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.
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.
Her ankle felt funny. Like crunched Styrofoam, disconnected from sensation, incomplete. There was no pain. Shouldn’t there be pain?
A knock on the door and then Lara peeked around the door’s edge, hands fidgeting. “Can I come in?”
“Sure,” Buffy said slowly, feeling disoriented.
Lara sat down on the corner of Buffy’s bed, careful to avoid jarring Buffy’s leg propped up on a stack of pillows. “You feeling any better?” She leaned forward and brushed back the hair that had fallen over Buffy’s forehead.
“I guess so. My head kinda hurts.” She struggled to sit up, then huffed a breath at her tangled hair. “The worst part about slaying? Hair wear and tear.” She ran her fingers through the gnarled clump, grimacing when her hand caught in the snarl.
“Want me to…?” Lara nodded at the brush sitting on the bedside table.
Shifting her leg off the pillows and moving into a more comfortable position, Buffy scooched forward to let Lara sit behind her. She winced at the first rough pull.
“Sorry! I didn’t…sorry,” Lara exclaimed.
Abandoning the brush, Lara began to untangle Buffy’s hair with her fingers, gently pulling. One hand encircled a handful of blonde hair, bracing it against the scalp to dampen the pressure against the roots. Her hands breezed against the nape of Buffy’s neck and the tips of her ears. Picking up the brush, Lara began to comb the bristles through, sliding smoothly back and down. Back and down. Buffy closed her eyes, relishing the massaging motion. The bristles rasped against her scalp, gliding down to brush the back of her neck and the top of her shoulders. Her head dropped forward, chin bumping her chest. Heart slowing, she breathed in deeply and exhaled.
Buffy nodded, humming. The brush kept dancing, pulling weight off Buffy’s temples and dropping it to the floor. It was perfect. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt this relaxed.
Time passed. She might have dozed, she wasn’t sure, but the hand on her shoulder jarred her eyes open. The brush had stopped. Looking over her shoulder, she eyed the brush in Lara’s hand expectantly.
“Would you do me, too?” Lara asked.
Swallowing, Buffy nodded reluctantly. Lara smiled and crawled to the side, turning to let Buffy switch spots with her. Reaching back, she handed the brush to Buffy. Her hair was blonde and shiny and familiar. Buffy wondered if it even felt the same as her own. Raising her hand tentatively, she scooped a section of hair back over Lara’s shoulder. It was soft and smelled like jasmine. Pretty.
Grasping the hair firmly, Buffy pulled it up and into the air. The handle of the brush went heavy in her hand, sharpening, darkening, morphing. The bristles flashed silver and melted flat into a jagged edge. Pulling harshly on the hair, her knuckles popped. Sawing back and forth, she watched the blonde strands break away from the scalp. The blade swiped too close to skin and red stained blonde. She’d always loved painting pretty colors. Rouge on her cheeks, bright splashed on her eyelids, lips stained to a bright sheen.
“No talking,” Buffy said absently, continuing to slice away at the blonde hair.
Shoulders tensing, Lara shivered. “Buffy, please I don’t-”
Ripping Lara’s head back, she snarled, “I said no talking.”
Hands clutching her sides, Lara hugged herself. Her shoulders shook. “You still don’t trust me, do you? You’re never gonna-”
“Keep your head straight,” Buffy instructed, holding another large section of hair and sawing the blade across the base. Silken strands fell to the bedspread. A piece of hair floated close to Buffy’s face and she blew at it, sending it flying across the bed and to the floor.
A muffled sob sent Lara’s shoulders heaving.
“Are you crying?” Buffy shoved Lara down, pushing her over to stare at her tear stained face. “Are you sad now? Oh, poor little girl. Your life is so hard. No one understands you. Wah wah wah. You think you’re the only one who’s lost someone. You don’t get to feel sorry for yourself. Get it?” Buffy waved the blade in Lara’s face. “You don’t get to cry!” She slapped Lara. Hard. “Stop crying! Shut up. Shut up, shut up, shut up!” Raising the blade up, she held it over Lara’s stomach. “Shut up or I’ll-”
“You’ll gut me, B?” Faith asked, leaning up to let the tip of the blade graze her midriff. “You really wanna go there again? Yeah, of course you do. You liked it, didn’t you? The way it slid into me like butter. Easy. Having me gone made your life easy. Come on, B. Do it. You know you want to. Do it. Do it.”
“Shut up,” Buffy said, shaking her head. The blade vibrated in her hand.
“This is how you solve your problems, right? When you can’t ignore something, you have to kill it. That’s the only way to fix this. Fix us. Gotta bury it deep. It’ll make everything better, big sis. Come on. Make it quick. You know, I could never tell you before, but…” Her voice lowered to a whisper. “A part of me always wanted it, too.”
Buffy licked her lips.
“Come on, B, give it to me. Take me there with you.” Faith reached for Buffy’s hand and started pushing the blade against her belly. “We can do it together.”
Buffy gasped as she felt the blade penetrate skin. Her spine fired sparks up and down her back. Hands tingling, she shoved the blade in deep.
“That…wow, I wasn’t ready for that,” Willow said, staring at the Scythe’s sticking out of her chest. “You think you’re ready, you know? You wait over two hundred years for this moment and then when it happens…” Tears pooled, distorting the black of her eyes. “It hurts, Buffy. It really hurts.”
“I’m sorry. You wouldn’t let me go. I had to…Oh, god,” Buffy cried, pulling the Scythe out of Willow’s chest. “I didn’t want to hurt you.” She pressed a hand down on the bloody, gaping hole in Willow’s chest. “Will? Willow? I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I didn’t want to hurt you.” A stake appeared in her hand, the pointed end pressing down against Spike’s chest. She tried to pull away, but her hand refused to move. “Please, I don’t want to hurt you,” she whispered.
Spike ran a finger along the back of her clenched fist, looking up at her with gentle understanding. “Then don’t.”
She focused all of her being into lifting her hand. Her arm shook, but her hand kept inching down, pressing the hard point into Spike’s heart. “I’m sorry,” she gasped as the stake plunged, turning flesh into ash.
Her hand flew out, smacking against the back of the passenger seat. She jerked her head up and looked around the cramped back seat, the black upholstery seeming unfamiliar under the sleep fog covering her. Her hand brushed against the jeans covering her legs. Where did those come from?
Spike’s voice whipped her head around. He sat next to her, eyebrows lowered, expression worried and confused. Her hand shot out, splaying across his chest. Real. He was real. She bit back a whimper.
Looking away, she squinting out into the darkness through the car window. “What…? Where are we?”
“Somewhere in Scotland.” He shrugged, unable to answer further.
“We’re almost home, Buff,” Xander said from the driver’s seat of the SUV, looking at her through the rearview mirror.
“You fell asleep on the plane,” Spike explained. “Thought you could use the rest.”
Nodding, she slumped back against Spike’s shoulder, letting her head lie on his chest. Her hand crept up to rest next to her cheek. “Rest would be nice.”
“How’s your ankle doing, love?” Spike whispered against her hair.
She tested it, bending her foot back and forth. “It’s surprisingly pain-free. Willow?”
“Yeah. Red finally had a look-see while you were out for the count.”
She frowned into his chest, eyes closed. “I wish she hadn’t.”
“Let’s watch it with the ‘W’ word back there,” Xander called.
“Healing magic is white magic, anyways. Of all the million things on your list to worry about, I wouldn’t bother with that.”
Buffy snorted. Opening her eyes, she looked at the back of Xander’s head and then glanced up at Spike. “So…what’d you guys talk about while I was asleep?”
Spike smirked. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”
“Not much to say,” Xander said. “Oh hey, you’re not dead. And I still don’t like you. Hurt Buffy and you’ll be dust quicker than I can say ‘spackle’.”
Spike rolled his eyes. “No need to hide your true feelings. Buffy won’t think less of you for crying at my glorious return.” He hugged her close. “She understands how just being in my presence inspires tears of joy, don’t you, love?”
She pinched him in the ribs, but kept her forehead pressed into his chest. The car slowed and turned down a long drive, passing through open gates.
“Home, sweet home,” Spike muttered. “Why Scotland of all places? You know the people up here are bonkers.”
“It just kinda worked out this way. Besides, remote is good. People leave us alone.”
“Remote is boring. And remote Scotland is mind-numbing.”
“Well, gee, Spike. Sounds like you won’t be staying long,” Xander mocked.
Spike grinned widely, baring his teeth. “Oh, I’d hate to make you fight back the manly tears. Couldn’t bear to cause you pain.”
Buffy reached down to grasp Spike’s hand, turning it over to trace the lines of his palm. “Plus I’m here. That should count for something.”
“That it does,” Spike said quietly.
The car pulled to a stop and Buffy stepped out to find Dawn standing on the front steps of the manor. She rushed forward and threw her arms around Buffy. “You’re okay! Xander told me you were all beat up.” She leaned back to inspect her sister. “You don’t look beat up. Don’t tell me you were playing the ‘I’m wounded, poor me’ card.”
“I missed you, too,” Buffy said, smiling. “How’d it go while we were gone?”
“Great. Awesome. Um, there might have been a slight emergency that required more shopping therapy, but I swear we only bought stuff that was on sale.” Dawn’s eyes went wide. “Spike!” She pushed past Buffy to tackle him in a hug.
Spike laughed, his smile showing his surprise as his arms slowly returned her spontaneous embrace. “And who’s this tall, dark and gorgeous lady?”
Dawn stepped back to grin at him. “I’m four inches taller than Buffy now.”
“Practically an Amazon, eh?”
“You are not four inches taller than me,” Buffy protested.
“Jealous much? You know, inadequacy issues are a serious psychological condition.”
“Don’t Psych 101 me. I aced that class.”
“You got a ‘B’. Willow told me.”
“Willow talks too much.”
Xander walked up to stand next to Spike. “Still glad you’re back?”
“Nowhere else I’d rather be,” Spike said. “Sorry to disappoint. Except for the being sorry part. I lied about that.”
Xander clapped him on the shoulder. “Follow me. I’ve got a room all ready for you. Nice eastern exposure. I hope the girls remembered to put up those lacy curtains that don’t keep the sun out.”
“That’s okay, Xander. He’s staying with me,” Buffy jumped in.
“Right. Okay then. Yeah, that’s…”
Dawn grabbed Xander by the arm and pulled him up the stairs. “Come on, I’ll get you up to speed on all the exciting stuff you missed. Andrew was annoying. I went shopping. We slayed a huge nest of vamps. Okay, you’re caught up. Now tell me about Rome!”
Buffy followed them up the steps, Spike at her side, only to stop and turn, looking out at the driveway behind them. A parade of headlights were driving towards the house. She let out a deep sigh.
“You okay?” Spike asked, brushing his thumb against her cheek.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Just tired.”
She watched shadowed figures pile out of the cars parked along the drive. Giles, Willow, Kennedy, Faith, Angel, Connor. Lara. Buffy looked down. The sound of cursing brought her head up.
“Get the fuck off me!” Simone yelled, struggling as Faith and Kennedy pulled her up the driveway.
“Take her down into the cellar,” Giles said.
Simone swung her elbow, clipping Faith in the chin.
“Easier said than done,” Faith said, grunting. She fought to keep her hold on Simone. “A little help here!”
Spike stepped forward and punched Simone in the jaw, knocking her unconscious.
“Yeah, okay. Not exactly what I was looking for,” Faith said.
“Worked, didn’t it?” He shrugged, stepping aside to let her and Kennedy carry Simone into the house.
Buffy backed away, watching everyone walk into the house. She followed at a distance, staring at Faith and Kennedy as they carried Simone downstairs, Connor and Lara right behind them. She just couldn’t…no. Turning abruptly, she walked outside. She stared at the long driveway before striding in the opposite direction towards the lake on the east side of the manor. Standing at the lake’s edge, she kicked a pebble into the water and watched the ripples. The moon shone across the water, reflecting a blue light that floated around the air. She thought about diving in and holding her breath underneath the water’s surface. Just to see how long she could hold it. She bet she could hold it for a really long time.
“It’s peaceful here,” Angel said, standing behind her.
Buffy jerked her shoulder in response, but didn’t answer. She stared at the water, but kept seeing disturbing images from her dream mixing in with memories of the past few days. Angel walked forward to stand next to her. They stood in silence for ten minutes.
“You’ve been quieter than usual,” Buffy finally said. “Barring the whole not-talking-across-continents thing we had going for the past year. Ever since I showed up in LA…”
“I haven’t had much to say.”
“Oh, I doubt that.”
He laughed to himself. “I don’t have much to say that I think you’d listen to.”
"I don't know how to fix this. How did you fix it?"
"Life. My life. Everything’s just…wrong.” She turned to look at him. “When you were running that big organization and it went all kablooey. How did you...?"
"Uh, I started a fight I knew I couldn't win. Got the entire city sent to hell for a few months. I had to sacrifice myself in order to undo it."
"Oh." She paused and turned to look back at the water. "I don't wanna do that."
"I wasn't recommending it." Another minute passed before Angel asked, "When did things go wrong? Maybe you can start there."
"Things have been going wrong for so long, I can't tell when it all started."
"When's the last time you can remember things going right?"
She closed her eyes, trying to remember. "When we closed the Hellmouth. When all the Potentials became Slayers. I could feel it. The power. It wasn't just the Hellmouth going down. It was..." She shook her head, unable to explain the knowledge and excitement of that moment when the world was full and bright and ready to be won.
"And after that? When did it start to go wrong?"
"Well, robbing that bank was a low point."
"You robbed a bank?"
"Uh, uh, it was - I had to! I had Slayers coming out of the woodworks. Sleeping on the floor. And then I was running out of woodworks for them to sleep on. They were going out at night unarmed. Living off of Ramen noodles and have you seen how much a house full of Slayers eat? We were barely scraping by and Willow was off doing god-knows-what in South America and Giles was gone and the bills kept coming and we couldn't pay them and the power got turned off and, and...We needed money to live and we were demon hunting 24/7. So, well, Andrew was doing an Ocean's 11, 12 and 13 marathon and I thought 'Hey, Clooney, he's hot' and..." she shrugged helplessly.
"Did you only watch the first movie?"
"So you missed the part in the second movie where stealing all that money comes back to bite them in the ass?"
Eyes impossibly wide, she said sheepishly, "Did I mention that the power got turned off...?” A deep sigh. “I guess I should have known it was a bad idea when Andrew and Xander started talking about how sexy it would be. I really need to stop watching stuff with Andrew… except for Veronica Mars. I love that show."
Angel gave her a suspicious look, clearly not recognizing the show, but questioning her choice nonetheless.
She continued, "Hey, it's not like Veronica breaks the law without good reason. Yeah, sure, she kidnapped a baby. But the baby belonged with her real father, plus Meg's parents were child abusers. It was just. A just crime. The system is broken! Sometimes, it is," she insisted.
Angel nodded. "Yeah, I agree. You really do need to stop watching stuff with Andrew."
Her shoulders slumped. "Weren't you supposed to be helping or something?"
"I never claimed to have all the answers."
"Oh, well, that's great,” Buffy said, tossing her hands in the air. “Why are you even here spoiling my alone time moping if you're not gonna help me?"
"I came to say goodbye."
She stilled, shocked. Angel never wanted to say goodbye. Saying goodbye was too final.
Reaching up, he touched her face. "You're so strong, Buffy. You'll figure it out."
She shook her head. “I don’t even know where to start.”
"Take it one step at a time. Start small. You’ll find your way. You always do."
“Yeah, that’s it.” He turned and walked away.
“Angel?” She waited for him to pause and turn to look at her. “Goodbye.”
He didn’t answer. She wondered what else there was left to say as they stared at each other. Then he was gone.
“Have a nice moment alone?” Spike asked a few minutes later, walking up to stand next to her. The faintest tinge of jealousy colored his voice.
Buffy didn’t answer. She just slipped her arms around his waist and leaned into him. He wrapped his arms around her, leaning down to kiss her hair.
“What am I gonna do?”
“Need you to narrow that down for me, pet.”
“I don't feel strong," she whispered. "I feel tired. I have no idea what I'm doing anymore. I don't know how to fix this."
"You sure something needs fixing?"
"Then you'll do it. You never give up. Never stop trying. You'll follow your heart and everything else will fall into place. You can do this. Whatever ‘this’ is."
"I don't think I can."
"Funny. I know you can."