The moment that Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell tore through the slumberous silence in announcement of another premature waking, Buffy knew it was going to be one of those days. It really wasn’t a difficult call to make; she had been having one of those days for the past three weeks with no deviation from course. Every minute of every hour ran in syncopated monotony with the last. Get up. Shower. Dry hair. Dress. Attempt to eat breakfast. Brush teeth. Leave house. Go to work. Leave work. Patrol. Attempt to eat supper. Go to sleep. Repeat as necessary.
It didn’t take much to make her pattern fall under the heading of one of those days anymore. Before leaving home, she had categorized periods of inactivity alongside notions of careful negligence. Back when the familiar cemeteries of Sunnydale mapped her nightly routine and the interference of rogue vampires stood as a welcomed distraction. Back in the days prior to her hasty escape to a city that had grown too large for her overnight. Back before her home had collapsed in on itself.
Thus, her weary acknowledgement that it was going to be one of those days was nothing more than blatant observation. Not a hunch. Not a notion. Not a forethought. It was merely another day to get through. Another cluster of hours to survive without allowing her mind to wander to the life she had willingly left behind. The people that had been her family for years. The people she hadn’t once thought of calling. The people she had not told goodbye.
All except two.
Dawn was in school. That was all she cared about. She had Dawn in school. A normal school. A non-hellmouthy school. She was living in Dayton with Xander, who agreed to take care of her for a few months while big sis got her head sorted. Oddly enough, Xander was the one she could trust. The one that knew what she was going through. In the days following the collapse of their hellmouth, she had rediscovered a connection with her friend that had honestly gone cold since before the big leap off Glory’s tower.
They had something in common now. They had both loved and lost twice in two years. Xander was mourning a demon; she was mourning a vampire.
Her hand still tingled from where they had been joined by fire. She never wanted it to stop. Never wanted that final connection she had shared with Spike to burn out. To cease to be, just as he had.
It seemed fitting, though, that now that she had her freedom—freedom that Spike had given her—the place that she called her home was the only other known active hellmouth in the country. She hadn’t grown used to the climate change yet; was still surprised when the night air grew chilly. She hadn’t memorized each step of the few cemeteries scattered throughout the city. She patrolled when she could. It was all she knew; all she had truly known.
So many years trying to be a girl, and now all she wanted to be was the Slayer.
And so she lived in Cleveland in a never-ending routine of monotony. Right now, work. Food service, as it was the only true experience she had. She awoke to Billy Idol every morning because the sound of a badass-Brit singing was the only thing that could get her out of bed most days. Billy Idol was the only singer that had enough spunk to convince her to throw back the sheets. Had enough Spike. The choice of song similarly never changed. Always Rebel Yell with some girl wanting more, more, more, followed by examples of dancing with yourself and descriptions of hot summer nights. She allowed the CD to play its duration, never breaking stride in routine. Some mornings she left it on to accompany the otherwise still air while she was at work. Some mornings she felt the air didn’t deserve it. Either way, the same silence greeted her when she returned at night, and she knew nothing else until morning arrived again.
One of those days. She neither loved nor hated those days. It was simply habit. Another span of twenty-four hours that she kept herself occupied so her mind couldn’t convince her to go back. Back to a land where those days did not exist. Back home.
But she wasn’t home. There was no home anymore. Instead, there was the illusion of what she knew, and no place else to turn when things became desperate. She was in Cleveland. And she planned to stay indefinitely, even if it meant subjecting herself to a mainstream of tedium.
Working at the diner was comparable to going to a French film where all the subtitles are in German. Everything was a learning experience based on visual perception, located in a different stretch of the universe. The thrill of customer-service. Buffy had only been working for two weeks, but she knew enough to recognize the regulars. Some even knew her by name, and all had their various squicks and ticks. The middle-aged came in and ordered coffee for fear of the grease factor with everything else on the menu. Children raced across the street with dollar bills that needed to be turned into quarters for the machines out front. Old men winked at her and made the occasional vulgar proposition. One guy, after eying her nametag, had even flashed a toothy grin and asked if she wanted a part in a low-budget porn movie.
Buffy had complained to her boss, Kevin, about that. He’d merely snickered, given the man a thumbs up, and returned to his office.
It was intolerable, but she didn’t think she could do anything else now. Now was a time for self-reflection. For trying to make it on her own. For clearing her head and allowing the scars marring her past time to heal. It was just a matter of time. Days. One after another. Everything was taken with a grain of salt and a tight smile. It was odd biting her tongue when every innate instinct told her to snap a witty rejoinder to those who drained her not-so-infallible patience. Twenty-three years had schooled her to speak whenever she felt like it, and it was difficult teaching anyone new tricks.
That was the strategy, however. Tolerance. The secret to surviving one of those days. And that was what today was. What yesterday was. What tomorrow would be. One of those days.
Funny. Both times she lost a vampire she’d loved, she ended up in a strange town behind the counter of some low-class diner. She remembered the series of nightmares she’d had after sending Angel to Hell. Remembered waking with pain. Remembered the flashes of him she thought she’d seen around Los Angeles. Remembered everything.
Remembered and envied. At least then, there had been some emotion. Spike’s death had left her hollow. Cold. An emptiness worse than nothing. As though he had taken her heart with him when he died. She felt barren and alone. She knew not to look for him, and her nights remained dreamless. The Powers didn’t even grant her the solace of his face while she slept.
So she worked. She hunted. She staked the few vampires that were fleeing to Cleveland with the absence of Sunnydale, leaving her with the conclusion that the reputable hellmouth in Ohio wasn’t nearly as active as the Council had led her to believe over the past few years.
And as the day progressed—the day that was a carbon copy of so many before it—she became more certain of that very conviction.
The day went by normally. One guy intentionally spilled his drink as she was passing, hoping to get her clothing wet as well as a view of her backside as she bent over to clean up the mess. Two kids got into a fist fight outside of the restaurant, and Cindy, one of Buffy’s coworkers, took the smaller child into the back to clean up his cuts. Kevin made three passes at her, all vulgar and grounds for a sexual harassment complaint. She let them go. There simply wasn’t a will to care about anymore. If Kevin wanted to be nasty, she’d let him.
As long as his passes came in the form of words and not touches. Then she feared her secret identity would be blown. No one touched her these days. She simply didn’t allow it.
Cindy offered to drive her home, as she did every night. Buffy smiled her thanks but declined. For whatever reason, the other girl couldn’t get it into her head that the oogly booglies that made most single white females scream for cover simply didn’t bother her.
No one offered rides in Sunnydale. Everyone cut through the cemetery. People who died with massive neck wounds in suspected triple-homicides were not front page news. She came from the land where finding teenagers dead and stuffed in lockers was an everyday occurrence. Anywhere else, it would merit national news. Not in Sunnydale.
Sunnydale was gone, though. And now she lived in Cleveland—the disappointingly tame all-American hellmouth.
Tonight there was patrol. Every night, there was patrol. She would return to her empty apartment, watch the Daily Show for something to laugh at, then collapse and wait for the cycle to restart.
She very much hoped something bumpy showed itself tonight. The adrenalin rush would be a welcome change.
“What’s a pretty young thing like you doing out here at this time of night?”
Buffy whirled around, her arm raised, stake ready. Then she blinked when her eyes clashed with the surprised terror of a middle-aged groundskeeper. A shrill sound tore through his throat and his hands flew up in semblance of neutrality. “Didn’t mean anything by it, Miss!” he swore. “Just wanted—”
She rolled her eyes and lowered her stake. “Some words of wisdom…” She flashed a glance to his name badge. “Larry. Approaching someone after dark in a graveyard? Not the best judgment call.”
“The grounds here are closed for the night.”
“Yeah. I’m just making sure nothing snuck in.”
Without waiting for a reply, she whirled around and continued on her way.
Yet another thing that would never happen in Sunnydale. Closed cemeteries?
Buffy didn’t make it very far. A welcomingly familiar growl split through the night air. It seemed she would be getting some action tonight, after all. She grinned tightly to herself and picked up her pace, feet following her senses. Tinglies abound; a tight, coveted sensation filled her insides.
“All right,” she said loudly, “I know you’re there. Come out; come out, wherever you are. Fresh, powerful blood here, all ripe and ready for the taking. And hey, since I’m bored, I’ll even let you win for the first ten minutes or so. Let’s do this thing.”
“Oh come on.” Her stake arm fell again. “Don’t be another wussy vamp. I’m so sick of wussy vamps.”
The air was still for several more seconds. Still, but not vacant. The sensation rattling her body refused to waver. The vampire was still there. Still watching her. Lurking somewhere in the shadows.
Then it hit. A wave of familiarity so potent, it made her gasp aloud.
No. No, it can’t be.
Another growl pierced the air. There was a flash of blonde and a rush of fangs. He lunged for her from behind a mausoleum, arms tightening around her as they collapsed to the ground. Her stake tumbled from her hand as numb astonishment flooded her being.
The vampire raised his head and she about burst into tears.
“Spike. Oh God, Spike, is it…” She frowned. “Am I dreaming?”
He didn’t respond. Didn’t even make like he’d heard her. There was something dangerously feral in his eyes. Something primal. Something she had never seen before. And it didn’t matter. For a fraction of an instant, the weight of the world no longer mattered. Spike was back. Even pinning her to the ground, the full weight of his welcome body pressing her into the ground, his hands grasping her wrists to the point of pain; it didn’t matter to her. Spike was with her, now.
I’m dreaming. God, I know I’m dreaming.
But she wasn’t. She couldn’t be. Spike wasn’t the stuff of dreams; he was bigger than dreams. Her nights had never been haunted by him; too small to constrain him to the fog of her subconscious. No, since his death, he had dominated everything. The thought of him. The want of him. Missing him in this new place, every crude remark to tumble through the lips of her vile customers simply served as reminders of the one she’d lost. Not for the way they were said…Spike would whisper the dirtiest things to her when they were in the throes of passion. Covered in love, of course, with the added guise of concealing his feelings from her as their bodies moved together. For months, he had provided the allusion of consolation without the mention of love, because that was what he knew she wanted. And even though the thought of what she had put him through that year made her ill, there was some twist of comfort whenever she heard something remotely Spikeish touch the air.
Comfort that drowned into longing. Longing that had long since left her hollow.
Only Spike was here.
Once a lifetime ago, Angel had attacked her after returning from the dead. Like an untamed animal escaping the bowels of hell, he had attacked and she had fought him. Spike was on top of her now, his fangs drawn to her throat. And yet, there was no mode of attack. No want to harm. No need to kill. None that she could sense.
“Spike?” she whispered again, tugging her hands free and running her fingers through his hair. “Spike, it’s me.”
He sniffed at her, his head drawing back. There was no familiarity in his eyes. Nothing whatsoever. He saw her, yes, but he didn’t know who he was seeing. Confusion flashed across his face and quickly turned to anger. His eyes hardened and she had lost him again, the want of answers abandoning him for the more immediate sanctuary of her heavenly throat.
There was an answering growl and a flash of fangs. His body slammed hard against hers when she attempted to get up, the aching familiarity of his erection pressing her between her legs. Buffy threw her head back and moaned. Reality was gone, and now there was nothing but this. A vampire she had loved and lost, and he was growling at her as though the past few years could be forgotten in a blink.
She had lived too long to worry with this anymore. Twenty-three years had somehow spanned into the duration of several lifetimes, but her body refused to age with wisdom. Instead, she was the fallen Slayer. The one that had liberated the rest only to know death at the hands of the one she loved. The one she had let bow out with a note to martyrdom, only to meet her demise at the end of his fangs nearly ten months after she had left him to close the Hellmouth.
His fangs sliced into her skin, and her body exploded with completion. She threw her head back and moaned even as he snarled into her, pulling her blood into his mouth, his hips moving sensually over her in mocking semblance of the dance they had come to know by heart. As though he knew her body, even if he didn’t know her face. He murmured incoherently into her bloody skin until the chord struck and his head flew back, his eyes widening with something akin to recognition.
Buffy’s eyes blurred. He hadn’t taken much; he’d barely tasted her. And the sensuality behind his bite overrode the strings of pain tugging at her flesh. There was blood dribbling down his chin. Blood that she owed him for what the past spring had robbed them both. And he saw her then; really saw her. Saw her with something that ached of recognition, even if he was still far placed from knowing her.
A word. One.
It was as though the world had emerged from black and white, and she was back in the land of color. A rush of emotions unlike anything she’d felt for months suddenly crippled her, and she burst into long, hard sobs. Her arms wound around his neck and tug him back down to her. It registered distantly that an untamed vampire was not an ideal cuddling buddy, but the heavens would crash before she let him go. Right now, she needed to feel him against her. Cherish the familiarity of his body and assure herself one last time that she was not asleep, conjuring a reenactment of the night the fates had given her back Angel, only recast as another vampire.
The vampire she loved as a woman; not the one she had mourned as a girl.
Spike buried his face in her throat and lapped delicately at the wound he’d given her. “Slayer,” he murmured again, like a child who had discovered a new word and wanted to share it with the world over and over again. “Slayer.”
“Yes,” she cried against him. “Yes, Spike. I’m the Slayer.”
He purred contentedly, rather pleased at being right. Whether or not he understood her was another concern. He knew her. At least on some level, he knew her. Knew her as the Slayer, whereas just minutes ago, he had not known her at all.
How long they stayed like that, she didn’t know or care. Only that Spike whimpered when she let go of him, his eyes glossed over with need and longing. God, she knew that look so well. The part of him that was most human; the part of him that fought for freedom and had gone to win back his soul for the intent of righting what he felt had been his greatest sin. This was her William at the surface. Angel had been all demon when he returned—as the demon within him, as with all other vampires, was the greatest driving force.
Not so with her Spike. The look on his face killed any doubts.
“Do you…” Buffy found herself asking, dusting her slacks off. “Do you know me, Spike?”
He studied her for a long minute, then shook his head. No.
Her heart broke. “Are you sure?”
He shook his head again.
“Can you speak?”
A puzzled look washed over him at that. She had heard him call her by the name that had dominated their relationship during those first few years, and yet, it seemed to be the only thing he knew.
Her eyes fell to his clothing. No jeans, rather sweats. No patented black-tee, rather rags. And he had no duster.
He frowned and followed her eyes.
He turned away, jaw clenching. A familiar look of guilt flashed across his face. And she understood. Likely the former property of a bum in an alley, or whoever had been misfortunate enough to be the first to cross his path. And again, the man shone through with startling clarity. Clothing. Spike had sought out clothing.
He looked back at her at that, placing a hand over his chest. “Hurts,” he managed, his eyes shining.
Buffy was positive her entire body shivered at the word. “The soul,” she whispered. “Spike…you…” She smiled lovingly and wound her small hand around his, tugging his fingers away from his heart. “Do you remember who you are?”
“You remember that?”
He gave her a dry look.
“You know that from me, don’t you?”
Well, obviously. She kept calling him Spike; he would likely figure out that was who he was.
“Do you remember anything?”
There was a long silence at that. Then, uncertainly, he shook his head. She drew in a deep breath and glanced down, not wanting him to see how deeply that hurt. One thing at a time. Just minutes ago, he had been ready to tear her throat out. Now he was purring as her thumb caressed his hand, his eyes warming with every beat that passed between them.
She needed to get him home. Needed to find out why he was back, though the why hardly mattered. The fact that he was with her at all eased the numbness with feeling she hadn’t even known she missed. It was wonderful just seeing him. Basking in the warmth of his presence. The warmth he gave her simply by being.
“Come on,” she said gently, tugging at his hand. “Let’s go home.”
Spike flashed her a quizzical look.
“My home,” she clarified. “I have an apartment. Kinda a rat-trap, but it’s better than nothing. Honestly, I think your crypt was more posh.”
More confusion. She smiled and batted a dismissive hand. “I’ll call in sick tomorrow,” she said, more for her benefit than his. “Get you some good clothes. Something you’ll fit right into…like a black tee and a pair of jeans? Maybe some Doc Martins?”
Yeah. As though she had that sort of money. Well, she had cash on reserve that Giles had insisted on giving her, despite her hesitance of taking anything from him. Their relationship hadn’t recovered since the big fall out the year before, and she doubted it ever would.
That didn’t matter now. Nothing mattered. Spike was with her.
And that was all she needed.