Author’s Notes: This was written as a gift to Schehrezade for her recent birthday. If you are currently following Buyer Beware (which, of course, I hope you are) please be aware that this one is rather different.
Beta: The incredibly talented and mega multi-tasking Megan. Thank you kind lady.
Buffy wriggled in the heavy oak chair. The journal on the table before her was unused and pristine. She’d made her decision on what she wanted to do but, in all conscience, the slayer in her demanded that she made some sort of record, just in case. Just in case it all went horribly wrong.
Finally getting the words sorted in her head, Buffy put pen to paper and started to leave the information that would help to point Giles in the right direction, just in case.
21 June 2003
If you’re reading this it’s probably because I am about to make a huge mistake. No surprises there. Are you rubbing your glasses yet? Sorry, it’s just that I’m a little nervous. But I’m excited too, and you’re going to think I’m mad. So I’m putting down as much as I can about what’s happened and, really, you’re not going to believe it. Here goes.
Ever since I arrived at the cottage – oh, and thank you for giving me the time here, it’s been just what I needed and hoped for – I’ve been having slayer dreams. Not an apocalypse, ‘cos I woulda told you – sorry, thinking about spelling is taking too long and I’m tired. The dreams were all the same. I’d see the figure of a man about to be run over by a car, just a silhouette in the headlights. Sometimes I’d get there in time and push him out of the way and other times I’d watch him get hit and… Well, not pretty ‘cos he would get thrown into the air and skewered on a branch. The dreams always stopped there. So, no apocalypse.
I couldn’t sleep last night and decided to take a walk to the village. That’s when it happened. He was there and the car was coming. I got to him in time but, and this is the bit you’re not gonna believe, it was Spike. Not my Spike. I know that he’s gone. That’s why…
Buffy paused and rubbed at the tears that had started to track their way down her cheeks. She hadn’t told Giles why she wanted to take up his offer of a quiet place to stay in the English countryside. He thought it was because she was at a loose end during the summer, what with Dawn taking off backpacking around Europe with a bunch of her college friends. It wasn’t exactly the truth.
Three weeks earlier…
The coach trip from London had been pleasant enough. Buffy had found herself squashed up against the window when a large, red-faced, elderly man wheezed into the seat next to her on the crowded vehicle. Prepared to find his company tedious, she’d been relieved when he’d merely bid her a polite good morning before losing himself in a tattered Agatha Christie paperback, leaving her free to gaze out at the passing buildings that eventually gave way to the rolling green of the English countryside.
Try as she might, Buffy found little to cheer her as pretty enclosed fields with flocks of sheep and lambs passed before her eyes. It was all she could do to hold on to her emotions long enough to finish the journey; not the one that had started at Victoria Coach Station, the one that had started with the destruction of the hellmouth in Sunnydale. Ever since she’d been told the truth ten days ago, Buffy had exercised the tightest control she’d ever placed on her emotions, and that was saying something. Her initial instinct had been to rant and rave at those that had the audacity to call themselves her friends, something she still might give herself the satisfaction of doing, but not now, not yet. With seeming indifference, Buffy had listened without overt reaction when they’d inadvertently let the proverbial cat out of the bag. Their relief at her lack of response seemed to encourage them to pat themselves on the back and bask in the knowledge that they’d ‘done the right thing’. That’s when Buffy had asked if Giles knew of somewhere quiet that she could go to on a small vacation, somewhere peaceful and secluded. The destination she was now travelling towards. But inside her head the same words still played over and over on an unending loop. Spike’s dead. He came back. He didn’t tell me. They didn’t tell me. Spike’s dead. Spike’s gone.
On leaving the coach at Taunton – which involved an awkward clamber over the now slumbering passenger beside her – she was met by Mrs Cardew, the widow of an ex-Watcher and current caretaker of the cottage that Giles had insisted she borrow for as long as she wanted. The pleated skirt and twin set that the fifty-something woman wore made Buffy smile; it was just so stereotypically English countryside. The welcome she received was warm and sincere.
“Buffy?” Mrs Cardew asked with a smile. “Rupert described you but forgot to say what a pretty lass you are.” She laughed merrily as Buffy felt a blush creep over her face. “Typical of him, really. Always with the facts and never with the obvious. Let’s get your bags and we’ll be off. Only about a half hour drive but I need to show you the ins and outs of the cottage before I leave you in peace and quiet.”
Buffy’s two bags were soon safely stowed in the back of the old Land Rover that Mrs Cardew – or Rose as she insisted that Buffy call her – was soon driving out of the town. Within minutes they were off the main roads and twisting and turning their way down narrow single track lanes. Now and then a cottage or a farm would appear, but the high hedges and banks stopped Buffy from seeing much of the area. Rose kept up a steady stream of informative chatter, not at all put out by the virtual silence of her passenger. They were on their way to the village of Huish Mallet on the edge of the Somerset Levels. Rolling her eyes, Buffy admitted to herself that she was unlikely to pronounce that correctly. ‘Butcher the bleeding English language you do, pet.’ She could almost hear him.
Steepes Cottage was just outside the village and had been recently renovated by the Watcher’s Council who owned the property. According to Rose, it had been about time that some attention had been paid to what, in her opinion, was a wasted asset; it hadn’t been used properly for years and it was nice that Buffy was going to be living there for a while.
The village consisted of about a hundred and twenty dwellings with a village pub and grocery store cum post office. It was pretty. There was a village green with a duck pond, behind which the Norman style church, with attached graveyard, looked benignly over to the pub on the opposite side of the green. All the buildings looked old and were made predominantly of a warm, yellowish coloured stone. The few vehicles that were parked alongside the road were all 4×4’s and looked to be working vehicles from the amount of mud and age. Rose deftly drove along the windy road through the village and turned through a gateway onto a tree lined drive.
Buffy was surprised to learn that she would be able to access the internet from the cottage – “It’s got one of them computer things, not that I understand them!” – and that getting a signal for her cell, er, mobile phone would require her to climb to the top of Burrow Hill. “That’s up the track from the back of the property, you can’t miss it.”
As the cottage came into sight, Buffy became interested in something other than her own depressing thoughts for the first time in days. It was…quaint. She would have called it a house on two floors. The afternoon light turned the Ham Hill stone golden and was reflected back from the leaded windows. Honeysuckle draped itself around the lintel above the solid wood door that just begged to be opened, so inviting did it look
Rose pulled up on the gravelled area in front, leaving the Land Rover and crossing to the door whilst rummaging in her handbag for the key. Grabbing her luggage from the back seat, Buffy caught up with her as the door was opened and Rose stood back to allow Buffy to enter. She stepped over the threshold into a flagstone hallway that stretched to the back of the cottage, broken only by the oak stairs leading to the upper floor. Double doors to the left led into a light and sunny room tastefully furnished with leather chesterfields and wooden cabinets, the feature being the stone fireplace with a tasteful landscape hanging above it in pride of place. Various other pictures adorned the white walls at intervals around the room and exposed beams broke up the ceiling into rectangles of white. The windows at the front and rear of the room were framed by heavy burgundy brocade drapes, currently held back with tasselled ties. Buffy spun around trying to take it all in, catching sight of Rose’s grinning face where she stood in the doorway.
“It’s grand, isn’t it?” Rose beamed. “Such a shame that it hasn’t been used for so long – especially considering all the work that’s been put in to renovate it and put some modern amenities in.” She gestured for Buffy to follow her to the other side of the hallway and through another set of double doors. “This has been made a lot more comfy now that the kitchen has been updated.”
It was cosy. To the rear was a kitchen area with oak units and, ‘oh bliss’, a microwave. An Aga took up pride of place against the wall and Buffy promised herself to get thorough instructions before she attempted to use it – not that she had ever been much for the cooking gig, so it might not come to that. More oak units divided the kitchen from the rest of the room which, again, was dominated by a stone fireplace. A wooden table with four chairs, a comfy couch, an oak dresser and a – ‘Thank God!’ – television, took up most of the remaining room. Again, heavy curtains framed the front windows, this time a green brocade, whilst the window in the kitchen had both a blind and crisp cotton check curtains framing it.
“There’s all you should need for the first few days in the fridge. Rupert let me know the sort of things you like so I took the liberty of stocking up for you.” Rose was almost laughing at the expression on Buffy’s face by now. “Just to the right of the fireplace there’s a cupboard what has one of them laptop things in it. You’ll find the socket for it over there too. There’s a phone there, if you want to plug it in, and out the back door from the kitchen you’ll find the washing machine and freezer. The extension was just built earlier this year and I reckon it’ll prove very handy.”
“Rose, I don’t know what to say.” Buffy wasn’t joking. She hadn’t expected to be housed in such fine style and could hardly believe that the place wasn’t used more often. It didn’t seem right somehow that she would be enjoying such comfort in her misery, as if being here would in some way diminish her feelings. “It’s beautiful.”
Rose sighed. “That it is, Buffy. And you be telling Rupert that it’s not right for such a fine place to be left without a bit of company more often. Come on, I’ll take you to your bedroom now. I think you’ll be just as pleased with that.”
She was. The bedroom under the eaves was huge. The four poster bed would have looked more in keeping in an old mansion or a honeymoon suite. Its curtained sides matched the burgundy curtains that hung at the windows both ends of the long room. An enormous wardrobe and two oak chests of drawers provided more than enough room for the few clothes that Buffy had brought with her. The wooden floor was covered by several deep piled rugs and fresh flowers sat in a vase on a small table to the side of the bed. Another fireplace – just can’t have enough of them – and an elegant but strange looking sofa together with a few other items of furniture and decoration made the room resemble something out of a book. Buffy was finding it hard to not to let her spirits rise. Rose was turning her attention to the bathroom on the other side of the landing.
As she followed Rose into the pristine white tiled room it occurred to Buffy that the Council knew of more ways to spend money – other than passing it on to the slayers that might benefit from a bit of financial help during their lifetimes. What she couldn’t have done with the cash that had obviously been used to make this bright room into a lavishly appointed place to bathe. A huge roll back bath stood on clawed feet before the window while a huge walk in shower, complete with body jets, was set in the corner. One wall was fitted with bathroom cupboards, a large mirror and two set in basins. The overwhelming white was broken here and there with burgundy; towels, bath mats and the odd tile reflected the rich colour.
Rose was studying her and seemed to be reading her thoughts. “Before the renovations there was a tin tub that used to be used in front of the fire downstairs, but I must admit that even I was surprised at how much they spent in this particular room.”
“I just can’t understand why they aren’t using the cottage all the time, Rose.” Buffy spoke the truth. “Like you said, it should have someone here to appreciate it all. What a waste. But, hey, I fully intend to enjoy it.”
Rose nodded, content with the reaction she was getting from the young American woman. The second bedroom, next to the bathroom, was about half the size of Buffy’s and held a sturdy oak framed double bed and matching furniture, but was no less expensively decorated. Buffy followed Rose back down the stairs and was mildly surprised when the woman moved to a door situated under the stairs. Thinking that it would be opened to reveal a cupboard, she was intrigued to see Rose switching on a light and moving down stone steps. On joining the woman at the bottom, Buffy could see why the cottage had been used by watchers in the past.
The cellar was enormous. Stone columns held up the ceiling at intervals. In the farthest corner stood a barred cell, chains attached to rings solidly embedded into the rough stone walls. Outside the cell a cabinet displayed items that would not have been out of place in a medieval dungeon, bits and pieces that looked like they were made for torture. Buffy didn’t know if it was the chill air but an involuntary shudder shook her body.
“It’s been many years since this was used by the Council. A lot has been cleared out but they insisted that the cell and, well, some objects, were brought up to scratch, just in case of further need. I doubt you’ll be spending any time down here, Buffy, but it’s as well you know it’s here. I can imagine you exploring and wondering what on earth they’d been up to in the past.” Rose laughed, as if she’d made a joke.
‘Really, not so much. I think I can imagine pretty well what used to go on down here.’ Thoughts of previous watchers confining or torturing some vampire, or demon, were all too easy to visualise. Buffy missed her guide’s next words.
“… a cup of tea and I can show you where the utilities are. Not to worry about remembering everything though. I took the liberty of making up a little pack with instructions for everything and if you get into any difficulties you can always call me or my son, Benjy. Same goes if you want a lift into the town at any time – the bus service is not as good as it used to be.”
Buffy let herself be led up into the living room cum kitchen again and settled in for more information from the ever helpful Rose.
Hours later, and feeling pleasantly weary, the Slayer settled into the most comfortable bed she’d ever slept in. It seemed as if her eyes had barely shut when the dream started.
She woke with a start, knowing instinctively that there was danger. Hastily, Buffy threw on a set of grey sweats and trainers, shoving two stakes into the waistband and running from the cottage into the blackness of the night. She hurtled down the drive, giving no thought to the consequences of missing her footing as her eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness. The sound of an engine and flickering beams of light alerted her to the approach of a vehicle along the lane from the village; she ran faster.
Buffy was almost at the gates of the drive when the lights swung onto the lane in front of her, picking out a figure kneeling in the road, slumped and unmoving. Forcing her legs to find more speed she threw herself out into the lane and grabbed at hunched shoulders. They rolled violently together away from the speeding car and onto the narrow grass verge on the other side of the lane. Darkness rushed in once more.
Joyce had to be content with that. She’d done all she could to remedy the mess that the Powers – and Angel – had made of her daughter’s future, her destiny. The Powers had been defensive and insisted that they had done all they could to guide the morose souled vampire but that his stubbornness had foiled them at every turn. Not that Buffy and Spike were without fault either, but the arrogance of Angel had been the biggest factor in the disaster that Joyce was trying to set back to rights in the only way she could, by standing up for Buffy.
The Powers had intended that Angel would wear the amulet to help Buffy push back the First Evil. In doing so they would have thwarted Wolfram and Hart’s plans to make him their tool by bringing about the Shanshu prophecy. Thus leaving Buffy and Spike to move forward together and fulfil their own destiny. But no, despite guidance, Angel had decided he knew best and let himself be easily persuaded to give it up. He had given away his grown son, Connor, when the Powers knew he would be instrumental in any fight against the Senior Partners. He’d allowed himself to become embroiled within the diabolical law firm and led his faithful team to doom. And, at the last, he’d allowed his personal considerations to twist his, and others, fate time and again.
Now the Spike from this reality was gone. The second souled vampire had left without the knowledge of his Slayer’s love for him. The love that would destroy her in time, thereby robbing Buffy of her own intended path to happiness and everlasting contentment.
Looking through other realities with Joyce, they carefully whittled down their options until one stood out from the others. This Spike was not a master vampire and his path so far had been somewhat different. And he was about to be dust.