Author’s Notes: This is sort of my revenge for Wesley’s death. While I have to admit to being relieved since he is (apparently) beyond Joss’s ability to torture, I still wasn’t entirely happy with the way his character was treated the last couple seasons. So, if Joss gets to kill my Wesley, I get to kill everyone else. (Joss was half-there already.)
Part 1: Hope
The tips of Spike’s ears were growing numb, and he shrugged his shoulders inside his duster, knowing that it wouldn’t help much. His hands were warm enough at least, buried deep inside his pockets. He’d never been quite so grateful for his coat before.
Vampires didn’t notice the cold, of course, but he wasn’t really a vampire any longer. Not really human, either. Six months, and he still had no clue what he was exactly. All he knew was when they had walked into that alley behind the Hyperion hotel, it had been as a group, and he’d been a souled vampire. When he walked out, he’d been alone, and he had no idea what he was.
To this day, Spike wasn’t certain what had happened exactly. One minute they’d been facing a horde of demons, hell-bent on their destruction, with Angel saying he wanted to slay a dragon. The next moment Gunn had been dead. (Illyria had been right on the mark in her prediction; the man hadn’t lasted ten minutes.) Angel had been the next to go—apparently dragons really did breathe fire.
Spike had been prepared to die for the second time in a year. It wouldn’t be in a blaze of glory this time, but it would be suitably bloody—fists, fangs, and sod all else. Spike would get his wish: he would go down fighting.
Then it was all over. The demon horde had disappeared, along with Illyria. It was almost as if the very ground had swallowed them up. Spike had awoken in the alley, drenched by the still-pouring rain, staring into Gunn’s sightless eyes.
He’d surprised himself by immediately hyperventilating, and then had found it impossible to stop breathing ever since. Spike was still strong, still agile, but he had no need for blood, and he had a sneaking suspicion that he was now mortal.
Some days he wondered if the Powers hadn’t made a mistake, or if Percy hadn’t been wrong when he’d translated the text in question. Of course, the Shanshu prophecy only said that the souled vampire would “live until he died,” with no mention of actually becoming human. Spike thought it was a lot like having the Gem of Amarra might have been.
Except without the guilt. Spike could have done without the guilt.
It had taken him this long just to get the dosh for a round-trip ticket, since he wasn’t certain of his reception. He felt he owed it to Buffy to tell her what had happened. To offer her what little comfort he could.
He owed it to Angel and the others to tell their story, to bear witness to what had happened.
Spike had spent a couple weeks holed up in the Hyperion, wondering if the Senior Partners would send someone after him. He’d broken into the gang’s apartments, looking for things he could use or sell. As they were dead, Spike didn’t think they’d begrudge him that at least.
It was worse than when he’d been a ghost, haunting Wolfram & Hart. At least then he’d had Fred to talk to on occasion, and it had been fun irritating Angel. Now, there was no one—no one to care that he’d been the only one to survive the apocalypse, no one to care where he was or what he was doing. If it hadn’t been for his goal to see Buffy again, to explain what had happened—well, Spike wasn’t quite sure what he would have done.
Actually, he did know. He would have probably disappeared into a bottle, and slowly killed himself. It wasn’t the ending Spike would have chosen.
He’d rather have died in that alley.
So here he was, standing outside Buffy’s Rome apartment, trying to get up the nerve to go up and knock on her door. Spike wished he’d thought to purchase some liquid courage, but maybe this was better done sober.
Squaring his shoulders, and steeling himself for whatever reaction he might get, Spike strode into the building, knocking on the door he remembered as being Buffy’s. Belatedly, he realized that she might have moved since then; he had no way of knowing.
Three quick raps and then silence, wondering all the while why he hadn’t just called, or sent a letter or something. Even an email. Why on earth had he thought this message needed to be delivered in person?
Spike couldn’t say why it surprised him that Dawn answered the door, but he knew he probably wore the same shocked look that the girl did. “Spike?”
He shrugged, uncomfortable with her incredulous tone. It reminded him that he probably should have let her know he was alive before this.
Of course, Spike hadn’t been certain that she cared.
“Spike?” Dawn repeated. “What—no, wait, how did you get here?”
“Flew,” he said glibly, trying to get the Big Bad mask back in place. It was harder these days.
Dawn frowned. “No, I mean why are you alive? You died.”
“Didn’t take,” Spike said quickly, glancing away. “Your sister at home?”
She blinked, trying to get her equilibrium back. Dawn had never expected to see Spike again, and here he was, in the flesh. “No, she’s in England for the holidays, visiting Giles. She just broke up with her latest boyfriend, so she decided to get out of here for a while.”
“Right.” Spike sighed, hitching the duffel bag over his shoulder a little more securely. “I’ll just—”
“Get in here,” Dawn said, cutting him off. When Spike looked surprised, Dawn moderated her tone. “You can’t leave, not when you just got here.”
He tried for a smile, but the expression looked out of place on his face. Spike looked older, Dawn thought. And tired—his face was tightly drawn, and she noticed the dark circles under his eyes for the first time.
In fact, Spike looked a lot like he had after he’d returned to Sunnydale with the soul, before Buffy had verbally kicked his ass back into the Big Bad suit. “How long have you been—back?”
“’bout a year,” he replied. “Maybe a little more.”
She glared at him. “You’ve been back for that long and didn’t tell anybody?”
“Was with Angel,” Spike explained. “An’ I was a ghost for a while. Couldn’t exactly pick up a phone then.” There was a pause. “Besides, I wasn’t sure anyone would be interested in knowing.”
The last comment was directed to Dawn, and she knew it. The last real conversation they’d had involved her threatening to set him on fire in his sleep. It was no wonder Spike was unsure of his reception—with her at least.
“We would have been interested,” Dawn said, leaving it at that. “Look, why don’t you come to England with me. I’m leaving later this evening. You could probably still get a ticket.”
Spike shook his head regretfully. “My flight leaves from the airport here in Rome, Dawn. I’ll just—write Buffy a note or somethin’. Maybe you could take it to her?”
Dawn didn’t like the sound of that, not the least because Buffy would most likely kill her for not dragging Spike along. “You could get a round trip flight between here and London,” she pointed out. There was a part of her that thought it odd that Spike would have gotten a round trip ticket, rather than a one-way. She still had the idea that of Spike was the-guy-that-would-not-leave.
His tone was regretful. “Don’t think so, B—Dawn. You know when Buffy’s goin’ to be back?”
“I think she said she was staying through January,” Dawn replied. “She said it was time she started taking more of an interest in the Council.”
Spike’s face fell. There was no way he could afford a round trip ticket to England on top of his other expenses. And he really didn’t like the idea of wandering around Rome for the next two weeks by himself. Cashing in the one ticket to pay his way to England was a possibility, but then he’d have to figure out whether or not he was going to stay in the mother country.
Knocking around the Continent for a while didn’t seem like such a bad idea, however. He could lose himself in the crowds, become one face among many. “Why don’t you stay here?” Dawn suggested, seeing the expression on his face. “I mean, you look really tired. You could catch a nap. I don’t have to leave for a while.”
Spike hesitated and then nodded. He hadn’t been able to sleep on the flight—too keyed up to drop off. Now that he was here and Buffy wasn’t, however, exhaustion was setting in. “That would be right nice.”
“You can take Buffy’s bed,” Dawn said pointing the way back to the Slayer’s bedroom. “She wouldn’t mind. I’ll wake you up before I have to leave.”
He set his duffel on the floor, feeling awkward and ill at ease. Buffy’s scent still hung in the air, and it just made his chest ache. “Spike?” Turning to look at her, he was shocked when she gave him a quick, hard hug. “I’m glad you aren’t dead.”
Slowly, feeling every year that lay on him, Spike pulled off his boots and belt, and laid his duster over a chair. He would sleep and hopefully not dream. There would be time enough to decide his next move when he woke.
Dawn waited until she was certain Spike was asleep before sneaking quietly into Buffy’s room and snagging the duffel. She paused for just a moment to watch him, frowning slightly when she saw his chest rising and falling. The summer that Buffy had been—gone, Dawn had noticed that Spike still breathed, a habit he’d kept from his days as a human.
But then he’d never breathed while he was sleeping, when he was completely still.
Ignoring the little niggling voice in the back of her head, telling herself that what she was thinking was absolutely impossible, Dawn grabbed his bag and hauled it out into the living room.
She stifled the small pang of guilt that she felt while rifling through his things, convincing herself that it was for a good cause. Spike looked completely done in, and Dawn wanted to know what was going on without having to ask him about it. Once she would have blurted out her question without thinking; now there was a distance that separated them that seemed impassable.
Another pair of black jeans, a couple black t-shirts, a few pairs of socks, a few books were all that comprised the contents of the bag. Dawn felt a flash of—something. It was impossible to name the emotion, but it had everything to do with the fact that Spike had lived for over a century and had nothing more to his name than this meager store.
Her tongue poking out from between her lips just slightly, Dawn felt for the tear she was certain was there in the lining and was not disappointed. Under the lining was a slim spiral-bound notebook, like the kind she had used in school, and a roll of bills.
Two hundred dollars American was all there was. That and Spike’s return ticket to LAX. Dawn thought again about his drawn air and looked at the money thoughtfully.
Giving the bedroom door a slightly nervous glance, she flipped through the notebook, realizing almost immediately that it was a journal. Her lips tightened as she read the last few entries and she closed it with a snap, tucking it all back into the bag where she’d found it.
Dawn dropped the duffel in the bedroom where Spike had left it and went to make a phone call.
Spike woke slowly for the first time in months. Normally he came out of slumber abruptly, with great gasping breaths that seemed to suggest he’d nearly stopped breathing in his sleep out of habit.
For a moment he couldn’t remember where he was, but the knowledge gradually came along with the astonishing wave of grief. Spike closed his eyes, remembering a moment in time, before they went haring off to England together, trying to save Fred. After he’d beaten Angel to the Cup of Perpetual Torment.
He had to wonder now if there hadn’t been something besides Mountain Dew in that cup after all.
The bigger vampire had presented him with a portfolio, full of documentation that proclaimed him a real person. It was silly; Spike had never needed proper ID to get anywhere in his unlife—but Angel had had this look on his face, as though he was prepared for Spike to spit in his face.
Spike never did anything his grandsire expected if he could help it, unless it was irritating Angel. That he wouldn’t pass up for anything.
“You might need these,” Angel explained, after it looked as though Spike was actually going to accept the gift.
“Right,” Spike drawled. “You preparin’ to get me out of your hair, Peaches?”
Angel smiled sourly. “The thought crossed my mind. Mostly, however, I just want the police to know who they’ve got next time you pull a stupid stunt.”
“That’s the fun of pullin’ stupid stunts,” Spike smirked. “Makin’ sure you don’t get caught at it.”
It had been one of the few cordial conversations they’d had.
Spike remembered it now with a sorrow just beginning to be gentled by time. He’d never expected to feel sorry that Angel was dead. His grandsire had been a constant presence, a backdrop over the last hundred and twenty years of his existence. Without Angel, the landscape felt strangely empty. Without the others, too, he supposed. Spike had been as close to them as he had been to the Scoobies, though he hadn’t known them for the same length of time.
With Buffy’s gang, there had always been the sense that he didn’t belong, that they were waiting for him to put one foot wrong. With Angel’s crew, he’d found a place at the end, a place that he could be proud of. It had made losing them that much more difficult.
Rising with a sigh, Spike scrubbed a hand over his face. His stomach was rumbling its displeasure, and he longingly remembered the days when food was plentiful—all he’d had to do was pluck a ripe young thing off the street and drain her dry. Not that he’d done that in a long while, but the option had been there as it wasn’t now.
He pulled on his boots and threaded his belt back through the loops, just as a knock came on the door. “Spike? You awake?”
“Be out in a mo,” he called, stopping to grab his bag before he left the bedroom. It was a mark of his sleep befuddled state that Spike didn’t notice that his bag had been moved.
Dawn smiled at him as he came out into the living room, the expression faltering a bit when she watched him stumble. “Sorry,” he muttered. “Just tired still.”
She was still watching him with those eyes that had always seen more than anyone had given her credit for. Spike had known—had known that she was a devious little chit, and had loved her for it. Loved her for it still, actually, even though the distance between them was as wide as the Atlantic. “Are you hungry? We’ve got leftovers. I was going to throw them away before I left, but there’s no point if someone is going to eat them.”
Spike was starving; he was also watching her out of wary blue eyes, wondering if she knew. Wondering if he heard the challenge in her tone rightly. “I could eat.” He waited for her to say something about not having any blood in the apartment, but she simply stood there and watched him.
It was a stalemate, and he was the one who broke first, too hungry and too tired to care for once. “I’m starving, N—Dawn. But you already know that.” And then he knew, remembered that his bag had been moved slightly, and Spike cursed himself for a fool for not sleeping with it under his head as was his habit. “You went through my things.” The hot flush of anger felt good.
Dawn shrugged. “It was sitting right there.”
“It was in my—her room,” he replied. “That was rude.”
“So was coming back from the dead and not letting anybody know.”
“How could you not have known?” Spike demanded angrily. “Andrew couldn’t keep a secret if his life depended on it!”
“Andrew knew?” Dawn asked, her eyes going wide and hurt. “How did Andrew of all people know?”
Spike deflated, realizing that Andrew, amazingly enough, had actually managed to keep a secret. He should have eaten the boy when he’d had the chance. Up till now, he’d figured Andrew had long before spilled the beans, and since Buffy hadn’t tried to contact him, she didn’t want to see him.
The Slayer was definitely going to kick his ass over this one.
“Saw me when he was in L.A. for that crazy Slayer,” Spike said, sighing. “An’ again when Angel an’ me were in Rome a while back.”
“You were in Rome?” Dawn repeated, the hurt look on her face changing into a glare. “Spike!”
“Buffy was with the Immortal,” he said, just a bit of a snarl in his tone. He sounded like the old Spike in that moment, the one who would cheerfully threaten her life when Dawn pulled something stupid.
Dawn softened slightly, realizing both that it must have hurt him to know Buffy was with someone else and that he’d had no reason to visit her. Not when they’d never truly repaired their relationship. “Buffy’s going to kill you.”
“Well, it should be pretty easy for her now,” Spike said sourly.
Dawn ignored that comment, starting to gather things out of the fridge. “I got you a ticket,” she said, starting to dish up. “We’re leaving in a couple hours.”
She gave him a look. “Do you really think Buffy wouldn’t immediately return all my Christmas presents if I brought her a note from you, without bringing you too?”
He was silent, not knowing quite how to answer that question. Dawn put the plate of pasta down in front of him. “Dig in.”
The fork was in his hand before the words had left her mouth. She watched him as he ate ravenously, waiting for the right moment to ask the question. “So. How did it happen?”
Spike shot her a sour look. “Figured you already knew.”
“I don’t know what a Shanshu is.”
“Tough.” He gave her a smug look. It took years off his appearance. “Guess you’ll just have to wait to hear the story then.”
“Spike!” Dawn protested. “I got you a ticket. You owe me.”
“I didn’t ask for anything,” he replied stiffly.
Dawn sighed and then gave him a considering look. “We’re flying first class. You’re going to need something else to wear.”
“Don’t have anythin’ else to wear,” Spike replied. “As you probably already know. Guess you’ll just have to cancel that bloody ticket.” He had no clue why he was being difficult about this. The whole point of coming to Rome had been to see Buffy. It made no sense to pass up a free ticket to England.
The truth was that he didn’t know if he really wanted to see Buffy again. It had been one thing to go on a wild goose chase after that head in Rome, with Angel as part of the chase and the Immortal as one of the quarry. The goal then had been to make certain that neither Angel nor the Immortal won.
Spike had no reason to allow Angel to win, not after he’d beaten him so soundly just a short time before for the Cup of Perpetual Torment, a trophy he hadn’t even wanted.
In the end, neither vampire had retired with the prize, and Spike couldn’t have said if he was disappointed or not. For the first time in years his existence wasn’t being defined by the Slayer, and he was beginning to enjoy that freedom. There was also the doubt that Buffy had been telling the truth at the end. Maybe if he’d gone running to her as soon as he’d become solid it wouldn’t have taken over so completely, but now…
Now, Spike had to wonder what Buffy would think when she saw him, if she wouldn’t be just a little sorry that she’d said what she did at the end. He didn’t want to see that look on her face. Didn’t want to hear her explanation that she loved him, but just as a friend. Spike didn’t think he could bear that.
Dawn had obviously decided to ignore his bad mood and worse manners, however, as she was looking at him speculatively. “I think we could probably find something for you to wear.”
Spike shrugged, the fight suddenly going out of him. He was here. Why not see it through to the bitter end? Maybe then he’d be able to move on with his life. “Right then,” he said aloud.
Much to Spike’s displeasure, the only jacket that had fit was Andrew’s tweed one that he’d left behind, having apparently outgrown his uber-Watcher phase. Dawn looked him over with a critical eye, taking in the black t-shirt and jeans paired with the tweed jacket. “You look like some kind of eccentric professor.”
Spike glared at her. “Thanks.” The jacket wasn’t a bad fit, since it had hung on Andrew. Nevertheless, the last time Spike had worn tweed had been in Sunnydale, when Willow had done her tabula rasa spell. It brought back bad memories.
“It’s just for the flight,” Dawn said philosophically. “You can throw the jacket in the trash after we land for all I care.”
He shrugged his shoulders, fiddled with the hem. “Doesn’t matter.” Anger was a friend these days, as it let him feel something, but it didn’t last. It came and went in fits and starts that were painful for their brevity.
“Spike—” Dawn began, then stopped, suddenly uncertain. She had loved him once—so much. There were no words. So instead she gave into the urge to hug him, touching him as she had longed to do so many times. She felt him stiffen in her arms, and then he returned her embrace slowly, tentatively. “I hated that we never got to talk before—”
“Thought you’d be mad at me forever,” he murmured. “You’d good reason.”
“I didn’t know the whole story,” Dawn replied. “I just—I was as mad that you’d left me as I was about what happened with Buffy. You just left without a word, and then Xander told me…” She trailed off, remembering what Xander had told her. Remembering the vicious way he’d spilled Buffy’s secret. It wasn’t something you told a girl of fifteen; Dawn understood that now. There were a lot of things she understood now.
Spike released the girl reluctantly when she started to pull away. It had been so long since he’d had any kind of human contact, any kind of touch. He’d been hungrier for it than he knew, in more ways than one. “Guess we should get goin’.”