Chapter 1: To Thee, I Send This
The air writhed with shaven beats, cadences stolen from carnal rhythms that whispered their promises to unsuspecting ears with every pulse. It breathed in an echo of life, and undulated into the darkness to seek out the unwary, to draw them in with its professions of power, to suck and drain them of all energy before flinging them back out to the dawn.
It was merciless.
It was intoxicating.
.really, really loud.
The small group stared up at the brick edifice of the factory, watching the stream of people lined up outside the door with mixed reactions, the music a cacophonous blur against their ears.
“Whose neato keen idea was this again?” Willow asked.
“I believe the words, ‘confronting the demons of our past’ came out of your mouth,” Xander replied. “How many days have you been in that psych class now?”
“Don’t forget, ‘It’ll be fun. It’s not just about vampires any more,'” Buffy chimed in.
Willow’s nose wrinkled. “And you listened to me because.?”
“Because the Bronze is closed for renovations after that vamp attack last week.”
“And it’s Friday night,” offered Buffy.
“Don’t forget free drinks.”
The last came from Oz, who tightened his hold around his girlfriend’s waist when she turned to look at him. “But we still don’t have to do this. Not if you don’t want to.”
She sighed. “I’m being a baby. I mean, so what if there’s enough bad memories attached to this place to make it its own Mexican soap opera? It’s time to make new memories, right? Good ones. Ones that are ultra-light on the kidnapping and terror, and uber-heavy on the fun and frolicking.” She glanced around at her friends in anxious hope. “Right?”
“Right.” She said it with far more conviction than she felt, but Buffy forced the smile to remain on her face anyway. Truth be told, she didn’t want to be here any more than Willow did. The memories weren’t the same, but the attachment was still there, and the last thing Buffy wanted right now was even more reason to think of Spike. She did that enough already.
When news of the nightclub had first been announced, there had been a lot of joking among the gang that at least they wouldn’t have to get used to calling it something new. Making the Factory into Sunnydale’s second hotspot made sense to Joe Q. Public—a techno exterior to take advantage of, huge and interesting interiors that would create a unique look for the club. The new owners didn’t even go wildly original with the name.
Beneath the Scoobies’ badinage, though, ran a current of apprehension that seethed in ways that singed the edges of their orderly world. Nothing could change the fact that the Factory housed some of the darkest moments in their history. A terrified Willow and Xander. An impaled Cordelia. A destroyed Oz.
Not tonight, she vowed. Thoughts of the vampire pervaded every aspect of her life, eating away at her attempts for normalcy with a hunger like woodworm in a furniture shop. On patrol. In her poetry class. Taking a bath. Nowhere was safe, so when Willow had suggested the night out at the new club, Buffy had jumped at the opportunity to drown out the haunting rumble of his voice, to forget those blue eyes—William’s eyes—and the way the memories seemed to merge so that it was hard to tell which was William and which was Spike.
Maybe she wouldn’t have had such a hard time with the integration if she could just see the real thing. If she could just talk to him and settle the question once and for all.
But she couldn’t.
It had been seven weeks and two days since Buffy had left London and Spike behind. Seven weeks and two days since he’d vowed to stand by her, to hold true to a vow given by a man long dead of body even if not of spirit. Seven weeks and two days since he’d told her that he still loved her, using William’s words as his own though his claim for proprietorship carried with it the aegis of time.
Seven weeks and two days since Buffy had last seen him.
She kept telling herself it was a good thing that Spike hadn’t shown up in Sunnydale after all. Fewer complications. Less explanations. Xander still didn’t know the whole story about what had happened in England; for some reason, Willow and Giles were honoring Buffy’s unspoken wish to keep it private. She could go back to having a semi-normal existence, starting college and taking the strength she’d found with William to step forward with her life. Really, it was better this way.
At least, that’s what she kept telling herself.
“So,” Xander announced, with an exaggerated clap and rub of his hands. “Are we doing this? Or do we plan on doing our frolicking outside? Because I’m thinking, there’s enough electric boogaloo on this side of those walls for us to get our groove on without actually having to step a foot into the Fortress of Doom.”
“We’re going in,” Buffy said determinedly. Looping her arm through Xander’s, she began pulling him toward the entrance with Oz and Willow right at her heels.
They chose a table as far from the speakers as possible, and still, the girls had to lean in and shout, in order to be heard.
“Nothing alcoholic,” they both insisted, and watched Oz and Xander weave an awkward path through the mob of gyrating bodies toward the bar. The noise left them with little option but to sit back and observe, but the flashing lights and kaleidoscope colors soon gave Buffy a headache, and she turned her back to the rest of the room.
Attempting conversation was impossible. When Willow’s hand closed around Buffy’s forearm, tugging her off her stool, Buffy frowned. She only understood when her friend jabbed a finger at the garish neon sign across the room proclaiming the whereabouts of the restrooms.
They were both sweating by the time they got to the dark corridor, the swelter of so many moving bodies wreaking havoc with the air conditioning. Buffy’s head was spinning, her stomach queasy, and she was grateful for the blast of cool air that assaulted them when Willow pushed the door open.
“Maybe not such a good idea after all, huh?” Willow commented once they were inside.
Buffy shrugged. “It’ll be better once we get into the Friday night-ness of it,” she said. “It’s just that it’s a dance-y kind of place, not a talky kind.” She turned to look at her reflection in the mirror, wiping at the sweat that glistened on her brow. “I have a feeling I’ll be around here a lot, though,” she added. “It screams ‘vampire smorgasbord,’ loud and clear.”
Though she did her best not to look, Buffy’s gaze drifted down until she met the echo of her eyes in the glass. She’d taken special care with her appearance, selecting one of her more cleavage-daring tops in which to be seen. In spite of the make-up and let’s-party clothes, however, she couldn’t help but feel that something was still missing. There was a hollowness to her cheeks, a wistful hunger in the depths of her eyes, that attested to an unknown yen. Well, maybe not so unknown. If she’d lived in a world where denial wasn’t her best friend, she’d be able to identify it for what it was.
It was hard to connect to a world in which the person who understood her best wasn’t around anymore.
“I saw Riley out there,” Willow offered brightly.
A tiny line formed between Buffy’s brows. “Psych TA Riley?” At her friend’s nod, she added, “So?”
“We’ve been in school for all of a week, Will. What do you know that I don’t?”
“I ran into him at the library a couple times. He always asks about you. And.he’s nice.”
Buffy shook her head. “I’m not interested in dating right now. You know that.”
Willow’s smile faded. “But, you’re wearing your Buffy’s-bustin’-out-all-over top. I thought, you know, you’d changed your mind.” She gnawed at her bottom lip. “If this is about Spike—.”
“It’s not.” She said it with probably just a tad too much force, but vehemence was a good thing, right? It announced confidence. And sometimes over-compensation.
“It’s not,” she repeated, this time quieter. “This is about me moving on. That’s what this whole summer was about, remember? Letting go of the past and taking a bold step into the future, minus the vampire boyfriend baggage.”
For a long moment, Willow regarded her in solemn perusal, and then burst into convulsive giggles. “OK, I know you didn’t mean to be all punny,” she said, “but that was a good one, with the past thing.” She took a deep breath. “There’s no way you’re over William, and if Spike has said something to make you start second-guessing everything that happened between the two of you, you gotta remember, he’s a vampire and they’re not exactly known for being all truth-telling.”
Buffy turned away, color flaring in her cheeks. “I don’t know what Spike thinks,” she said, so quietly that even the acoustics of the tiled bathroom didn’t amplify her words.
The laughter immediately evaporated. “How? Unless all those letters are death threats or something.” Sudden panic rose in her green eyes. “They’re not, are they? Because if they are, we have to tell Giles—.”
“I said, I don’t know.” Buffy sighed. “I haven’t.actually.read any of his letters.”
Nobody knew about Buffy’s encounter with Spike on the banks of the river that last night in London. She’d deliberately kept that small pearl to herself, fearful of what the others might say about her potential lapse in judgment. Once they’d left European soil, even Giles had been surprisingly mute on the entire subject of what had happened, and she honestly didn’t know what he would do or say if he found out what Spike had promised to her.
Then, a week after she’d returned to Sunnydale, the first letter had arrived. Buffy had come home from hanging out with Willow to find the envelope waiting for her, the script all too familiar, the return address emblazoned with the name, “W. Freston.” Her stomach had risen to her throat, tears threatening to erupt, and she’d begged off her mom’s questions with vague stories about a guy she’d met in London, promptly hiding the letter beneath her bed. She just wasn’t ready to face the anguish of revisiting the loss of William yet.
A week later, another arrived.
The following week, there were two more.
They just kept on coming, with increasing regularity, until not a mail day had gone by over the past two weeks where one didn’t show up.
Still.they remained unread. All of them.
The postmarks varied. Though the first had come from England, the rest seemed to be trekking around the world, and Buffy found herself tracing the colored postmarks in wistful contemplation until the dye came off on her fingers. If she imagined really hard, she could picture the exotic places he was seeing—glittering sand, the Champs de Elysees, swarthy merchants in the middle of a crowded marketplace—but always, the question of what he was doing, who he was with, floated to the fore as a murky filter, and the envelope ended up with the rest.
The longer Sunnydale remained Spike-less, the harder it got for Buffy to even consider reading them, and they gradually moved from under her mattress to a box at the bottom of her weapons chest.
She thought William would’ve liked the irony of that.
Willow knew about the letters because they followed Buffy from home to the dorm. How he knew where she was living—unless he was in Sunnydale, had been there all along, and the letters were just some twisted game he was playing with her emotions—Buffy had no idea. But Willow had been the one to retrieve the mail that first day, and since it was the only real envelope amidst a mishmash of pizza place flyers, notices about the Factory opening, and a reminder from the university health clinic about their free condom giveaway, it had been impossible for her not to see the return address.
Now, Willow looked at her best friend with the same confusion she’d sported on the flight home from London. “But.aren’t you curious about what he’s trying to tell you?” she asked. “Buffy, I know you don’t really want to talk about it—.”
“You’re right. I don’t.”
The silence that followed her sharp retort amplified the void, both that of the restroom and the cavernous fissure that had separated the two girls since their return to Sunnydale. They had tried so hard to ignore it, having their dorm assignments changed so that they could room together, doing all the old Scooby stuff in a vain attempt to capture at least a moment of their pre-London innocence. Xander’s return had helped, in a small way. But each was lost in their own world of issues, neither able to breach the walls that divided them, whether it was Buffy’s confusion and loss about William/Spike, or Willow’s desperate struggles to find a new balance in her consciousness, now that she had Esme’s magic simmering under every breath.
Buffy was the first to break, turning away to twist the tap and splash some cold water across her face. “I’m sorry,” she said quietly. “I shouldn’t—.”
“No,” Willow interrupted. “I shouldn’t have pushed. I’m the one who should be sorry.”
“I guess we’re both pretty sorry, then, huh?” Buffy offered her a wan smile in the mirror, and was relieved when it was returned. Taking a deep breath, she decided it was time she stopped trying to pretend she could handle this on her own. Maybe some of the more innocuous details would be enough to start the process.
“Spike remembers everything,” she confided.
Willow blanched, but there was no surprise in her eyes, just a sad empathy that stabbed even deeper. She should’ve said something sooner, Buffy realized; of course, Willow would understand. That’s what best friends did.
“It was my spell, wasn’t it?” the redhead asked. “The true love one. It was about getting you back, not about Drusilla at all.”
Buffy nodded. “Rose did a forget spell on him. He told me when.when I saw him. The night before we left London. We.talked.”
“Certain things got said.”
“Good things, or bad things?”
“Confusing things, mostly. And some nice things,” Buffy conceded. “But definitely high on the confusing.”
“But.I don’t get it.” Willow’s fingers were playing with the tassels on her sweater, but her gaze remained level. “Why wouldn’t you read the letters? Maybe it’ll give you the closure you need. If they’re all stalkery, then it should be even easier to get past it, don’t you think?”
“And what if it makes it worse?”
“And what if it makes it better?”
Buffy’s lips pursed as she regarded the earnestness of Willow’s face. What use was the time she spent with William if she wasn’t even strong enough to look at a couple of letters? He’d offered her courage in the form of compassion, and here she was, too afraid to look over a few sheets of paper that were probably nothing anyway. What was the big deal?
The big deal was that Spike had them. William’s words. And he’d proven to her on the banks that he wasn’t afraid of wielding them.
They were the surest weapon to wound her, if that was what he wanted.
But did he? Want to, that is. All his vows, and all his protestations, and the fact that he’d deliberately returned to London to seek her out before she fled back to the Hellmouth.they testified for a man with no interest in hurting her. He’d had more than one opportunity, and he’d passed on all of them to promise her that he would always be her chief advocate, that he would forever do everything in his power to help her. But, if that was true, why wasn’t he here?
Perhaps the answer rested in the letters.
The opening of the door allowed the barrage of music to slither inside before the girl who entered let it glide closed behind her. Buffy waited until the new arrival disappeared into one of the stalls before speaking again.
“Would you hate me if I bailed?” she asked.
“Are you going back to the dorm?”
“Yeah. You’re right. I just.I need to know.”
Stepping forward, Willow wrapped Buffy in a quick hug. “I’ll tell the guys you had a slaying emergency.”
“You could tell them it was a feminine emergency,” the Slayer said with a small smile. “That’s pretty much guaranteed not to get questioned.”
They parted ways on the other side of the restroom door, and Buffy slipped out the back entrance she was glad the new owners hadn’t eliminated. That’s one advantage to being familiar with the old building, she thought as she stepped into the cooler night air. Easy in, easy out.
The music resonated against her back as she began the long walk back to the dorms. Her stomach still roiled from the anxiety contemplating Spike’s correspondence always invoked, but her spirit felt lighter. Answers were of the good. Knowing what Spike’s plans were was even better. And maybe Willow had guessed it and they were just a bunch of empty threats about trying to kill her again, that he’d been stupid in England and that he’d finally come to his vampire senses and hated her again.
Deep down, though.
.She really hoped not.
Though dawn was just a few hours away, the faint strum of a guitar floated through his open window, its melancholy tune winding a path along Spike’s bare arms, endeavoring to coax his pen to cease its motions and join in its languor. For a moment, he hesitated, tilting his head to listen to the delicate strains, and found himself transported more than seventy years back in time, listening to Andrés Segovia from a Moscow theater box, the scent of the girl Dru had brought with them as an aperitif filling his nostrils. That had been a good night. Peaceful. One of the few Dru had allowed him before demanding some new distraction to keep her occupied.
The ink began to flow again, smooth and silken over the paper he’d brought with them. With their hasty departures, he could never be sure whether he would have the right supplies at their next stop, even if Barcelona was nicer than most for what he wanted. He’d nicked the best pens he could after the debacle of those ballpoints in London, too; these flowed with a more lustrous stroke than those other cheap nibs, making his script seem just a little bit more meaningful.
Of course, it would’ve been better if he’d had some kind of confirmation that it was being appreciated. In spite of his now daily missives, he had yet to hear from Buffy. The doubt as to the sincerity of her words on the banks was beginning to eat at him.
No matter what town his boot set foot in, he saw her.
In Paris, there had been the girl he’d followed for half an hour through Marais, because she’d been wearing a white sundress that billowed around her legs so strikingly like Buffy’s had in the dreams.
In Dougga, when they’d been surprised by the vampire gang coming out of the amphitheatre ruins, he could hear the echoes of her instruction in the Rhodes-Fanshaw back garden, commanding him not to drop the point of his sword as he fought the demons back, and it was her joyful laughter that filled his ears when the last dusted away on the wind.
In Kutno, he’d been transfixed by the dark waters of the Ochnia for an entire night, the memory of Buffy leaning against his chest on the banks in London indelibly weighting his flesh, and only abandoned the lull of the lapping waves when the pink began to inch along the horizon.
There were moments when he considered stopping the letters. Usually, those came when his nose caught the scent of a delicious hunt and he talked himself out of it because he feared how Buffy would react if she found out he’d continued killing indiscriminately. Or when he found an empty box, and realized she still hadn’t answered him. That’s when the flashes of bloody bitch and cold-hearted cuntthreatened to overwhelm his resolve. If she didn’t care about what he was doing, why was he bothering at all?
But he knew the answer to that, just as he knew that he would continue to write. A century before, William had made a promise to the woman who chose to believe in him, who offered her strength as his own and asked for nothing in return. Even if she was the Slayer, and even if she detested everything he stood for now, it was inconceivable for Spike to consider reneging on his vow. He loved Buffy with every fiber that was William, and every impulse that was the demon; to stop would counter everything that made him, him.
Setting the pen aside, Spike’s gaze scanned quickly over the letter. It wasn’t as long as his notes usually ran; their late arrival at the hacienda had meant he only had a few minutes to unpack before going out again to meet up with their contact. He’d been grateful when the meeting ran short so that he could return to his tasks, though it would’ve been better if their contact had given them more concrete news.
“They’re only rumors,” Baltozar had said around his cigarillo. He’d exhaled directly into Spike’s face, probably expecting a reaction, and then shrugged when none came. “You would be chasing after ghosts to follow them.”
“Funny, but in the world I travel in, ghosts aren’t usually treated so lightly,” Spike had drawled. Pushing the envelope across the table, his eyes had been steel as he met Baltozar’s brown gaze, the debate warring in the Spaniard for a full minute before he picked it up.
“I make no promises.”
“Not askin’ for any. But if I find out you’ve lied to us, I’ll make you eat that fag of yours.right after I burn your tongue out with it.”
He’d left straight after. The rest was the boring footwork and Spike didn’t have the patience to follow through on that. He’d be there for the final confab, and if there needed to be a bit of a fracas, he was the vamp for the job, but until it got to that point, he had better things to be doing with his time.
Like finishing his letter to Buffy.
He was addressing the envelope when he heard the front door of their suite open, though he didn’t bother rising from his seat. It still gave him a little thrill when he saw Buffy’s name above the dormitory’s, images filling his head of her strolling across the sunlit campus with Red, her books hugged tightly to her chest. She had a brain she didn’t get to use nearly enough, and though she wouldn’t know a good poem if it stabbed her with her own stake, Spike was secretly pleased that she was finally getting the opportunity to show to the world that she was more than a beautiful, finely-honed weapon.
He just hoped she lived long enough to be able to take advantage of the education. If he had any say in the matter, it would be a good long time.
Spike’s skin crawled at the sound of his real name. As each of the last fifty-one days had ticked by, revenants of his human existence had crept more and more into his waking thoughts, twisting his daily routine into a grotesque mockery of his pre-revived-memory unlife. Some of it was welcome, but there were times when he wanted to rage against the chains that now seemed to fetter him.
No time for raging now. Not when he could smell her approaching the closed door to his room.
“William?” she called out again, knocking as she did so.
He didn’t reply, but instead waited for her to enter. She always did.
“Told you a hundred times not to call me that,” Spike drawled when he heard the door slide open.
He took a small satisfaction in the slight rise in her heartbeat. “I’ve.been out with Baltozar,” she stammered, ignoring the censure of his words. “I think you’ll be pleased with what I found.”
Slowly, Spike twisted in his chair to gaze at the doorway. She was dressed in what she called her “field fatigues”—khaki trousers, flat-heeled boots that stopped just shy of her knees, and a simple white blouse that was currently limp and stained with sweat. After a particularly vicious demon in Machynlleth had yanked out a huge lock of her hair, she’d gone out and cut it short, but even her blonde bob appeared lank and disheveled. At least she’s not bothering with the crossbow anymore, Spike thought as he regarded Lydia in speculative attention. Stupid cow.
“We’re not barking up the wrong tree again?” he commented. “It’s about bloody time.”
Her eyes glittered behind her glasses. “Not only is it not the wrong tree,” Lydia said, “but I would venture to say, we actually have the right branch this time.”
It was the barely controlled excitement in her voice that woke him from his apathy. “She’s here?” he demanded, rising to his feet. “You’re sure about that?”
“As sure as I can be without actually seeing her with my own two eyes.” She gestured toward the open window. “If you wish not to be caught by the sun, I suggest you come with me now. We can’t be certain that she hasn’t learned of our arrival and fled already.”
Grabbing his coat from the back of the chair, Spike was halfway to the door before he remembered the letter. “Hang on,” he said, and quickly crossed back to fetch it.
“We don’t have time—,” Lydia started, but stopped when she caught the deadly glint in his gaze. “Of course,” she said, and took the envelope from his outstretched hand. “I’ll make sure it gets there. As usual.”
He didn’t bother looking back as he pushed his way past her out of his room. Working with the Watcher wasn’t Spike’s first choice, but he’d not had a lot of options when the plan had come to him. She was smart, willing to accept his command, and had connections to people he didn’t. Plus, she made it possible for him to stay in contact with Buffy while he sorted this out. Without Lydia, Spike would never have even known that she’d moved out of her mother’s house.
For the briefest of seconds, the thought that perhaps Lydia wasn’t actually posting the letters darted across his mind, but just as quickly, Spike dismissed the notion. Yes, it would explain why he’d not had any response from Buffy, but why go to such pretenses as alerting him to the Slayer’s new address if she wasn’t actually following through on his requests? Not to mention the fact that she was more than aware he would rip her throat out if he found out she was double-crossing him. No, the letters were most definitely being sent; he just wouldn’t dwell on the reasons they weren’t being answered.
Perhaps it would be better this way.
If this truly was the end of his search, it wouldn’t be much longer before he was in Sunnydale proper. And with the gifts he intended to bring to her, Spike held deep-rooted hope that Buffy would see fit to look past her fears and give him the benefit of the doubt.
She’d believed him in London. He was sure of it.
He could make her believe him again.
His muscles were weary, his mind fogged from exhaustion, but the promise of his own bed kept Quentin’s step steady as he walked up the path to his home. It was regretful he’d had to leave the concert before the second movement, but such was the dangers of having the world’s safety foremost in his priorities. When peril struck, it was his responsibility to be at the ready, whether others believed that true or not.
The reports were perplexing. Demon activity had dropped significantly in several high-density locations, and while the enterprise of rogue hunters hardly merited anything more than a clinical notation in Council records—for tracking purposes, should the hunters’ motives end up proving less than noble—the fact that one of the sectors of lowered population was the Sunnydale Hellmouth had been enough cause for alarm to necessitate a junior Watcher contacting Travers. All accounts of Buffy Summers’ slaying told that she was still fulfilling her duties, but there had been no noticeable increase in her results. That could only mean another party was responsible, or there was more to the Slayer than was being relayed.
After the events with the crystal collection and the released April, it had been the Council’s universal opinion to keep a closer eye on Buffy, much to Travers’ relief. She’d proven to be even more unpredictable than he’d originally thought, and while he admired her ingenuity, the fact that she’d aligned herself with William the Bloody in order to ultimately defeat April made her dangerous. Apparently, though, their efforts weren’t intensive enough.
Reaching his front door, Quentin frowned when the knob turned easily in his hand. It was too late for anyone in the household to be up. Why would.?
The thought vanished as he crossed the threshold, his face implacable when his eyes came to rest on the tiny form sitting in the Wainscot chair in the foyer. “Have you decided to master new skills to balance the loss of your powers?” he asked, his voice cold. “In case you’ve forgotten, breaking and entering is a punishable offense, Esme. You lack the means to cover your tracks any longer, remember?”
Slowly, the old woman rose to her feet. Though her eyes were sunken, they were still clear, her chin still proud. “And here I thought you’d be glad to see me, Quentin,” she said.
Turning his back to her, Travers began unbuttoning his overcoat. “I’m tired,” he said, “and you’ve exhausted my patience. I don’t have the means to play whatever game you’re intent on playing this evening.”
“But that’s just it,” Esme replied. “You are not the only one who is tired.” She waited for him to look back at her before continuing. “If your offer still stands, I’d like very much to take your deal.”