Summary: Spike wrote a letter to Buffy before the final battle in Not Fade Away. What happens when Buffy finally discovers Spike is back from the great beyond?
Genre: Romance, Angst
Chapter Rating: R for Violence, Blood, Language and Adult Situations
Warnings: Spoilers for the end of Angel Season 5, After the Fall and up through Issue #23 of Buffy Season 8.
Disclaimer: I don't own them. Just playing for fun.
A/N: Special thanks to sueworld2003 for the beautiful banner and ladyofthelog for the awesome icon.
A/N 2: So yes, I'm going ahead and posting this chapter. I think I'm ahead enough that there won't be a big delay between chapters 26 and 27, but besides some people clearly wanting the next part now, Chapter 26 is a better spot to take a breather. Hope you enjoy!
Comics Background Info: This story loosely follows the comics canon but reading the comics is not necessary to understanding the emotional heart of the story. A few points to note:
1) Buffy was never in Rome as shown in The Girl in Question, but rather leading a new Slayer organization of over 500 members in the fight against evil. The "Buffy" that Angel and Spike tried to visit in Rome was actually a decoy set-up by Andrew to protect the real Buffy and keep her true location a secret.
2) Out of the 1800 Slayers that were activated during Chosen and the 500 Slayers that have chosen to work with Buffy, a group of Slayers led by one Slayer named Simone have gone rogue and have been abusing their power a la Faith in Season 3. Want. Take. Have. In Issue #23, Buffy and Andrew go to Rome to try to gain intel on Simone and her gang, only to be forced into a standoff on the island Simone has taken over off the coast of Italy. Andrew's squad of Slayers ("Italy squad" as he calls them) come to their rescue, but Buffy fails to rein in Simone or remove her from power. Simone's violent acts have brought intense scrutiny on the Slayers from the world's media coverage.
3) Angel survived the battle in Not Fade Away and the events of After the Fall, but now everyone in LA knows Angel exists and is a vampire just as they know about the demons that walk the streets. He's become a citywide legend.
4) Vampires are the cool new thing thanks to a reality TV show starring Harmony in LA (Buffy Season 8 #21). A Slayer saw Harmony and how she would feed off her adoring, sycophantic entourage and decided she needed to be stopped. She attacked Harmony while they were filming, failed and was killed by her own stake. The attack was used to make Slayers into the enemy and show vampires as sympathetic victims.
“Willow, no,” Buffy gasped. She jumped to her feet and ran. The razor sharp pain in her ankle didn’t matter. It couldn’t. Her broken ankle twisted into a misshapen lump. Bones smashed together, nerve endings fired warnings – everything in her body told her to stop, lie down, rest.
But no – no stopping. No rest.
She charged through the demon standing between her and the Immortal, batting him to the side. Leaping forward, she tackled the Immortal by the waist, knocking the orb loose from his grasp and sending it crashing to the floor. The black tentacles retracted slightly, releasing their hold on Willow to flop against the carpet, a beached squid seeking to devour its prey and finding none in reach.
The Immortal shoved Buffy off him, snapping his elbow into her jaw. She slumped to the floor. Her vision spun and kaleidoscoped into half a dozen whirling points of view. She shook her head and looked up. And no, wrong, wrong, wrong. Like it wasn’t bad enough that the Immortal was impossible to kill, now there were six of him.
And, whoa, lots of Faith. More Faith than Buffy liked, but she’d let the Immortal worry about that. All six Faiths swung Scythes at his necks. He caught the hilts and yanked them down, wrenching her wrists at a harsh angle. She lost hold of all six weapons. Quick to regroup, six spinning Faiths punched each Immortal in the jaw, snarling, “You like that—likethatlikethat— sleazebag—bagbag? Gonna try to gut me—gutmegutme— next?”
A smack, a grunt, a gasp and then Buffy’s vision blacked out completely. When she opened her eyes, one Immortal stood above her, pointing the Scythe at her chest.
“You have caused me enough disappointment, girl. You fail to live up to your name.”
“Do you ever shut up?” Buffy groaned, her vision weaving in and out, but thankfully more in than out at the moment. Her ankle throbbed, lighting fiery twinges across her scalp and down her spine.
“There is one way to bring you ease. Hold still and soon all will be silent.”
“Go silence yourself, Morty,” Buffy gritted out, squinting up at his blurry figure above her.
He lifted the Scythe, swinging down only to stop. He grimaced, dropping the Scythe to the floor. Buffy flinched when the blade clattered too close to her head. The Immortal turned to face his attacker and she saw it – a black, goopy blob on his back. His shirt was moving. His shirt was alive and evil and probably immortal, too. No, wait. It was black tentacles shifting into the silk of his shirt. Right, so the shirt wasn’t immortal. She didn’t need to slay the shirt.
“Lara?” the Immortal said, disbelieving. He reached behind to touch his back where the orb was embedded, dark rays leeching out of it to crawl across his torso.
“I’m sorry,” the Decoy cried, reaching for him then pulling back guiltily, eyes tormented. “I’m sorry, but you…you wouldn’t stop. I couldn’t get you to stop. You were gonna kill her and I…I had to make you stop.” She gasped, staring in horror at the encroaching black mist that coiled up around his body. Reaching forward, she clasped his hand. “I won’t forget you. I won’t. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I'm sorry…”
The Immortal shook his head. He looked down at the rising opaque black now covering his limbs and blanketing his chest. He let out a deep breath, his shoulders relaxing, releasing the proud tension in his spine. Not defeated, but… His eyes, normally cool and detached and scornful, shined. He smiled, slow and easy, the curve of his lips spreading up and lighting his face.
“No, Lara, let me go,” he said gently. Unclenching her grip on his hand, he released her. His smile grew, his mask of aloof superiority melting away. Was that joy? “Let me end now.” His gaze traveled over Lara’s face before meeting her tear-filled green eyes. The black mist rose up to his neck and circled around the back of his skull. He seemed to ignore it, instead raising his hand, three-fourths covered by the encroaching dark, to brush her cheek with his thumb. “May the world be kinder to you. May you remain pure of heart. Incorruptible. Beloved.”
“Oh, god, I’m sorry,” Lara choked out. Her eyes filled with tears. She shook her head, panting, as his hand was engulfed in black next to her cheek.
“No. Mille grazie, amata. This is your greatest gift to me,” he said, his voice tender. The black edges creeped into the seams of his lips, painting his smile in gruesome night.
Then he was gone, eyes covered, face devoured by darkness. His form contracted under the undulating dark waves folding around him, shrinking into a tight ball the size of a fist before flashing bright fire, flames hardening the tar into a perfectly round obsidian stone. The stone dropped to the floor with a ping, rolling forward to rest against Lara’s boot.
A minute passed before Lara stiffly bent to retrieve the stone, cupping it in her hands. She moved to stand, but her knees trembled and gave out. She slumped to the floor, cradling the stone in her lap.
Buffy looked away, unable to watch the Decoy – no, Lara – mourning the Immortal. A visceral glee had run through her at knowing he was gone. Kaput. End of story. Hate was easy, hate was pure. She wished Lara could share the feeling. Her heart had twisted at the sight of them and she hated that a spear of regret had gripped her in that moment. She was glad he was dead. Deliriously happy.
Life wasn’t supposed to be this hard. Life shouldn’t make you have to lie to your friends or have a secret identity or kill the man you love. Life, well, sometimes life just sucked. God, same old song, different verse. Welcome to the remix.
Avoiding the Decoy meant she had to face the bodies of her friends. Turning her head reluctantly, she peered behind her and saw Faith stumbling to her feet. Further back, Willow and Kennedy held each other, their foreheads pressed together in an awkward slump against an overturned table.
A hitching gasp brought Buffy’s gaze around. She saw Lara’s shoulders shaking, her head bent forward, her body curving over the stone resting in her lap. Buffy crawled closer to Lara, lifting a hand to touch her shoulder only to pause, uncertain of how to comfort her. Grief for a loved one was confusing enough, but how was she supposed to comfort someone grieving her mortal enemy? ‘Don’t cry – he was an asshat and you should be glad he’s dead’ just didn’t sound like the way to go.
Buffy settled for sitting next to Lara in silence, hate and guilt mixing together in her gut.
“He thought you were becoming evil. Corrupt,” Lara said, almost whispering, her voice distant. “That you’d lost the mission. Heh. Like him.” Lara traced a line of light reflecting on the shiny stone. “He was going to kill you. I had to…” She looked over her shoulder at Buffy. “I had to…?”
Buffy tensed. “He was wrong,” she insisted. “You did the right thing.”
“Right. Wrong. Right…?” Lara sounded lost. “Nothing about this feels right. Nothing feels right anymore.”
“Yeah, I know,” Buffy admitted, dropping her gaze. She vaguely perceived the distant sounds of the battle dying down around them.
“I did believe. I believed you were the hero. And I was gonna help you. I was gonna help save the world,” Lara said numbly, eyes distant and unseeing. She swallowed roughly and looked at Buffy, tears streaming down her face. “I wanna believe you’re the hero. Please,” she begged, holding up the stone and offering it to Buffy. “I wanna believe. Please. I need…”
“What is it?” Buffy asked, taking the black orb into her hands.
“The forgetting. He said it’s where no one will remember you. Where you forget yourself. Forever. And ever and ever and ever and ever and ever…” Lara muttered, rocking back and forth. Her face blanked, eyes turned inward and lifeless, like a murky slate wiped clean.
Buffy touched Lara’s shoulder, trying to soothe her, but Lara continued to rock. “I’m sorry,” Buffy choked out. “I’m so sorry.”
“What’s wrong?” Spike asked, standing behind them, the sword in his hand covered in demon blood. Connor stood at his side.
Buffy tried to speak past the lump in her throat, but ended up only shaking her head. She tried swallowing again. “Lara…”
Connor swept past Buffy, falling to his knees in front of Lara and taking hold of her hands. “Lara. Lara, look at me.” She kept rocking. He cupped her cheeks, raising her blank gaze towards him. “Lara. Lara, it’s gonna be okay. Lara.” He kept repeating her name, chanting it. “Lara, it’s okay now. It’s okay. Lara, I know it hurts. Everything hurts and nothing makes sense, but it’s gonna be okay. I promise. It’s gonna get better. Lara, it’s okay now. Shh, it’s gonna be okay.” Connor wiped away the tears on her cheeks and pushed her hair back. He kept touching her, gently, repeating her name over and over again.
Buffy looked away, disturbed, and noticed the group surrounding her. Faith and Giles stood behind her. And Angel. Angel wasn’t looking at her. He was staring at Connor. His face looked like it was carved in stone.
Feeling her gaze, Angel turned to her. They stared at each other then he nodded stiffly at Lara. “She’ll be fine.”
Connor continued whispering, his voice low, soft, gentle. Then he stopped.
“I…I wanna go home,” Lara whispered.
Connor stood and held out his hand. “Okay, let’s get you home.” Lara stared at his hand almost like she’d never seen one before then tentatively grasped it, letting him pull her up. Connor looped his arm around her shoulders, gently guiding her forward. They walked past everyone, his gaze never leaving hers, anchoring her as they walked out of the hall.
“Buffy?” Spike said, holding out his hand to her. She took his offer, standing up and leaning against him, careful to keep pressure off her injured ankle. She peered around him, watching Connor and Lara walk away.
“So where’s home? Are we talking big city or…” Connor’s voice trailed off as they walked out of earshot. Angel followed them at a distance.
“So…” Spike said, shaking his head. “Where’s the Immortal Wanker?”
“He’s gone,” Buffy replied, looking down at the orb in her hand.
He huffed in disappointment. “I didn’t even get to maim him or cut off a limb. One arm. One bloody arm. Is that too much to ask?”
Buffy absently patted his shoulder, looking at the open doors Connor and Lara had disappeared through. “Next time.”
“It won’t be the same.”
“Buffy, we’ve got trouble!” Faith shouted from near the window. She turned and ran up the side stairs leading to the balcony terrace to get a better look. “What do they call cops in Italian? ‘Cause we’ve got a lot of ‘em coming our way. From every which way. We’re surrounded. And when I say a lot, I mean an army. What do you call an army of cops in Italian?”
“Arm-ay of op-cays. Wait, no. That’s not right. Rmy-ay…” Xander muttered.
“And the Immortal’s political connections raise their Medusa-like heads,” Giles noted. “I’m sure if we explain why we’ve murdered a prominent Italian citizen and all of his personal guard, they’ll be completely sympathetic and understanding.”
“Giles – not helping,” Buffy said sharply.
“Alright, I’ll hide the fifty demon bodies on the right. Doe eyes -” Spike nodded up at Faith. “-can hide the fifty on the left. All the other Slayer-types are on clean-up duty. You’ll supervise, of course,” Spike added, giving Buffy a look. “Now, everyone start looking for hundreds of gallons of bleach.”
“Everyone making with the witty because we’re screwed – not helping!” Buffy snapped.
“Yeah, because wasting time – not a good idea,” Willow added, joining the group with an arm supporting Kennedy who looked pale underneath her natural tan.
“So anyone got any bright ideas? Besides running away. ‘Cause I’m gonna vote no for running,” Kennedy said weakly. “I’d vote no for running even if I thought I could run right now.”
“Will, can you teleport us out of here?” Buffy asked.
“No, there’s too many of you. And I’m kinda not at my best. I couldn’t guarantee we’d all arrive safely. Plus not materializing inside a mountain is a personal goal of mine.” Willow scrunched her forehead. “And keeping us safe, that’s the priority, right?”
“Yes. A big yes to keeping us safe,” Buffy answered.
Willow stepped away from Kennedy and closed her eyes, straining to concentrate. A tense minute passed before they shot open, midnight black. “Forget,” she said, her voice echoing.
Buffy shivered, feeling the power from Willow’s voice leeching past the edges of her mind. She shared an uncomfortable look with Spike.
“Willow,” Giles snapped. “You didn’t have to-”
“We ran out of time!” Willow said. “And it’s over now. They were two seconds away from arresting Angel and Connor. You couldn’t see!”
“And Lara…” Buffy said beneath her breath.
Willow raised an eyebrow. “Only one way that was gonna end. Badly. Now they don’t remember why they were even coming here.”
“She’s right. They’re lighting outta here,” Faith called, coming back down the stairs and rejoining the group. She stopped to pick up the Scythe lying on the floor. “The reverse 911 worked like a charm.”
“At what cost? What else don’t they remember?” Giles asked sharply.
Buffy let go of Spike’s arm and hopped in between Giles and Willow, careful to not put pressure on her right ankle. “Stop! It’s done. We can’t change it, so we’ve gotta deal,” she said, raising her hands up. She waited until both Willow and Giles looked away before continuing. “We’ve gotta deal,” she repeated. “Giles, there’s gotta be some kind of records or files or something holed up in here. Find it. We’re taking it with us. Xander, help-”
“I’m already on it,” he said, pulling together a group of Slayers to help the wounded.
“I’m helping Xan,” she tossed over her shoulder, already turning to follow Xander. She stopped, turned around and handed the Scythe back to Buffy. “Here’s your toy back, B. Drives like a dream.”
Buffy absorbed the surge of power from gripping the Scythe. The rightness of it in her hand pushed away pain, every bang and bruise dulling down under the soft hum of power surging through her. “Nice moves,” she said, smiling. Turning to Willow, she asked, “Are you up to helping heal? Is it…is it too much?”
“Yeah, of course you are – okay, I mean,” Buffy answered. “It’s just a lot and I didn’t want to…to ask you to do too much.”
Willow blinked, shook her head and went to go help the injured Slayers.
“So I guess that leaves me with clean-up duty,” Spike mused. “Don’t suppose you’d let me burn the whole place down?”
Buffy cocked her head and looked around at the lavish room decked out in expensive décor. “It seems like such a waste. Maybe we could, I dunno…”
Spike shook his head. “No. It’s like blood money. Never ends well. Place like this, the evil seeps into every fiber of the carpet. It stinks to high hell in here. Rotting away from the inside. Place like this changes you.”
“No, we wouldn’t want that,” she said quietly.
“Better to burn it. Cover our tracks. Nothing here worth taking.”
She nodded slowly. “Yeah, burn it.”