The Weight of Love
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Author's Notes: This is sorta Alternate Universe. Wolfram and Hart is still employing Angel and Spike even though this is set in late 2005.
September 6, 2005
I think about you at the oddest times.
I was heading to Berlin last week on a train and I saw a bleached blond head at one end of the car. My heart slammed against my ribcage so hard that it actually hurt. Could it be you? I caught myself before I called your name, and had to remind myself that you were gone, that you died to save us. I miss you.
I felt hot and nauseated after that so I leaned my head against the window and watched the countryside go by. Germany is pretty. If I could live there, I would. I never thought that I’d get to travel all over the world, but this is my new calling and I’m happy to escape. It’s hard sometimes to be around everyone because it just reminds me of all that we lost. We lost everything. I lost you.
I fell asleep on the train and I dreamed about the last night you held me. I’ll never forget the way you wrapped your arms around me after that horrible nightmare or the way you smelled ... so masculine and *safe*. I was safe in your arms for the first time in my entire life and I woke up feeling so rejuvenated because you had been there and we had shared *something*.
I love you. I will love you for the rest of my life. And I’ll never, ever fall again.
The new Slayer I picked up in Berlin is called Soonyee. She’s even smaller than me. And she’s a powerhouse, too. I think you'd like her. She put Faith in her place right when we got back to Italy which suited me just fine.
Faith and Robin are making us all sick with their googly puppy dog eyes. Who would have thought that she would wind up getting a guy?
I’m so over the whole being in love thing.
I hope Willow gets that freaky sixth sense thing and says, “I see Slayers” so I can leave again. I don't like being here around everyone. If one more person asks me if I'm okay I'll probably kill them.
September 9, 2005
I got a call from someone who is working on the excavation committee in Sunnydale. I didn’t even realize that there was an excavation committee or that there was anything to salvage, but I’ve been wrong before.
They found Mom’s coffin. Whole. Intact. And they identified her body through dental records or DNA or whatever they do to bodies.
As I stood on the edge of that big, gaping maw that had been Sunnydale, I thought briefly about how sad it was that I wouldn’t have a gravesite to take flowers to on her birthday or for Christmas. I went there a lot ... every single day for a while. I couldn’t stand the thought of her headstone beind dirty or weeds growing above her, dominating her.
I talked to her a lot, too, but then I started to find myself going past her grave and into your crypt and I’d tell *you* all the things I wanted to tell her. You really understood when you weren't trying to jump my bones. Not that I really minded the whole jumping part, but you knew *me* and you *got* me. More than anyone ever has.
The core group is going to Los Angeles tomorrow. Giles found a place in a cemetery that Mom used to take long walks at and we’re going to lay her to rest there. I hate to think of her being jostled around or prodded and poked by techinicians trying to identify her. It seems wrong and like it’s a violation of her right to peace.
But I’ll have someplace to take flowers now and it helps my heart to know where she is. I miss her.
Why do people I love always die? Or go away?
I don’t ever want to love again. No, scratch that ... I will *never* love again. I’d rather not suffer that inevitable pain that comes when they leave and they always do.
I’ll get through this somehow.
I just haven’t made up my mind how yet.
I feel so numb and so out of it that I’m not even sure it’s real.
I've been hiding my feelings for so long that I don't even know what they are anymore. The only time I was certain was when I told you I loved you, but you didn't even believe me.
I wish you could be there to help me get through this. I thought that losing mom would be something I'd go through once, but I have to relive it.
I need you.
Los Angeles International Airport
“This is ridiculous.” Xander waited impatiently next to Giles, who was scanning the baggage carousel. The area around him was laden with carry-ons and duffel bags, and much to his horror, Buffy’s hot pink purse had been pushed into his hands as the girls made a mad dash to the restroom. “How much luggage did we bring anyway, Giles?!”
“The same amount that you groused about in London, Xander.”
“Well, airlines are notorious for losing crap so I’m still holding a morsel of hope. I don’t enjoy my new job as pack mule.”
“But you suit the role so well.” Giles said, brightening considerably when his tattered leather suitcase came into view. “Ah, there it is.”
“We’re not going to be here for a year, you know?”
“Yes, but we don’t know how long Buffy and Dawn will need. This is hard on both of them. If we need to be here indefinitely we will do so. It’s Joyce, Xander.”
“Gee, put it into perspective much?” Xander shoved his arm through the strap of Buffy’s purse, making sure it was positioned on his blind side. “I can’t tell. Is this my color?”
“Stop manhandling my purse.” Buffy stepped up behind him, holding out her hand.
Xander smiled at her and surrendered it, noting as he did the dark circles under her bloodshot eyes. “You didn’t sleep at all on the plane.”
“Someone had to keep the pilot in line. I know he was contemplating loops. I saw this shifty look in his eyes.” Buffy replied. The truth was, every time Buffy had closed her eyes she had seen her mother’s prone form on the living room sofa or replayed the instant that Joyce had been zipped into a bag. “Besides, your snoring kept most of us up.”
“I don’t snore, Buffy. I have stayed awake many a night to see for myself.” Xander hefted several bags over his shoulders and pretended to buckle under the weight. “I think I got the bag that has the kitchen sink in it.”
“That wasn’t funny in London either, Xander.” Willow patted him on the arm, since his back was covered. “You know, when your grown up muscles spring out you’ll be thanking us.”
Xander pretended to be bowled over by the hilarity of her comment, then narrowed his eyes at her. “One day, Will, you and I are gonna throw down.”
“I’d just turn you into a frog and step on you.”
“You’re afraid of frogs so be my guest.”
“Touche,” Willow smiled, then glanced at Buffy and Dawn, who were standing next to each other while they waited for their luggage. “You think they’re okay?”
Xander shook his head. “Not even close to okay. I think Dawn’s dehydrated from crying so much and Buffy isn’t emoting at all.”
“Well, it took Buffy a while last time to come to terms with it. I guess this is like opening old wounds.” Willow said.
Giles, who had been listening to the conversation, joined them and watched as Buffy hefted a suitcase for Dawn and missed her own. “I think she’s afraid to feel. She’s not ready for this. Not so soon after Spike.”
“Ah, I wondered how soon we would reference Fangly the Wondermutt.” Xander shook his head. “If you ask me, his death didn’t bother her too much. I mean, she jumped headfirst into being a Slayer and helping all these new girls. She’s like a machine now. She’s better than a machine! I’ve never seen her in better form or more interested in Slaying”
“Why do you think she’s doing that, idiot?” Willow slapped his arm.
“If you’re going to hit me, Will, at least do it on the other side so I can actually see it coming.”
Willow ignored him and turned her attention to Giles. “You’re worried about her. I saw you watching her on the plane.”
“She’s hurting.” Giles studied Buffy as she scooped her own suitcase from the rapidly thinning piles that kept rotating around. “I think it’s more than just the task that lies before us.”
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Willow watched her friend as well, her heart aching for Buffy. “Because if you’re thinking what I’m thinking then I have a certain phone number programmed into my cell phone that could make it happen.”
“Should we?” Giles asked, raking a hand through his hair. “Will it do more harm than good? She’ll be furious that we kept it from her.”
Willow shrugged her slim shoulders. “But it could be worth it to see her happy.”
“Perhaps,” Giles replied. “Or perhaps it would overwhelm her. Especially now.”
“I think she needs him, Giles. I’ll take the blame.” Willow flipped open her phone and scrolled down the list of names.
Xander looked back and forth from one to the other. “Are you calling Angel? What have you been keeping from her? Oh god, is his soul gone? What?”
His eyes widened when Willow spoke a name into the phone. He dropped all the luggage he was carrying and clapped a hand over his mouth.
“Yes, Xander.” Giles bent and retrieved several bags, shoving them into his arms. “She’s calling Spike. He’s alive and well and has been for over a year.”
After Xander digested this information, he shook his head. “I think I’m going back to Europe. I don’t want to watch her murder all of you. I could never testify against her.”
Willow clicked her phone shut. “He’ll come. Tonight.”
Xander readjusted the luggage and followed them toward Buffy. “You guys are in big trouble. Big.”
“Who’s in trouble?” Dawn asked, smoothing her hair back into the messy ponytail she haphazardly secured on top of her head.
“Xander’s still threatening us about the luggage,” Willow replied innocently.
Buffy took several of the bags from Xander and slipped them over her head. “Better?”
Xander gave her a grateful look and fought the urge to pull her into a hug. He knew in his heart that she was about to lose the war of emotion she had been fighting. And he didn’t know if she’d survive it all.
“This place is so nice.” Willow slipped her shoes off and dug her toes in the thick, white carpet that was so plush she sank several inches into it. “Way better than the Holiday Inn.”
“Whose beach house is this anyway?” Dawn asked, stretching out on the sofa with a leaflet that had been placed on the coffee table. “It has six bedrooms? Damn.”
“Don’t say damn,” Buffy reprimanded in a low, exhausted voice. She was perched on the edge of leather chair and had her fingers pressed against her eyelids. “It belongs to one of Angel’s friends.”
Dawn ignored the first comment and whistled appreciatively. “Angel has some rich friends. Damn rich friends.”
Buffy picked up her purse off the floor and pawed through it. “Did anyone pack Tylenol? Aspirin? Morphine?”
“Headache?” Giles asked.
“More like blinding agony that is concentrated in my head.” Buffy sighed when her search weilded nothing and stood. “Maybe I should take a nap.”
“You can’t!” Dawn shot to her feet as well. “We’re supposed to go to the funeral home.”
“Damn, I forgot.” Buffy glared at her watch. “They’re open until ten tonight, right?”
“Yes. Why can you say damn, but I can’t? I’m an adult now, too.” Dawn watched Buffy for a second, then reached out and squeezed her hand. “I just happen to be an adult who will always need her big sister.”
Buffy attempted to smile, but she didn’t quite make it. “We’ll get through this.”
Dawn stood next to Buffy, fidgeting as the familiar brown casket was wheeled down a long hallway and into a delicate pink viewing room with a nauseatingly pastel border. She reached out and looped her fingers through Buffy’s, holding tightly. Buffy’s hand remained limp in hers. The coffin had clearly been polished, but it had several long scrapes and cracks in it.
“I wasn’t aware that it was damaged,” Buffy said, reaching out to touch one of the deepest scratches.
“Sorry, miss,” the man wheeling the coffin said. “You should have seen the destruction over there in Sunnydale. I’m surprised it’s still in one piece.”
Buffy took a deep breath, wishing that he had chosen his words more carefully. “I’d like to purchase a new one.”
“Yes, ma’am. I thought you might. But I didn’t know if you’d want -”
“I do,” Buffy cut him off before he could finish. “We’ll make the selection tonight before we leave.”
“Absolutely, ma’am.” The man pushed the coffin against the wall and spread a delicate pink coverlet over the abused wood. “I’ll show you where our inventory is if you’ll follow me.”
Buffy reached out and caught his arm. “Have you - I mean, did - did you view her - her remains?”
“Yes, ma’am. She’s well preserved. Would you like to identify her yourself?”
“Buffy, no,” Dawn whispered and she knew her grip on Buffy’s hand had to be painful, but her sister didn’t acknowledge it.
Buffy stared at the floor before whispering, “I have to.”
Giles took a step forward, his jaw tight as he fought his own emotions, and rested his hand on her shoulder. “I can do it for you.”
Shaking her head, Buffy pulled away, taking her hand from Dawn’s. “I’ll do it.”
“I can’t be in here for this!” Dawn said in a shrill voice that made her sound far younger than she was.
“Take her outside,” Buffy said to Xander and Willow. They complied, both putting a protective arm around Dawn as they led her from the room. To Giles and the funeral home director, Buffy said, “I should do this alone.”
Giles shook his head and started to protest, but Buffy held up a hand. “Giles, I just need a few minutes. Please.”
“I’ll be right outside if you need me.” Giles cupped her face and quietly left the room, positioning himself at the door so he could hear her if she became overwrought.
Buffy’s palms were sweaty when she turned back to the coffin. She put them on the cool surface of the coverlet and slowly pushed it aside. With trembling fingers, she fumbled with the latch until it finally clicked open. She didn’t lift the lid immediately, however. Closing her eyes, she tried to get an image of her mother, alive and vibrant in her head to combat what she was likely to see now.
The lid opened with an angry squeak and Buffy opened her eyes, gazing down at her mother. “Hi, Mom,” she whispered, and gently pushed an errant piece of hair off Joyce’s face. “Your hair is so long. You wouldn’t even believe it.”
Buffy gasped when she saw how well preserved her mother actually was. It was unbelievable. She still looked the same as the day they had buried her. The makeup that had been artfully applied had smudged and the fingernails that Buffy had selected a pale color of polish for had tripled in length, but otherwise she was breathtaking.
In a flash she was engulfed in memories. Her mother spinning around and around in her dress, her long, delicate arms flung wide. Her mother’s laughter during that last Christmas when Buffy had pulled a turkey leg off her plate and into her lap. Buffy’s seventeenth birthday, wrapped in her mother’s arms on the sofa as the candle burned out on her special cupcake. Shopping at the mall. The Juice Newton jacket. The band candy. The love.
“Oh, Mom.” Buffy’s heart soared as she gazed at her mother’s face. “I think I almost forgot how beautiful you are.”
Brushing several specks of dirt off the pillow, Buffy continued to speak. “We’re getting you a new coffin. A better one. And we’ve found a place for you. I think you’ll like it. I’m sorry that you’ve been pushed around all over the place. I can almost guarantee that Los Angeles won’t be sucked into a Hellmouth. You should be okay here and I’ll come see you every chance I get. And I’ll bring daisies. And a Christmas Tree, but I can’t do the fireplace thing even though you really liked that.”
Swallowing back tears, Buffy attempted to straighten the collar of Joyce’s suit, but the back of her hand kept brushing against her mother’s cold, hard face and it was shattering the illusion that she actually had her mother back for a moment. “Things have been kinda crazy. I’ve mostly been living in hotels, but I’ve been seeing a lot of the world. I’m not the only Slayer anymore. There are hundreds now. Dawn’s okay, too. She couldn’t stay and see you, but she loves you and she misses you as much as I do. I don’t think a single day goes by that we don’t find a way to mention you. Or miss you. Or wish you were still here.”
Buffy felt a tear slide down her cheek and brushed it away absently. “When I lost you, I had to become a stronger person, Mom, for Dawn. Losing him made me a different person. All that strength you gave me is now used to build up walls that I don’t let anyone through. I’m not strong enough to love anyone else because they could leave, too. I can’t deal with that.”
Leaning lower, Buffy studied her mom’s profile. “Can you hear me? I believe you can. God, Mom, I wish you knew how badly I want you to wake up and tell me it will be okay.” Her tears came in a rush and her breath caught in her throat. She rested her head on the edge of the casket and choked out, “I’d give everything just to feel your arms around me.”
“Will mine do?”
For a second she thought it was Giles, but as she turned and leaned into the open arms behind her she smelled the leather, felt it against her cheek, and glanced up. She saw his blond hair, the chisled cut of his cheekbones and took a step back. For several long seconds, she stared at him. Had she fainted? Was this all a dream?
“Spike?” Her voice was a hoarse whisper when sound finally escaped her and she stumbled as all the blood seemed to rush from her head. Or to her head. She wasn’t sure of anything at the moment.
“Easy, love.” Spike caught her arms, steadying her. He gazed into her wide eyes, struggling to find the right thing to say.
Buffy stiffened and drew the back of her sleeve across her eyes, then she focused on him again. She wanted to ask how he came to be standing before her, but her gaze fell on her mother’s face again. And suddenly nothing made sense. It was all too much. Far too much. What was happening? Her teeth began to chatter and she shivered with cold, but a steady stream of sweat was beading its way down her back, across her forehead. She thought about where she was, tried to remember what had happened, but her mind was and endless foggy maze. “My mom. She’s in Los Angeles. Someone called me and said they found her. So we came. And I had to see her just to make sure that she was okay, but she’s not okay because she’s dead.”
Spike nodded slowly, studying her. All the color had drained from her face and she had drawn her shoulders inward. He could see moisture beading on her pale face and was stunned at how glassy her eyes were. Cautiously, Spike took a step toward her. “Buffy, are you okay?”
“They’re gonna bury her, see? Put her in the ground. That - that’s what they do.” Buffy reached into the coffin and shook her mother lightly. “You won’t know, Mom. You’re eyes are closed and you won’t know that you’re buried, okay? So don’t try to dig out! Mom! Mom! It will hurt your hands if you dig! It's not fun to dig!”
Spike pulled her away from the casket and reached for the lid. “We should close this.”
“No!” Buffy screamed, struggling to hold the lid open. “She doesn’t like that coffin! It’s broken! Leave it open!”
Giles rushed in and helped Spike wrestle Buffy across the room. Willow hurried in after him and silently lowered the lid, then turned in time to see Giles slap Buffy, hard, on the cheek. “Giles!” Willow screamed.
Buffy collapsed against Spike and he gently sank with her to the ground, holding her against his chest. Giles knelt in front of Buffy, tilting her chin back so he could see her. His suspicions were confirmed when he saw the cold, blank expression on her face.“Dear lord. She’s in shock,” he told Willow.
“I should have waited until you told her I was back. I shouldn’t have let her find out this way,” Spike said. He handed Buffy’s limp form over to Giles and shook his head “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be here.”
“Spike, you don’t have to leave.” Willow tried to stop him to no avail. He moved past her and exited quietly the way he had come in.
Willow sighed and walked to the door, barking that they needed a glass of water and wet cloth. When she turned back to Giles and Buffy, her heart broke. He was cradling his Slayer, much like a child, and Buffy had her fists clenched against her chest, eyes closed.
A few seconds later, the man who had wheeled Joyce down the hallway entered with both items. “Oh my goodness. This happens a great deal. Poor little thing.”
Without preamble, he splashed the entire contents of the glass into Buffy’s face, leaving her gasping and looking confused. She sat up, pushing her wet hair out of her eyes and accepted the cold cloth the man dangled in front of her. “What happened?” she finally asked, taking stock of her position on the floor.
“Grief, honey,” the man replied, petting her head like she was a good dog. “Your mama is going to be okay where she’s heading. You just collect yourself and we’ll take a tour of those coffins.”
“Dawn took care of it,” Willow told Buffy as the man walked to the corner of the room and put the cloth back on Joyce’s coffin, then left. “She picked one. You’ll like it. It’s white with pretty flowers on the lining.”
Buffy nodded. “Okay. I thought I saw- I could have sworn that he was here and he-” She trailed off, wiping her face with the cool cloth again. “I really need a nap.”
Willow extended a hand, helping Buffy to her feet. She shot a worried look at Giles, who nodded at her. “There’s something you need to know, Buffy.”
Giles ushered Buffy to the overstuffed floral sofa that sat against the wall, keeping a firm grip on her as she sat down. “It was not our idea to keep this from you. You have to know that.”
Willow kneeled next to the sofa and took Buffy’s hand. “Spike is alive. Well, he’s technically not *alive* because he’s still a vampire, but he’s back. Here. In Los Angeles. He’s been helping Angel at Wolfram and Hart and well, we thought-”
“He’s not dead?” Buffy asked, her brow creasing in confusion. “He was here, wasn’t he?”
“Yes, he was,” Giles replied.
“Where did he go?” Buffy glanced past them, staring at the door as if willing him to return.
“He didn’t want to upset you more than you already were.” Willow gave her a reassuring smile. “But you can go see him. He’s just a few blocks from here.”
Buffy laid the washcloth on an end table and shook her head as if to clear it. Spike was alive. The words kept echoing in her head, a steady symphany of dreams coming true. But the anger she felt at Spike, at Angel, at everyone who had chosen to keep her in the dark, was coming close to drowning out the happiness she *wanted* to feel. She had to see him. She had to find out how and why and what would happen now. “I think I’m gonna take a walk.”
“Buffy-” Willow began.
She held up a hand. “You guys make sure Dawn’s okay. Please?”
Giles watched her walk away and glanced at Willow. “Well, that certainly went well.”
Willow shot him a narrow eyed glance. “Whoever said the art of sarcasm was lost clearly didn’t know you.”
Buffy made it back to the condo in record time. Rushing into the bathroom, she washed her face and studied her reflection in the mirror. The cab driver had asked her repeatedly if she was okay and as she took in her appearance, she realized that his concern was not unwarranted. There were dark circles under her eyes and her skin was devoid of color.
Spike was alive.
That thought kept sounding in her head followed by the realization that he had not contacted her, had not searched for her. She had spoken with Angel twice the week before and he had said nothing either. She yanked her hair back into a ponytail and by the time she looked into the mirror again, a scarlet flush tinted her cheeks. She was angry.
It felt good to be something.
She stalked back into her room and rifled through her bag until she found a leather bound book. Shoving it into her Slayer bag, she threw it over her shoulder and decided to walk the eight blocks to Wolfram and Hart. Maybe by the time she arrived there, her anger would be subsided enough that she wouldn’t be contemplating killing both of them.
Angel watched as Spike yanked his jacket off, tossed it at the hook on the wall and missed it by a mile. Spike proceeded to stomp the leather for a good minute before kicking it across the room. "Rough night?"
"Piss off." Spike walked across the room and snatched up a bottle of rum. "Aren’t you supposed to be at that thing with Nina? Why are you skulking about?"
"It got cancelled. And this is *my* office where I can skulk at will." Angel leaned against his desk, studying Spike as he gulped down half the bottle. "You saw her, didn’t you?"
Spike glared at him, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "You knew she was coming?"
"And you didn’t tell me?"
"No. How did you find out?"
"Willow called and said Buffy needed me."
Angel’s jaw tightened. "I see."
Spike shook his head. "No, you really don’t. They let her open that fucking coffin and look at her mother."
"They what?" Angel pushed away from his desk, standing tall. "Is she okay?"
"Giles said she went into shock." Spike took another long sip from the bottle. "It didn’t help that she turned around and saw me standing there."
"Well, that was brilliant." Angel didn’t let him reply. "Where is she?"
"I left her there."
Angel’s eyes blazed with anger. "You left her there? Alone? You are a fucking idiot sometimes." He snatched his coat from the hook and slipped it on. "I guess I have to clean up your mess as usual."
"Oh, aren’t you just the knight in shining armor, off to rescue the maiden."
"If you were going to ask me why I didn’t tell you she was coming, you just answered it yourself."
Spike threw the bottle across the room, narrowly missing Angel’s head. "You didn’t have to tell me. The ones who know her best apparently figured out what she needed. And it wasn’t you."
The intercom system on Angel’s desk beeped loudly and Harmony’s voice filtered into the room. "Angel, are you in there?"
"What is it, Harmony?" he asked.
The sounds of a shuffle could be heard and then the door to Angel’s office was slammed open. Buffy gazed at both vampires for several moments, then held up the stake, looking pointedly at Harmony, who had attempted, in vain, to block her entrance. "Leave or I’m going to target practice."
"Oh my god! I’m too young to die!" Harmony squealed. She walked backwards, carefully sidestepping Buffy and shutting the door behind her.
"Hello, Buffy," Angel said with a smile. "How are you?"
"Don’t ask me how I am," Buffy snapped. "How do you think I am?"
"Mad as hell?" Angel asked, his smile widening as she narrowed her eyes at him.
"Understatement of the year," she fired back. "Quit standing there grinning like some kind of idiot before I jam this stake up your ass! And you-" she turned her attention to Spike. "How could you not call? Not write? Not do *something*?"
"I thought-" Spike began.
"Well, that was your first mistake. Spike and thinking are unmixy things! It’s official. I hate you both and I plan on tying both your asses to a cactus in the desert to watch the sun rise! That way you can die together and I’ll kill two annoying fiends with one sun!"
"You been reading a book on clichés lately?" Spike asked innocently. "Or is that really the best you can do?"
"Shut up!" Buffy snapped. "Right the hell now."
"I take it you’re upset." Spike held his hands up in mock surrender. "Listen, Buffy, I wanted to call you, but Angel here put a curse on the phone. My dangly bits would have rotted off if I had tried."
"You’ll have to do better than that!" Buffy told him, her hands on her hips.
"How about … he wouldn’t give me your number?" Spike shrugged innocently. "I tried to torture it out of him."
Angel snorted. "Like you could ever torture me and live to tell about it."
Spike smiled. "Just yesterday you said that living with me was pure torture and yet, here I am. Still here. Not dead."
"Shut your mouth! I swear to god, both of you are on my list." She waved the stake menacingly, but both vampires could see the smile she was fighting to contain. "I can not believe this day."
Grinning, Spike caught the hand that held the stake, pinned it behind her back, and hugged her properly. "It’s good to see you, too, love."
Buffy hugged him tightly with her free arm. "You still smell the same. Insanely gross."
"So do you." Spike replied, closing his eyes as the familiar vanilla smell of her hair wafted around him. "If I had just eaten I’d be sick."
Buffy chuckled softly and pulled back. "How could you not call?"
"It’s a long story."
"I’ve got a long time."
Buffy stood on the roof of Wolfram and Hart, staring down over the city. For the better part of two hours, she had listened to Spike’s story of how he came to be in Los Angeles and what he had been doing since his return. He had failed, however, to explain his decision not to contact her.
A siren blared below and Buffy leaned over the low metal railing that ran the length of the building, following the flashing lights from her vantage point. “You can see for miles from up here.”
Spike, who had been waiting silently for her to digest and reply to his tale, gripped her upper arm and pulled her away from the ledge. “Careful, love. I can’t have you falling.”
Buffy turned and looked up at him, staring into his eyes. She was tempted to tell him it was too late, that she had fallen a long time ago. He was too close, though, and having him gazing down at her stole away the breath it would take to speak. She took a step closer, resting her hand on his chest.
The wind whipped around them and she shivered. He removed his duster and wrapped it around her.
“Buffy,” he said softly, moving his hand up to cover hers. “Don’t look at me like that.”
“Like only you can.”
She smiled and put her hand on his cheek. “I really missed you.”
“I missed you more.”
“But you won’t tell me why you didn’t do something about it?” she asked.
He pushed an errant hair behind her ear. “I stayed away because I knew that I wasn’t what you needed. I hurt you in ways that I never imagined possible and I couldn’t do that anymore, baby.” When she frowned and stepped away from him, he reached for her. “Don’t. It was so hard for me to do the right thing.”
“That’s so fucking noble I could cry.” Buffy glared at him, daring him to speak so she could hit him with a clear conscious. When he didn’t, she added, “Did you ever consider that not having you in my life hurt more than anything you ever did to me when you were there?”
“I could have-”
“You could have called me! You should have! After everything we shared in those last days I think I deserved that much!”
“I’m not going to argue with you. I did what was best for both of us. So you could have a good life.”
“You know what? For someone who hates Angel so much you sure do a bang up impersonation of his self sacrificing bullshit. Let me guess, I need someone to take me into the sun. I need someone to have a family with, kids, whatever. Guess what? That was never in my big picture. I don’t want normal.”
“I said good. Not normal. You’ll never have a normal life and be happy. You’re always going to need a little something more.”
“Well, I think I had what I needed in Sunnydale with you.”
“No. Do you know what it was like for me to leave you there in the Hellmouth knowing that you were going to die? It ripped my heart out. Not because you made some kind of noble gesture, but because you didn’t believe me when I told you I loved you.”
“You always let me talk to you before.”
“You can talk to me about anything,” he paused, speechless for a moment as her eyes sparkled with tears in the moonlight. “Except that.”
“You’re going to hear it anyway.” Buffy swallowed hard. She struggled to find the right words, finally she took a deep breath and said, “When it was over and Sunnydale was gone … I didn’t think about how I’d never be able to visit mom’s grave again or how everything I owned in the world was suddenly a memory. No, instead I thought that I’d march straight back into that Hellmouth if I heard you calling me. I thought that I’d rather deal with all those Turok-Hans myself than lose you. The rest of the gang was so happy because the Hellmouth was gone, but I was furious that it had taken you with it! All I could think about was you.”
He started to reply, but she held up her hand. “Spike, I came here to tell you that I do love you and I want to be with you. I told you once before that I wasn’t ready for you to not be there. I’m still not ready.”
His throat was suddenly too tight. He was fleetingly aware that it was a good thing he didn’t have to breathe, because he couldn’t have. He had dreamed of this moment since he came back. She had consumed him, devoured him without trying, and here she was with her heart held out on her sleeve and all he could do was shake his head. “You’ve been fine without me.”
“How do you know I’ve been fine? Did you bother to come and ask me? Did you bother to call?”
“I was in Italy, Buffy. I knew about the Immortal and I came there to help you. I saw you on a dance floor in a crowded club and you were dancing like you were on fire. You looked happy.”
“That wasn’t happiness. That was me drowning myself in liquor because I couldn’t drown in you.”
“You *do* have all the answers,” he snapped, running his hand through his hair.
“Just not the right ones apparently. You don’t want to be with me.” Her voice broke as she said it and she turned away, yanking his coat from her shoulders. She was suddenly too hot and she didn’t want any part of him near her. “You know what truly sucks? I spent all this time writing letters to you because you’re the only person who ever knew me, who ever understood me, who ever *mattered* to me. I can’t tell you how many times I put in those letters my wish that you were there. Offered up anything I could think of to have you again. That you would be there to hold me and make it better. And here you are! And all I want to do is throw your ass over the side of this building!”
“I’m sorry,” Spike whispered.
“You’re sorry? That’s all you have to say?”
“What else is there?”
She glared at him. “Tell me you don’t love me anymore and I’ll walk away from here and not look back.”
He shook his head. “I won’t lie to you.”
“And I won’t *live* a lie which is what I would be doing if I did what everyone thought was best for me.” She exhaled loudly, running her hand through her hair. “Why did you come tonight?”
“Willow thought you needed a friend.”
“You’ll never be my friend and I don’t want a friend. I want you. I want what you offered me and I kept turning down. I’m ready now.”
“I think you’re still in shock.”
“Aghh!!” Buffy screamed, throwing her hands in the air. “I am in shock. I am shocked that I ever believed anything you said to me! I thought that what we had was *real*. Especially at the end!”
“I don’t know what else to say.”
“Then just shut the fuck up.” Buffy reached into her bag and withdrew the leather book she had written in for so long.
Spike caught it when she threw it at him. “What’s this?”
“Your letters. The ones I wrote to you. But there’s a big difference now.”
“This time, when I leave, you’re going to be the one dealing with the fact that I don’t believe you. You never loved me, Spike. But thanks for saying it.”
“Buffy, please-” He moved toward her, hand extended, but she walked past him. “Don’t do this.”
She paused beside the door and looked back at him. “I didn’t do this. You did. How can you blame me when it was clearly never my choice. You decided. You live with it.”
Spike let her go. And his heart went with her.
“It’s well after three in the morning,” Giles said suddenly, startling Willow who was concentrating on her laptop screen.
She yelped, laid a hand over her heart and exhaled loudly. “That’s why you shouldn’t just start speaking from the shadows! You almost gave me a heart attack.”
“Where could she be?”
“They have a lot to work out. They’re probably just getting to the screaming part.”
“Perhaps.” He walked toward the windows, glancing out at the moonlight that reflected over the ocean. “I never thought I’d say this, but I missed California.”
“Now you really are trying to give me a heart attack. You? Missing sand, sun, and fun? Did we happen to fly near the Bermuda Triangle on the way here?”
He turned to look at her. “Did we do the right thing?”
“Hey, you’re wisdom guy. You know way more than me.”
Giles helped himself to the snifter of brandy that had been enticing him for the duration of their stay. Sitting across from her, he took a sip. “I haven’t been imagining Buffy’s depression. Nor have I failed to notice that the only time she ever smiles anymore is when she is packing to leave.”
“It’s hard for her. I mean, she hasn’t said anything to me about it, but it has to be hard going around trying to convice these girls to come and possibly die. You know Buffy, she’s big with the self blame. Every time we lose one, she has to feel responsible because it was her decision to activate them all.”
“Has she ever spoken to you about what transpired in Sunnydale when we forced her to step down and allow Faith to take over?”
“That’s a really fancy way of saying that we kicked her out of her own house. And no, she hasn’t.”
Giles drank the rest of the brandy in his glass and filled it again. “Maybe we should call Wolfram and Hart.”
There was a soft knock at the front door and Willow stood. “She probably forgot her key.”
Opening the door, Willow smiled brightly. “Oh, hey, Angel! Come in!”
Angel gave her a hug and nodded at Giles, who regarded him with an impassive expression. “Hello, Giles.”
“Angel.” Giles indicated his glass. “Would you like some brandy?”
“No. Thank you,” the vampire replied. “Is Buffy here?”
“You haven’t seen her?” Willow shut the door and looked up at him. “She left hours ago for a ‘walk’.” She made air quotes with her fingers. “But we kinda figured that she’d be heading to Wolfram and Hart to see Spike.”
“She did,” Angel said.
“What happened?” Giles asked.
“I’m not sure. I mean, she came in ready to kill both of us, then she spent a while talking to Spike. I went to check on them and she blew past me. She was obviously upset.”
“What does Spike have to say?” Willow exhanged looks with Giles.
“He wouldn’t talk to me.”
“How long ago did she leave?” Giles queried.
“It’s been a while. I had something to deal with so I couldn’t go after her right away.” His thoughts turned to Nina, who had not taken the news that Buffy was in town very well.
Giles put his glass on the table and reached for his shoes. “We’ll have to find her.”
“I’ll do it,” Angel told him, moving toward the door.
Buffy chose that moment to enter. Her hair was a mess. Half of it had escaped from her pony tail and twisted around her neck. She stumbled, dropping the brown paper bag that held the most recent bottle of whiskey. “Shit,” she muttered. Leaning down to pick it up, she lost her balance entirely and fell forward.
Angel caught her, wrinkling his nose at the smell of alcohol that poured from her. He also caught the scent of blood and lifted her face, frowning when he saw that her lip had a cut on it and a heavy bruise mottled her temple and cheek. Her clothing was in disarray as well, her shirt hanging limply from her scraped shoulder. “I’ll fucking kill him.”
“What?” Buffy attempted to focus, but her glassy eyes were practically crossed.
“Spike did this?” Giles asked her, disbelief clouding his face.
“No.” Buffy shook her head. “I found some demons on the beach. Or, they found me. Kicked my ass. Where did my whiskey go?”
“Are you okay?” Angel tried to lead her toward the couch, but she pulled away.
“Yes! Ow! No!” She reached for her shirt, pulling what remained of it upwards to expose her side. “Look at my shirt! They ruined my shirt!”
Willow hissed when she saw the deep scratches that ran along her friend’s ribcage. “I’ll go find a first aid kit.”
“I know where it is.” Giles followed her. “I keep one in my bag. Get some water and a cloth, Willow.”
Buffy watched them go with narrowed eyes and hiccuped loudly, before turning back towards Angel. “You’re all wrong for doing this to me. If I didn’t have to be here I wouldn’t spend two seconds with any of you,” she slurred.
“Has anyone told you that you’re not a very pretty drunk?” Angel shot back, leading her to the couch and forcing her to sit. He removed his jacket and tossed it into the chair before kneeling in front of her. “Do you think anything is broken?”
“You’re sorry. He’s sorry. They’re all sorry. It doesn’t change anything. He doesn’t want me.”
“And you want him?” Angel lifted the edge of her shirt again, pressing the palm of his hand against the wounds to stop the blood that flowed freely, but also to check her ribcage.
“You know that I do,” she said. “We’ve had this conversation a hundred times since Sunnydale.” Realization dawned on her then. “You kept asking me about my feelings for him over and over again. All this time! You kept bringing him up! Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because I wanted to hear that you were over him. I could have told you he was back when you had moved on. I couldn't until then.”
“I never planned to move on!”
“I love him,” she snapped. “I will always love him.”
Angel cringed when he heard the words. “Then god help you, Buffy, because he’s never going to change.”
“I don’t want him to!”
“You like having your heart ripped out?”
“I stayed with you, didn’t I? I must be a glutton for punishment.”
He shook his head. “You should be lashing out at him.”
“You could have said something! We talked almost every day!”
“It wasn’t my story to tell. It was his. If you want to be pissed then aim it the right way.” His grip tightened on her side without him realizing it.
She sucked in her breath. “Owww!”
“I don’t think anything is broken,” he replied absently.
”Check again. I think you snapped me in two!”
Giles arrived with the first aid supplies followed by Willow, who had a bowl and wash rag in hand. Angel reached for the bowl, trying to ignore the way her blood covered his hands and that the scent was tantalizing and sweet. He wet the cloth and turned back to Buffy. “Hold your shirt up.”
She stared at them all, distaste evident on her features. She wrapped her arms around herself and shook her head. “I don’t need you. Any of you. I can do it myself.”
“Hold your shirt up,” Angel repeated, more firmly this time.
Buffy lifted an eyebrow, then slapped the bowl of water in Willow’s hands so that it showered down on him. She pushed him out of her way and got to her feet. “You’re all so good at keeping secrets. Let me tell you one! The only time I feel alive anymore is when something slices into me. I don’t even put up a fight half the time. I just keep my arms down and let them get their licks in. Not because I want to feel something. I do it because maybe one night my Slayer instinct will take a nap and I won’t fight back at all and it can end.
“And all of you will talk about how I went down fighting, like a Slayer is supposed to, and you’ll never know that I did it on purpose. You’ll never know that I had enough. That I had enough after mom died. That I had enough after Glory took Dawn. That I had enough when I saw Dawn’s blood open that portal and I jumped to save you all. I’d had enough then. Now? Now I’ve had too much. It’s killing me.” Her voice broke. “I hate it!”
Giles stared at her with wide eyes. Willow put a hand over her mouth to stop the trembling. Angel slowly got to his feet and reached for her. “You’re drunk. You’re not making any sense.”
“Yeah. Right.” Buffy backed away, the fight seemingly gone from her. “I’ll see things differently tomorrow when the hangover hits and the sun comes up. I tell myself that every time. And every time I lie.”
“Spike is not worth-”
“Angel, you are hardly the man to judge anyone’s worth,” Giles interrupted.
“You can’t possibly condone -”
“Stop it!” Dawn suddenly yelled from the hallway. There were tears rolling down her cheeks and she slowly entered the room, her gaze finding her sister. Wordlessly, she joined Buffy and took her hand. “You’re all making it worse. You can’t talk to her when she’s like this. Believe me, I know. When we’re in Italy together this is my life.”
“Dawnie-” Buffy said.
“Shhh, it’s okay. I’m going to clean you up and then you can go to sleep.”
“I’ll fix it. Come on.”
Everyone watched as Dawn led Buffy from the room. Angel picked up the bowl that was now in the floor and slopped the rag into it. “This is more than Spike. What the hell’s going on with her?”
“We’d all like to know.” Giles handed Willow the first aid kit. “Give that to Dawn, please?”
Willow nodded, speechless, and hurried down the hallway.
Angel put the bowl on the coffee table. “That offer of brandy still stand?”
With a nod, Giles refilled his own glass and brought a matching one for Angel, who was sitting on the sofa with his head in his hands. Giles put the glass in front of him and sat down. “You’re wet.”
“I’ll dry.” Angel drained the glass and sat it back down. “Has she been like this long?”
“I don’t see her very often. She lives full time in Italy until Willow can lead her to a new Slayer and then she travels, sometimes for weeks until she locates the girl. We’re able to persuade her to spend a night or two with us sometimes, but usually she refuses and returns home.”
“You didn’t answer me.”
“I’ve known for a while that things aren’t right with her. I dismissed it, tried to convince myself that she was struggling to adjust to this new life. I was mistaken.”
“And this thing with Spike?”
“He was there for her when no one else could be. I don’t agree with it, but I certainly understand it.”
“And she has your blessing?”
“Angel, she has my heart. I want to see her happy. If that means welcoming Spike into her life then so be it.”
“He loves her. In his own sick, twisted way.”
Giles nodded. “And clearly he’s capable of devotion. He was with Drusilla for years, after all.”
“He did die for Buffy.”
“Yes. And he obtained his soul in order to give her what he thought she wanted. I’ve read the texts. His torment was enormous as he proved his worth.”
“Are we convincing ourselves yet?” Angel asked.
“Not entirely, no.”
“I’ll talk to Spike.”
”What will you say?”
“Whatever it takes.”
Spike took a deep pull from the bourbon bottle and glanced across the room where he had lain the journal Buffy had given him. He’d spent the better part of an hour sitting with it in his lap, stroking the worn cover, rubbing the broken spine. He hadn’t dared crack the cover, though, because he wasn’t ready. Because he wasn’t prepared for that familiar ache that always came when he thought of her. Because he loved her. Because he was scared that what he would read would erase all the reasons he stayed away.
She deserved better than him. In the endless months he had been gone he had realized that he would never be the measure of man she needed. He wasn’t a man at all.
The bottle empty, he sat it on the table and stood, gently lifting the journal. Her bubbly handwriting was as precise as usual. He flipped through several entries, deciding that he would skim a few pages before he read it cover to cover. Maybe that would prepare him...
October 31, 2004
This entire month has been very Slay-Light. I don’t know what to do with myself. If I’m not the Slayer then what am I? It’s been a rough adjustment going from being THE Slayer to just one of hundreds of Slayers. At first I trained with them and tagged along for missions, but it was too hard not to get involved unless they really needed me. I guess I’m not wired for the sharing of duty. I keep feeling like I should be patrolling more, but there’s nothing.
It’s weird not having headlines in the paper like I had every single day in Sunnydale. My body isn’t used to the downtime. At least I could spar with you if you were here with me. And you’d keep me occupied and I wouldn’t spend so much time wondering if I really cheated myself of my purpose by activating all the Slayers.
I feel completely dead. It’s a lot like when I first came back from Heaven, but I don’t have you around to anchor me or put it into perspective. It’s like I don’t know why I’m here anymore and truthfully, I don’t want to be here at all. If you’re in hell then I’d trade this for that. Just to see your face again would be worth it.
I’m in a funk. Dawn says that I have to get out more so I’ve been going to a local club. The music is okay and I never have to buy my own drinks. As long as you’re a blond in Italy all kinds of doors open. I guess the men are used to dark haired women or something. I let them buy my drinks and I drink enough to forget what I am for a while, but I always go home alone.
That’s the hardest time. The nights. I can’t stop thinking about those final nights in my basement. Those memories are enough to keep me warm most of the time.
I love you. You didn’t believe me, but I do.
November 23, 2004
Thanksgiving is almost here. I had to laugh today when I thought about that time the Chumash people attacked us. You were tied to a chair (a position I would personally come to love and adore either one of us in) and the memory of that has gotten me through most of the day.
It’s like an unspoken rule that I’m required to be here for this. I was able to escape a lot of the holidays because they’re mostly American and not a big deal in Europe, but the big ones I get roped into. It was important to Dawn that we leave our place and go to Giles’ flat.
I sat around doing nothing for most of the day. I’ve been barred from the kitchen due to an unfortunate cooking accident in Sunnydale during mom’s last Christmas that I won’t get into. I read a book, some fluffy romance that turned my stomach ... and made me envision you and me in the roles. I’m pathetic.
Dawn has been preparing her ‘what I’m thankful for’ list because mom always said that was the best part of the dinner ... listening to everyone’s heart. I think my list will be short. My heart doesn’t talk at all.
I’m thankful for:
having the chance to really know you.
That’s all. I guess I’m thankful that we’re all okay and that starting over wasn’t hard for them. I wouldn’t know about starting over. Every night I’m back in Sunnydale pulling you up that ladder with me. Every night I tell you how much I love you and I kiss you and we walk into the sunset. Every night I save you.
I miss you. I’m thankful that no one is awake right now because they’d ask me why I’m crying and I’d probably tell the truth. I love you and that will be enough to get me through the rest of my life.
December 23, 2004
Christmas is not some kind of sacred holiday for vampires, but I did buy you a present. I knew you’d love it. I found it in a really neat punk shop in London. It’s funny how just about anything reminds me of you, but this time, it was very apparent.
It’s a silver chain with a spike dangling from it. I wasn’t completely sure it was a spike so I asked and the guy behind the counter (think Johnny Rotten meets Johnny Depp) assured me that it was. So I bought it and the chain. Then I found a heart charm and put that on the chain, too. I’ll wear it forever. I don’t have to explain the symbolism, I’m sure.
You have my heart.
I’m with the gang, even though my entire body is itching to get out of here and go find something to slay, somewhere to run as fast as I can, someplace that’s dark enough to sleep. I’d even settle for your crypt after we wrecked it at this point. I don’t understand why I feel so removed and disjointed, but I do. It’s like I have to force myself to smile and it’s not worth it.
Vi, one of the Slayers, asked me to go out for drinks tonight so I’m going to go. I’ve realized that it’s easier to deal with your ghost when I can’t pick a single memory in my head.
Merry Christmas, Spike. Wherever you are.
April 9, 2005
Giles asked me to come to London for his birthday and I made a million excuses not to go. I think I’m still stinging from the whole getting fired thing they did to me. Getting kicked out of your own house so that your nemesis can take your job, your bedroom, and your life isn’t fun. I think I would have died if you hadn’t found me.
Sometimes when things are really rough ... I think about that speech you gave me that night. It was beautiful and it gave me so much strength. I wish I could bottle that moment and pour it over me when it’s hard to breathe.
I may be going to Australia in a few days. There are reports trickling in from some field Slayers that a demon mob is setting up camp near Queensland. Maybe I can see the zoo. Crikey!
There’s also a new Slayer there that I’ll have to go and find. I think you’d enjoy being a part of it. I wish you could be there with me. I guess in all the best ways you are because no matter what’s happening ... I think about how you’d handle it and what you’d think of it. I should get a WWSD bracelet. Hah. You’d do the most perverted thing ... that’s what you’d do.
I miss you.
I love you.
April 17 2004
The Australia Zoo was incredible. I got attacked by a cockatoo and rescued by a really attractive guy who followed me around asking for my number. Nothing happened because my target, a Slayer named Kensington, was about to beat the hell out of a heckler so I decided to intervene. Nothing quite so bad as a Slayer who doesn’t know her own strength. And nothing would have happened anyway because he isn’t you. It depressed me to realize that I will never, ever want to be with anyone else.
Kensington and I talked and bonded over mutual frizziness of hair before I dropped the Slayer bomb on her. She wasn’t very surprised. None of them ever are. It’s like we *feel* our calling inside so it’s not that much of a shock.
She’s coming back to Europe with me. She has no family and she’s really sweet. Almost too sweet. That could be bad for her. If I’ve learned anything at all it’s that we, as Slayers, have to embrace the hardness that killing creates in order to keep doing it. We have to close up and push people away so that we can get into that zone. It’s hard, but I’ve mastered it. So can they.
I ran into Clem! Yes, Clem! Your old friend. Our old friend. He’s also coming to Italy and wants to be a Watcher. Kensington tried to stake him. Fundamentals are sometimes too basic for the brain of a Slayer. Yeah, right.
I guess I need to work on a better way of explaining the whole gray area of demonology where some are actually good.
I dreamed about you last night. You were in a cafe in Los Angeles of all places trying to write me a letter. It was incredibly real and I didn’t want to wake up. I miss you so much that I can’t stand it sometimes.
Tonight I’m going to have a few too many drinks and see if you’re gone by the time the liquor is. It’s been hard having you in my head so much lately.
I feel like I’ve fallen into something that I can’t control. It’s like being in quick sand and clawing for the surface, but everyone knows it pulls you under faster. That’s how my life is. I’m constantly clawing and suffocating at the same time. And sometimes I want to stop reaching or trying or gasping for air because I know that the sun will go down and the Slayer part of me will come to life aching to kill. And there’s nothing out there for me anymore.
All the other Slayers have the market cornered and I’m just ... not necessary.
I think I drink too much. I think I run from people too much. I think I expect too much and give too little.
I don’t like myself anymore and I have no clue how to do anything to change it. I can almost hear you telling me that I’ve got to snap out of it, because why the bloody hell should I feel so down and out? I got a ‘get out of jail free’ card and I’m not responsible for the world. But that’s the problem, Spike. I have nothing to be accountable for anymore. I’m only responsible for *me* and I’m more than I can handle. I don’t like the thoughts I have or the hollow ache that sticks with me every single day of my life.
I want you here. You know, when I was in Australia I talked to some Shamans about bringing you back. I even tried to find a guy like Rack who could magick you back into existence. But I don’t know where to look or how to find the right people. Most of the books are gone and I can’t ask anyone.
You know what it feels like? It feels like running in a maze and knowing that the way out is just around another corner, but everything is a dead end. I mean, Willow brought *me* back, but she hasn’t offered to bring *you* back. It’s stingy if you ask me.
I also think that -
Spike’s concentration was broken by loud rapping on his door. He softly closed the journal, holding it against his chest for several seconds before putting it on the table and crossing the room. It had to be Buffy. He decided in that instant that he would hold her and never let her go again. Her words, her feelings ... it was real. It had to be real.
“Spike, I know you’re in there,” Angel said from the hallway.
“Oh, bollocks!” Spike growled, yanking the door open. “Have I not suffered enough torment tonight?”
Angel brushed past him and shut the door. “Not yet, but the sun isn’t up so we have a while.”
“What? Did you grow some balls? No, that would never happen, not enough magick in the world.”
“Save it. We need to talk.”
“Again, I mention torment.”
“I’m serious. Buffy was hurt tonight.”
“Yeah, I was there.”
“No, you weren’t. She’s mangled to a pulp because she got jumped by some demons and her head was too full of you to fight them.”
Spike’s expression changed and he stared at Angel, trying to read the other man’s face. “How bad is it?”
“Bad enough. And she was drunk. She’s an awful drunk.”
“Ahhh, put your in your place, did she?”
“Sit down and shut up for a minute.” Angel sat down in one of the leather chairs and regarded him.
Spike threw his hands in the air and flopped onto the sofa. “What? Is this the speech where you tell me that I’m not worthy? Or the one where you tell me that you’d die to see her happy as long as it’s not with me?”
“It’s the one where I tell you that I underestimated what she feels for you. She loves you.”
“Okay, the spell that was supposed to give you balls? It messed with your head, mate.”
“Joke all you want. You didn’t see her.”
“She was *drunk*. She probably -”
“Do you love her?” Angel leaned forward, studying the other vampire with a serious expression.
“You know I do.” Spike nodded. “No epic poems will be written about it, but it’s real.”
When Angel sighed, he caught the scent of Buffy in the room and glanced down at the journal that lay on the coffee table. “What’s this?”
Spike grabbed it before Angel could. “She wrote me letters.”
“Did you read them?”
“Not all of them. There must be hundreds. But she wrote me everything that was in her heart.”
It was Angel’s turn to nod. He stared at other man, hating and respecting him in equal parts. Hatred because Spike would have all that Angel had ever wanted and respect because the bastard had earned it. Standing, he shoved his hands into the pockets of his jacket. “If you love her you should do the right thing.”
Spike started to reply, but Angel held up his hand. “I don’t have what it takes to say it more than once. You won, Spike. And I’m going to tell you what someone should have told me when I packed my bags and left Sunnydale ... loving her *is* enough. It’s stronger than all the reasons you shouldn’t and her life is way too short for you to waste it on stupid mistakes. Be with her while you can and make enough memories to last both of us. I’d rather watch you make her happy while she’s here than listen to a million years worth of you crying in your liquor because you ruined it.”
“Damn.” Spike stared at him, wide eyed. “There may be epic poetry written about *that*.”
“As long as you aren’t the author.” Angel smiled. And it took everything he had left inside to do so.
Xander watched Buffy as she massaged her forehead. The Slayer spoke softly to Dawn, who had hovered around her sister constantly since they had arrived at the funeral home. The black sweater Buffy wore made her skin colourless and emphasised the dark circles under her eyes.
“She’s gonna snap soon,” Willow said, sitting next to Xander. “You didn’t see her last night. It was scary.”
“Sometimes sleeping like the dead is a good thing,” he replied, accepting the bottle of water she held out to him. He took a deep drink and sighed. “I don’t know how much more she can handle.”
“We were wrong to split up. We should have stuck together. Buffy’s alone most of the time now and she shouldn’t be.”
“What can we do? What does she need?”
Willow watched as Dawn left the main room and Buffy wrapped her arms around herself, as if she was chilled to the bone. “She needs us to keep supporting her. No matter what.”
“Sorry. I can’t jump on the ‘Pickle Your Liver’ bandwagon. Dawn told me this morning that Buffy drinks all the time.” Xander finished off the bottle of water and put the lid back on. “Do you think we should do an intervention type thing?”
“You do remember the last one, right? The one where you almost lost your life?” Willow nudged him with her elbow. “Remember how she got up in your face?”
“I also remember the laundry I had to do that night.” Xander grinned. “How sad is it that I can reflect on that as a good time now?”
“High school was a good time. Why did we grow up again?”
Xander watched as Giles approached Buffy, giving her a cup of coffee. “You think he knows how to handle it?”
“He’s Giles. If not he can wing it.”
They watched as he sat next to Buffy.
“Thanks,” Buffy said, taking a sip of the bitter coffee and grimacing at the fresh wave of nausea that washed over her. “Although my stomach is less grateful.”
“You skipped breakfast and lunch. We can go for dinner whenever you’re ready.” Giles smiled, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “How do you feel?”
“Horrible. Miserable.” She put the coffee on the table next to her. “Lots of other things that I can’t think of because my head isn’t working. What time is it?”
“It feels like it should be midnight. It’s been a long day. Notice the entire lack of my father showing up.”
“We need to talk.”
Buffy glanced at him, then at her friends who were making a great show of trying to not stare at her. “I know that I have a ton of damage control, Giles. This isn’t the time or the place.”
“I think it is.” Giles leaned toward her, lowering his voice. “Do you have a problem with alcohol?”
“No. I happen to like alcohol. I can’t help it if it doesn’t like me.”
“This isn’t a joke. You scared me last night. And from what I could glean from Dawn, it’s become a bit of a habit with you.”
“I’m not an alcoholic if that’s where you’re going with this.” Buffy felt trapped by his glare so she looked away. “And Dawn talks too much.”
“She loves you. She cares about what happens to you. We all do.”
“Yeah, I’ve been feeling the love for months.”
Giles caught her arm as she started to rise and pulled her back into her seat. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“I’m not doing this here.” She snatched her arm loose and started to rise again, but Giles blocked her. “Please don’t.”
“Sit down.” He saw the way her chin lifted defiantly, but he held his ground. “I’m not asking.”
Buffy glanced past him, saw the way that Willow, Xander, and now Dawn, were watching her with a mixture of shock and distaste. She flopped back into her seat and crossed her arms. She would hear him out, somehow get through what was left the day, and then get as far away from them as she could before the dust had time to settle at the graveyard tomorrow.
Giles pulled his chair around so that he could face her properly and studied her. “You’re angry. Why?”
“I don’t like being treated like a child.”
“I treat you as your behaviour warrants. And I’m not talking about right now. You’ve been angry for some time. Where is it coming from?”
“Every pore,” she replied.
“Would you care to elaborate?”
She could tell that he wasn’t going to give up so she silently counted to ten. Maybe it was time to bare her soul to all of them and let them do with it what they would. Or maybe it was having her mother lying a few feet away that loosened her tongue. Either way, the words began before she knew how to stop them.
“I’ve always done the right thing. Well, basically the right thing. I accepted my calling. I slayed the bad guys. I did my time on the Hellmouth. I bled, I suffered, I cried, I hurt. I lost. I lost everything again and again. Dad, Mom, Angel, Riley, Spike. Even you. You left, too. And I kept right on fighting. Hell, I died twice for the greater good. And now I’m nothing more than a gopher who runs around collecting younger and better Slayers. I go out and find girls who are doing the only thing *I* know how to do and they’re doing it so well that I don’t have a job anymore. I don’t even have a purpose.
“And it’s hard, Giles. I mean, I used to slay every single night. Or there was research to do. There was *something* to keep me distracted. I’ve basically stopped being the Slayer. My mind knows it, but my body doesn’t. My heart doesn’t. I was created to fight things. I’ve gone from being on ten all the time to being on one. I drink because *that* is what I have to keep me distracted now. It makes the Slayer part of me be quiet long enough for me to have a little peace.”
Giles let out the breath he had been holding. He processed her words, then said, “That’s a good start, but that’s not all, is it?”
“No, it’s not.” She worried her bottom lip between her teeth as she searched for the right words. Finally, she said, “I guess I’m still having trouble trying to wrap my head around how you guys could turn on me and make me leave my own house. And I know that you had your reasons, but I haven’t forgotten it and I’ll never understand it. I don’t feel connected to any of you anymore and that’s a big part of why. I mean, I stood by all of you a million times, but you couldn’t, no, wouldn’t, stand by me.”
“That’s not true!” Xander interjected. He shrugged away the looks he received and said, “What? My hearing has improved. On one side at least.” To Buffy, he added, “It wasn’t about standing beside you. We had all been standing shoulder to shoulder with you and got our asses and *eyes* served to us on a silver platter. You were wrong to expect us to pony up and go rushing back into the devil’s lair. It was too soon. We lost too many girls that day and the ones standing needed to process it.”
“While they were processing, I went back alone and got what I needed. I was right. You know I was right,” Buffy shot back. “You’re not a Slayer, Xander, so you don’t understand the fact that a Slayer fights better before she gets a chance to rationalize it, before she *processes* it. Before it gets the chance to strip her defenses and make her doubt her ability to beat it. You have to come out swinging while it’s still raw or you won’t swing long.”
No one said anything for a long time. They all sat lost in their thoughts until Buffy finally spoke again. “I’m not in a place where I can keep putting a fake smile on my face to appease everyone. It’s just better the way it is. You know, seeing each other for holidays or when I bring a new girl in.”
“I don’t agree,” Giles replied. “If anything, I daresay that the lack of communication between all of us has caused the rift to widen and perpetrate-”
“There he goes. Using so many words to say so little,” Xander said. “Can’t you just say ‘this sucks and we want you to come back with us and forget Italy’, G-man?”
“What he said.” Willow pointed at Xander.
“I like Italy.” Buffy shrugged.
“You hate Italy,” Dawn corrected. “You hate pasta. You hate the accents. You hate the customs. The clothes. The apartment. The people. Every time you’re there you talk about how much you’d rather be back in California or off searching for a new girl. You despise it.”
“Fine, blabbermouth. I despise it.”
“Well, it’s no picnic for me, either.” Dawn stood up and paced a few feet, then put her hands on her hips. “You’re always gone and you leave me there with Andrew! Do you know how often he makes me put my hair in Princess Leia braids? He has a light saber, Buffy. One that makes noise!”
They all erupted into laughter at that, even Dawn. For a moment they all felt it, the familiarity and the comfort of one another, the past that nothing could erase. For a moment, they weren’t in a funeral home, they were back in Sunnydale with the threat of something big hanging over their heads, but they were undaunted, full of love, life, and laughter. It felt right and they basked in it as long as they could.
After a while, Giles said, “I think you should come to London, Buffy. What about Spike? I am loathe to extend the offer to him, but I will gladly do so in an effort- ”
The familiar pain that she had struggled with all night long came back, hitting her like a sledgehammer. “He’s not in the picture.”
“But I thought-”
The lump that had been nesting in her since she first started talking began to ache so much that it was hard for her to breathe, so Buffy shook her head. “Don’t. I can’t.”
She jumped to her feet and ran from the room, darting past Angel, Wesley, and Spike who were walking toward the family room with armfuls of flowers. She raced into the bathroom, and locking herself into one of the stalls, she gave into the pain that had been tormenting her since she arrived in California. It was no surprise when she heard the outer door open a few minutes later and footsteps approaching on the polished tiles.
Spike tilted his head to one side, listening to her quiet sobs, then he knocked on the stall she was in.
“Please go away.”
“Open the door, love,” he told her. When she didn’t reply, he easily broke the lock and the door swung open freely. Saying nothing, he pulled her into his arms and held onto her. It was what she needed. Leaning into him, she cried for everything. Her mom. Her life.
“It hurts,” she told him.
“I know, baby. I know.”
“You always know.” She wrapped her arms around him, letting his familiar scent envelope her. This was the peace that she had been searching for. This was the peace that she tried to find at the bottom of a million empty bottles. It had been hiding with him all along. She wanted to beg him to never let go, even for a second.
She also wanted to beat him until he understood the pain she had experienced at his “death”.
Spike kissed the top of her head. His own emotions were running rampant and he wanted desperately to speak to her about some of the things in her letters, but talk was not what she needed. He massaged circles on back as she cried, whispering to her that it would be okay.
After a while, she relaxed and her hysteria had died down to a few random sniffles. Spike led her out of the stall, snagged a handful of tissues, and handed them to her.
Buffy blotted at her face, then caught her reflection in the mirror. The cut on her lip was deep, causing swelling. And the bruise had moved to cover the entire side of her cheek “That doesn’t even look like me.”
“No, it doesn’t.” Spike turned her toward him and studied the discoloration on her face. It enraged him to think that she had invited the blows instead of deflected them. “Why do you let them do this to you?”
Her eyes widened. “How -”
”Oh, god.” Buffy had forgotten exactly how much she had divulged to him in those notes. “I made up-”
“Don’t you dare lie to me! Tell me the truth. Why?”
“I don’t know.”
“Yes, you do!”
He blocked her when she made a move for the door, easily pushing her backwards. It rattled her a little. She had forgotten how strong he was. “Spike-”
“I want you to explain it to me.”
She couldn’t meet his eyes, she didn’t even try. “When they hurt me it becomes a matter of life or death. And the Slayer in me can finally wake up when that happens. I actually have a purpose.”
“You’re a Slayer all the time, but that’s never been *who* you are. Your purpose here is not just to kill demons, Buffy. Everyone who knows you is a better person because of it. Not because you saved our lives again and again, but because you graced us with yours. So what if you’re not the only Slayer. So what if you’re not slaying every day. You want purpose? Look in the mirror again. There’s your purpose.”
“You don’t know what it’s like.”
“Like hell I don’t! You think I didn’t have to search for my place in all of this? The soldier boys made it impossible for me to be a vampire and you made it impossible for me to forget that I wasn’t a good man. I was left being nothing. I wanted to run from all of it, from Sunnydale, from the chip in my head, from you-”
“Well, at least you got your wish. The chip is gone. Sunnydale is gone. You’re as far away from me as you can get! So good for you! You still have no clue what I’m talking about.”
“I sat up all night reading what you’re talking about! Several times!”
”Then why the hell are you making me explain it if you already know!?”
“Maybe if you hear yourself saying it you’ll understand how stupid it is!” Spike yelled.
Buffy gasped. “I am not stupid!”
“I didn’t call you stupid, but I’ll try to say this nicely. If we were to judge you by your actions, well, you see where I’m going with this.”
“How could I have forgotten how much I hate you?”
“You only hate me when you know I’ve won a round.”
“You haven’t won anything!” she shot back. “And what the hell are you doing here anyway?”
“I brought flowers for your mum. I didn’t get round to the funeral last time.”
“You weren’t invited either time.”
“How could *I* have forgotten how insufferable you are?”
“The same way you forgot how to use a phone, I’d imagine. Oh, or maybe you just explained it. You didn’t call me because I’m insufferable and you realized that you didn’t love me after all. You never did.”
“Don’t go there with me! You know that I love you.”
“Right. If we were to judge you by your *actions*, well, you know where *I’m* going with this.”
Spike opened his mouth to reply, but an elderly woman pushed the door open and crept through, clutching her walker. Buffy rushed to hold the door and the woman smiled at her. “I’ve been outside waiting for the yelling to stop, but I have an old worn out bladder, honey. Hate to interrupt.”
“I’m sorry.” Buffy told her and exited the bathroom while she had the chance.
Spike followed her down the hallway and back into the viewing room. A tall, blond man he didn’t recognize who was hugging Dawn. Buffy drew up short and he saw the way her spine stiffened as she observed them.
”Buffy!” Hank Summers smiled over Dawn’s shoulder, then frowned. “What the hell happened to your face?”
“Nice to see you too, Dad,” Buffy replied.
“Some things never change, do they?” Hank stepped away from Dawn and toward Buffy. “Look at you!”
“She got mugged,” Dawn interjected. “Last night on the beach.”
“But by all means, keep thinking the worst because I’d hate for you to be disappointed by not being disappointed in me,” Buffy added.
Hank stopped in front of her and put his hands on her shoulders. “I’m sorry. You know me and jumping to conclusions.”
“It’s the only think you jump for.” She shied away from him, picked up her purse and kissed Dawn on the cheek. “I’ll see you later.”
“You’re leaving? I just got here!” Hank said.
“Add two and two together and all that.” Buffy shot back. Without saying a word to anyone else, she walked out the door.
Spike and Angel both made a move to follow her. Spike paused to glare at him, one eyebrow arched. Angel drew up short and nodded. “Fine. Go.”
Buffy was halfway across the parking lot when he caught up with her. She didn’t acknowledge his presence for the first three blocks. It wasn’t until she stepped into the line at one of the seedy nightclubs and began to fish money from her purse for the cover charge that she gave him any notice. He caught her arm, pulling her toward him, and she shoved him. “Go away.”
Spike stepped closer to her and spoke to her in a low voice. “If you cause a scene I’ll humiliate you.”
“Your presence humiliates me,” she replied, but she allowed him to pull her away from the club and the promise of a stiff drink.
They walked next to one another, him gripping her elbow until they were out of the seedy downtown area and closer to the beach. Buffy closed her eyes and breathed in the familiar salty air of the ocean. It was nostalgic and she had missed it more than she realized. It reminded her of her mother. It reminded her of home. When they had been a real family, a mom, a dad, a bratty kid sister. Before being a Slayer had ruined it all.
“You want to tell me what happened back there?” Spike asked.
“The part with your father.”
“Not really, no.”
“You hate him?”
“No, I just refuse to let myself be disappointed by him again.”
“You don’t think-”
“No, I don’t think. I don’t think at all.” Buffy paused where the pavement met the beach and kicked her shoes off. “It’s easier to just push them all away before they can go on their own.”
“I thought we were talking about your father?”
Buffy turned and looked at him. “We’re talking about people in general.”
“You know what? When you don’t sound like Angel, you sound just like Giles. Where did you go?”
“You’re one to talk! Where did *you* go? You’re not the same person you used to be. Not that it needs saying, but I don’t like it.”
“Yeah, you’ve made that abundantly clear.” Buffy stalked across the beach, clutching her shoes in her hand. “You know what? Stop following me. I’ve had all the rejection I can stand.”
Spike laughed. “If I’m following you how exactly am I rejecting you?”
“Is that the best you got, love?”
Buffy ignored him and continued toward the water. She dropped her shoes a few feet away from where the waves were gently lapping at the shore and stepped into the cool spray. It did little to calm her rising temper.
He sat down in the sand and watched as she paced back and forth in the water. She was doing a very respectable job of ignoring him and he allowed it to continue for several minutes. Finally, he said, “I want to talk to you about your journal.”
”It’s not a journal and it’s not mine. I gave it to you.”
“You’re in such a giving mood so where’s the necklace? My Christmas present?”
She stopped mid stride and turned to look at him. “I don’t take it off.”
“I thought it was mine.”
Instinctively, her hand went to the place between her breasts where the chain and charms rested below her shirt. She couldn’t imagine not having it next to her heart at all times. When she was scared, nervous, lonely, especially lonely, she would toy with it and it would be okay for a while.
“Can I at least see it, Buffy?” he asked.
Nodding, she stepped from the water and pulled it from the neck of her shirt. She kneeled in the sand in front of him and turned her palm up, letting it rest delicately there.
Spike watched her face as she traced the silver spike and heart, then looked up and met his eyes. Swallowing hard, he lifted the charms and studied them. “It’s perfect.”
Buffy smiled, a genuine smile, for the first time that night. “I knew you’d like it.”
“I wish I could have been there to receive it.”
Her smile vanished and her face clouded. She stood, stuffing it back into her shirt. “Nothing stopped you.”
“I’m here now.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “I’m not giving it to you. I bought it for the man I knew in Sunnydale. The one who loved me. Wanted me. Died for me. He’s still dead to me.”
She made a move to grab her shoes, but he caught her arm and wrestled her down into the sand beside him. “The woman that I wanted, loved, and died for ... would never let demons kick her ass for the hell of it! She’d never run from her friends, from her little sister, hide inside a bottle when the going gets rough.” He tightened his grip on her. “The woman I loved wasn’t this pathetic.”
“Let go of me!” Buffy screamed, head butting him in the face. He fell backwards, holding his nose. Without thinking, she kicked him hard in the gut.
Almost as soon as her foot connected with him, she found herself lying on her back and he was advancing on her. She deflected his hands as he reached for her and twisted, trying to flip upright. The sand prevented that maneuver and she landed hard on her backside. His laughter infuriated her. Seeing red, she jumped to her feet and punched him hard, splitting the back of her hand open with the force of it.
The power of the blow knocked him backward and he tasted his own blood. And hers. The demon inside of him raged to the fore as he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “There you are,” he chuckled. “Fair warning, baby, unlike your precious Angel, I won’t hesitate to kick your ass.”
“Unlike my precious Angel, you don’t stand a chance.”
Fury surged through his veins and he attacked, shoving her so hard that even the sand couldn’t stop her bones from jarring as she landed on her backside.
Grabbing her arms, her wrenched her upward, waited until she got her footing, and then knocked her onto her backside again.
“Why won’t you hit me?” she screamed at him as she got to her feet. “Don’t push me around! Hit me! Damn you, hit me!”
Spike ducked as she swung at him and tackled her around the middle. She clawed him as he landed on top of her and he growled. “If that’s the best you can do it’s no wonder you let them kick your ass. You don’t have a fucking choice.”
“You gone soft on me, Spike?” Somehow she managed to get her foot positioned just right and kicked upward, sending him flying into the air. He landed in the water, and slowly got to his feet. “Yeah, I’d say you have gone soft. Is that why you don’t want me? You can’t perform? You really do belong in Angel’s world, don’t you?”
Spike glared at her, trying to ignore the fact that the water was freezing. If he got within striking distance, he actually would hit her. And he doubted that he would be able to stop.
Buffy swallowed hard as she regarded the fury on his face, which seemed more menacing since he was bleeding, since his hair was sticking up on end. Hating herself more than usual, she bit her lip in an attempt to stop the tears that stung her eyes from falling.
For some reason ... Spike had not hit her once. She refused to even contemplate what it could mean. But did it mean that he did love her? No, she couldn’t go there.
He watched her as she took a step back and bent to pick up one of her shoes. The other was lying at the water’s edge and his skin tingled when she glanced from it back at him. Could that be fear in her eyes?
She had pushed him too far and if she didn’t leave now ... She took a step toward her shoe and he took a step toward the shore. The sudden movement made her draw up short and watch him closely. “I’m done, Spike. We’re finished. You go your way and I’m gonna go mine.”
“We’re not even close to finished.”
The icy tone of his voice was like a vise around her heart. They stared at one another, her eyes wide, his narrowed. Finally, she said, “Just let me get my shoe and go. They’re Dawn’s and she’ll kill me.” She stepped forward.
So did he. “Not if I beat her to the punch.”
He took another step forward and she held her ground. “When you invite someone to do something, it’s not right to leave before they get to.”
“Get to what?” Confused, her brow furrowed.
“You asked me to hit you and I never leave a woman wanting.”
He stalked toward her and Buffy dropped the shoe, turning to run. He caught her before she had made three long strides, lifted her by the back of her shirt and pants, then tossed her into the water headfirst.
Spike was standing before her, waist deep in the cold tide, when she broke the surface. He grabbed her, one hand tangled in her hair and the other seized her throat painfully. She pawed at him, trying to wrench free, but he shoved her under the water and held her there. Finally, he pulled her up. “You still got a death wish? You still want a demon to get the better of you?”
Wracked by a coughing fit, Buffy could only shake her head. She was kneeling before him, the water up to her neck, and almost instantly, her tears mingled with the salt water on her cheeks. "Please..."
Spike lifted her out of the water and carried her in his arms across the sand, stopping only to lift her shoes, which dangled from his fingers as he made his way toward Wolfram and Hart.
For what seemed like an eternity, Buffy buried her face against Spike’s shoulder. The gentle rocking motion as he carried her across town was enough to relax her taut muscles. She sighed, pulling him closer, breathing in the rich aroma of salt water, flesh, and aged leather. As much as she found comfort in his embrace, however, she soon realized where they were heading and shook her head. “Don’t take me to Wolfram and Hart,” she said. “I need to be with Dawn.”
Spike didn’t change his course. “Tonight you need to be with me.”
She shifted her weight and easily slipped from his arms, feeling bereft as her bare feet hit the sidewalk. She studied him for several long, unflinching moments. “Our last night together was beautiful. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the last time I ever slept in your arms.”
“Who said anything about sleeping, pet?” He arched an eyebrow, a cocky grin breaking through his determined glare. "We're not fighting this anymore."
"We? Do you have a mouse in your pocket? *I* haven't been fighting anything."
He yanked her into his arms and stared down at her. "You're coming with me. I'm going to erase every second that we've been apart."
Buffy felt her body react instantly to his words, the familiar tightening in her womb, the flutter between her legs. She knew her face was flushed with desire and that her breathing had become ragged. Shrugging, she attempted to appear nonchalant about his words, but she could tell he wasn’t buying it. She took a step backwards as he moved toward her, shaking her head. “You wish.”
Gripping her hips, Spike yanked her against him, letting her feel his arousal. “I do wish, love. Every second of the day.”
She trembled, hating her body for betraying her as he ran his thumb over her hardened nipple. Without thinking, she leaned her head back, granting him access to her throat. He obliged her, nipping and kissing. Tangling her fingers in his hair, she held him against her, shaking with want, yielding with need.
"Please, Spike," she whispered.
He glanced down at her, saw the fire in her eyes, and pulled her toward an alley that ran behind a row of dilapidated warehouses. He noted the stack of pallets and garbage that littered every conceivable surface and picked her up, mindful that she wasn't wearing shoes. He stalked through the darkness and slipped inside one of the buildings. His face morphed, his yellow eyes scanning left and right. He saw a desk shoved into a corner and strode toward it.
Sitting her on the edge, he kissed her again, removing his jacket as he did so. He slipped it behind her, spreading it over the scratched wooden surface of the desk. Words were unneeded as he lifted the hem of her shirt, pulling it over her head. He could see a sliver of moonlight peeking around a bookcase and he shoved it out of the way, exposing the window. Turning, he could see her fully and let his face slide back to its human visage.
Buffy sat confidently, allowing him to look his fill. She watched him swallow, watched the way his jaw clenched and he adjusted himself before coming back to her. She opened her arms and he nuzzled against her ear, whispering how beautiful she was.
They kissed and there was a feeling of coming home coursing through Buffy’s soul. For so long she had been unnecessary, not really needed by anyone. As he yanked his shirt over his head and discarded his pants, she saw just how much he needed her. She lifted her hips as he eased her pants down and tossed them aside.
Naked, Buffy pulled him to her. Wordlessly, she unhooked the clasp of the necklace, his Christmas present, and put it around his neck. She let her fingertips brush across his chest, making sure it was straight, then she leaned forward and kissed the charm, then his cool flesh.
He was moved more than he would admit. His throat tightened as he stared down at her unshed tears that sparkled in the dim moonlight. “It’s okay, luv.”
“It will be,” she replied.
Spike felt his eyes bulge as she wrapped her small, hot hand around his shaft and lightly stroked him. He felt like a randy schoolboy as he thrust his hips, straining to feel more of her, all of her. He wanted to slam her backwards and mount her immediately, but that was not what she needed.
He did push her backwards, however, and rained kisses from her breasts, to her ribcage, to the soft, taut flesh of her belly. She lifted her hips, begging him silently to move lower. He greedily obliged and parted her flesh, tasting her desire, her passion.
With a groan, he gripped her thighs, digging his fingertips into her flesh. Buffy thrashed her head from side to side, moaning his name in a steady cadence. He brought her to the edge, then pulled back, watching as she whimpered for release. Finally, he gave it to her. Inserting one digit, then two into her slick passage, he felt her clamp down on him, saw her body tense. The sounds she made were music and it heightened his arousal ten fold.
Easing her to the very edge of the desk, he watched as she massaged her distended nipples, rolling them between her fingers. It drove him insane. For a while, he had entertained the thought of taking her gently, but his body rejected that plan and he plowed into her with everything he had.
Buffy gripped the edge of the desk. It had been so long, too long. He filled her almost to the point of pain, and she shook with the power of it. He held her legs against his chest as he pounded her, then without warning, he pulled her to her feet and pushed her over the desk, so that she was face down. He entered her again, this time he reached around her and massaged the part of her that had begun aching anew.
Within seconds, she shattered again, her voice hoarse and husky as she moaned his name and something about God. He pulled her up a little so he could cup her breasts and eventually joined her, spilling his seed deep inside her womb.
Spent, Buffy collapsed forward, all of her weight on the desk. She felt him ease out of her, kiss the nape of her neck, and heard him gathering their clothes. It took a second to realize that she had stopped shaking from the power of their passion, but instead was shaking uncontrollably from the cold. Her teeth actually chattered together painfully.
“You need to get dressed, pet. We need to go.” Spike held out her clothing.
On weak legs, she stood and attempted to dress. It was impossible between the shivering and the lack of desire to punish herself by pulling the frigid pants on. Spike finally took pity on her and wrapped her in his coat. It wasn’t much of an improvement, but it covered her completely, almost dragging the ground. He dressed himself, handed her the wet clothing, and picked her up again.
“I can walk if you just give me my shoes.”
“I’m not exactly sure where they are.”
Her eyes widened. “Those are Dawn’s!”
He set her back on the desk and prowled around. Finally he found them and held them out to her. “Impractical things, really.”
Slipping them on, Buffy was inclined to agree. Her legs were still weak from the intensity of their coupling and she couldn’t see four feet in front of her because the moonlight had dwindled to nothing. The heels may as well have been toothpicks. When she stumbled for the fifth time in a row, Spike lifted her again.
“Are we going to talk about what just happened?” she asked as he emerged from the warehouse and set out toward Wolfram and Hart.
“What do you want to know, pet?”
“What it means.”
“It means I love you, Buffy. It means that I can’t stop and I can’t stay away from you -”
“But you did.”
He sighed, moving past the pallets in the alleyway and emerging back onto the sidewalk that would lead them to Wolfram and Hart. “Are you coming home with me?”
“Are you going to leave me again?”
“I didn’t leave you!”
“I *died* for you. Granted, I knew what I was doing, but all the same, it’s not like I had a choice.”
“But you came back. You came back and you didn’t even *try* to find me. That’s the same as leaving me.”
Spike stopped walking and closed his eyes against the budding anger he was beginning to feel. He wanted to continue to bask in what they had shared, but apparently, she had other plans. “I’m sorry. I apologize. I was wrong. Now will you come home with me?”
As an apology, it was sorely lacking. “No, I don’t think I will.”
“Bloody hell,” Spike growled as she struggled in his arms. He was forced to let her go and she pulled his coat tighter around herself.
“I’ll stop by tomorrow before I leave and give this back to you.” With that, she turned on her impractical heels and strode in the opposite direction.
He tried to count to ten so he wouldn’t strangle her. He made it to eight before he chased after her. “What the hell is wrong with you now, Summers?”
“I can’t do this.” She kept walking, looking straight ahead. “I don’t think I can ever forgive you for what you’ve done to me.”
“I was a soddin’ ghost! And then I was confused as hell when I finally did come back all the way and then I thought you had moved on with the Immortal and then-”
“Well, your reasons suck! I told you I loved you. You knew how I felt!”
“I didn’t think you meant it! Not really. I mean, you were hot and cold and then you’re saying it when you know I’m dying!”
“I said it without saying it the night you found me and I said it again without saying it in my kitchen when you told me it was the best night of your life and I said it yet again after you accused me of being with Angel and made your stupid punching bag with his picture and I stayed with you all night and it was perfect and I said it then, too!”
“You did not! And what the fuck is ‘saying it without saying it’.”
“It was in my actions.”
“The only action you had was when you said ‘hello’,” he gestured wildly, making air quotes with his hands. “to Angel by falling on his face and sucking wildly.”
“That was a peck! A simple peck!”
“Don’t ever do it again.”
She stopped walking. “Don’t tell me what to do! We are not a couple!”
“Oh yes we are!”
Spike raked a hand through his hair, swearing loudly. He grabbed her, yanking her toward him. She thought he was going to kiss her, instead he patted all the pockets of his coat until he found a pack of cigarettes. She snatched them before he could light one and tossed the pack away.
“If we’re a couple and you can suddenly tell me what to do, then I can too. You don’t smoke. I won’t date anyone who smokes.”
“I’m not asking you to date me. I’m telling you that this is it. You wanted me. You got me. Bad habits and all.” He retrieved the pack and stuck one into his mouth, only to have it snatched again by Buffy.
“I’ll go with you if you stop.”
“Shit!” Spike threw the pack over his shoulder and reached for her hand.
She took it and cringed. “Ouch. You really hurt my hand.”
“I did not. *You* hit me. Remember?”
“Are we going to do this all night?”
“Oh, I doubt we’ll talk much at all.”
Dawn threw her purse towards the table in the condominium, but missed. Her belongings scattered all over the floor and she let loose a string of curses that caused Willow and Giles to blush. Xander merely clapped enthusiastically.
“Are you okay?” Willow asked, helping retrieve the items.
“No!” Dawn snapped, bursting into tears. “I used to defend him when Buffy would tell me he was a deadbeat dad. I mean, he’s the one who made us promise to do the traditional funeral again. The viewing, the piano, the stupid guestbook. He forced us to delay it when Buffy wanted to have it over and done with. No, Dad said to do it so people could come and now he says he won’t even be there tomorrow! We could have already been home!”
Xander helped her to her feet and gave her a reassuring squeeze. “It’s okay. I don’t much like the guy either.”
Someone knocked and Giles opened the door, hoping it would be Buffy. He was disappointed to find Angel on the other side. His interest was peaked, however, when he noticed several armed guards flanking him and more walking around in the parking lot. Giles stepped aside, allowing the vampire to enter and waited for the guards to do the same, but they merely nodded at him.
“I hate to keep dropping by unannounced, but I need to talk to you.” Angel said, then noticed Dawn’s tear stained face. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Dawn replied, drying her eyes. “Who were those men? What’s going on?”
“The demons that jumped Buffy went to a friend’s bar tonight. They were bragging about how they almost killed the Slayer. They were telling the other demons where Buffy is staying. It’s not safe for you here. I have a car waiting outside to take you to Wolfram and Hart.”
“What about Buffy?” Giles asked. “She’s not here.”
“Don’t worry. I just got a call from Wesley a few minutes ago. She’s already there.”
“Give us a few moments to gather our things,” Giles replied.
Angel caught Dawn’s arm before she left the room. “Can I talk to you?”
“Sure. But do it while I pack. The last thing I want right now is to fight something that was strong enough to do that to Buffy.”
Angel studied her closely as she tossed her clothing into her bag, finally he sat on the edge of the bed and said, “Do you want to talk about it?”
“About Buffy letting demons knock her around? No. About Buffy and Spike? No again. How about the weather?”
“Are you upset that Buffy and Spike are-”
Dawn shook her head. “She loves him. She’s loved him for a really long time and if that’s what it takes for her to smile and laugh and be happy again, that’s fine with me.”
“She was happy with him?”
“I guess. I mean, I don’t really know much about her relationship with him. She kept it a secret for a long time. I didn’t find out until after they broke up.”
“Shame does that to people.”
“She wasn’t ashamed of him. Not really. She was ashamed of her reasons for being with him. That’s all. Things were crazy when she came back from Heaven.”
Angel nodded, remembering the night he found out she was back. When he called, when he heard her voice and later that evening when he held her in his arms after thinking she was gone to him for good. “If I had known I would have helped her. No one told me, though.”
Dawn arched an eyebrow. “You won’t get sympathy from me, Bucko. YOU broke up with HER in case you forgot. Coming back from Heaven didn’t fuck with her nearly as much as that. Before Prom, too. I’ve never seen anyone cry so hard they threw up, but she did.”
He shook his head. “It almost killed me.”
“Some people would say almost doesn’t count, Angel.”
Angel stood. “Why are you pissed at me?”
Dawn slammed her suitcase shut and put her hands on her hips. “You talked to her all the time on the phone and in email. You couldn’t tell her he was back? You couldn’t give her just a little bit of something to be happy about?”
“I didn’t realize-”
“Don’t say you didn’t realize what they had because there is NO WAY Spike would have missed the chance to gloat about what happened.” She regarded him closely. “I’m not going to give you the gritty details about her life with him, Angel. Before he got his soul their relationship was abusive and ugly at times. Then other times he gave her exactly what she needed without question. He knows her better than she knows herself. After he tried to rape her he went a got a soul-”
“AFTER HE WHAT?” Angel yelled, his face morphing in rage.
Dawn realized too late that she had said too much. She stared at his blazing yellow eyes, remembering exactly what he was. “Forget it. She did!”
Angel stalked down the hallway, various ways to kill Spike rolling through his mind. He paused outside a door that was ajar, the scent of Buffy overpowering him. Her suitcase had never been unpacked. It sat on the end of her bed, open, with her clothing still folded neatly inside. It made him feel hollow, to see her things, to reach out and touch her shirt, her hairbrush, her nightgown.
He had given her up. Given her to a man who had tried to violate her, destroy her. And who had she become that she would let him and beg for more?
Dawn walked in behind him and watched him gingerly rearranging the clothing so the lid would shut. “Angel-”
“Just listen to me for a second, okay? That’s why he went and got his soul. I mean, that says something about him as a man, right? When you were Angelus ... all you thought about was killing her. Even without a soul, he knew deep down that he loved her enough to do whatever it took to be what she needed. That’s what he is right now. What she needs.”
“Can you get the rest of her things?”
“Yeah,” she replied in a small voice, still watching him.
She had a sinking feeling that she had said far too much.
Buffy emerged from the steaming shower to find the gas logs burning fiercely in the fireplace and Spike holding out a cup of hot chocolate. She reached for it, but hissed in pain. She had bandaged her hand in a damp washcloth and it protested as she opened it to accept the mug. The injury was bad and she expected a jagged scar to remind her of their little fight on the beach for the rest of her life.
Spike set the cocoa aside. Trying to ignore how irresistible she looked in his button down shirt, he reached for her hand, peeling the cloth away. “You did this to yourself. Good thing for you that I’m so calm and able to control myself or you’d be floating face down in the water.”
She smiled, watching as he assessed the damage. It amazed her how violent he could be one minute and then gentle in the next. It felt like an eternity ago that he had held her hand the same way, soothing the abraded flesh that she had torn while emerging from her coffin. Her hand, mangled though it was, looked right in his. “So, will I live?”
He frowned. “We need to clean it.”
“I just got out of the shower.”
“We’re cleaning it.”
With a sigh, she followed him into the bathroom. Sitting on the edge of the tub, she watched as he rifled through his medicine cabinet. Her eyes widened when he pulled out a large bottle of rubbing alcohol. “Don’t even think about it.”
“Put your hand over the sink.”
“It’s not gonna happen.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Are you really going to make me force you?”
“Do you really have that much of a death wish?”
He uncapped the bottle, set it on the edge of the sink and grabbed her, lightning quick, around the waist. He held her suspended in his arms and cocked an eyebrow. “You can’t threaten me and then not fight me, luv.”
Her breath had caught in her throat the minute he pulled her against him. Without a word she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him with everything she had. He didn’t try to pull away. His hands moved to her backside and she wrapped her legs around him, aching with need. She felt him massaging her backside, felt him turn her so that his back was against the wall, and just like their first time, she reached between them and unzipped his pants.
Lifting herself, she positioned him at her entrance, then slammed down against him. Buffy cried out, her voice hoarse and sharp. It was like a hunger that had been close to starving her had finally been sated. She pressed her forehead against his and pushed further, driving him as far as he could go. Complete. She was finally complete.
Her legs tightened and loosened around his waist as she rode him. Their grunts and moans were loud in the silent bathroom, but their lust made them deaf to anything other than the screaming of their bodies. She gripped handfuls of his shirt, resenting that it was there, but unable to stop touching him long enough to rip it from him.
Her orgasm was swift. It hit her with the force of a bomb and she thrashed so wildly that Spike had to slam her down onto the sink to help balance her. For his part, he continued to drive into her, mumbling her name. He tasted her throat, her kiss, her earlobe. As he neared completion, he reached between them, manipulating her core with his thumb.
The next orgasm hit her with the force of a hundred bombs and she threw her head back, yelling his name. It was enough. He growled, spilling himself deep within her womb.
“I don’t want to talk about it. Just don’t move.”
He stared down at her injured hand. It was resting on the rim of the sink. Wordlessly, he picked up the bottle and splashed an ungodly amount on her hand.
When she screamed his name this time .... he knew it was best to run.
"And you own this?" Willow stared up the elevators that were ascending and descending in the main lobby of Wolfram and Hart at breakneck speed. The building was crawling with workers even though it was after midnight. "Wow."
"I run it." Angel motioned for a couple of the mailroom clerks to join him. "Please see that this luggage is taken to the guest suites on the tenth floor."
"Yes, sir. Right away, sir," the clerk replied, nodding at Angel.
Xander happily handed off the pile of luggage with a cross between a grin and a groan. "I think I’ll have to marry a chiropractor if we do much more traveling."
No one laughed. Giles watched as a Seckorcha demon emerged from an elevator, spoke in rapid Korchan to a Plythe demon, then threw up a hand to Angel and made his way to the restrooms. "They don’t need a restroom," he said absently. "Seckorcha demons have no -"
"That isn’t really a bathroom. It’s the doorway to the RealmWorld." Angel moved across the lobby.
"Wow. Eat a little something bad and run in there and you may wind up in troll land." Xander went for the punchline with gusto, but again, no one said anything. Giles joined Angel on the other side of the room, deep in conversation. "Am I invisible?"
Willow leaned closer to him. "In case you’ve failed to notice what is clearly right in front of you, Angel is pissed and judging by the way he mangled Buffy’s new purse, I’d say it has something to do with her."
"I thought he hated the color."
Dawn, overhearing the conversation, said softly, "It would be best to keep her away from him."
"What did you do?" Willow asked.
"Why does everyone assume I did something?"
"What did you do?" Xander asked again.
"Fine. I have a big mouth!"
She told them what happened.
They agreed with her.
The tenth floor of Wolfram and Hart was lavishly decorated and even more impressive than the lobby. The floor was tiled in large squares that appeared to be handpainted and the wallpaper matched it perfectly. Even the ceiling was impressive. Xander whistled. "Can I have a job? I mean, most people hate their boss anyway, right?"
Angel smiled a little on that one and paused in front of a door. He held out a card key to Xander. "I’ll let you know if something opens up in the mess hall."
"Ouch." Xander accepted the key and let himself in. The room was enough to make him accept that offer if it had been genuine.
Willow and Dawn were equally impressed and Giles could have squealed in delight when he saw the floor to ceiling bookcases in his room that were stocked with rare demonology texts. When Angel shut the door, the man was already pulling a book on Realms out of the pile with the delicate touch of a surgeon.
Dawn cleared her throat behind Angel. He regarded her. "Is something wrong with your room?"
"Do you need something else?"
"Leave them alone." She crossed her arms. "I’ve seen that look before. Granted, you were Angelus then, but I’ve seen it and you plan on ruining things for them. Don’t you?"
Angel softened his glare for her benefit. "No. I plan on talking to them. I want to understand it. I want to know what happened."
"It’s none of your business."
Angel shook his head. "No, but it matters to me."
She watched him go.
Buffy lay on her back, spent, as Spike kissed a lazy trail across her stomach. Her hand, freshly bandaged and extremely clean, rested at her side. She smiled, eyes closed, as he inched lower and lower. She felt him kiss her thigh, kiss her pelvic bone, and held her breath. Several seconds passed with no further attention and she raised up on her elbow. "I haven’t forgiven you yet."
"And I’m not going to move until you do. So, say it."
She narrowed her eyes. "That won’t work on me."
He licked his lips, slowly and purposefully. Her eyes were drawn to his mouth and the desire that had flared and been quenched four times now, began to build again. She lifted her hips a little, but he didn’t take the bait. She drew her fingertips across her chest, then down to her stomach. "I’ll do it myself."
"Not if I break your good hand."
She wrapped her legs around his head and easily flipped him. She eased back, resting her bottom against his chest as she sat astride him. "We can do this the easy way or -"
He yanked her forward so that she was sitting on his face.
Buffy laughed, then moaned as he showed her exactly why she would forgive him. And probably not mind if he did something else to annoy her.
Later, she lay against his chest, attempting to stifle a yawn. Her body, which usually felt far too tense, was limp, finally surfeited. She wouldn’t have thought it possible, on the eve of burying her mother, but it was there ... she felt fine for the first time since he left. Facing tomorrow felt easier, like something she could do very well instead of muddle through and survive.
"What are you thinking, pet?"
Spike kissed her forehead. "She was a good woman."
"You’re a lot like her, you know?"
Spike lifted her hand, tracing her fingers. "Same able hands. She hit me in the head with an axe once. Rivaled anytime you ever hit me. Same smile. Same forgiving nature. She understood me the way you do. No one has ever done that before. Not even Dru."
Buffy nodded. "Sometimes I miss her so much that I can’t breathe because it hurts so bad."
It was the first time she had volunteered to talk about it and that made him happy. "You always will. I hate to say that, but the missing never goes away. It just gets a little easier. Or maybe you get used to it and it stops surprising you after a while."
"That was kinda deep."
"I’m not always shallow."
"No, never you!" She smiled. "Seeing her again was incredible. And terrible. And hard. And beautiful. I’m just kinda grateful that I got to see her one last time. I lost everything I had of hers in Sunnydale."
"You still have the important stuff, love."
"Yeah," she replied in a small voice. Reaching up, she touched the necklace that rested on his chest. "I was thinking ... maybe she sent you back for me. I kept asking anyone to help me."
"Maybe she did."
"So you shouldn’t disappoint her. You should go ahead and promise me that we’re us. We’re together, right?"
"If I haven’t shown you that then I’m losing my touch."
She leaned up on her elbow and stared at him. "I’m serious. I need to know what happens now."
"We can’t decide everything in one night. We’re together, Buffy. We’ll decide what that means tomorrow after you get through everything and have a clear head."
"My mind is clear right now. Will you come to Italy?"
"I hate Italy. You come here."
"Yeah, because Angel would LOVE the entire us aspect of this scenario."
"He sat on my sofa telling me to love you, begging me to make this work. He’s okay with it. And California is your home, not Italy."
"Let me think about it."
She laid her head back down and closed her eyes. It was like he had the entire world in the palm of his hand and was giving her the power to spin it and decide where to go. She wanted him, that much she was sure of. Dawn would have to be considered. The school for Potentials was in Europe and she was required there occasionally. Could she handle her friends being on the other side of the world?
He was worth it.
Spike smiled when he heard her breathing grow steady and her body relax even more in his arms. She was exhausted.
He stared down at her for the longest time, wondering how he had gotten so lucky.
Long before he exited the elevator on Spike’s floor, Angel could smell her, the heady vanilla scent that always surrounded her. Frowning, he caught the scent of something else: her blood and her arousal. He wasn’t sure which was more unsettling. Neither made him very comfortable. He strode purposefully forward, rapping hard on the door three times. He heard a door squeak open, a muffled curse, and felt infuriated. It was so *pedestrian* to think that Spike was on the other side with Buffy acting like a mortal fool in love. Damn them both, he thought.
Several seconds passed and he pounded his fist against the polished wood. "Open the damn door, Spike."
Obliging, Spike yanked the door open, looking far too happy and entirely too satisfied with himself. "Whatever it is can wait."
His voice was the catalyst and the smug look on his face was all the incentive Angel needed. Grabbing Spike, he lifted him by the throat and slammed him back against a set of coat hooks that hung on the wall. "Did you actually try to rape her? Oh, wait, she just likes it rough. Didn’t you tell me that once?"
Spike, stunned and slightly addled, shoved Angel away from him and dropped to the floor. "What the hell are you doing?"
"Dawn told me what you tried to do to Buffy."
"What the fuck are you talking about?" Spike attempted to reach the spot on his back that throbbed. "And ow."
"You used to say you didn’t have to rape anyone. That all the women would fall at the feet of ‘William the Bloody’ and beg for what you had to offer."
"I was a stupid fledgling then, you bloody blighter. We were all cocky back then!"
"This is why you got your soul? Not because you loved her so much but because you tried to force yourself on her and the little idiot STILL let you hang around."
"You don’t know everything."
"Do I really need to? You both make me sick. You deserve each other!"
"It wasn’t what you’re thinking. I was wrong, yes. But she always told me no. It was a game we played. She’s pretend to be high and mighty and too good for me and after a few minutes of me working her up she’d go along. The night it happened was no different. I didn’t know how serious she was until I had gone too far."
"She always told you no? So much for women falling at your feet."
Spike’s jaw tightened. "She’s in my bed right now isn’t she?!"
"You son of a bitch!" Angel growled, leaping toward his opponent again.
They scuffled for a few seconds until Spike pushed him away. "She’s exhausted, Angel! She’s burying her mother tomorrow. Sit down before you wake her up."
"Don’t tell me what to do."
"Do you want a drink?" Spike asked, going to the bar and pouring himself a double shot of whiskey.
"I want to stake you."
"Well, don’t. She’d kill you and then she’d be alone again."
"You’re awful sure of yourself and what she would-" Angel trailed off.
The bedroom door opened and Buffy emerged. She was wearing one of Spike’s shirts and her hair was a sticking up all over her head. Angel didn’t want to contemplate what could have caused it. "Buffy." He nodded pensively at her and crossed his arms. The urge to put a stop to whatever truce they had reached was powerful and his mind was already preparing ways to do just that.
"Is something wrong?" she asked, looking from one to the other with a bewildered look on her face.
It pissed Angel off that she could stand there looking innocent and adorable after clearly being fucked to within an inch of her life. "We need to talk," he finally ground out.
"Angel here has come to pass judgment on us, Slayer."
Buffy sighed and ran a hand over her face. "Before anyone passes anything I need a minute."
Spike watched her retreat into the bedroom and poured himself another drink, not because he wanted it, but to give him something to do. "She’s been through a lot, Angel. Why don’t you go sleep on whatever crawled up your dainty ass and let it blow over? She doesn’t need this and she definitely doesn’t deserve it."
"Isn’t that cute. What are you? Her champion?"
"Maybe I am."
"You love her, huh?"
"You asked me to love her? Remember?"
"That was before I knew."
"Knew what? That I fucked up? Yeah, I fucked up. Our entire situation is fucked up. She’s a soddin’ Slayer and I’m a vampire. That’s a fucked up mess right there, innit? What we had wasn’t perfect, but it was real."
"So real that you had to force her everytime. You just said that she always said no."
"Stop it!" Buffy yelled. She had dressed in her clothing from earlier and had piled her hair into a sloppy knot on top of her head. Directing her attention to Angel she said, "What the hell is wrong with you?"
"I know he tried to rape you."
"You’re actually going to stand there acting like you have a single right in this world to act pissed off when YOU tried to kill me? In the grand scheme of things, Angel, I’d say that ranks a little higher on the ‘wrong doing’ scale. "
Angel shook his head. "You can’t compare that. It was completely different."
"Oh, hell, Angel! You would have done the same thing to me if you hadn’t been so consumed with ending the world! You just didn’t think of it!"
"And you would have let me. Just the way you let him!" Angel accused.
"I certainly would NOT have," she shouted. "You would have ripped my throat out if you had gotten within ten feet of me!"
"He crossed a line and you’re defending him!"
"No, I’m not. What he did was wrong and he paid for it! I made peace with it, Angel, and we moved on."
"This is disgusting." Angel threw his hands in the air. "It’s sickening and it’s wrong. How can you let him touch you?"
"The same damn way I let you touch me after you killed Jenny, after you terrorized me and my friends for months, after you tried to end the fucking world! If we’re going to air our dirty laundry then lets empty the whole basket and not the comfortable things."
"I didn’t have a soul!"
"Neither did I," Spike replied, trying to keep his cool as he watched Buffy’s face grow redder and redder with anger.
"I’m not doing this anymore!" Buffy shouted as Angel opened his mouth to respond. "I’m just trying to live my life and be happy. Why can’t you accept that he makes me happy? Why can’t we just stop? Just stop and let it go?"
"Because you should have more self worth than this!" Angel yelled. "Sleep with dogs, Buffy, and you’ll wake up with fleas."
"Wouldn’t I know that first hand," she responded, looking him up and down.
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"Exactly what you think it did, Angel. I slept with *you* and look what happened. Nothing surprises me at this point."
Angel made a move for Buffy, but Spike leaped it front of her. "Don’t do it, mate."
"No, let him do it!" Buffy shouted, and promptly burst into tears.
Spike swore as she lost the battle she had been fighting to hang onto her composure. Several big tears slipped over her cheeks and he went to her, pulling her against him. "Don’t, baby."
Angel couldn’t stop himself. Their tender moment was too much to endure without a parting shot. What had he been thinking, giving Spike the go ahead. Witnessing it was more than anyone could expect him to do. He headed toward the door, then paused. "I got a call from Harmony. She’ll be back tomorrow. You’ll want to let her know, Spike, since she’s been telling everyone about your plans to move in together." With that, he strode from the room.
Spike felt Buffy tense in his arms and tried to laugh it off. "He’s not good at losing."
"Is it true?" she asked.
"I’m not with her NOW. He lied to you. She’s gone to-."
"Did you sleep with her?" The look on his face was all the answer she needed.
"No. Yes, but not the entire time. Right when I got back and I wasn’t a ghost anymore -"
"Shut up!" Buffy grabbed her shoes and slipped them on. "So that it explains it then. Why you stayed away."
"No it does not! It bloody well does not explain a damned thing, Buffy." He grabbed her arm as she headed for the door. "You’re not leaving."
"Let go of me!" she screamed, pushing him back with enough force that he flipped over a chair. She watched as he righted himself. "Have a nice fucking life."
By the time Spike dressed and reached the parking garage there was no sign of her. He attempted to scent her, but all he caught was the smell of the ocean and the faint trace of someone who hadn’t bathed in a while. Probably someone homeless. Spike tried to keep his composure as he chose a car from the line of top notch vehicles and started the engine. Two things were certain ... Buffy would come back to him or Angel would die. Hopefully both.
He drove around the perimeter of the block then expanded to cover a couple of outer streets. She couldn’t have gotten far. On his second pass by Wolfram and Hart, Angel flagged him down. Spike stopped the car but seriously contemplated hitting him first. "What?" he snarled as he rolled the window down.
Angel’s guilt over the entire situation was too much to bear. He had been going back to apologize and tell the truth about Harmony and Spike when he got word that Buffy had left the building. Embarrassed with his actions, he didn’t make eye contact with Spike, instead he studied Spike’s grip on the wheel, gauging his anger. "Where is she?" he asked quietly.
"Do you see her sitting here?"
"The guard at the front said she ran past him."
"Well, isn’t that what you wanted? To get her away from me?"
Angel actually looked ashamed of himself. "I’m sorry. I’ll fix this, I swear. I’m coming with you."
"You actually have lost your mind. I’ve been thinking that since you knocked on my door, but you really have gone round the bend."
"Let me in. Those demons are gunning for her tonight. We have to find her."
"YOU are not getting in the car with me. YOU caused this."
Angel drew a remote from his pocket and unlocked the door himself. Spike cursed fluently and without pausing for a good five minutes then gave up searching the streets nearest Wolfram and Hart and headed instead to the condo. Ten minutes passed and Spike rolled down the window, attempting to catch her smell again. Angel did the same, leaning into the wind. "Where could she be?" Angel said after another five minutes ticked past.
"You know so much about what she needs so why don’t you tell me!"
"Can you just drive? I don’t want her hurt."
"What do you think you did to her, you bloody lunatic?"
"Did you actually just call me a lunatic? Who calls anyone a lunatic?"
"Why did you do this? Seriously. Are you so bi-polar that you can’t decide from one second to the next what the hell you want?"
"Well, you’ll have to forgive me if I was a little stunned by the news that you are a rapist."
"Do I need to remind you how many maidenheads you plowed through in your day? How many girls you savaged? Do I actually have to mention Dru? She never forgot what you did to her."
"That was different."
"Of course it was, dickhead. I’m not killing you simply because I don’t have time right now."
"And because a part of you knows I’m right."
"You are not right. I made a huge mistake and I can’t take it back. But I love her."
"That’s what I keep hearing." Angel rubbed his forehead. "So what now? You ride off into the sunset together? Are you going to Italy with her?"
"I asked her to stay with me at Wolfram and Hart."
"What did she say?"
"I’ll apologize to her."
"Did you see that?" Angel hit him on the arm, pointing toward a closed restaurant about a block from the condominium. "Stop the car."
Spike pulled into the drive and shut off the engine. They could hear the sounds of a scuffle and both broke into a run.
There she was, in all of her Slayer glory, clearly beating the absolute hell out of five very large demons. They watched in awe as she ran two of the demons through with a long pole and impaled them into the wood of the bathroom. Without missing a step, she turned on her heel and grabbed another demon, breaking its neck and shoving the body into an oncoming attacker, who struggled under the weight to get free. The remaining demon leaped onto her back and she threw it over her shoulder.
Spike growled when he saw the blood pool under her shirt where the demon had attempted to hang onto her by raking long talons up her back. He grabbed the metal garbage can that was chained to the building, yanking the chain free. As Buffy fought one of the two demons, Spike wrapped the chain around the neck of the one who had injured Buffy and pulled until the head popped off.
Buffy dispatched the final demon and spun on her heel, looking wild and full of resentment. "Don’t help me! I am the fucking Slayer and I can do this in my sleep! I don’t need you!"
Spike dropped the chain and put his hands up in surrender. "Fine."
"And what are you doing here?" She demanded of Angel, who was leaning back against the restaurant. "You want to mess up my life a little more? You want to make sure I’m completely screwed up instead of just a little? Oh, you want to get your licks in, too? Fine! Go ahead."
"I wanted to apologize."
"Well, good for you. Purge your conscience, by all means." Buffy absently wiped demon ooze from her arm and bent to pick up the chain that Spike had dropped. "But you’re doing it at your own risk."
Angel glanced at Spike who shrugged. "She doesn’t want me to help her. She can kill you on her own."
"I’m sorry." Angel said to Buffy. "I thought I was okay with you and Spike, but then when I found out it what happened -"
"It’s none of your business," she replied. "You had no right to charge in there and say anything."
"I agree," Spike interjected.
Buffy shot him a look. "Shouldn’t you be with Harmony? Isn’t she coming back tomorrow? Where did she go? To find a fucking unicorn bedspread for you to share?"
"He lied, Buffy!"
"I did lie," Angel agreed. "He was with her once and it was because he -"
"I don’t want the details!" Buffy yelled. "I have to go see if Dawn’s okay."
"They’re at Wolfram and Hart," Angel said.
"God! What? Your freakin’ cult is kidnapping people now?"
Angel explained about the demons.
Buffy threw the chain so hard that it embedded into the side of the restaurant.
Spike wondered if transporting her back to Wolfram and Hart in a small sports car was actually the best thing to do.
Dawn was pacing when Buffy entered the room. She shrieked and ran to her sister, wrapping her in a hug, then she bombarded her with an explanation on how Angel happened to know something he shouldn’t. Apologizing profusely, Dawn dabbed at the scratches on Buffy’s back, telling her again and again how horrible she felt and about their father’s visit at the funeral home.
"So he isn’t coming tomorrow." Buffy didn’t have to ask, she knew. She made a mental check mark in the "suck" column and closed her eyes.
"No. I’m sorry."
"I don’t care."
Dawn watched her sister as she washed her face and wiped it on a towel. It had stopped surprising Dawn that Buffy looked so worn, so tired, so absolutely broken most of the time. The only time there was a spark of Sunnydale Buffy was when she was drunk. And then she would laugh easily, crack jokes and smile. It devastated her to see the Slayer shaking as she hung the towel back on the hook and reached for her toothbrush. "Did you fight with Angel?" she finally asked.
"Not physically, but emotionally it was war."
"I really am sorry. It just slipped out. What is Spike doing?"
"Huh? Oh! Harmony! Ew, Harmony?!"
Buffy nodded. "I can’t process anything else tonight. I’m sorry, Dawn."
Dawn trailed her as Buffy went to the living room, picked up a book, put it down, and then noticed the bar in the corner. Wordlessly, she watched as Buffy reached into the cabinet and pulled out a very large bottle of Hennessey. "We have to be up early, Buffy. In just a couple of hours. Maybe you shouldn’t-"
"That’s just what I need. Another person telling me what I should and shouldn’t do."
"I just mean-"
Buffy walked out onto the balcony and sat down on a delicate bench that faced the skyline. The sun would rise soon. Another day, another chance to make the most of life. She snorted, wondering what the point was exactly. She opened the bottle, but didn’t take a drink. It was hard to believe that less than two hours ago, she had been sleeping in Spike’s arms. Maybe this was a sign. Maybe it wasn’t meant to be.
She stood up, staring at the horizon, where the sun was starting to send fire into the sky. For so long, she had been just like the sun, getting up, giving life by killing demons and trying to nurture those around her. Now she was like an eclipse, trying to block out the sun and live in the shadow of what she had once been.
She hated herself for wanting the peace that she found in every bottle and she despised herself for continuing to give into it. God help her, as pissed as she was at Spike, she wanted to go to him and apologize when she had done nothing wrong. She brought the bottle to her lips and then jumped when someone stepped onto the balcony.
Giles took the bottle from her hand and poured it over the side of the building. "This ends right now. You won’t find any answers in this."
Buffy nodded. Without saying a word, she stood, walked into his open arms and she cried.
For a really long time.
The funeral was somber. Buffy wore sunglasses, no makeup, and a black suit that actually belonged to Willow which hung loosely from her tiny frame. She sat in the front row with Dawn, aware that Spike, Angel, and about one hundred employees of Wolfram and Hart had shown up. The funeral parlor was packed and there were people standing in the back of the room. The coffin Dawn chose really was nice and Buffy shuddered a little to herself remembering how hard it had been to claw from her own coffin.
The director talked for a while about how significant it was for Joyce Summers to have been lost and then found. He compared it to the song ‘Amazing Grace’ and implored God to accept her body into the earth and her soul at His right side. Buffy sang along to the simple hymns, wondering if Dawn had picked them as well.
The director spoke again, asking if anyone had anything to say. To Buffy’s shock, Spike stood and walked to the front of the room. He was dressed in a dark suit, a navy blue silk shirt and matching tie. He had never looked more beautiful to her. She could feel Dawn looking curiously at her and squeezed her hand. "I have no idea," she whispered.
"Hello," Spike said, absently waving a hand. "I didn’t know Joyce as long as I would have liked. She hated me at first, tried to kill me with an axe, and then when I needed a helping hand, someone to listen to me for a while, she was there. She treated me like family, like I wasn’t what I am. She accepted that I was different, that I wasn’t like her, but she welcomed me into her home, laughed at my stories, gave me advice.
"Joyce was beautiful and she appreciated beautiful things. She knew more about art than anyone I’ve ever know and she lived her life like a painting, careful brush strokes and a myriad of colors. What she painted sits before us, her children. Her legacy is in the way they forgive, the way they love, the way they wear their hearts on their sleeves trusting that no one will tear it apart. Those girls would die for one another, kill for one another, and defend their loved ones with the ferocity that Joyce once used on me. I see her in them.
"This coffin is just a blank canvas for Joyce, but I have it on good authority that the place she’s at is the most serene and magical place a person can be. I won’t say that we won’t miss her, but I will say that she lives on in everyone who ever got the chance to know her and appreciate the quality of her life. And she reflects in the faces of the people she loved the most. We may forget her laugh, her smile, her favorite color or her favorite book. But I know we’ll never forget the important things. May she rest easy. Thank you."
He caught Buffy’s eye an nodded at her. She gave him a half smile. No one else spoke, there wasn’t a need.
The smell of freshly turned earth was something that Buffy was up close and familiar with. The rest of the funeral passed in a blur, but the smell of dirt stuck with her for a long time after it was over. She knew that Spike and Angel were sitting together in a limo watching from behind tinted windows as the ceremony took place. She kept her eyes downcast behind her sunglasses, her arm around Dawn just like last time. She wouldn’t cry. She was too exhausted from not sleeping, from fighting with everyone, from talking so long with Giles that her throat ached from it.
As she picked up a clump of dirt and threw it onto the coffin, she knew she’d be okay. Whatever happened next, she would survive and do it just fine. From rock bottom, there was no place to go but up unless she had a shovel. And she was grateful that she didn’t.
Spike stood next to Buffy, staring out over the darkened city from the top of Wolfram and Hart. His shirt was unbuttoned and his tie had been discarded almost instantly once they all returned. Dawn had gone straight to bed and Giles had gone into research mode with Wesley about an ancient text translation. Fred and Willow were bonding in the lab over a dissection of a demon and that left Buffy and Spike. He had taken her hand and led her to the rooftop. He studied her profile, noting the dark circles under her eyes. "Did you sleep at all last night?"
"No." She glanced at the sky where the full moon exploded from behind clouds. "I guess Angel is dog sitting, huh? He actually had the audacity to say something to *me* about fleas. Bastard."
He leaned a little closer, nudging her on the arm. "Nina is actually pretty nice, Slayer."
"I’ll take your word for it."
"It shouldn’t bother you. You moved on, right?"
"Well, I don’t like that you care."
Buffy didn’t respond for a long time. She let her gaze drift from the moon to the ocean in the distance. Goodbye was never easy for her and doing it twice in one day was a little too much so she stalled for time. "What you said today was really nice."
"I meant it."
They stood in awkward silence, both lost in their own thoughts.
"I can’t believe this is it," she finally said with sigh.
His brow furrowed. "What do you mean?"
"Giles booked our flight. We leave tomorrow night."
"No," he replied, turning her to face him, "Stay with me."
"Listen to me, Slayer," he interrupted. "This is what we both want. I can’t live without you and you don’t want to live in Italy. It will be fine."
"No, it won’t. I can’t be here watching Harmony and -"
"There is no Harmony!" Spike shouted, strengthening his grip on her arms. "She’s dating a Goosba Demon from accounting! They’ve been together for months! They were on vacation together! That’s where she’s been! Fucking Angel - he did this and you just -"
Buffy wriggled in his grasp as he tightened his hold with every word. "Ow."
"I’m sorry." Spike let her go and paced across the length of the rooftop. "What do you want me to do? Beg? Plead with you? Apologize for what I put you through these past few days? I’ll do all of it just don’t leave me."
"You *slept* with Harmony. I was faithful to a fucking memory. To *your* memory. You can’t fix that."
"Let me try. You owe me that much."
"I OWE you something now? What do I owe you?"
"You’re heart. If I have to spend the rest of your life making it up to you I will. You can punish me every single day, pet, but if you leave that’s gonna kill me."
She had to smile at the irony. "You do realize that just a few days ago we were in reversed roles. I was the one begging you to love me, to come with me to Italy."
"And I was a fool for wasting time. Don’t you be guilty of the same thing."
"We’re fools for thinking that it will work. Isn’t that what you said to me?"
"I was wrong. Buffy, please don’t do this."
It was her turn to pace. She had done nothing but consider her options since that morning. Dawn had made it very clear that she would like nothing more than to return to California. Giles even supported the idea, telling her that a change of scenery would be perfect and could help her clear her head. Truthfully, she figured that her Watcher was relieved to think that someone else would have to look out for her, considering all the personal demons she was dealing with. It seemed so easy, so easy and so perfect. Too perfect, really.
"I have a job in Italy," she said absently. "Well, kinda. I mean, what would I do for money?"
"Angel said you could work here."
"Doing what?" Buffy asked. "Worshipping him and springing to attention when he walks in the room?"
"We were thinking the Assassination Team could use you. Or the Tactical Field. Or the Ambush Coordination Department. A Slayer would be invaluable to us and the senior partners already okayed it."
"You’ve certainly been busy. Are you’re obviously sure of yourself."
"This is our chance, baby. We can do this. We can do anything. Please?" He was aware that he was pleading with her, but it didn’t matter to him. All that mattered was making her stay. "I love you! I’m screaming it from the roof! I hate this! Look at what you’ve done to me!"
"Feels shitty, huh? You did it to me first."
"I. Am. Sorry."
"Yeah, you are."
"You know what?" Spike snapped, throwing his hands in the air. "Fuck it! Go pack! I want you to go! All that stuff before? I was lying. I don’t love you! I don’t even like you!"
She turned to him, trying to reign in the emotions that were coursing through her. This was the Spike she loved. The exasperated man who was hot and cold, wanted her, hated her, needed her, then pushed her away. She wanted to laugh, she wanted to cry, but most of all she wanted to feel his arms around her with a promise that he would never let her go. The look in his eyes did her in. She smiled at how pitiful he looked. "What exactly is a an Ambush Coordinating Department? I am NOT working with you. Office romances always fail and I’m just -"
He silenced her with a kiss.
She thought she would pop from sheer joy.
Part Thirteen: The End:
With a million promises to write, phone, and send pictures, Buffy waved until her friends were safely boarded on the plane. She hadn’t been prepared for the amount of tears that she would shed as she had helped load their suitcases into the limo and sat next to Giles while waiting for the last call. They would be so far away from her. Dawn had held onto Xander so long that he barely made it through the gate before it shut, thanking them for not going with them so he wouldn’t have to carry any extra luggage.
Now, silently, she sat next to Spike in the back of the limo, listening to Dawn softly crying in the far corner. Spike kissed Buffy on the temple and moved to Dawn, hugging her tightly. “It’s okay, ‘bit. You can visit anytime.”
“It’s like a million miles.”
“No, it’s not. It’s only a few hours away.”
“I’ll miss them so much.”
She burst into a fresh round of tears and Buffy moved across the expanse of the limo to take her hand. “Do you want to go, too, Dawnie?”
Dawn shook her head. “No! I want to be where you are, Buffy. I just - it’s scary.”
“Tell me about it,” Buffy replied.
“You’re scared?” Spike looked at the Slayer, shocked. “Why are you scared?”
“I’m leaving everything for you.”
“Well, thank you for making it seem like I’m not worth it.”
“I’m not saying you’re not worth it. I’m saying it’s scary.”
“You don’t trust me? Why the bloody hell don’t you trust me?”
Dawn rolled her eyes and sat back in the seat to get out of their line of fire.
Buffy sighed. “I trust you, Spike! Hence the staying.”
“But I scare you?”
“I didn’t say that! Oh my god! I hate this selective hearing that you do so well.”
“Maybe you’d benefit from being more selective about what the you say.”
Shaking with anger, Buffy attempted to stand up, but slammed her head against the roof of the car. Spike and Dawn both burst out laughing, especially when the limo driver stopped suddenly and sent the Slayer falling onto her backside. Narrowing her eyes, Buffy glared at both of them. “Shut up!”
The limo door swung open and a very young, very handsome man glanced inside. “I’m sorry, sir, ladies. Is everything okay in here?” His eyes fell on Dawn and he smiled, full of dimples and straight white teeth.
Dawn sat up straighter, obviously taking note. “No. These two are driving me insane. Can I ride up front with you?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he replied, extending his hand to help her from the car. “I’m Colin. And you are-”
“In love,” Dawn whispered to Buffy, grinning from ear to ear as she slipped from the car.
Spike was still staring at the door when the limo pulled away from the curb. “What the fuck just happened?”
Buffy crawled to the seat and sat down beside him, massaging the top of her head. “Our little girl has grown up.”
“Like hell.” Spike grabbed the remote control. “How do I lower this damn glass so I can see what they’re doing?”
Buffy grabbed the remote and tossed it across the limo. “Leave it.”
He growled a little as she slipped across his lap, straddling him and kissing his neck. “Careful, love. You’re gonna wake a sleeping giant.”
“That’s original.” Buffy tugged his ear with her teeth. “More like a napping troll.”
He yanked her hair. “I’m tired of your mouth!”
She moved lower, kneeling in front of him as she worked the button of his jeans. “Want to test that?”
Buffy surveyed the marble with a critical eye. It was smooth, and the letters had been intricately carved in a unique font with love. Spike had done it himself, working tirelessly in one of the spare rooms while she trained for her new position. He had presented it to her at the cemtery, already neatly in place and surrounded by flowers. It stood out, catching your eye in a sea of simple of marble and granite pieces. This one was special. She traced her mother’s name and the dates of her birth and death. “Hi, mom.”
She put the bouquet of roses against the base of the headstone and sat down. “I’m sorry I didn’t come last weekend. I worked the entire time and then I crashed. It’s exhausting. I have my own division and everything. People actually do what I say. And I was so wrong about Wolfram and Hart. I think they’re okay. You’d like it. They have real art, not the bargain kind.
“Dawn’s fine. She however, does NOT do what I say. Can you do something about that? She’s in love. His name is Colin and I thought he was a limo driver, but he’s actually a lawyer who helps drive when he doesn’t have anything to do. Or if he’s being punished by Spike for stealing Dawn’s heart. It’s so cute. They’re gross. Was I ever like that with guys?” She paused. “God, I’m like that NOW. It’s disgusting. I love it.”
Smiling, she traced the heart on the stone, picturing Spike working endlessly to make it perfect. He’d kept his secret well. She had asked a hundred times how he got all the scrapes and cuts on his hands. ”I hope you like this. Spike surprised me with it. It’s so pretty. I’m happy, mom. Guess what? I haven’t had a single drop of alcohol since the day we buried you. I haven’t even thought about it. Nasty stuff, really.Oh! The gang said hello. Willow and Xander are in Cambodia right now and Giles is surrounded by Slayer Trainees on his own so every time I talk to him I can hear him glaring and cleaning his glasses and he’s stuttering a whole lot more. Imagine, hundreds of little mini-me girls running around. I shudder to think!”
Buffy took one of the roses from the bouquet and brought it to her now. “Yellow. Your favorite. I wanted to thank you for helping me get my life back. I know you had a hand in it and you always did know what I needed. I hope you’re happy, too. I know where you are. Save me a seat, okay?”
Rising, Buffy checked her watch. “I love you. I’ll visit again soon.”
Buffy walked to her car and sat behind the wheel.
A white dove landed on the hood and stared at her, then flew to the headstone and hopped back and forth across the top, bobbing up and down. Grinning, Buffy said, “Yes, I’ll tell him you liked it.”
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