, he thought, if this stuff is bugging me.

Vampire, human, he thought. It used to be so simple.

He’d be willing to bet that the guy’s neck looked like Riley‘s arm. Looked like Buffy‘s neck. . Worse than Buffy’s. The voice that heckled his brain sounded rather a bit like Drusilla’s, giving him something of a pang.

Buffy’d had reasons for what she’d done----or allowed others to do. He wasn’t sure what the Master’s bite counted as. But Angel and Dracula had occupied opposite ends of the scale, and he was willing to bet that this guy wasn’t anywhere near to understanding why someone would want to save some vampires even while fighting against others.

And sometimes do both with the same vampire, he thought. He wanted very badly to touch her right then, just to know that she was there. He also knew that the detective would probably interpret such a gesture in the worst way possible.

He cleared his throat, studying the other man, letting the silence tick by, letting the other man become aware of the way he was looking at his throat.

“Maybe I do know,” he said softly. “Do you always wear shirts and ties? Doesn’t it get hot, covering up those scars?”

Jordan’s eyes moved, although his body froze. He stared at Spike. “I---er---don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Spike heard what he wanted to hear, then----the hesitation. He wasn’t like Riley, then, he thought----not enough self-righteousness to carry off blaming someone else. It must bug him at nights, then. “I think we’re done with you, Detective. Somebody’s been walking on the wild side, haven’t they? Gotten bored with all those vampires? I bet you about pissed yourself when you saw all those dead girls. CNN and all being there, what were you going to do.“ The vampire story had another advantage, too-----it was too bizarre to be satisfying to the mainstream news, especially if some enterprising soul named Giles just happened to fax the population figures to various news agencies. “What do you do with ‘em when you’re done? Dust ‘em?” I bet he’s thinking what a shame it is human bodies don’t dust, he thought suddenly.

Buffy might just as well not have existed. The two men measured each other across the table, and she wasn’t a factor at all. Spike saw it in the detective’s eyes: the realization that Spike knew, that the jig was up. More than that, Tate knew that Spike was watching.

“This would be funny,” Tate said finally, “if you didn’t really believe this stuff.”

Buffy cleared her throat suddenly to cover up a laugh. Let’s get Angel in here and see if he believes in the Tooth Fairy.

“Well,” she said. “The thing is, you don‘t know what to believe, do you?” She looked over at Spike. “And it’s really hard to get people to believe stuff if you don’t believe it yourself, isn’t it?” After all those years of unnatural deaths, how do you sell a real murder? she thought. It’s not like the Sunnydale PD even knew how to act like real cops, anyway. He had to nail somebody for those deaths. Once they were solved, Sunnydale and all its secrets could be forgotten. The deaths of the girls had aroused too much attention. “You believe it,” She said quietly. “But nobody else will, so you’re just screwed all the way around.” She leaned really close. “I could tell you right now what happened, but it wouldn’t do you any good, because Sunnydale is gone, isn’t it? The old rules don’t work any more, and you’re in the real world.” He was probably having as much trouble as Spike was, adapting to the changes. They weren’t the only ones hiding something, she realized. He had his secrets too. And he wasn’t smart enough to figure out that if they were forced to reveal theirs, they’d drag him out into the sunlight with them.

She looked at Spike. “You wanna go?”

“Yeah, I’m done, pet.” He rose and glanced down at the detective, bracing his hands on the table. “Next time remember this thing they call evidence in the real world. It can come in handy.”

The door to the interrogation room was still locked. Buffy gave it a contemptuous glance, then matched it with her disdainful look back over her shoulder at the detective. Making sure he was watching, she twisted the metal handle off, and tossed it over her shoulder. Spike jammed his hands in his pockets and grinned at the other man before he sauntered after her. Oh, my God, he thought. We are so bloody fucked now.



Chapter 17

In his bare feet, Lamont Neville stood six feet eight inches tall and in his work boots and hard hat he was an inch shy of seven feet, so fear was not exactly a concept he was familiar with. There just weren't a lot of things big enough to scare him. He associated big with scary. For most of his life, that had made sense.

But the ruins of Sunnydale scared him. The tumble into the vestibule of the vault had not scared him, splinters be damned. Returning to the site as the dead started to decompose had not scared him. Even being the lucky winner to find the remains of one of Sunnydale's many cemeteries had not scared him. But this---this was seriously freaky. He was starting to think it was going to turn out to be a splinter that started it all, too.

They went back to the vaulted chamber a day after the bodies of the girls were removed. It wasn't like there was anyone else who could climb down in and get the bodies out. He'd started to wonder if he was getting old. Bad enough that they'd found some comatose guy there after he'd left; where had he come from? Then there was the fact that the crime scenes looked so much different when they got the girls back up to the rim. He remembered the scene quite clearly; there'd been a lot more blood. He was also sure he hadn't hit his head. His hand was scraped six ways to Sunday and he'd probably left a blood trail all the way down to where he'd landed on his ass, but he didn't like to think that he was losing his cool. More to the point, he didn't want to think that his bosses thought so, either. A few comments about the crime scenes looking 'different' and he shut up smartly. Missing a victim? Stumbling like a debutante in high heels? Reporting a bloody crime scene only to look at the photos and see that the victims looked like they'd died in bed? Maybe he had hit his head. It wasn't as if Sunnydale was on a par with Bosnia, so why was it starting to weigh on him?

He'd done lots sites that had been a whole lot worse, and he'd seen things that inspired emotions he didn't think English had words for. He'd once had to rappel into another cavern that had been used as a body dump site somewhere in what used to be Yugoslavia. At the bottom he had found himself confronted with a child's hand amidst all the adult bodies. That kept him awake for weeks afterward, because they simply never found the child it belonged to. It had been a neat cut, too----whoever had done it had not done so by accident. It was the kind of wound that could cause someone to bleed to death, but a tourniquet, properly applied, could prevent that more or less simply and instantly. And so he wondered for a long time afterward: where was the child? It had probably been a little girl, though it was hard to tell with a kid that age; there seemed to be flecks of pink nail polish on the pinky, but who knew? Had someone found her in time? Had they saved her life? Or had she simply tumbled down into the depths to bleed to death somewhere on a ledge in the dark caverns of an unmapped cave?

The best case scenario in that case was that she been wounded and left to die all by herself somewhere in the woods. At least then in his dreams, in his sweaty awakenings after nightmares, he could imagine what passed for a happy ending. Someone found her. Someone rescued her. Maimed for life in a war zone, orphaned, but still alive.

That was not the world of his dreams, though. Did she cry for her mother? Could she still be out there? Did she even have a mother left? Children that age always thought their mothers could protect them from anything, and no kid should have to have that theory proven wrong.

It was like a fairy tale in reverse: it was what actually happened when the storyteller turned the lights off and the luck ran out. The only huntsmen that he knew of in the woods of Bosnia were the ones Little Red Riding Hood should run away from.



Sunnydale's victims were all long dead. Until about two days after they found those girls, that is.

They found a lot of strange things in the wreckage. There were lots of swords, lots of axes, and lots of what looked like wooden tent pegs. Then there were the crucifixes---and the Stars of David. There crystal balls and crescents, Bibles and Talmuds and Korans. To sift through Sunnydale's ruins was to find one's self in the midst of a full scale religious revival. And wherever one went, one found those weird little wooden tent pegs.

It could have been another wacko California town----there were sure enough cemeteries to hint that something wasn't right----but other things countered the religious symbols. There were more than the usual number of bars and strip clubs. The guys managed to salvage the inventory from both types of establishments, and their trailers featured the best beer and the widest selection of g-strings in California. There had also been, to judge by the wreckage, at least one X-rated bookstore and not one but two big chain bookstores somewhere in town. In the end, they wound up crumpled together with a church and a mosque at the eastern end of the pit.

He wondered more and more about what had been going on in the strange little town, what life had been like there before the earth opened up and took them all into the pit. He wondered that even before the rescue workers started dying.

The day they found the dead girls and he took his tumble, he was sure there was no other body down there. The guys stayed around after they hauled his clumsy ass back up to Medical, and no one tripped over a comatose guy, especially a naked one. And why was the guy naked? None of the girls were.

The other strange thing was the dust. It was part dust and part ash, sometimes feathery and light, sometimes gritty and coarse. There were piles of it and it seemed almost like it was made of some kind of glass; there were tiny chips in it. That was where those infernal splinters had come from. His hand had been full of them and by the time the medic pulled them all out his hand booked like it been bitten by hundreds of gnats. Not big enough to bandage, but big enough to scratch, and he did so much of that that finally his hand turned angry and red-looking. He wrapped it up in an ace bandage and stuffed it inside one of his new pair of gloves.

They went back the next morning, him with those stiff new gloves that felt clumsy, and found that the piles of ashes had disappeared. The cavern was too steep at their end for anyone to feel comfortable going down into it, especially with the debris of the town perched precariously on the vault, so they headed back up to find another entranceway into it, but not before he noticed one thing that made his skin prickle.

There'd been piles of dust before. Piles and piles of it. Little mounds of it, actually, each in a neat heap, as if someone had started many little fires and swept the ashes to dispose of before getting distracted. .It glittered in its piles and if kicked danced in the midair, stinging against faces and hands. He began to wonder what would happen if he breathed it in. It felt like bitter snow against his face, sharp and cutting.

But now a lot of those piles were gone.

Each place where one of the bodies had lain had been marked. They'd been so young, and that always made an impression. He was sure there'd been some blood stains. It was the sort of thing he was supposed to notice, after all.

Within twenty four hours, those were gone.

The coroner, he thought. Or those cops. Evidence, that's what it was. They took evidence with them.

They clambered around to where they estimated the other end of the cavern was, and started poking around. That was where he started to feel the hairs on the back on his head start to take a permanently upright stance, even before Gibbs died. It was also where three of Sunnydale's cemeteries had tumbled. He'd looked at maps before going to the site, of course, and he couldn't recall that three of the cemeteries had been located so close together. When the earth collapsed, though, they wound up all jumbled together. It had been kind of amusing to find a strip club piled on top of a house of worship. Finding three bone yards together was not fun at all.

In order to find a way into the cavern they had to pick their way through splintered coffins and remains covered with orange FEMA sheets. Sometimes all there was was a little flag with a number on it. That marked a place where a part of a body had been recovered.

They poked and prodded and measured, got one of the geologists to do whatever it was geologists did, and but finally it Neville himself who located fresh air coming from a ditch. He took a deep breath and smelled sulfur. Worse yet, he had a sudden vision of the drop off at the other end of the cavern, where it had taken six seconds for a rock to hit something. He signaled without looking back, and before long they'd passed the hand spotlight up to him. Gibbs was the one who called it the Batsignal; it was the sort of thing that could be seen for ten or twenty miles on a clear night.

Shining through a hole at the end of what looked like nothing more than a drainage ditch, it revealed merely a prosaic chamber with dirt walls and rough shards of stone as a ceiling. A dark shadow off to one side looked promising. They broke open a larger space for the rest of them, then squeezed into the chamber expectantly. Neville tied off a guide rope to the ditch's iron grate almost without being aware of it, so automatic was the response. It was somehow comforting, having a good stout rope around.

The air was coming from that dark little corner, and when he poked the spotlight through it, he found himself staring at a cavern that must have stretched the length of the pit. Stalactites the size of redwoods held up the roof here and there, but beams of sunlight showed clearly where something or somethings had broken through the vault. The floor was white and shimmery with that dust, and the air seemed to sparkle the way it did with the first snowfall. It was weird and awful and exhilarating all at once.

A gentle slope led down from their perch to the floor and Gibbs was the one who was skinny enough to go through the hole first, the rope rippling behind him. The sunbeams and the reflections blinded them all, so at first the sheer size of the cavern was not apparent. It took an hour to carefully move down the slope, which had to have been a half mile deep. The Batsignal was more of a hindrance in those conditions than a help, and Gibbs laid it on the ground at the bottom, both to rid himself of its weight, and to mark the spot where they'd make their ascent.

From the floor of the of the cavern, the light changed their perspective so abruptly that the sunlight became blinding, and the shadows became voids. The headlamps didn't help at all against that heavy darkness; they just made the dust dance.

They had to get right up on it to realize that one of the shadows they were looking at on the floor was a body. Then they had to get within a few yards of him to realize that he wasn't one of the bodies from one of the cemeteries, either. There was just too much damage to the head--and it was fresh. A closer look compounded the mystery. There were pink stains around the body. Pink, not red. Where was the blood?

The body was wearing the dark blue uniform of a firefighter or a paramedic, lying just outside of a beam of light. The uniform at least was dark with blood, the patches as dark as the uniform fabric. The darkness was such that his legs were only dimly visible in the shadows. Neville glanced up automatically at the hole in the vault above him before checking for a pulse in the throat. The throat felt all wrong so he turned on the lamp on top of his hard hat and found himself confronted with what a ten-story fall can do to the human skull. After another minute or so, he realized something else; the back of the guy's uniform had been shredded. There were dozens of little holes and rips in it. There were no piles of that dust near him or under him that he could have fallen into. And no blood. Neville looked around carefully. A body falling from such a height had a tendency to bounce upon impact, but this guy had landed on what seemed to be the only area on the floor that was clear of those little piles of dust. He'd fallen, been fatally injured in the process, had been cut very badly and in a lot of places, and had bled out. Somewhere. Just not here.

Neville rose slowly from the body, looking around slowly. "Guys! Don't touch anything! Be careful where you step!"

That was his Crew Boss voice, and it had kept them alive in every type of cave and cavern there was. They froze instantly. He was suddenly grateful for the stiff new gloves. He'd always hated replacing just one glove, so he'd gotten a whole new pair to replace the one he'd lost in his fall. They were so thick and hard that the shards of whatever it was in the ash and dust just kept sort of slid off without pricking.

Instinct prodded him to turn the body over again and pull at the shredded uniform on the corpse's backside. There were only a few small bloodstains here and there on the material, enough to make the patches blend with the uniform, nothing more. After the fall and the bounce he'd obviously crumpled flat on his back. There was no lividity that Neville could see. The blood had not had time to settle before it had….had done what, exactly?

He looked around, gently laying the body back down on its back. The sun coming in was viciously bright in his eyes, and he stepped further back to get out of the glare. Seen from down here, the pillars of light were blinding against the void of the cavern. There were too many of them to allow the eyes to adjust, so that he had to squint and peer to make out the dull shapes of his crew.

There was no signal on the radios, so that meant they'd have to clamber back out and notify the officials. It was standard operating procedure, something they'd seen and done a hundred times before, like tying off a guide rope.

There was no reason for Gibbs, the skinny one, to be the one who broke the rope and fell, no reason for him to fall backward down that slippery, treacherous slope. He had old, tough, comfortable gloves, the sort that stuck to the rope like skin to skin. He was light and skinny and quick and usually led them up, but he had the Batsignal to carry.

There was no reason for the rope to snap like that. Neville replayed it in his head a hundred times that night, over and over again, reversing it and slowing it down, finding the moment when the rope suddenly went loose in his hand, when Gibbs' hand slid out of his as he started to tumble backwards.

It was the thing that he tried to put out of his mind that joined him in the dark vaults of his dreams that night. It was the feeling of Gibbs' hand jerking out of his as he grabbed for him one last time. It was the sensation of sudden force, reaching up out of the darkness to grab him and yank him back down into the pit.

The rope didn't break. Something yanked on it with such force that it jerked apart with a snap, one end slashing across his face like a whip.

And it took Gibbs with it.

The next day at evening roll call another firefighter was missing. And Neville found his way to the huge vault beneath the cemeteries, and found her lying in a section of floor that looked like it had been swept clear of dust. Only a few pink stains lay around her to mark her death.

While the cops processed these crime scene, he felt something under his boot and looked down. It was a small green book, and in picking it up he realized it had to come from one of the religious places. On its cover was a crescent. Beneath it in the grass lay a Star of David.

All those graveyards, he thought. All those churches. He understood, and it scared him.

He looked at the police, accompanying the body out through a double line of firefighters, saw their faces. They had guns, computers, and the sort of power that his muscle and size did not give him.

They were scared, too.



Chapter 18

Buffy tossed and turned all night. Every time she fell asleep she was confronted with yet another vision of Spike's fate in prison or how painful it was going to be to keep him from that future. Finally she found herself staring up at the ceiling as the light turned from silver to gold. Life used to be so much simpler when I could just stake all my problems, she thought resentfully.

As her brain woke up, it registered that Spike was not next to her in bed. She laid her hand on the sheet; it was cool. So much for that Slayer sense. She sighed and sat up.

In her mind she imagined negotiating with Angel for his help. I need a dispensation from somebody, she grumbled to herself. There's just got to be more than one evil law firm in LA, she thought.

Just hurry up, Giles, she thought. Please hurry.

 

Buffy's apartment building had a recessed entryway that faced east and soaked up the sunrise's heat in the morning. Shops filled the first level of the building and some had external entrances while others opened only to central courtyard. The first place to open was of course the Starbucks, but Spike viewed the tea options with disdain and got something whose very name made him cringe . Turned into a bloody Yuppie, he thought dryly. Here's my fate.

Afterward he sat on the stoop and glared at the caretaker who came to roust him. There was seating inside, but he preferred to be alone. A couple of other brief forays into the courtyard had given him his Yuppie eavesdropping quota for the year, and made him wonder if biting Yuppies really qualified as a crime, considering the conversations he'd overheard. They were impossible to avoid as they were conducted a level that could have drowned out the sound of low-flying aircraft. One lady had described in horrifying detail a recent sexual encounter which had ended successfully when she had given precise directions to her partner. It had simultaneously fascinating and ghastly. Something else he'd overheard made him wonder if life was a worthwhile thing at all. That one had been a supremely confident little rat with a nasty little goatee that Spike wanted to grab and yank vigorously, who had drawled his way through a loud conversation about some movie rights negotiation. Well, he'd thought----at least that's not what I have to do. Every conversation had been like that: loud, as if the speaker wanted to boast, and utterly boring to him. He learned more than he ever wanted to know about the movie business, about boring paperwork, about stock trading, and other things that made prison seem like an ambition rather than a punishment. At least if he got killed, it wouldn't involve being bored to death.

What he did have to do, he had no idea. But he had at least made notes to himself: nothing that involved movie rights or prison sentences.

He needed to be alone to think, and solitude was very hard to find in the small flat. At the very thought, he rolled his eyes at himself. Give him what he wanted, and suddenly he wanted what he'd tossed aside. Although the part where he'd wanted to be a frail human had escaped him.

He had no powers, no options. His future as a vampire, even one with a soul, had been comfortably fixed, despite some of the drawbacks. Chief among those had been the idea of living on after Buffy inevitably died. Now he realized that he might very well not see that, assuming something supernatural didn't get him prematurely. He'd also had the ability to casually soak up information and he knew that women typically lived longer than men.

He'd managed to look at the papers off and on, and prison seemed frighteningly real. Lovely, he thought. Something didn't like him, but now he didn't know how to fight it off. In exchange for a few sure fates as a vampire, he'd gotten a hundred dire possibilities as a human.

The cappuccino thing he was drinking was certainly caffeinated enough to get his blood going and give his brain cells a jolt. He'd have a headache later, he realized. All these things he had to cope with all of a sudden, and he simply wasn't prepared for any of them. Not just that: there were big things and little things, medium things and huge things, and then----

There was Buffy.

What love lost in tragedy, he thought, it gained in complications. No star-crossed loves for him any longer; what was worse than mortal and immortal, slayer and slayee, good and bad? Once they'd had it actually easy, even though it had seemed complicated then. Good, bad, something to resist: their whole existence had been based on struggling against one another, on uneasy truces. At the end they'd had a raprochement of something they'd never had, a glimpse of things that might have been. Now everything was shattered and they were picking at the small pieces and looking for a pattern.

He'd loved her once because he was evil and she was his mirror, his compliment, his fate. Now they were similar and he looked for the old push, something to fight against. Worse than that, what if there wasn't a struggle--what did you do with yourself? He'd never had to ask Dru for a single thing: it was all his job, his pleasure to do what he willed, and now there were rules, none of which he remember, and most of which he suspected he wouldn't like.

He squinted up at the sun. Time to go back. Buffy would have noticed he was gone. Would it be worse if she didn't?

Dawn was splashing around in the bathroom like a porpoise and Buffy was clattering around in the kitchen when he came back. Something in his face gave Buffy pause as she poked her head out and looked at him. She poked her head back in and stared at the toaster. It, hopefully, could take care of itself.

"Hey," she said. Oh, God, not another moody boyfriend moment, she thought. Then she felt deeply and profoundly guilty.

"Coffee," he said, lifting his cup aloft. Then he realized he had not brought her any. "Sorry, uh----I forgot." Then he realized this was a deeply boyfriend-like thing to say, mundane and apologetic, even more so as he realized that he had not gotten more because he had no more money. Whatever happened to breaking things as a sign of affection? Whatever happened to breaking things as a lifestyle?

"Oh, hey," she said hopefully. Then the hope was dashed. No coffee. She rallied. Adjustment time. After all, vampire to human was a huge thing. Eating habits and caffeine additions were just little sprinkles of irritation on top of life-changing events. "I hope you didn't get me any. I hate their stuff."

The politeness exposed the ruse; Spike flopped over on the couch and moaned out loud. Then he realized the true dimensions of his existence: one cannot be moody, melodramatic, or tragic unless one is immortal. Being all those things as a mortal meant that he'd better be a tragic victim of fate, someone with such a tragic past that its long tentacles affected his present and future, or someone who had a terrible disease. Without those things, he was just a drama queen in search of a cause. Nothing he did had significance, unless it involved jail time. He groaned again. "Buffy?"

"Yeah?"

"I wonder if stakin' a human is fatal." He didn't see Buffy wince.

"Is there somebody you have in mind?"

"Myself," he sighed.

"It's not that bad," she said firmly. "Uh---is it?"

"I could bore myself to death," he said thoughtfully. "I could do that, you know. Give me something to look forward to. Oh, bugger," he muttered. "It's actually a bit flattering they think I'm a murderer. At least I'm not harmless." The last word was said in the contemptuous tone he reserved for Angel.

Buffy refrained from reminding him that they didn't necessarily believe he was a murderer: he was just convenient. "So…Are we having a mid life crisis early?"

"Try life crisis. And even that's boring. I'm not sure I'm not dead."

"Do you have pulse?"

He snorted. "Well, okay, you're alive."

"Depends on what dictionary you use for that definition, pet."

"So what set this off, may I ask?"

"I can't even buy more than one coffee at a time."

"Too much caffeine makes for a hyper Spike."

"Not what I meant." There was some disgust in his voice and she recognized it: this was very much old hyper Spike, eager for a spot of violence.

"Er---what?"

"I can't pay for my own coffee. And I don't fancy running to you every bloody time I want something. Already had a mum."

"Ah." Once upon a time, Buffy thought, I wished for boredom. She looked at him. "Spike?"

"Yeah?"

She looked at him for a long time, kindly but firmly. She looked a lot like Joyce, then, he saw, at least in her eyes. Her words, however, shattered the resemblance.

"Get over it."

This took a moment or two to register. His mouth opened, then slowly closed. My, she thought. What big blue eyes you have.

"What?"

"I said get over it." She headed back to the kitchen. "You know what? I don't."

"Don't---what?"

"I don't know. Do not know. No comprende. Beats me. Haven't a clue. Do not know what's going on. But it's weird stuff and I need your brains---er, not literally---and what we do about your finances can wait. Because I have money."

Spike laid back on the sofa and glared at the ceiling, but she could see his brain working furiously. Not quite certain whether her presence was required or not, she turned back to the kitchen, but was startled to find him at her back with a suddenness that startled her. "Buff?"

"Hm?"

He reached out and stroked her arm. "Sure it's just my brains?"

"That," she said, "sounded disturbingly literal."

In return Spike closed his eyes and banged his head lightly against the doorframe. "Pet? Could you be a bit less blond?"

"You are going to pay for that, mister."

"I'm sorry, love, there's little I won't do, but I refuse to have cute conversations. I may be human, but I won't be a human cliché, right?"

"Fine."

"Oh, good." He said. He nudged closer then, eyelashes sweeping his cheek as he leaned closer to her. "Where's Dawn?"

"Trying to kill the mood, huh?"

"Thanks!" Dawn said from the living room, staring at them in disgust. "Ew, get a room, you two." She stomped to her bedroom and slammed the door, loudly but not angrily. In teenage doorslamming language this meant she was merely annoyed rather than grossed out.

"I pay the rent!" Buffy yelled after her. Spike winced at the volume. Then she turned back to Spike. "What were you saying?"

"I'm not saying it again till Dawn leaves."

"With our luck, she'll stay home instead of torturing my undead ex boyfriend," Buffy said dryly. She sighed and stepped back into the living room to test the waters. Drawers were slamming in Dawn's room, though, so that seemed like a good sign. She walked up to him slowly. "I do have to do something today, though."

Spike hissed as she drew one finger across his lips. "I hope it's a small, short something."

"I don't know, but---" She actually didn't want him along. Who knows what was going on, whether he could help or not? But not asking him after mentioning it would be disastrous. "Want to come?"

"Funny you should ask," he said, dropping his chin. The front door slammed somewhere behind them. "Funny you should ask."



Chapter 19

"Lock the door," Spike said.

"She did that," Buffy answered. She turned around in the living room and looked at him. "I need to take a rain check."

"Rain check?" He said. He blinked. They both looked rather startled---had she ever turned him down before?

Once, she thought.

Once, he thought.

They both found other things to look at. "Why?" he asked.

"There's something I need to check out, and I don't know if your former vampiness might set it off. So until I'm sure, I have to go by myself."

"God, I should have snagged Niblet," Spike said. "Could have taught her how to cheat at poker at least." He sat down disgustedly. He couldn't say what he really thought, which was even more annoying: I'm a liability now, aren't I? It gave off a distinct whiff of self-pity, and that was Angel's forte, not his----at least, not while sober. He rather doubted she had booze in the house.

"Spike?" Buffy said. "Remember the part where I said get over it? Now would be a good time to start."

Spike stared at her for a second. "Who died and made you relevant again?"

"I did," she said, not affected in the slightest. "And so did you. Could you remember that more often?"

"But you came back with your party tricks intact. I didn't."

"Are we going to compare? Because we can do that later."

Spike winced. "Why not now? I'll ask my personal assistant what's on my schedule for today."

"Spike, can you stop? Something's going on and I don't know what it is and until I do I will tie you up in this apartment to keep you safe if I have to, okay?"

Spike raised both hands in a placating gesture but compromised the gesture by raising one eyebrow. The degree of sarcasm inherent in the latter gesture made Buffy shake her head. How does he do that? It's just an eyebrow! "Well………….." he said thoughtfully. "You could just tie me up, you know. That might help."

Buffy whipped around at the door. "What?"

"I said, you could just tie me up."

Buffy stared at him. Tying him up. Oh, my. How was she going to concentrate? Bastard. "You did that deliberately," she said slowly.

He shrugged, raising his hands in mock surrender, but then he shifted, nonchalantly shrugging his hands behind his head and crossing them. "Maybe," he said. "But if I have to be babysat like a bleedin' plant, you can just believe I'm going to give you something to think about."

"What if you make me get distracted and---"

"Buffy," he said disgustedly. "You never get distracted." After a moment's pause, he smiled. "Or do you?"

"I'll show you distracted," she threatened, but the door remained closed. "Just wait, Mr. Smug."

"Go," he said dryly. "You have to go and then get home before Dawn does."

"Relax," she said. "Blackmail and extortion are time-consuming. She won't be home before dinner."

"Well, I was hoping you would be, too."

She looked down at him, at a disadvantage but unsure of how to regain her footing. Damn the man. Him and his small butt and his blue eyes and that infuriating ability to make weaken knees.

"Leather or rope?" she asked pertly.

"Surprise me," he said lazily, lazily studying her. "Lady's choice."

"I'm going to get your for that," she said.

"I hope so."

The door slam didn't sound very victorious after that.

 

She walked for a while and then caught a cab back to Beverly Hills, wondering if it were possible for her to accomplish her mission and somehow have the crashingly bad luck to run into either her dad or her dad's new wife. That would just make the dysfunction fest complete. She found a nice little Thai café across from the department store, took a table near the window, ordered some coffee, pulled out her cellphone, and laid it on the table. After a few sips, she had enough courage and caffeine to dial the number. As it rang, she tried to think of something intelligent and compassionate to say, but when he finally picked up her mind was blank.

"Hey, Buff," Xander said. His voice had a peculiar quality to it: something measured and deliberate, as if only certain words were allowed. "How are you?"

"That's what I want to know about you," Buffy said quietly.

"Well…" Xander said. There was a long thin pause during which he seemed to hold his breath. "I'm glad you called. I wanted to bury something from the store with her. I think she'd like that."

"That's a wonderful idea, Xander." She sipped her coffee. "What were you thinking of?"

"I don't know," he said despairingly. "I can't find the store." He held his breath again. "I, uh, drove up there. They're still not letting people down. Too many----bodies." Strange how this was so different from all the bodies they had seen, all of strangers and monsters. This was different. Mom, Buffy thought, and her throat ached.

She gulped. Coffee's too hot, she thought. That's it, and I'm clinging desperately to my first rationalization of the day. "I'm sure---there's got to be something around. Um…" she searched for a change of topic. "We could go up there, you know. It is your property now."

"You, uh, want to go with me.?"

"Sure," Buffy said, pausing. Carefully, she mustered her enthusiasm. "Sure I will." They sat in silence for a while, and they each thought of a morgue building, and a dry hot parking lot.. "So---any other news?"

"They haven't found my folks yet, if that's what you mean."

"No?"

"Yeah, I guess they haven't gotten as far as excavating Lucky's Saloon," he said. "If they do, I'm wondering how I'm going to fit Mom and Dad's favorite barstools in their coffins."

Buffy smiled into the phone but her throat ached suddenly. "You could always use them as headstones, you know."

"Yeah, it'd be cheaper than stone. Plus, you know, Lucky was too cheap to spring for metal, so in case anybody needed slaying, they could just break them off and---you know." They both fell silent, then. The world was different now. There were many Slayers now, many little groups of friends congregating in the graveyards. The days of the vampire were numbered.

"You need any---other help?" Buffy asked.

"With the funeral?" She wondered where he was, and mentally kicked herself for having stayed away----out of respect. How stupid, she thought.

"Yeah, I don't know what I'm doing. If I did it the way An would want it, she'd have a send off with kazoos so as to not spend the money, and her dress would be made out of dollar bills."

Buffy winced, but Xander kept going. "I've thought about it, but I don't know if people would understand that. She was like a kid with marbles. You can't do much with 'em but collect 'em, but money's different. It was a toy for her, you know? I want to make sure she's got some with her. It'd, um," his voice bobbled. "It'd make her feel safe because I can't----I can't---go with her. And I wasn't with her, either, and I think if I could just kind of make that up to her----" He sniffed and Buffy pressed her hand over the mouthpiece to keep her sniff from reaching his ears.

"Xander, don't do that. I will come over there and I will---I will---do something to you, I swear."

"Would you?" he asked. "I've got some videos. I'd like---not to be a grownup for a while."

"I can do that," Buffy said gently. "When?"

"Right now too soon?" he said gamely. "Yeah, I know, there's the lack of Willow, but you could bring the kid sis along."

She noticed he'd omitted mention of Spike. "Dawn is blackmailing Angel."

"Dawn is---Oh, wow." He sucked in his breath. "On second thought, can we just go down there and watch?"

"I'm trying to keep the phrase 'plausible deniability' in mind," Buffy said.

"What is she doing to him?"

"Not sure. If I don't find out, I can avoid all the nasty overtones of revenge and sisterly vengeance, stuff like that."

"How are she and Spike getting along?"

"It's sort of a truce---I guess," she added. "They used to be such good friends."

"Yeah," Xander said. "Funny how that happens." Buffy waited for the inevitable reference to that thing, but it didn't come. She puffed out her breath. That alone told her how down he was: he could never resist taking shots at Spike, even though his own hands weren't exactly spotless, either. When he's this decent about Spike, I worry, she thought, then felt guilty.

"So---You want to do videos or something stupid?"

"Well…I kind of can't do it today."

"Oh," he said.

"There's something going on, Xander."

"Slayer stuff?"

"Yes," she said simply.

"Need some backup? Just like old times, huh? Oh, wait, where's my cane, I sounded like Giles for a minute there….."

"It's just that…." Buffy squirmed, and the server, who looked about fourteen, hurried over with more coffee. "It's just that I don't know what it is yet, and I want to find out before I expose anyone."

"Jeez, Buff, what is it?"

"It's weird, whatever it is. Not good weird. This is weird where I seriously hope I just need medication weird."

"What kind of medication?"

"I'm thinking either that anti-depressant stuff, or something that'll take the paranoia away."

"That bad, huh?"

"No," Buffy said firmly. "Totally not that bad. That I know of. It's just not knowing that's weird."

"Yeah, it's the stuff that you don't know that bugs you," he mused. "Or the stuff that doesn't end."

"It'll end, Xander," she said quietly. "It does get better."

"I hope you're right, Buff. Because this is worse than one of those apocalypses."

And to that she had no answer. She settled in for a long watch, for the woman that should not have set off her radar that way.

 

Spike had kept his crypt rather neat but something about picking up bits and pieces in the flat just bugged the hell out of him. It was one thing to pick up after one's self, but what was he now? A maid? He was halfway dressed before he realized he didn't even have a key to get back in the place. Effectively he was trapped.

He showered, laid on the bed for a while then paced. He clicked through channels on the TV restlessly. Another good thing about being a vamp---you slept through all the crap daytime TV. Had TV gotten worse? He squinted disgustedly at some awful show that seemed to involve very large women tossing pieces of furniture at one another while two men smirked from opposite sides of the stage. One man looked like a tenth-rate pimp; he was both scrawny and flabby, with a mustache that failed to cover the sores that came from serious drug use. The other one was smoothly surgically-preserved, with a brightly-colored suit and an unctuous manner, rather like a game show host moonlighting as a funeral director. Spike turned the TV off in disgust and tossed the remote aside as if it were unclean.

That left food.

He padded out into the kitchen. The fridge was full of green things, nothing that you could really zap in a microwave and eat with your fingers. Everything looked depressingly healthy. It would have to be chopped and diced and measured and combined with other healthy things. That was entirely too many steps. He was hungry, dammit. He just wanted a snack, not a gourmet meal. Why did it have to be so bloody complicated? He stared into the fridge sourly. Good old days, indeed. Why, when you were hungry, you just found a likely-looking neck and you didn't even has to press any buttons. No muss, no f-----

Someone knocked at the front door, and Spike's heart fell to his bare feet. The police. They had come to arrest him. He glanced around wildly for a hiding place, then caught himself and banged his head against the freezer door. William the Bloody looking to hide, he thought.

Think, he thought. Think, think, think. They couldn't break down the door, although the one probably would do it if he thought he could get away with it. Even so, not likely. You're safe. Nothing to worry about . But when he eased cautiously toward the door, he grabbed a butcher knife to take with him.

The door had a spy hole and after a moment, he raised up and looked through it. What he saw was so startling, he dropped the knife and nearly skewered his own foot.

Angel stood outside in the hallway.





Chapter 20

Spike bent over and picked up the dropped knife and wiped it off on his thigh. Then he looked up. "Granddad," he said dryly. "How's tricks?"

"I wouldn't know, William," Angel said. "I was never into that kind of thing."

Spike rolled his eyes so hard that it felt like he had pulled a muscle. Then it occurred to him that there was a reason Angel hadn't shoved his way into the flat yet, coat flapping just so: He hadn't been invited. Buffy would certainly do so in the name of maturity, I'm-over-him and general things like that, but the fact that Angel himself had not yet been by the place in all the time she'd been here was unintentionally illustrative.

So was the way he turned his back on her after he dumped her, Spike thought. It was possible to forgive Angel for some of the shit he did---he wasn't the best brick in the load by any means, but bricks couldn't aspire to much----but what he'd done or avoided doing for Buffy made him wish, just for a few seconds, for some of the tasteful wooden implements Joyce had had in her kitchen. A nice teak spatula would do just fine. A wooden spoon would be even better---so undignified when sticking out of the chest. Then there was the ever-popular wooden pencil. Angel didn't deserve a stake. He deserved death with mundane, common things that would provoke more comment than the pile of dust they in which they would be found.

"I'd ask why you didn't invite me in," Angel said dryly, "except I know it's because you can't." He leaned against the wall.

That stung.

Only someone in the household could so, though it was murky how one became a member of a household---blood relative? Marriage? Whatever was the definition, he wasn't about to test it and get humiliated in front of The Hulk. "Shame you didn't come see Buffy earlier, then, isn't it? I mean, when you had the chance." Spike leaned in the doorway likewise. In a battle of attitudes, never let it be said that he was an also-ran. "Was there some reason you wanted to avoid----er, I mean, talk to her about?"

"Nothing that somebody who's not family should hear," Angel said calmly. "I usually don't want to confide in babysitters."

"It must be difficult talking about something you don't know anything about, huh?" Spike drawled maliciously. "I have to give you a hand for trying---well, except for Buffy's family, that is. Nice touch. Then again, Dawn didn't care much for you, though, did she?"

"Apparently she does now," Angel said. There was an ominous tone in his voice that perked Spike right up.

"Dawn likes blackmail, too," Spike said thoughtfully. "She'd be frightening as a vampire."

"Only you would think that, Spike."

"No, only I would have balls enough to think it and say it, Grandpa," Spike said. "Tempting as it is to lean here and exchange insults all morning, is there any particular reason you decided to come over poke a stick through the human's cage?" Just good enough, he thought, to keep Angel guessing: the dig at Angel's continued vampish existence by pointing out his own upgrade, the petty bonus point for calling an end to the festivities, and the implied takeover of the flat, even if he was squatting. From the look on Angel's face, he'd recognized an imminent defeat in the battle of wits.

"I've picked up one or two things Buffy should hear," Angel said finally. "Maybe Giles."

That last piqued Spike's interest: didn't have the Watcher on speed dial, did he? Burning bridges or just letting them rot? The latter was definitely his style. "I'll tell her."

"Want a pencil?" Angel asked. "Every good secretary should have one."

Spike grabbed the door to shut it, denying Angel the satisfaction of pissing him off---visibly. "A wooden pencil? Just what I'd love to give you." He shut the door and leaned his forehead against it.

God, what he needed was to get out of the bloody flat and into something. Something violent, something he shouldn't want to do, something that would break chairs and lamps and heads. Just once, that was all he asked. Once a week, he amended, just like an old fart's sex life. That would do him just fine.

Stupid humans. He tossed the knife in the sink and then flopped down on the couch. No key to the flat: once he left, he'd be stuck. He couldn't wander about with the Keystone Kops after him, but staying put was going to kill him. Death by day time telly, he thought. Here lies Spike, AKA William the Bloody, killed by a Jerry Springer-induced stroke when his brain imploded. Nice thing about being a vamp; no blood pressure to worry about.

The flat was full of various girlie rags, magazines which he wouldn't light his cigarettes with, but there were few books he hadn't either read or would deign to tolerate. So trash it was. He flicked on the TV with a flick of his wrist, turned it up, and settled into reading Cosmo's Sex Tips. This is all Angel's fault, he thought. He didn't know how, exactly, but it was.

 

Buffy studiously avoided the department where she'd seen Myrtle and cruised up to Juniors. Why not combine business with pleasure?

But she wandered disconsolately amongst the racks for fifteen minutes while her disquiet notched up. It wasn't just the fashion, although the Seventies hadn't looked good the first time around; there was something else going on. Usually this department was staffed with girls who were encouraged to wear the wardrobe and advertise, yet suddenly, the staff appeared to have experienced a turnover. The girls like herself had disappeared; suddenly the staff was older and more….well, more made up. They looked like a group of grandmas who had given their granddaughters the day off and taken over the registers.

Edith, she read off someone's name tag. Amelia. Emily. Nice names, all of them. And rather old-fashioned, too. She wandered further and further afield, encountering both more horrifying fashions and more scary geriatric makeup. It was so nice that the store was hiring older cashiers and workers, really. How bad could that be? Is there such a thing as Take Your Grandpa To Work Day? She felt more guilty than intrigued now.

So many of them, she thought. All at once.

Myrtle's words prickled at the back of her neck and seemed to impell her downstairs, but once there, she paused in consternation. It was the reverse of upstairs; here there were lots of slender young girls, working amongst the men's wear and womens' sections. She looked around cautiously. The makeup alone should have stuck out, but she didn't see any clown like slashes of rouge or eyeshadow. Maybe she got dusted, Buffy thought, oddly disappointed. Maybe she got fired for makeup abuse.

She noticed a spot on her blouse suddenly when she passed by the make up counter and grimaced. While she was wiping at it with a Kleenex and checking her progress in the mirror, she froze suddenly. Behind her was a young girl putting things away behind the cash register. Nimbly, her hair swinging in a bright red curtain, she bent and dipped, reached and twisted. She was moving so fast it took Buffy a while to catch sight of the plastic tag on her chest. On her name tag in fancy script, it said, eltryM.