Author’s Notes: Although the previous two stories were more ensemble stories, this one is largely Spuffy in focus. It’s possible to read this one as a stand alone, but it’s going to be difficult. Also, the diary entries at the beginning of each chapter are meant to
“You’re in my mind, baby/Now and always/You’re in my mind, baby/Now and always/The road I’m walking/might fall away/You’re in my mind, baby/Now and always./A bonfire smoking/Into a low sky/The sparks they fly up/Into a low sky/Would that these demons/Let me rest/They’re with me, Lord/’Til the day that I die…” ~David Gray, “Now and Always”
“Day 23: We’re still no closer to finding Spike, and it’s pretty clear that he’s not going to show up anytime soon. Willow and the coven keep assuring me that they’re trying to locate him, but something or someone is blocking them. All they know is that he’s alive and in another dimension. I’m dealing, though. It helps that all we do is eat, sleep, and kill demons. I know the others are making time for other things, and I’d be doing the same thing if Spike were here, but for right now, it’s easier not to think about that. Eat, sleep, kill demons. I keep thinking that if I do enough of that, I won’t miss him so much. It’s not working.” ~Excerpt from the diary of Buffy Summers
Buffy stared at the darkening sky, the sun just disappearing below the horizon. The city appeared both dark and quiet from this height; she knew that the latter was just an illusion. As she did every night, Buffy pulled the crystal from her pocket and stared at the gently pulsing light.
According to the coven, the presence of the light indicated that Spike was alive, but they still didn’t know where he was. A different dimension, was all they could say for certain, but that didn’t tell her anything.
What she knew was that it had been fifteen months, three weeks, and five days since she’d received the news that Spike was missing. What she knew was that they were no closer to finding him now than they had been when the portal had closed.
What she knew was that she had never missed anyone so much in her life.
Buffy tucked the crystal back into her pocket, a talisman she was never without.
She turned to see Vi standing there. She was easy to find this time of the night; everyone knew that she watched the sun set from the roof of the Hyperion before going hunting. “Yeah?”
“You ready to take off?”
She shrugged. “Sure. Who’s with us tonight?”
“Willow and Oz said they wanted to go with us. Willow has a bead on a few of the remaining demons.”
Buffy frowned. “Do we have an estimate as to how many are left?”
“It’s hard to say, but we’re guessing another week here at the most before the Guard can start opening up the last section.” Vi loosened her sword in its scabbard. “How long are you planning on staying?”
“As long as it takes. That hasn’t changed. Spike is still alive.”
“Audra and I meant what we said. We’re here as long as you are.” Vi smiled. “He’s our friend, too.”
“I appreciate that.” Buffy didn’t know what else to say. She wasn’t always very good with words, especially when it came to accepting help and expressing gratitude.
Vi shrugged off her thanks. “Hey, we’re having fun.”
Buffy snorted. “Please.”
“Oh, come on. You can’t tell me that there haven’t been moments when you’ve enjoyed living in Amazonia.”
Buffy couldn’t help the grin that formed at that comment. She wasn’t sure when their own little square of hell got tagged with that title, but she knew how and why. At some point within the first couple of months, one of the soldiers manning the checkpoint had commented about their willingness to stay in a “no man’s land.”
“That’s why it’s a woman’s land,” one of the Slayers had remarked, and her partner had grinned and announced that they were living in Amazonia.
The Slayer who had coined the name—and Buffy couldn’t remember her name—had been killed the following week. In the first four months, they had lost as many Slayers, although things had definitely improved.
Giles had kept his end of the bargain by ensuring that Buffy didn’t have to worry about anything other than what was going on in the four square miles she was now in charge of. Buffy had accomplished what she’d promised by making sure that the demons didn’t overrun the rest of the city.
In truth, there had been things that she’d enjoyed, among them the fact that fighting—being the Slayer—was all she had to worry about. The camaraderie had been nice as well, but she was missing Spike too badly for true enjoyment.
Of course, Buffy had noticed that each Slayer was different. There were some, like Vi and Audra, who had embraced living in a virtual war zone with a fierce joy; others had been shipped out within a week or two of their arrival, unable to handle the harsh conditions and the nightly battles. Buffy was somewhere in the middle. If Spike had been with her, perhaps she would have felt that joy; without him, this was merely a job that had to be done, and she was marking time until his return.
But she understood what Vi was saying, and she had to admit that there were times when she’d enjoyed herself. “Okay. Fine. Yes, there have been times when I’ve had fun.”
“See?” Vi sobered. “Spike would love it.”
“God, yes.” Buffy smiled to think of it. “He’d love it.”
They had reached the lobby, where Willow and Oz were waiting. “Hey, Buf.”
Willow looked hopeful, and Buffy knew why. The witch still thought that Buffy blamed her for Spike’s disappearance, although that wasn’t exactly true. Buffy had long ago realized that fate was a bitch. Sometimes, there wasn’t anything a person could do about it.
“Hey, Will. You ready?”
“Ready as ever.” She grinned. “I think we’re almost done.”
“Giles will be happy to have you two back,” Buffy replied, mustering a smile. “He’s been talking about how great you’d be in Bath for months now.”
Willow shrugged. “I liked Bath, but this is good for now.” She tucked her hands in the pockets of her worn jeans. “I promised.”
Buffy smiled. “Right. For the long haul.”
The front doors crashed open, and one of the Slayers ran in. She was a little newer, but Buffy had made an effort to remember their names—Ryan, if she remembered correctly.
“Audra sent me,” she gasped out. “Buffy? Ma’am?”
“Just Buffy,” she sighed. “What’s wrong, Ryan?”
“Audra said to tell you we found him. She said to tell you that Spike is back.”
Buffy froze. “What?”
“He’s in an office building. They have him cornered. Audra said to tell you that they’re going to keep him there, but he’s not himself.”
Buffy swore. “Change of plans, Vi.”
“You got it.” Vi headed out to the courtyard. “Two vehicles!” she called. “I need two!”
“I have the one I rode!” Ryan called after her.
Buffy didn’t much care if there was an available vehicle or not. She was getting to Spike. By the time she got out to the courtyard, Ryan was straddling one ATV, waving to Buffy to get on the back.
She didn’t hesitate, or stop to wait for the others. Ryan knew the way, and she wanted to get to Spike.
The ATV roared out of the courtyard, and Buffy gave thanks that the young Slayer sensed the urgency of their mission. They roared through the empty streets of Los Angeles, Buffy clinging tightly to the back of the ATV.
Ryan’s dark hair, tied back in a ponytail, whipped her face, but Buffy had faced worse discomforts in the last year. When Ryan screeched to a halt, Buffy leaped off, heading into the building they’d stopped in front of.
She didn’t bother checking to see if the others were following. Her heavy boots thudded in a familiar rhythm as she ran through the doors, into what had been a lobby at one point. The building was in one of the areas that had been hardest hit by the horde of demons, where the structures were all but demolished.
The lobby was empty, and Buffy looked around wildly. “Where is he?” she demanded as Ryan entered.
“Downstairs. Audra caught sight of him outside, and he ran down there. She’s got him cornered with the others.”
“Cornered?” Buffy echoed.
Ryan shook her head. “You’ll see.”
The younger girl led the way to a stairwell so dark that Buffy hesitated at the entrance. She’d forgotten to grab a flashlight in her haste, but a murmured word from Willow brought a round globe of light floating in midair.
“Thanks,” Buffy tossed over her shoulder as she clattered down the stairs.
Once in the basement, Buffy followed the sounds of voices to a boiler room, spotting Audra immediately. The other woman had her bow slung across her back, and she was watching one particularly dark corner closely.
“Buffy.” There was an audible sigh of relief. “I’m glad you’re here.”
“Where is he?”
Audra waved at the corner. “Hiding. He’s—he’s not himself. I know he didn’t recognize me, and I’m not sure he even knows his own name.”
Her heart sinking, Buffy motioned for the three Slayers with Audra to lower their weapons. “Put those away,” she ordered. “And go upstairs. I’ll call if I need anyone.”
“Are you sure?” Buffy recognized Uta’s voice. “You haven’t seen him yet, Buffy. He’s not in good shape.”
“He’s feral,” Leslie agreed. “I don’t know why he hasn’t attacked us yet.”
“Maybe because it’s Spike.” Buffy knew that she sounded snappish, but she couldn’t help it. This was Spike they were talking about. “I’ll take care of him.”
One by one, the Slayers went upstairs until only Willow and Oz remained. Buffy gave her friend a pleading look. “Will, please.”
“What if he attacks you, Buffy?” She continued quickly, cutting off Buffy’s protest. “I just think that you should have backup.”
“Uh, Buffy?” Oz’s eyes were fixed on the corner, where Buffy could just make out yellow eyes and a crouching figure. “Willow’s right. She can stop him without hurting him.”
Buffy finally nodded, knowing that she wasn’t going to win the argument. “Spike?” she called.
Silence was her only answer, and she took a step closer, holding out her empty hands to show that she was unarmed. “Spike? It’s Buffy. You’re safe now.”
There was a snarl, and Spike’s naked figure sprung from the shadows, tackling Buffy, sending both of them to the floor. “No, Will!” Buffy shouted, knowing that the witch was readying herself for a counterattack.
They grappled, but it didn’t take Buffy long to get the upper hand. She had been hunting every night for months straight, and was in better shape than she’d ever been in. Spike, on the other hand, had clearly been weakened by his ordeal.
Buffy finally managed to get him under control by straddling him and trapping his arms between their bodies. Looking into his wild, yellow eyes, she had a flashback to Sunnydale—when Angel had returned from whatever hell dimension she’d sent him to, he’d been completely feral as well.
Spike suddenly went limp beneath her, and she glanced up at Willow, who appeared apologetic. “Sorry, Buffy, but it didn’t look like he was going to go quietly.”
“He’s not hurt?”
The witch shook her head. “Just sleeping. Maybe he needed it?”
“He needs clothes a lot more.”
“We’ll go grab something,” Oz offered. “Didn’t Spike have a bag here?”
“It’s in my room,” Buffy replied. “Thanks.” As they turned to leave, Buffy asked, “Will? How long is he going to be out?”
Willow shook her head. “I’m not sure. A few hours?”
“He’s probably going to need blood, too.”
“We’ll figure it out, Buffy,” Willow promised.
Once alone with the vampire, Buffy rolled off of his still figure. It had been too hot for a jacket, and she had nothing to cover him with. Not that Buffy minded seeing all of him, but it hurt to see him look so vulnerable.
He was painfully thin, literally nothing but skin and bone, and he was dirty and covered in bruises and scratches. Most of that could be remedied fairly quickly—a few good meals and a bath, and he’d be good as new. What worried Buffy was how feral he’d been, the way he’d appeared not to recognize her at all.
While Angel had been in much the same condition after coming back, he’d only been gone three months; Spike had been gone five times that long.
But if anybody had wanted to be redeemed—had fought to be redeemed—it was Spike, and that was the criteria that Giles had given for Angel being saved.
Reaching out, Buffy ran her hand down his now-human face, pushing a lock of hair off of his forehead. She wondered how it was that he could come back so changed internally, and yet look nearly the same on the outside.
“Oh, Spike.” Unable to resist, Buffy leaned down, pressing her lips to his in a chaste, gentle kiss. Any hope she’d had that her kiss was all that was needed died as he lay, unresponsive.
Stroking his hair, Buffy sat next to him. “There are so many things I want to tell you. So much has happened, and you haven’t been here. Miriam said that you knew, and she said that if I’d been here, we both would have been killed. I can’t help but think that we would have beat it. I mean, the prophecy said that the Master was going to kill me, and here I am.”
Her thumb traced his jaw line, his sharp cheekbones, and the scar through his eyebrow. “I’ve missed you so much. I swore I was going to get you back, and I didn’t do anything. I’ve just been fighting, and I needed you here with me. I hate living without you.”
Although there was no response, Buffy kept talking, hoping that somehow she would get through, call him back to her. She didn’t say much of substance, wanting to save the real news for when he could appreciate it.
He would want to know that Dawn and Oliver were doing well in Cleveland, and that Dawn thought that Oliver would probably propose soon. Spike would have gotten a kick out of how Wes and Faith were crazy about each other and intent on not letting onto it. Spike would have made sarcastic comments and teased them like crazy.
Spike would have made living in Amazonia not only bearable, but enjoyable.
Buffy had no idea how much time had passed by the time Willow and Oz returned with a bundle of clothing.
Willow handed her the clothing, then pointed to the stairs. “I’ll just…” She gave Oz a meaningful look then headed back upstairs.
“I guess I got nominated,” Oz murmured. He knelt down next to Spike’s lifeless form and began to help Buffy get him dressed.
“Thanks,” Buffy murmured.
“Hey, I know what it’s like to wake up naked in a strange place.”
They shared a smile borne of shared experiences on the Hellmouth and went back to work, silently this time. Buffy had learned to appreciate silence during her months in L.A. Faith, Wesley, and Oz were the three who were easiest to be with. Willow kept trying to apologize, but the others were interested only in keeping her company and watching her back.
The others—the other Slayers—were too in awe of her to be real companionship. No one was real companionship like Spike had been.
Spike was still unconscious when they finally got him dressed, and they carried him up the stairs together.
Willow met them in the lobby. “I’ve been thinking about how to keep Spike under control.”
Buffy winced. “Will—”
“I can set up a barrier on one of the rooms in the hotel that will only allow a few people in and out.” Willow spoke quickly, as though sensing Buffy’s unease. “If I put it up with Spike inside, and key it to you and a couple of others, you won’t have to worry about using restraints.”
Buffy nodded, feeling a sense of relief. The last thing she wanted to do was to chain him up, and Willow offered an elegant solution. “I can get him back on one of the ATVs, if we’ve got two available.”
“We do,” Oz said. “We made sure of it.”
The two of them made sure that she had Spike secured on the four-wheeler and then climbed on their own. Buffy sat in front of Spike, keeping his arms around her by the simple expedient of looping a cord around his wrists a couple of times.
His body rested against her, a cool weight that was less comforting than she would have hoped. Buffy wanted her Spike back.
It didn’t take Willow long to set up the barrier. She’d performed far more complicated spells over the last year.
She could see Spike’s still form on the bed from where she stood outside Buffy’s room. “Who do you want to have access?”
Buffy shrugged. “I don’t know. I want to be sure that there are people who can sit with him who won’t stake him.”
“We have the tranq gun,” Oz reminded her from his stance on the other side of the hallway. He was leaning against the wall, hands in his pockets. “I can grab it.”
Buffy nodded reluctantly. “That might become necessary.”
“It’ll let the first five people inside, other than you,” Willow announced, finishing the spell. “I can ask whoever you choose to come see you when they get back in.”
“Great. Thanks, Will.” Buffy rubbed her forehead. “What am I going to do with him?”
She put a tentative hand on her friend’s shoulder. “I don’t know. Maybe—maybe you could talk to Ellen? She’s good at this sort of thing.”
Buffy nodded. “Let’s make her one of the five. She’s really helped Dana. Even if she can’t get through to Spike, she might be able to keep him calm.”
Willow noted that Buffy’s eyes were moist, and she quickly pulled Buffy into a hug. “This is Spike,” she whispered fiercely. “He’s going to be okay.”
“Is he?” Buffy returned her hug, speaking softly. “You didn’t see Angel when he got back from his hell dimension.” She chuckled ruefully. “Spike would hate me comparing him to Angel.”
Willow pulled back. “But Angel came back to you.”
“Angel was only gone for three months. How much longer has it been for Spike?” Buffy pulled away. “God, Will, I feel as though I failed him, now more than ever. How long has he been back?”
“Miriam’s been doing a locator spell every week, and she did the last one two days ago,” Willow reminded her. “I think it’s fair to say that he hasn’t been back long.”
Buffy opened her mouth to reply, but shut it again when Spike began to stir. She stepped forward, but Willow laid a hand on her arm. “Buffy—”
“I’ll be fine.” She shook off Willow’s hand and stepped through the barrier, moving to stand right next to the bed. “Spike?” she called softly.
Spike moved abruptly, rolling off the bed, away from Buffy. Willow lost sight of him from the hallway, and after a moment’s hesitation, she stepped inside.
She already had some idea of who Buffy would want to sit with Spike—it would be her and Oz, Faith and Wes, and Ellen, because of her unique talents. She’d worked miracles with Dana, and—to a lesser extent—Connor.
Spike was silent, but his yellow eyes and fangs presented enough of a threat that Willow readied herself to do another sleep spell.
Buffy waved her back impatiently. “It’s okay, Willow.” She approached Spike slowly, carefully, the way she might have a wild, wounded animal. Keeping her hands extended, noticeably empty, she murmured, “It’s okay, Spike. You’re safe, I promise.”
Unlike the last time, Spike didn’t attack, instead watching her warily, pressing himself back against the wall.
“Buffy?” Wesley’s voice called from the hallway. “May I come in?”
“Yeah, Wes.” Buffy backed away slowly, keeping an eye on Spike. Willow was relieved to see that no matter how happy Buffy was to have Spike back, she was still treating him with caution.
Wesley stepped inside, a mug in one hand and the tranq gun in the other. “I took the liberty of getting blood for him. Oz told me what happened.”
Willow could see a strip of white peeking out from under his left sleeve, and she frowned. “Where did you get the blood?”
Wesley shrugged. “Although Slayer blood might be better, I didn’t think it wise to tempt him in the state he’s in now.”
“And what about you?” Buffy asked.
He shrugged. “I’ll be fine. It’s not the first time I’ve donated.”
Willow was suddenly very aware of the way Spike was staring at them—or, more specifically, Wesley. “Uh, guys?”
Wesley’s eyes went to the vampire, and raised his eyebrow. “That probably wasn’t very kind of me,” he murmured, his voice taking on a sing-song note. “It’s right here, Spike. It’s not going anywhere.”
Willow briefly wondered if he’d been taking lessons from Ellen, because he sounded much like she did when trying to soothe a wounded Slayer.
Prudently, Wesley set the mug of blood down a couple of feet away from Spike, then backed away quickly.
The vampire eyed all three of them suspiciously before darting out and seizing the mug, drinking it down hungrily.
Willow gulped and turned to Buffy. “He’s going to need more blood.”