Bess : July 17 2001
She held out her hands to him, smiling, and he shook his head.
"Not this dream again," he begged, "Please. Not this dream again. How many times, how many times can I bear to hold you in my arms, and wake up to find you arenít here at all? How many times can I lose you, over and over again? Why?" Her serene face beamed back at him. "Why couldnít I have just gone with you?" he asked, and opened his eyes.
He rubbed the moisture from them with his sleeve, and sat up slowly. Well, it wasnít really much of a question. It wouldnít have made anything better, really. Thereís a five-foot-six brown-haired reason for living just now... and there was a noise from upstairs. He shook off the sleep in an instant. A little cry came from the bathroom, and he vaulted up the steps, practically heaving himself against the door, which creaked and shuddered, but did not give. He hammered on it with a fist.
"Dawn? Niblet? You all right?" There was a brief shocked silence.
"Uh... Iím fine. Geez, panic squad. Cut my knee shaving. No airlift this time," she said, laughing from behind the door.
Spike sighed, and ran a hand through his messy blonde hair. "Sorry... uh, be more careful," he warned, mock-serious, and she giggled.
"Thank you, Captain Safety," she teased, and if it had been physically possible for him to blush, he would have. It was true. Ever since... well, ever since then, heíd been protective, probably overprotective, he admitted, of Dawn. There wasnít anything on earth, as far as he was concerned, that was going to have the chance to hurt her. Papercut false alarms notwithstanding, he had to admit he wasnít too bad at this job. No bullies, no undead nasties dared touch Dawn, who always seemed to have a bottle-blonde whirlwind of an Ďolder brotherí on the premises.
There had been a PTA meeting last week, something that Dawn was never to discuss again on pain of grounding and cut-off of all pizza and movie nights. Suffice to say that no one got seriously injured, although more than a few well-coifed matrons shuffled home with bruised egos. Luckily Giles had council paperwork to distract him. The thought of Spike attending a school function in a caretaker capacity could have brought on a coronary. Nobody, except Dawn and maybe himself, was particularly pleased that Dawn had chosen to remain with Spike as her guardian. He chuckled grimly at the situation, and at the kinds of secrets he was keeping now, and headed downstairs to start dinner.
"PTA, hunh," he muttered. "More like anal-retentive club." They talked a lot about the discipline policy. Bad kids, indeed. He passed the hall mirror, and flashed it a toothy, if invisible, grin. Iíll give you bad kids. He pulled out a box of pasta from the cabinet, and shook it.
Now where does she keep the sauce? he thought, hoping the Summers believed in Italian cuisine straight from the bottle. He didnít feel up to much else. It was bad enough that Dawn expected him to make toast some mornings, but sheíd begged him for something other than takeout tonight.
"Itís so weird," sheíd pleaded, "eating out all the time. I just want to sit in the kitchen... like a family again." This had shaken him up a little. Like a family? Heck, heíd thought to himself, I was the terror of south Wales for a decade. A family? Her heartbroken eyes, holding up so bravely, had won him over in the end. I promised to protect her, until the end of the world. If that means playing big brother as well, so be it. He reached into the odds-and-ends drawer for a pair of scissors and stopped dead. His fingers wrapped around a thin chain and drew out a pale enamel heart from its hiding place.
Spike slid down to the floor, clutching the unopened spaghetti to his chest, and wept softly, his face turning terrible shades of red and grey. It's all a joke. The heart dug into his palm with the pressure of his clenched fist. It's all a sick joke. She was the one supposed to be here, making dinner. Being a family. She was the one supposed to live. She was the one supposed to keep going, turn me into dust without breaking a nail. She shouldíve done it long ago, but instead Iím the one here, with this damned spaghetti that I donít know how to make, sobbing like an ass and wishing more than anything that I could see her again. Just once. The water shut off upstairs, and Spike caught himself. Canít have the niblet seeing me like this, he realized, and rubbed his sleeve across his eyes for the second time.
Itís no good for her to keep mourning, or to see me miserable. He straightened up, and shut the drawer, but tucked the charm into his pants pocket. Iím here to help her, not drag her back down.
"Now whereís that blasted marinara?" he mumbled.
This is it, he thought to himself. So this is hell. If his sweat glands had been functional, the painfully bright lights would have triggered a frenzy. Bright colors leered out at him from the long hallways, and all around him were faces, old, young, all searching for something. He could feel the stench of obsession all around him, their mortal energies rubbing off on him, seeping into his pores, but above that, he could feel their eyes.
Boring into him.
They knew his shame.
They could feel it.
And that wasn't the worst part of it. He felt devoured by their questing eyes. Feeling naked, he struggled to the blinking red lights and thrust down a handful of dollar bills.
"Four forty-nine, sir."
Gasping, Spike fled out into the night with his plastic shopping bag and vowed never again to buy maxis for the Niblet.
It was too much. Today, of all days, had to be lovely and clear and full of sunshine. Today had to come too soon, before any wounds had the chance to heal. Today shouldíve been covered in rain, in the skyís tears. It would have been fitting. I couldnít face her today, I couldnít be strong. Better that she sleep over at Redís place then stay here with a broken shell of a vampire. A broken drunk shell of a vampire, in about an hour and a half, he estimated.
Spike lifted the glass to his lips, smelling the whiskey before he drank it. Itíd be the first drops heíd tasted in months. Tonight called for painkiller, and only the finest would do.
"Happy Birthday, pet."
"Lovely night... lovely, lovely night."
The moon was a sliver in the sky, and the dawn was a distant dream on the edges of the horizon. There was just enough light to add a glimmer to the shattered glass covering the street, bathing the avenue in an ethereal glow.
Spike was breaking all the streetlights.
"Donít you dare," he breathed, miserable, and not a little drunk, "donít you dare shine when sheís not here," he slurred, and hefted another rock at his fifteenth lamp pole. It gave a satisfying shudder and showered glass fragments onto the waiting pavement. Spike nodded at it appreciatively. "Bastard," he glanced up, and found heíd reached his destination. End of the street. No more lampposts. Just a graveyard that stretched along the street for a mile, casting great stone shadows across the grass. She was under one of them. He climbed, hand over fist, to the top of the cast-iron fence, and paused for a moment there, swaying. He hiccuped once and dropped to the ground sideways, tangled in a heap. There was a silence, and he hiccuped again.
"Ow," he said, to no one in particular.
It was a lovely stone, with her name scrolled in elegant calligraphy, surrounded by flowers that were much livelier than the girl beneath them. He raised a foot to stomp the insolent potted geraniums, scowling, but caught himself. They were pretty. She liked pretty things. And what good was death now? What use was killing anything, when nothing would change the fact that she was - he sat down and took another long gulp from his flask. He remained that way for a while, not moving except for to take another swig, or to wipe his face when the tears came. It was inching slowly towards dawn. Soon the first wet leaves on the top boughs of the pines would begin to soften around the edges where the new light was striking. Dawn. He wondered absently, what sheíd do tomorrow, without him. Probably be better off. Iím a bloody terrible nanny. Theyíll all take care of her. They love her. Even I loved her. He smiled. He shut his eyes, and he could see another girl, blonde hair gleaming in the sun. He could almost reach her. Why couldnít he have thought of it before? It was going to be so easy.
"Goodnight, squirrels," he slurred, "goodnight, bees..." he laughed to himself, and dropped his head to his chest. "Goodnight, birds in the... bloody trees..." he murmured, and slipped into sweet unconsciousness.
Wake up, you ass.
I said, wake up. Youíre not going dust bunny on me now.
"Hmph murf. Fumb."
Dammit, Spike, move!
An instant before the sunís rays reached the sleeve of his duster, Spike rolled to the side, ducked and ran for the shelter of a nearby mausoleum. He shut the heavy door behind him just as dawn struck the steps. A pair of dusty coffins sat opposite each other on long, low slabs of granite. He nodded at them in greeting, like old friends. "Very nice of you to Ďave rich relations thatíd build this," he said wryly. A stray sunbeam glinted from a window far above his head, and he shuddered. There was a pounding sensation in his head, courtesy of last nightís indulgence, and he rubbed his palm across his throbbing temples. "Blech. Feel like Iíve been run over..." he mumbled, and curled up with his duster in a more well-shaded spot, behind one of the coffins. In the instant before his head silenced in drowsy oblivion, a quiet voice slipped in between his thoughts, lulling him to sleep.
Iíve been an ass. This was his first thought. His second one was less obvious, something muddled about booze and streetlights, but his third was by far the most interesting. Buffyís voice, he realized, I heard it this morning, somehow. Telling me to get up. A lump rose in his throat, and he pressed fists to his eyes, hopelessly sick at heart. Probably Iím losing it. Probably so drunk this morning I was hallucinating. Buffyís voice, telling me to get up. He slumped onto his side and wept unashamedly.
His lungs were empty and his throat burned worse than anything whiskey had ever done to him, but somehow Spike felt a little better. He rose from his knees without bothering to brush off the new dirt. There were roses on the grave, for her birthday. Pink ones from Red, yellow from An and the carpenter, white from Giles, a single pale lily from peaches. Dare to be different. There was a smaller bundle as well, dried lilac, wrinkled and soft as calfskin, and smelling like a piece of heaven.
"Iím so sorry," he choked, and the stone made no reply. "She needs me. I canít get piss drunk and try to off myself any more. I have... responsibilities now. But still..," his hands became fists. "I feel like a fake... I donít know what to do without you."
Keep your promise, she said, and he fell backwards. He was alone in the graveyard, of that much he was certain. He glanced around, and sat up cautiously.
You made me a promise.
"It is you..." he breathed, "...youíre really here, somewhere! Buffy, love, where are you? Whatís happened?"
There was a brief silence. Sheís thinking about what to say, he realized, and practically laughed with joy.
I- donít know.
"That doesnít matter! Youíre alive, at least, in whatever form... come with me, to the watcher, and weíll get things sorted out. Will you come with me?"
Of course. Donít be ridiculous.
"And whatís that supposed to mean?"
I have to come with you. Wherever you go, silly.
Did you think I was floating around, a disembodied voice for just anyone to hear? I found you, Spike. Iím in your head.
It dawned on him that he hadnít been hearing her with his ears. "Oh, God," he said, softly. "Oh, God."
"Yes. And there are also flying space monkeys."
"Look, Wil, isnít it obvious? Spikeís just got a new game. This oneís just hitting a little too close to home," he glared at the reddening vampire from over Anyaís tense shoulders. If he had looked a little lower down, he might have noticed Dawnís furious eyes. "Iíd love it to be true. Who wouldnít? The thought of Buffy not dead, just trapped in some other la-la land, is kind of comforting. But itís not true." At this, something snapped in the blond, and Xander found himself flat on his back, with a grimacing Spike shaking a fist underneath his nose. Dawn cried out, but Tara wrapped a protective arm around the girlís shoulders.
"That. Bloody. Hurt," he said quietly. "But Buffyís in my bloody head and itís for real, alright? And I want her back. Díyou understand? I want her back," he rubbed his aching forehead with one palm.
"Icanítbloodylivewithoutíer," he mumbled, and Willow raised an eyebrow.
"Care to repeat that?" Xander asked, from the floor.
"I canít bloody live without her," he repeated, without raising his head. "Iím the most sodding pathetic creature I ever met. So letís please just do something." The dark-haired man heíd knocked down almost opened his mouth, but shut it again. There are times, Xander thought suddenly, when silence is better.
"I believe him -" said a very small voice. The gang shot a collective glance, ashamedly, over at the youngest member of the group. "If it means anything to you guys. I know itís true. I... well, I asked him some questions. Buffy questions." Dawn teared up at this. "Sister questions," spike gave her a look, and she smiled bravely back at him. He nudged her arm with his fist.
"Síalright, little bit. Sorry about... the temper," he gave Xander an even stare, but without his usual smugness. "Iím even sorry to you, bricklayer." He added, conversationally. Xander nodded. It was the kind of apology men accept.
"Okay," he said softly, and Spike glanced up at the girls, hopeful. Willow nodded, and squeezed Taraís shoulder.
"We know youíve been taking good care of Dawn, whatever other grudges anyoneís holding against you," she said softly, and Xander felt the sting of her words. "Itís not entirely unheard of," she added. "Trapped in another dimension, psychically calling out for help? Been there, done that. Nothing we canít handle, right?"
"Practically the Burger King of fix-it magic, Ďround here." Tara giggled.
"Drive-through, please. Weíre on it. You -" she pointed to Anya. "- know where everything is. Could you help?"
"Itís a good thing Giles is in England," Willow said softly, as the others began gathering supplies under Taraís direction. "Iím not sure how heíd be taking this."
"Itís a seeking ritual," Willow said, arranging the last candles. "Nothing badís going to happen. Itís just like, uh... reading a map of a museum, looking for the dinosaur exhibit, but instead, we have to try and feel the dinosaurs to find them, because we donít really have a map."
Spike took a last drag on his cigarette, and stomped it. "I hope your spells work better than your analogies," he said off-handedly, and sat down in the drawn circle. He flashed her a quick, apologetic grin. "No hard feelings, Will. I trust you," he coughed then, to cover up what heíd just said, but Willow beamed anyway. "Letís get going."
"Youíre sure youíve had no contact with Buffy recently? Sheís not answering you right now?" Tara asked again, for the third time.
"Not a peep out of Ďer. Why, does it mean anything?"
"Not particularly... itís just so that what weíre doing now wonít interrupt her communication."
"Explain to me again why weíre letting the dead guy look for Buffy?" Xander whispered. Tara gave him a poke in the arm.
"Because heís the one hearing her voice. It might have left some sort of trail in his subconscious, make it easier to find her."
Willow lit the final candle and began the chant. The small hairs on the back of everyoneís neck stood up, and Dawn shivered. There was a feeling in her veins, thick like honey, warming her slowly from the inside out. I can feel it. My blood knows her. The bloodís calling.
"Um, guys..." she said quietly, not wanting to disturb Willow, whose voice was growing in intensity. Xander gave her a puzzled glance. "... I think, uh - oh my God. Look at Spike."
They all did, which was lucky: it isnít every day you get to see a vampire turn transparent.
He shimmered for a moment, and Dawn could see across the room from through his shoulders. Behind him, Willowís stricken face took on an unhealthy glow.
"Give him back!" Willow cried out, and broke the circle with her fist. "Stop it!"
And he vanished in the same instant that every candle blew out.
When their voices returned, Xander sat, gazing dazedly at the place where the vampire had disappeared. Willow let out a small sob.
"I take it that wasnít supposed to happen," he said quietly. The redhead looked sick.
"Of course that wasnít supposed to happen!" she choked. "He was just supposed to sit there, and then open his eyes and tell us something, anything about where sheís... but something took him! There was something on the other side, pulling at him... and it was too strong for me." Tara wrapped her arms around the girl, who stared off at the ruined circle. "Heís gone, and so is our link to Buffy." Dawn allowed a tear to roll down her cheek, but said nothing. Anya, in a show of remarkable perception, leaned over to face her.
"Itís okay," she said. "At least things canít kill him very easily, since heís dead. And Iím sure heíll still try and find your sister." Dawn sniffled a little, but smiled bravely at her.
"That helps, Anya. I think."
Well, nothing hurts, was his first thought. He opened his eyes a crack, hoping against hope that wherever he was, it wasnít sunny out. The stars winked coolly back at him, and he sat up with a sigh. Nothingís supposed to happen, eh? This doesnít look like the inside of the bleediní Magic Box. Canít blame it on Red, though. I felt something... pulliní at me. I hate magic, itís got a bloody wicked sense of humor. He stood up and unconsciously dusted himself off.
"Sorry, Buffy," he said softly, hoping sheíd reply this time. "I guess it wonít be quite that easy after all."
There were a few trees, a grassy hill, nothing really that unusual. He seemed to be in somebodyís park, or field, although he couldnít see any sign of human dwellings. Probably a golf course, he sniggered to himself. Never did get the hang of that game. Always seemed a bit silly. Oh, yeah, and the fact that itís supposed to be played in the daytime. Spell had probably just picked him up and tossed him over the other side of town. There was a huge golf course and a hotel, he seemed to remember. Couldnít be more than a few miles back.
"Iíll be there in time to still catch them still stariní at the floor," he announced, grinning, and turned in the direction he assumed was home. Spike broke into a light jog. Iíll be there in time to catch them being all red-eyed over the fact that Iím gone. Right. Probably be haviní a sodding party. Dancing around the room, bringing out the buffet. Spikeís vanished! Letís use the good silverware!
Well, he told himself, at least Iíll be there in time for leftovers. He grinned again, and disappeared into the underbrush.
"Is there any way of figuring out where he is?"
"Well... actually, this seeking spell is the only one I know."
Spike hit the ground with a dull thud. This was getting him nowhere. Literally. Itíd been at least an hour and a half since heíd begun running, and he hadnít yet reached any signs of human life. No streets, no streetlights, nothing. Not even an outhouse or a groundskeeperís building. He lay face-down and took a mental inventory of the scenery heíd run through. No, he wasnít going in circles. Heíd been up a hill, down through a valley, over a little stream (no bridge, as he recalled), and past hundreds and hundreds of trees. More trees than heíd ever seen in his life.
More trees, he was now reasonably sure, than existed in Sunnydale.
"Bugger," he said thoughtfully, into the grass. "Buggerbuggerbugger," he sat up, spitting out a mouthful of hapless grass, and glanced carefully over at the horizon.
Pale orange clouds lumped cozily together, spanning the edge of the forest, and Spike swore softly to himself under his breath. Morning wasnít far off; and unless there was a particularly thick strand of trees anywhere around... trouble was even closer. He took to his heels, hoping against hope that somebody had thought to include caves in this alternate dimension.
Turn left, she said rather loudly, and he tripped over a root. He rolled, and sprang back up, checking his surroundings. Thereís shelter that way. Nobody in sight.
"Still in my head, eh, pet?" he shook his head ruefully. "Wish this couldíve been the place to find you."
Hesitate much? The sunís coming up.
"Well! Seems to me youíve done this before. Didnít know you cared," he grinned, and caught himself. Not like she can see me. Her voice was oddly strained when she spoke again.
I kind of need you right now.
"Right, love. Iím going."
What I need right now is a plan. Spike scratched at the back of his head, absent-mindedly. There was a thin white line that ran unseen across his scalp, fading faster with every day. Playing explorer isnít getting me anywhere. He glanced around the cave. Not the worst digs heíd ever had to crawl into at sunup. Lacked a certain something, thought.
"Any sign of human habitation..." he muttered. "Sodding planet of the sodding apes." Wouldnít be without a sense of irony, he mused, not being human and all. Speaking of not being human... he felt a pang of hunger. How long had he been running through those woods, anyway? All night, it seemed. And at least several hours had passed since the sun rose. Made a fellow wonder what he was going to do about eating. "Any suggestions, Buffy, as to the meal plan for our little adventure?" There was no response. "Leaving me with the details, I see." A squeak echoed out from the far side of the cave. As he had nothing better to do, Spike ambled over to a hole in the rock face, large enough to fit a horse through. In the lack of light he made out a tunnel, chiseled out for past centuries by the thin trickle of water at his feet. It turned sharply to the left and led deeper into the side of the hill, and smelled like water, and, faintly, guano. Another squeak answered the first. Bats. He grinned toothily, and decided necessity really was the mother of invention.
Dinner is served.
"Alright." Willow landed the book on the table with a practiced swing, knocking a cloud of indignant dust from its resting place. "This might be something." Dawn looked up from her own pile of research materials.
"Something? Good, something?"
"Very good something. Itís a variation on the seeking spell - Xander, donít make that face - that allows us to see where the person is. Itís not like looking for their mind, which is... more dangerous. As weíve already found out. It just provides a picture of where they are."
"Like a magic mirror, sort of." Tara interjected. "Well, not really, since it uses water, but... you get the idea." Anya nodded emphatically.
"Iíve seen that. In Disney films. Will there be a strange mask that talks to us also?"
He rolled first, eyes wide open, and leapt to his feet just as a sword came down in the spot where heíd been resting.
"So... planet of the apes has an honor guard." He huffed. There were two of them in the cave, ugly and bulging with brute power. Green skin, he noted absently, apparently this isnít your typical post-apocalyptic fantasy realm. The first leaned forward on his spear and made a comment in a dialect Spike couldnít make out. "Pardon?" he asked, and cocked his head to one side.
"I said," repeated the creature, "where is your master, human filth?" Spike grinned.
"Oh, right. Much clearer. Incidentally, you know..." he smiled, and threw on his game face. They backed up noticeably. "...your language sounds a lot like someone spitting up."
"I see him!"
"Ick. What are those?"
"The mask from Snow White was just that color!"
"An!" Tara turned a worried face to her partner while Xander tried to explain this particular difference in realities to his fiance.
"Is there anything we can do? I know the last time we tried... one of those... you got a nosebleed." Willow shook her head.
"I donít think thereís any other way," sighed the redhead. She extended her hand towards the blonde. I need you, she seemed to be saying. Please approve of this.
"I worry about you," Tara replied, by way of an answer, and squeezed her palm against her loveís.
The instant Spike ducked the first spear aimed at his head, he felt something cold go past his ears. Feeling himself falling, he braced for impact against the stone. Nothing. He opened his eyes and found himself standing in- blue. There was no other way to describe it. He was simply in the middle of the color blue. A particular shade, for that matter.
"Remind you of anything, pet?" he asked cockily, hoping to draw out Buffyís voice.
My sweater, she replied, a little huffily.
M-hm. What is this?
"If I didnít know any better, Iíd say that walking lugee with a spear knocked me, or... us, rather, out." He glanced around. "But I assure you this isnít what my subconscious looks like. Been there. I vote Redís doing a little looking out for us."
But... she canít! Teleportation spells, she hasnít perfected them! They give her nosebleeds.
"Wil, just hold on to this, okay? No, I donít care. I never liked this shirt." Xander patted her back. "That was really good, you know. Great timing." He glanced over at the blonde. "Both of you." He said, and she gave him a half-smile. Dawn nodded.
"He couldíve taken them," she interjected, grinning. "But yeah, really great, Willow."
"Whad madders," Willow managed through the improvised hankie, "id dat dere oud ub dere. Ibe got du keep tryid to ged dem du Bufdy."
"Nobody can understand you," remarked Anya, not unkindly. "Sorry your face is bleeding, though."
"I can do this part, if you want me to," Tara said, glancing at the pages. "Weíre just keeping on looking for her, right? Like, Clue." Her eyes brightened. "We know sheís in one of the rooms, just not which one. Process of, of, e-elimination."
"Gread adaloge, bud I need du du somedint firsd." She straightened up and shut her eyes. Once again her hand went out to Tara, who took it. Their chanting barely raised above a whisper, but it sent chills up Xanderís back nevertheless. He found himself reaching for Anyaís hand, who took it lovingly.
"Maybe this will be the right place." She whispered, and he smiled back at her. She looked over at Dawn, who somehow seemed very alone, outside the circle of lovers. Anya faced her palm upwards and examined it briefly. Hands are very important, she thought suddenly. They make you feel... she looked at her fingers, entwined with Xanderís... not alone. She stretched her own hand out at Dawn, who shot her a puzzled glance. "Maybe this will be the right place," she repeated, and Dawn grasped her palm in sudden hope.
Let this be the right place, Anya prayed fervently. Let this be the right place. A second sentence found its way into her thoughts. A sentence accompanied by faces.
I am not alone.
It was this sentence that cut across the dimensions like a thin blade, and caught Spike across the temples just before he blacked out.
I only remember falling, but nothing before that. Iím happy here, I suppose, but then, I donít know anything else. There are fields of daisies here to wander through, great wide blue rivers where I cool my feet, and spreading trees where I lay in the shade and doze. Just before I shut my eyes I think I can see people, people I once knew - and then I fall asleep, and my dreams are pale and pleasant. I think I am waiting for something.
Today I am sitting in the sun, watching two birds fly back and forth, catching the wind with their clever wings, and suddenly I realize that I am alone. Before this, I didnít know that word, but it has appeared in my mind like a bubble in a stream, making its presence known with a pop. Alone. I am the only one like me here, with ten long fingers and ten toes, and yellow hair. There are two birds, actually many birds, and foxes in the woods, and fish in the water, and everything else that there ought to be, but no more of me. It amuses me that I know the names of these things, so I practice saying them.
"Foxes." I say, and laugh, and it is a strange noise on my ears. I havenít heard that kind of a noise before, but I know exactly how to make it. "Fish," I say, "birds, horses, rabbits, clover, grass, trees, water, stones, mud, air." The words are sucked up into a gust of wind, and for a moment I can hear my own voice floating in the sky. It is almost like not being alone for a second, but it passes. I stretch out in the sun and let it warm me, and begin to fall asleep watching the tall grass sway around me. I have been here for - for a long time. I have forgotten how many days. It doesnít matter.
The second time something changes, I am sitting in the stream, waving my hands in the water, making thin trails of light with the reflections. There are fish nibbling my toes, but they feel like tiny kisses. I laugh again, to please myself. I watch the fish, and they grow bored, and move on to nibbling other things, like the long bluish grass playing in the water. They take very small bites, and it is a long time before any blades of grass are actually eaten down to nubs. Eating. I know that word too, somehow, but it doesnít seem to mean anything. I canít remember a time when Iíve been hungry. Vaguely I remember having eaten, having felt the need, like the fish, to nibble; but not in this place. There are sweet smelling peaches hanging from the trees, and apples, and grapes on twisting gray vines, and fat tomatoes that peek out from behind soft green canopies; and none of them tempt me at all. I scoop up water into my hands and let it run out again. Little droplets wait on the ends of my fingers, trembling in the breeze. I am like them; I am waiting.
I know Iím waiting because I have begun to count the days again. I couldnít be the only one like me. All the foxes have four toes, and I have ten. All the birds have delicate little claws that look like bones, and I have pale pink fingers, with soft bends in them. There are many foxes, and many birds, and there are more like me, somewhere. I will wait for them to come and find me, and then perhaps we will sit in the stream together, and they will teach me to be hungry. This makes me laugh too. It occurs to me that I might leave this place to look for them, but the thought leaves just as quickly as it came. I have trees to watch dancing with the night wind, and wheat to run my fingers through, and hills of berry bushes to lie in and watch the ants carry off sweet, sticky treasures. Iím not going anywhere.
And then it happens.
He comes up the hill quietly, and stands for a long time, watching me, before I notice him. There are the same pale fingers, ten of them, and a smooth face that is not unlike my own, but the lines are sharper than the ones the stream reflects for me. Itís hard to see very well, in the darkness. His eyes are another word I knew long ago. His eyes are sad. He is as lovely as Iíd hoped.
"Hello." He says, and itís a startling noise. His voice is deeper than mine, and not as soft at the edges of the sound, and his mouth turns up to one side as he speaks. I know this word too, so I smile at him.
"Hello." I say back, and now he smiles. "Youíre like me," I continue, holding up my hands, "ten fingers." I laugh, and the noise is pleasant for both of us. His shoulders loosen up, and he sits beside me in the grass. "I canít see your feet." I say. He is wearing - shoes, theyíre called. I look down at my own feet, pink-pale underneath the mud and grass stains. I havenít had time to wash them in the stream yet this morning, and they are almost gray from walking. I wore shoes once, too. "Have you ten toes as well?" He nods, and Iím excited. I tell him Iíve been waiting for him, and he nods again. I tell him Iím not sure why. Something sad crosses his face again, and suddenly I know his secret.
He knows me.
This is more upsetting than learning what alone means, or that Iím not hungry anymore. He knows me. He watches me move, and speak, but it doesnít surprise him, nothing that I do does. He knows how I speak already, he knew my voice when I opened my mouth, he recognized my shape from down in the valley, long before he sat down under this tree. I can understand the birds and the fish, but not this quiet creature who has met me before. I wonder who he is, and why I donít remember him.
"Iíve been looking for you," he says, and again thereís a rumbling down in his throat, catching the words back a little even as he speaks them. I can believe heís been looking for something. My dress has never been as dirty as his coat. It looks like something... there is a word... ancient. Something ancient, and not taken care of very well. Heís been walking much longer than Iíve ever walked. I suppose when oneís looking for something, they donít just make trips down to the stream, or over to the caves for the bear cubs; one continues walking until itís found. A good idea.
"You found me." I answer, and suddenly it seems less honest than I intended it to sound. I hope he doesnít think Iím making fun of him, not as if I remember how to do that either. But he smiles at me, and the moment passes. "Where did you come from?" I say.
"From the same place as you." He replies, without looking away from my face. This cannot be true. I came from the woods, down over the glen. I was sleeping under a tree the first time I opened my eyes. He came from across the field, up over the hills. He came from someplace else. Is there anywhere else, but here? Are there places that arenít filled with only streams and fox cubs and berry bushes? He knows me. I must have been in another place, once. Thereís a hole in my mind now, and I am feeling its edges. I was someone else before. I cannot remember who I am. I know my eyes are filling up with tears now, but I speak anyway.
"Would you... tell me who I am?" I ask, and try to sound amused. "I canít seem to remember. Anything." I manage, before I have to put my face in my hands and cry. All the words I remember, being hungry, none of it matters anymore. I canít even remember me. Iím nobody, I guess. He just sits and watches me cry, but takes something out of his pocket.
"Here, now.." he says, and beckons me closer to him. I sniffle, twice, and rub a hand across my eyes before I do. There is a tiny heart in his hand, on a thin gold ribbon, and it catches the moonlight as he turns it, swinging gently in the breeze. "This was yours, once." I donít remember ever having something as lovely as this, but I reach out for it anyway, like a magpie reaching for a penny. I remember pennies. I think I used to use them, although not for jewelry like this heart. He parts my hair with his hands and ties it around my neck.
And in the second that it touches my skin, I see a thousand faces.
It hurt like hell to see her like that, to see her stripped of everything she is. But it hurt worse to give it all back. Spikeís hands clenched, white-knuckled, watching her eyes flicker open and shut, seeing her life float by behind her eyelids. It was the right place. It isnít fair to have a destiny at twenty. Iíve had six times that long, and Iíve wasted it. I think this was the first thing Iíve ever felt guilty for.
"Spike." She says, in her own voice, and anything he might have said back to her lost all its courage, and hobbled back down into his throat. He nodded. "Spike." She says again, and smiles at him, everything except her eyes, which are green and clouded. "You came." He cleared his throat.
"Pleasureís all mine, pet." They sat there, watching the stars, until she put her head down on his shoulder and wept.
"You did it," Tara whispered, and laid her head on the other girlís shoulder. She glanced up at Dawn, who was being swung around the room in a dizzy circle by Xander and Anya, all three of them hand in hand, laughing like mad. "You really did it."
The reflections in the bowl shimmered with the movement, but lost none of their form. It was unmistakably Buffy. Willow watched the small pair in the darkness, watched her best friend lay her head on the vampireís shoulder.
"Letís give them a minute, okay?" she said gently. Tara nodded, and made a little face. "Was that actually a naughty grin? From you? Oh, dear..."
"How did you get here?" she said, after a while. "I lost you, somewhere, around the third change. I... I was very lost, for a while."
"Iím not sure. Redís in charge of the travel plans. Didnít think to keep any of those packets of peanuts handy, though." She giggled, and he looked at her strangely. "So... you donít remember getting here? Or being here, for that matter?"
"Nothing. Just the times I spoke to you, and... now." She looked very small beside him, and Spike wanted more than anything to wrap his arms around her and kiss her forehead until her tears dried up. He settled for a brief tap on the shoulder.
"Told you Iíd find you."
"Yeah." There was another pause, then she tilted her face upwards at the sky and shut her eyes. Buffy grinned and faced him suddenly. "You know, youíre pretty interesting up there."
"I never would have guessed so much of your brain was devoted to song lyrics."
"Bloody hell! Summers! Who gave you soddiní permission to rifle through my soddiní brain?!"
"Defensive much?" she giggled again. "I was kidding." He huffed importantly for a minute, then shrugged.
"Oh. Right. I... sorry. You understand. Sívery private."
She nodded sweetly. "But seriously, ĎMore Than a Feelingí?"
"Iíd like to go home."
"Me too. Wonít do to keep Dawnie waiting."
In a darkness dotted with all the stars of the universe, two hands found each other, and held on for dear life.
"Iím... I think this is... afraid."
"Thereís no need for that. Nothing can touch us now, pet."
"Oh, really? I think both our pasts tend to discourage smugness."
"Not the same thing. Weíre gonna be alright."
"How do you know?"
"Youíre holding my hand."
And right on cue, the fabric of space-time split wide open before them.
"Let me get that for you." He chided, sweeping the can out of her grasp, and settling it into the can opener. Buffy glared at him, and sat down at the kitchen counter in a pout. Watching him, she felt a precarious sense of unreality. If I speak, will this all disappear? she had to wonder. Spike, making canned corn. Major wiggins.
"I couldíve helped."
"Not the point. I promised you dinner. No fair making you cook."
"Oh, yes, youíre the expert on fair."
"Tonight I am." She trailed her fingers along the edge of the table grumpily, and leafed through a magazine Dawn had left behind, something silly about boyfriends and new jeans. I remember this, she thought. I remember all of this. But I donít miss it anymore, she realized, watching him cross the room, humming, moving across the floor to his own beat. I donít miss it, and it canít touch me anymore. No more gee-Iíd-rather-be-shopping. No more sadness. This is what there is. He thumped the can opener, which had been making a sick growling noise, and grinned at her rather dangerously. She narrowed her eyes at him, but kept the smile. This is for me.
"So..." she slid off the stool, and circled him on the linoleum, "whatís on the ?"
"Oh, you know," he breathed, closing the distance between them, "blood and Wheatabix." She threw her head back and laughed, and pummeled him lightly on the shoulder.
"I meant for us, you goof... I canít believe youíre actually making that in my kitchen." In my motherís kitchen, she reminded herself, with a look towards the curtains theyíd picked out together. "Thatís major gross." She faced the table now, and surveyed its contents. Her bag, Spikeís washed and folded t-shirts, Dawnís books. I get it now. Thank you mom, she mused. My kitchen. "Hey." She remarked, picking up the t-shirts, "Are you thinking about moving out?" This was done rather abruptly, and Spikeís shoulders tensed like heíd been hit.
"Whenever you want." He said lightly. "I havenít got a lot of stuff, so..." he let this trail off, and turned his attention back to the casserole. If I donít think about it, he struggled, we can get through dinner okay, Iíll tell Dawnie, and then... what then? Everything I ever wanted is here. He faced her, and there was something strange in her face. Heíd seen her look like that once before, but never at him.
"Would you... think about staying?" she asked, softly.
Dawn watched the hands of her clock turn to seven, and to seven-thirty. Still no dinner. Her stomach complained loudly about the lack of service, and she sat up. "If I get down there, and theyíre just making out, Iíll be so mad..."
She found them sitting on stools beside each other, forehead to forehead, talking in voices so low they barely registered. Fingers twined together and knees touching were the only physical connection, but Dawn had never seen two people look so close. She stayed out of sight, watching them from the comfort of the open doorway. Spike said something, and Buffy laughed, and they butted heads gently. This is too weird. "Why canít you guys just swap spit like everybody else? You pickiní out china patterns, or what?"
They came apart guiltily, and stood up, nearly knocking the stools over in their haste. Dawn folded her arms across her chest. "Whatís with the talking?"
"We were, uh... discussing..." Spike began, but Buffy caught up the slack.
"Heís staying here, with us. Is that okay with you, Dawn?" Spike had to admire her lack of hesitation. Girl makes a decision and runs with it. Dawnís face did not take on the look of surprise her sister had been hoping for.
"Duh." She said. "Of course heís staying. He can cook."
"Are you saying I canít?" Buffy hissed. The younger girl shrugged.
"Didnít say that, but if it were up to me..." she pointed to Spike, "cooking," she indicated Buffy next, "laundry."
The blonde gave a noise close to a squeak and leapt at her sibling, but the fight turned into tickling in short order. She tapped Dawn on the head. "Not that Iíd mind sharing chores," she added meaningfully, looking at Spike, who blanched somewhat. "So you want him to stay, is that it?"
"You know we both do." Dawn said, her head to one side in that particularly exasperating Summers manner. Buffy gave her a careful look. "I got it." She nodded, and headed up the stairs, but caught herself on the second step. "But supper had better be ready by eight." She added, and fled her sisterís glare, giggling. Buffy turned a wry grin back at him.
"You ready for this?" she asked. "The whole supper at eight thing? Watching her do book reports can be really boring. We do a lot of laundry," she continued, sidling in beside him, "we watch bad daytime TV, we do dishes, we vacuum..." he kissed the tip of her nose, and she lit up.
"I promised to protect her, but you especially, until the end of the world..." he held up a soapy sponge, "...even if itís from Salmonella." She snatched it out of his hands, laughing, and he tackled her in response, ignoring the slight stinging in his temples.
They went head-over heels on the linoleum and Buffy broke away, vaulting through the doorway and over the couch. He followed, growling, and they circled the coffee table, teeth bared, eyes locked. She wiggled the sponge in front of him and he dove for it, getting a faceful of mahogany instead. Crowing in triumph, she stepped over him into the kitchen. He grinned at the corner of his mouth, and stood up. "Right, then, love... if thatís how you want it."
At eight-thirty Dawn found them locked in struggle, half-under the kitchen counter, one hand each on a shredded sponge that had apparently seen better days. Spike was the first to let go, jumping to his feet and offering possibly the most pathetic excuse for horseplay ever given, but Dawn was willing to let it go; especially after watching him turn and offer a hand to her sister, who was still laughing hysterically on the floor.
"Grow up, Buffy." She commented, disgusted. "And call for a pizza, will you? That way you two can continue tonightís episode of Ďsponge warí until the delivery guy gets here." She headed for the stairs, but changed her mind and flopped won on the sofa instead. Dawsonís a double-header tonight. "Hey, Buff?" she added.
"Come pick up this armchair, will you? I donít think itís supposed to be upside-down like that." Red-faced, her sister headed for the doorway, but a pale hand stopped her.
"I had to learn how to French braid." He said, kissing her neck. She laughed softly under her breath. "I had to attend a PTA meeting. I baked a pan of brownies..." he continued, smoothing his hands up her waist, drawing her into his arms. "I vacuumed. I folded laundry." He kissed her, long and slow. "I was forced to provide meals beyond cold cereal and take-out. You owe me big-time." he grinned, and she pushed him away from her, giggling.
"Welcome to the world of being an adult. Iíve had to take care of her too, you know..." she scolded, half-teasing. They gave each other mock-glowers and collapsed into a laughing hug. "It feels so good..." she breathed, burrowing into his shoulder, "...so, so good to be back. To be home." He only buried his face in her hair and sighed. It feels so good to have you in my arms, he wanted to say, to know youíre safe. She pulled away enough to look him full in the face. "If you stay here, things might get complicated. More complicated. Messy, even."
"Weíve handled messy before, you and I." He said, his face placid.
"Yeah." She released him, and he picked up the phone, dialing with long, white fingers. Heís right. If thereís one thing Iíve learned about Spike, she mused, itís that he sticks around. Even for messy.
"Large pepperoni and cheese, one-half black olives..." he rattled off, already having committed the girlís favorites to memory. "Yeah. Revello Drive. Thatís the one. Right." He faced Buffy guiltily. "Apparently weíre in their sodding Rolodex."
"Meals beyond cold cereal and take-out?" she repeated. He shrugged.
"Itís got food group stuff. Bread, tomatoes. Anchovies."
"Síprotein. Could I ask you something?"
"Go ahead, Emeril." She quipped, and he placed a hand over his heart.
"Now, pet, that stings."
"Really, ask away."
"After I kiss you, will you pinch me in the arm?"
"Wha-" she began, but was cut off by a pair of cool lips pressed over hers.
There would be words for it later, when she had to describe it to a googly-eyed Willow, but right now there was nothing she could bring herself to compare it to. It wasnít like Rileyís eager pecks, or Angelís slow kisses, always afraid heíd hurt her. It was new, so new it almost hurt. She kissed back, fiercely, and pressed a hand to his chest. Warmth, from her, flooded him. Riley always let me lead, Angel always had the steps planned out. Iím dancing for myself this time.
With some sadness, she let herself sink back down, away from the kiss, and sucked in a breath of air. She watched his eyes turn deep blue, felt him take in a breath he didnít need. Weíll always be partners, she thought with a shiver. Weíve neither one of us ever been able to go further than the other. Itíd mean going away. Like two halves of the same stone. Broken is the only way to separate.
"Messyís got nothing on us." He breathed, and she giggled. Buffy cocked her head to one side, smiled secretively, and pinched his arm just at the crook of the elbow, where a new bruise was forming. He yelped. Casualty of the sponge war. "Bloody, bloody-" he muttered, "bloody. You bint. Thank you."
"What was that all about?"
"Making sure of something." He kissed her again, briefly, and looked about ready to cry. "Not dreaming." The laugh track on whatever Dawn was watching roared.
Buffy sighed, and took him by the hand.
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