Things That Go Bump in the Night by Slaymesoftly

ReviewsRating: NC-17

Summary: Set several years post NFA, Buffy has moved on, is no longer in mourning for her two dead vampires. Then Dawn calls her for some help and she finds something she never expected to.

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Chapter 29

After teaching her morning class, and meeting with Giles to go over how many slayers would be enough to place in a city the size of Houston, Buffy rewarded herself by swinging by the garden center before she went home.

“Hey, John!” she greeted the manager. “What have you got for me today?”

“Hello, Miss Summers,” he replied, ignoring, as he always did, Buffy’s automatic, “Call me Buffy.”

“I’ve pulled a few things that I think you can safely put into the ground now. You did say that you thought your bulbs were coming up, didn’t you?”

“Oh, yeah. It’s kind of cool. I put those things in six months ago, and now I’ve got flowers popping out of ground all over the place.”

He smiled at the delight in her voice, happy to see that the melancholy look she usually wore was not as visible as it had been. He’d become quite fond of the pretty American woman who was working so hard to restore the grounds of the old house she’d inherited, and he was glad to see that she seemed to be snapping out of the sadness that had filled her in the late autumn and winter.

“If you’d like, I can have these delivered for you,” he said as they strolled towards the trays of pansies and violets he’d set aside for her. “Unless you want to pick them up yourself…” He grinned when she made a face, having asked her months ago why she didn’t drive into town. Her embarrassed reply, “Um… I don’t actually drive all that well in my own country – really not interested in finding out what it would be like to try doing it on the wrong side of the road…” had become a standard joke between them, and he never failed to tease her about it.

“I’m going to surprise you one of these days,” she shot back. “I’ll come driving up in a fancy convertible and you’ll have to find somebody else to make fun of.”

He laughed, enjoying the way she could give as good as she got.

“So, you’re going to make our country your new home, are you?”

Buffy gave him a sad smile, making him regret whatever it was about his words that had brought back her unhappiness.

“My only family is here, and most of my friends are either in this country or using it as a home base. It just makes sense for me to stay here, too.”

“Well, you’ve got a lovely place to live. I can understand why you would want to stay there. You’re very fortunate to have come into such a nice property at your age.”

“Yes,” she whispered, turning her face away. “I’ve been very lucky.”

There was an awkward silence; then Buffy forced herself to offer a smile.

“If you would deliver the flowers, I’d appreciate it. I’ll take a few of them with me now, but I can’t carry them all. You can just have Charles leave them on the front porch if I’m not home.”

That settled, Buffy picked up the flowers she wanted to plant that afternoon and started home. As soon as she was out of sight, she allowed the smile to slide off her face. Willow had been right – the good days were now creeping even with the bad days, but the empty spot in Buffy’s life was still a constant. It had taken her several years after Spike’s sacrifice in the Hellmouth to get used to not having him around. It had been so easy to slip, forgetting briefly that he was gone and looking for him to share something she’d just seen or done. She really had only recently stopped having those increasingly rare flashes of forgetfulness when Dawn’s call had come in; and suddenly there he was again.

This time, while their time together had been much shorter, it had been so much more intense, and the relationship – minus the almost daily dramas of life on a Hellmouth – so much more the sole focus of her life, that the several months he’d been gone were not even close to being enough time to adjust. The gaping hole in her heart was so fresh, so raw that she was sometimes surprised not to find her chest bleeding when she woke in the middle of the night with his name on her lips.

Thinking about that reminded her that Riley, refusing to understand how she could still be mourning for a vampire that’d she’d had years to get used to missing, was planning another trip to the Council Headquarters. His excuse this time was that he wanted to recruit a few slayers into the international paranormal military unit that he now served, but he had also invited himself to Buffy’s for dinner. She still wasn’t sure quite how that had happened, but resigned herself to fixing some sort of a meal and then spending some time convincing Riley that she was still in mourning and expected to be for some time.ye

“Stupid men,” she muttered. “Stupid testosterone. Stupid Y gene.”

Noelle greeted her at the door, meowing vigorously as though she had something really important to share. Buffy smiled and walked past her to the kitchen, intending to put her flowers down by the back door. She stopped, shocked, when Riley stood up from where he’d been sitting at the table.

“Hi…I really didn’t mean to break and enter, but I heard the cat meowing and I thought maybe something was wrong…” He paused, watching Buffy’s face carefully as she struggled to accept his explanation. “But you weren’t here,” he added, “so I thought I’d better wait so that I could explain that.” He gestured to the back door, which had clearly been kicked in.

“You broke into my house because you heard a cat meowing?”

Buffy walked past him to the door and opened it, setting the flowers out on the top step. She studied the broken lock and sighed, closing the door and pushing the refrigerator in front of it. She made a point of moving the heavy appliance with only one arm, casting a sideways glance at Riley to be sure that he’d understood the message.

The uncomfortable expression on his face and the way he made sure to keep the table between them indicated that he had received her less than subtle hint. She sighed and sat down opposite where he was standing.

“Sit back down,” she said tiredly. “I’m not going to do to you what you did to my door. Since you’re already here, you may as well hang around until dinner.”

Buffy made no attempt to knock him out with her culinary skills, not sure if she was more annoyed with him for not taking her strong hints that she didn’t want to see him, or with herself for only hinting when she needed to be firm and specific. They had a quick, boring meal of steak and salad, punctuated with bursts of small talk that neither of them really cared about. Buffy put the dishes in the sink and ran some water on them, shocked when she felt Riley looming behind her.

“What are you doing?” she said, turning the water off and moving away.

“I was going to help you with the dishes.”

“I’m not going to do them right now,” she said, leaning down to give Noelle a leftover bite of steak. “They can soak and I’ll get them later.”

He looked disappointed, but followed her out of the kitchen. Buffy automatically headed for the library, then decided she didn’t want Riley in the room that was so very much Spike’s. Although she walked past the doorway, he stopped anyway and looked inside.

“Wow! That’s quite a TV you’ve got there. Why don’t we sit it in here? I’d love to see what the picture looks like. I’ll bet it’s something!”

Buffy shrugged. “I guess so. I mainly use it for watching movies,” she said lingering in the hallway and hoping he would get the hint. “I don’t even know how to use the game controllers. Dawn and Teddy mostly play with them.”

He frowned, pausing halfway between the doorway and the TV. “Why do you have such a fancy one if you don’t use it?”

“It’s Spike’s, Riley. You know, the man who actually owned this house and everything in it?”

Riley took a deep breath, nodded and came back to stand near her.

“The ghost who owned it, Buffy. The vampire ghost, not the man. And it was his. When are you going to accept that he’s gone?”

“When it stops hurting that he is.”

She turned her back and walked to the living room, sitting down in a wing chair and facing the dark fireplace. She stared into the ashes, ignoring Riley’s arrival and subsequent settling into another chair near hers.

“I’m sorry,” he said finally. “That was out of line. I forget that it’s been longer for me than it has for you.”

Buffy nodded, still staring into the fireplace, but didn’t respond otherwise.

“How long has it been?” he asked softly. “Ted was a little fuzzy about that – he just said it was a while ago.”

“It’s been…oh, god…” Buffy’s face paled as she tried to count how long it had been. She’d tried not to, but her subconscious had insisted on counting every day; as though, by counting each one that passed, she would somehow reach a magic number that made it all better. “It’s been…147 days.”

She put her fist to her mouth, pressing it against her lips while she tried to suppress old memories of blue eyes wide with disbelief and awe, followed by another flash of those same eyes staring at her more recently from a similar position. Suddenly, she knew.

“Buffy? Is something wrong?” Riley’s voice broke into her stricken realization, and she struggled to focus on him, having trouble remembering for a second who he was and what he was doing there.

“Why are you here?” The words were out before she could stop them, and she squeezed her eyes shut in apology before trying to explain. “I’m sorry, Riley. I just suddenly realized why Spike got his memories back and whose fault it is that it happened.”

“Buffy,” he began gently, “nothing that happened to Spike is your fault. Surely you realize that everything that’s happened to him stems from the fact that he was a soulless, cold-blooded killer for hundreds of years?”

“One hundred and twenty-six years,” she said absently, still lost in her own guilty misery. “He was only a killer for a hundred and twenty-six years. Then you chipped him and he changed. He changed more than you can imagine.”

“Once a demon, always a demon,” Riley muttered, and Buffy remembered that he’d lost Sam to a demon. She sighed sympathetically.

“Spike was different, Riley. He was always different. Even when he was still evil and in love with Drusilla he was safe to be around if he wasn’t…”

“Hungry?”

“I was going to say, if he wasn’t angry about something or if he liked you.”

Riley shook his head. “You’ve always been blind when it comes to Spike, Buffy. He wanted you long before I left Sunnydale; and as soon as I was gone, he took advantage of your unhappiness to worm his way into your trust. It was never about change, it was all about getting you into bed.”

“I think you should go now, Riley.” Buffy stood up, her face a closed mask.

“Look,” he said quickly, as oblivious to her moods as he’d ever been, “I know he helped you a lot, and I understand that I don’t know much about what happened after I…left. But, surely you don’t think--”

Buffy stared into his genuinely caring eyes and sat back down.

“Never mind. Sit down again. You’re right. You know nothing about what happened after you left me to deal with a sick mother, a hellgod and a sister that my own watcher wanted to destroy.”

“What?”

“Sit.”

He complied, staring at her stoic face in disbelief as she began to fill him in on life in Sunnydale after he’d left. She spared him nothing – her mother’s unexpected death, Glory’s seemingly unstoppable search for Dawn, Spike’s torture and her subsequent realization that he really did care about her in his own warped way. When she talked about her dive off the tower and the peace and quiet that followed her death, she heard him catch his breath in horror.

“But…you…now…I saw…”

“I died, Riley. Died, went to Heaven, was mourned by my sister. The sister that a soulless vampire remained in Sunnydale to protect because that was the promise he’d made to a dead girl.” She almost smiled at the expression on his face. “You might want to remember this if you ever think about doing anything to tick Willow off – she brought me back. Resurrected me. Body and all.”

Ignoring his scoff, she went on dispassionately.

“Of course, it was Willow, so it didn’t go quite like she’d planned – I woke up in a coffin and had to dig my way out of my own grave. And…and I wasn’t real happy about being alive again. Slayers aren’t meant to live a long time. We get tired. I was done, and happy to be that way.”

Riley’s face would have been funny if Buffy hadn’t been re-living a very painful time in her life.

“You—you were dead.” He repeated it, as though trying to find some other meaning than what the words said.

“Dead. As in, fell from a great height, passed through a mystical portal –serious pain there, by the way – and then, when the portal closed…Whump! Law of gravity still in effect.”

“But…and Willow? She…resurrected you?”

“Yeah. Not so good for her mental health, it turns out – messing with those kinds of dark magics; but, shows you how powerful she is.”

He stared at Buffy’s serene face for several minutes, searching for any sign that she was pulling his leg.

“When I was in Sunnydale that time; when you said….I thought you were speaking metaphorically.”

“Nope. There was nothing metaphorical about it. I was dead. Dead, buried, and my soul was quite happy in Heaven. Until my friends yanked me out. I wasn’t thrilled to be here,” she continued. “And the only one who could accept that was an unsouled, ‘evil’ vampire who had loved me enough to stick around and take care of my sister.”

Riley stared, remembering finding her sleeping beside Spike and her obvious embarrassment and horror at having been caught there.

“But you didn’t…I got the impression you weren’t happy about…I thought…I heard it didn’t end well.”

“It didn’t,” she said curtly. “But the ending didn’t take. He went away and when he came back he had a soul. A soul that he fought for and won…for me.” She waited for that to sink in, and went on. “And then he used that soul to close the Hellmouth, save and world, and, oh yeah, die on me. But you knew that.”

She raised her eyes to his. “That was the first time I lost him.” She quickly ran through an abbreviated version of Spike’s time with Angel, their last battle and the subsequent binding of his ghost to the house she was living in. “He didn’t remember anything from before he came here. If he hadn’t overreacted to Dawn and Teddy, I might never have found him.”

Without going into details, Buffy repeated much of what Riley had already learned from Teddy. About realizing who the ghost was, moving in after he fell in love with her, the way Spike’s memories had come back and the last couple of happy months they’d had before his soul was released and he’d vanished for good.

She waited while Riley digested the new information about the relationship he’d had no idea had been as long-standing or as deep as Buffy now implied. Finally, he stood up with a nod.

“Okay, I can see that you became very dependent on Spike after I left. That’s to be expected, I suppose. And that you were traumatized by…by…”

“Coming back from the dead? Being pulled out of Heaven? Finding out my friends thought my soul would have gone to hell?”

“Yeah,” he replied sheepishly. “All of that. I just can’t get my mind around it.” He shook his head. “But, anyway, surely you remember enough from Psych 101 to realize that Spike took advantage of your vulnerability to bind you to him? That what you’ve been calling ‘love’ is really just an artificial need for his presence in your life?” He gazed at her with what she was sure he thought was benevolent wisdom. “I’m surprised, actually, that he could still exert that much control over you after all these years.”

Buffy gaped at him, speechless in the face of his willful refusal to hear what she’d been saying. Taking her silence for agreement, he stepped closer and put his hands on her shoulders.

“I can help you through this, Buffy. Together we can work on putting this relationship behind you.”

Recovering her mental equilibrium, Buffy stepped away from him and began, “Riley, I don’t know what you thought I was saying, but--”

She was interrupted by a loud screeching noise from the kitchen, followed by the sound of the back door being slammed shut. Instantly, the Slayer took over, and with a “Stay here!” to Riley, she ran down the hall, skidding to a halt at the sight greeting her in the kitchen.

The refrigerator had been pushed aside and the broken door was swinging back and forth, still vibrating from having been slammed. Standing in front of it was a very naked man, covered in goosebumps, with soft brown curls and eyes that were currently glaring at the broken door.

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