Stepping out of the bus, Buffy looked around her, amazed that everything seemed so familiar. If all of it had been a fantasy, how was it possible that Sunnydale existed, and looked exactly like what she had seen in her mind?
Seven months ago, she had accepted what doctors and her parents had repeatedly told her. There were no such things as Vampires, Demons, Witches. There was no such thing as a Vampire Slayer. She was just a normal girl, who had wasted several years in a fantasy world created by her injured brain.
She had been found, unconscious, a few years before, in a dark alley where a young girl like her shouldn’t have ever set foot in. Her heart had stopped beating on the way to the hospital, and they said her brain had lacked oxygen for a little moment. When she had been reanimated, her spirit was gone, following another path, living in another world where she was a super-hero of sorts.
She had awoken from her living dream, or living nightmare rather, a couple of times, for brief periods, always finding her mom and dad next to her, as well as the doctors of the mental institute she was locked in. They finally had managed to pierce her barriers, and tell her what to do. She had to let go of that false reality she had created. And the way to do that was to eliminate the characters who lived in that world. They had to disappear. And disappeared, they had. In her mind, she had unleashed a demon on them. She had fled, unable to watch until the end, and at the second she closed the basement door behind her, she had awoken in her hospital room. Days later, she was home with her parents.
And yet… Even knowing that she never had a sister, she kept expecting Dawn to appear. Her father being around seemed so strange, still. And her mom… The presence of her mother had been the true happiness. It had been to be with her that she had found the courage to leave her fantasy. However, this happiness had only lasted a few months. Before anyone could do anything, Joyce had died from a brain tumor. The doctors had said it was too late to operate, they would have needed to diagnostic it at the very beginning. And so Buffy had only been able to watch as her mother wasted away right in front of her. It would be two months in three days that they had buried her. Two months that nightmares haunted Buffy’s nights. Her mom had died, from the exact same thing her fantasy-mom had suffered from. Was it only a coincidence? Or was there a world of demons, vampires and magic just behind the corner? She needed to know, needed to appease her mind by proving to herself that there was nothing in Sunnydale for her. No one waiting for her return.
Her father had kept a tight watch on her, afraid to lose his daughter again after losing his wife. But eventually, he had needed to get back to work. And his work had sent him to Europe. So there she was, alone in a town she shouldn’t know, but that was so strangely familiar.
It was early in the evening, but she was tired from nervousness, too tired to start her research now. She checked in a motel and put herself to bed, hoping the nightmares would spare her, knowing they wouldn’t.
Every night, they came, always the same, always different. In one of them, she watched until the end as the demon killed her friends and sister one after the other. She watched and did nothing as they pleaded for her to help them, to save them, just once more. She always woke from that one sweaty and heart pounding. The other one was almost worse, though for different reasons. In it, she was staking Spike. Every time, it was different. Different place, different time, different words, different actions. But it always ended with his ashes falling at her feet. That particular nightmare, she couldn’t wake herself from. When it started, variations of the dusting would succeed to each other without ceasing, dozens of them in a row, until morning came and found her weeping in her pillow.
As the sun rose, Buffy was already awake in her bed. She stayed there for several hours, staring at the ceiling, trying to decide where she would begin. She had left LA just after her father departed, knowing only where she was going, but having no plans for once she got there.
Finally settling on a destination, she took a quick shower and dressed. Black jeans, black tank top, black boots. Since her mother’s death, she dressed in monochromatic. She had actually started before that, or tried to, but Joyce had been able to make her put color in her life. Not any more.
It took her only a few minutes to reach the cemetery. She stood in front of the crypt, biting her lips. She wanted to get in and assure herself that no one resided there, but she could not command her feet to move forward. What if someone did? What if he did? She wasn’t sure her sanity would resist, whether he was there or not. Not knowing could be better.
Changing her mind, she left the graveyard, walking briskly to her second destination. She observed the house from the street, noticing the unknown car in the driveway, the unfamiliar curtains at the window, the children’s toys on the front porch. With a relieved sigh, she walked away from Revello Drive. This was not her home.
Her next destination was in the shopping district. On her way, she was hoping to find that the shop was selling ice-creams, or maybe paintings, or clothes. Anything at all but magic supplies. Then her doubts would be answered and she would be able to go home and start living again.
When she reached the store, she stared unblinkingly at its name for a few minutes. The Magic Box.
At that point, she almost ran away, almost ran back to LA to forget all this madness. But as a customer was leaving the store, she caught a few words coming from inside. A voice and an accent she had longed to hear for a long time. Without thinking, she stepped in the store and went straight to the owner of the voice. To his great surprise, she hugged him.
“Giles, I missed you so much.”
The English gentleman awkwardly patted the blonde’s back, trying to remember when he had met her. Probably in his high-school days. She finally pulled away, and he noticed that tears were filling her eyes. He moved behind the counter to get her some Kleenex.
“Young lady, I cannot seem to remember your name…”
She stared at him as if not understanding his words. “Giles? It’s me, Buffy.”
He tilted his head and frowned. The name was not familiar, but he was sure he had heard it once before, and thought to himself it was the weirdest name a child could be given. He shook his head apologetically.
“I’m sorry, Miss, I cannot seem to recall…”
“Giles! You’re my Watcher ! You can’t have…”
Her voice stopped instantly as her eyes fell on the woman who was climbing down the ladder. She blinked several times, as if not believing what she was seeing.
It was his ears Giles was not believing. How did that girl knew about Watchers? Why did she think he was her Watcher? How could she know him while he had absolutely no idea of who she was?
Buffy was still staring at the brunette, belatedly realizing the woman had just said hello.
“Uh, hello Miss Calendar.”
The woman smiled brightly, walking to Giles and encircling his waist with her arm.
“It’s Mrs Giles now, actually. Do I know you? Were you one of my students?”
“Buffy. I’m Buffy Summers.”
Feeling her knees getting weak, Buffy moved to the research table and sat down, taking her head between her hands. They didn’t know her. Neither of them did. No spark of recognition at all. But she knew them. They were exactly like she remembered them. Except that Giles was here and not in England, married to a very much alive Jenny.
Before she could collect her thoughts, the door opened. Buffy instantly turned her head to the newcomers. Side by side, talking as old friends, were one of the persons Buffy wanted to see most, and one of those she wanted to see least.
The two girls finally noticed her presence, and both looked at her quizzically.
“Do I know you?” Faith asked finally.
Thoughts were running wildly through Buffy’s head. Faith was here. Faith was friend with Willow. She was coming to Giles’ shop, apparently after classes judging by the books she was carrying. Was she…
“Are you the Slayer?” Buffy asked quietly.
Faith’s attitude changed at once. She did not move an inch, but a sense of readiness emanated from her. She was ready to fight if needed. That was her answer.
“How do you know about the Slayer?” Giles asked, coming closer, but staying just out of arm reach. “How did you know I’m a Watcher?”
Buffy rose to her feet. She needed to get out of the shop, it was becoming suffocating. Faith, Willow and Giles were between her and the front door. She could not talk to them right now, could not touch them, could not look at them. She had to get out. Instinctively, she went to the back door, barely noticing that the training room was just as she remembered it as she strode through it. Out in the alley, she started running, and did not stop until she was back to her motel room.
A couple of minutes after closing the door behind her and leaning against it, someone knocked. Unthinking, she opened, finding herself face to face with the Slayer. She took a few steps back and the girl came in, surveying the room, judging for any potential trap or danger.
“OK. Let’s play 20 questions. Who are you? What do you know about the Slayer? What do you want? Why did you run away? And how come you run so fast?”
She looked intently at Faith’s face. So familiar, and yet… different. Something was missing, a part of darkness. This was Faith as she had first come to Sunnydale, before she started turning bad.
“If I tell you,” Buffy said finally, “you won’t believe me.”
An amused smile came to the brunette’s lips. “Try me. I’ve seen many things you wouldn’t believe.”
“No. I believe them. I’ve seen them. I was the Slayer too. I’ve seen more horrors than I care to remember. Just like you, I guess.”
Faith’s eyes widened and she listened to the quiet words.
“What do you mean, you were the Slayer? There can only be one Slayer. And that’s me. So who are you ?”
Buffy let herself fall back on the bed, her eyes tightly closed. “I wish I knew,” she whispered.
A few hours later, Buffy was walking back toward the Magic Box. Next to her, just as silent, was Faith.
Buffy had come to Sunnydale hoping to find peace by proving to herself the doctors had been right, and her fantasy world had been nothing but that : a fantasy. And now, everything was shattering around her. She had listened to Faith describe the past as she knew it. Kendra had come to Sunnydale, been killed by the Master, then Faith was called. From that point on, her life had been pretty much what Buffy remembered living. Except for a few details. One of them being Dawn.
“Is Dawn your sister?”
“Dawn? How do you… No, she wasn’t really my sister. She was some kind of energy.”
“Yes, was. She’s gone now.”
“We never figured that out. Giles think she’s back to being just energy.”
“You mean… she’s dead ? How?”
“She had to jump through the portal to close it.”
“And… You let her jump ?”
“What other choice was there?”
Dawn was dead. Buffy’s sister was dead. Except, she wasn’t her sister. Not here. She had been Faith’s sister, and Faith had let her be killed. While Buffy herself had set a monster loose on her Dawn.
Another difference was Angel.
“What do you mean, lose his soul?”
“I mean just that. Angel has a soul because of a curse. He lost it, became a Big Bad vampire, I sent him to Hell, he came back, left for LA.”
“Hmm Angel as a Big Bad ? I wish I could see that…”
“No, believe me, you don’t.”
That explained Miss Calendar. If Angelus never came around, he had never killed her, and she had become Mrs Giles. Strangely, the thought renewed guilt that Buffy had kept buried for a long time. It was her fault if Jenny had died, because she unleashed Angelus.
But then, Jenny was alive here. And happy with Giles. It was just confusing. If this was the ‘real’ reality, how could ‘her’ reality be so close and yet so different? And which one did she truly belong to?
The two girls entered the shop to find that they were being expected.
Sitting around the research table, chatting, were Giles, Jenny, Willow, Oz, Xander, Anya, and Angel. A knot formed in her throat as she watched them all. Why was Oz back and Tara gone? Why was Anya still there? Why didn’t Angel leave for LA?
She almost ran to Angel as her eyes fell on him. Faith beat her to it, sitting on his lap and kissing him thoroughly before turning her attention back to Buffy.
They were all watching her now, all of their eyes filled with curiosity and questions, but still they kept quiet, apparently waiting for her to talk first. She couldn’t bear to look at her friends. She remembered too vividly the last time she had seen them in the other world, bound and defenseless as she was walking away. As earlier, a feeling of suffocation started to overcome her. Focusing her eyes on Faith and Faith only, she asked the brunette to explain to everyone what they had spent the afternoon discussing, and all but ran to the training room. Not bothering with tape, she started beating on the punching bag, unaware that Angel had followed her.
The vampire watched in silence as the blonde pummeled the bag mercilessly. A flash had run through his mind at the second she had entered the shop with his girlfriend. A memory, half forgotten. Years before, he had seen that girl, briefly, from afar. He had been told to wait for her in Sunnydale and to help her. But she had never come, and he had ended helping the ones who came instead of her. And now, there she was. There was no doubt in his mind that it was her, but still she looked different. She was older, of course, but it wasn’t all. Too much was going on behind these hazel eyes, as if she had seen too much for her young years.
His thoughts were interrupted by the unmistakable scent of fresh blood. Her knuckles were bleeding. Automatically, he grabbed the first aid kit and went to her, forcing her to stop her mindless punching. She looked at him through tear-filled eyes while he was taking care of her hands, and he felt oddly uncomfortable under her scrutiny.
“Do you sleep with her?”
He almost jumped at the unexpected question, and looked at her face, startled.
“Yes, you do,” she answered her own question very quietly. “I should have known when I saw her ring. Should have known it was you who gave it to her. But then, why didn’t you lose your soul?”
Uneasy, he walked away from her, returning the kit to its storage place. Why was he feeling like he had to justify himself to her? He didn’t know her, but she seemed to know a lot about him after just a look. He didn’t like that one bit. And what in the world did she mean, lose his soul? He was about to ask when he noticed Faith standing by the door, arms crossed, an unreadable look on her face.
“You mentioned before Angel losing his soul. How did it happen in your world?”
Buffy wiped her eyes before she looked at Faith. Could she tell them? Could she tell her?
Had this been the Faith she knew and hated, the answer would have been easy, and she would have enjoyed letting her know she wasn’t enough to give Angel true happiness. But this Faith was not her Faith. She had done nothing to her. In fact, she had been rather friendly, accepting her story without questioning its truth. And, even if all her senses screamed to her the opposite, this was not her Angel. She had no right to interfere in their lives. So she partially lied.
“It was because of a spell gone wrong. I doubt it’s ever going to happen here.”
Faith shrugged, but Angel looked at her with eyes that were too piercing. He couldn’t know, could he?
“If that’s ok, the others would like to talk to you. They have a bunch of questions.”
“I bet they do,” Buffy sighed, following Faith back into the shop.
At that moment, she decided she couldn’t tell them. She had been vague with Faith concerning how she had ‘escaped’ from her fantasy world, and she would need to find a cover story for Giles and Willow’s inquiring minds. But she couldn’t tell them she had left them to be killed.
As she expected, the Watcher dutifully interrogated her, recording in a notebook everything that she was saying. The others interrupted every now and then, adding a comment or a question. All of them, at one point or another, tested her, asking about a detail of their lives that no one but one of the gang should know about. She answered as well as she could, surprised that so many details were the same.
“Well, all of this is rather extraordinary,” Giles said finally. “It’s almost like you were from another dimension, another reality, except that you were in this reality all the time, in body if not in mind. If I may ask, what do you want from us? Did you come here to be a Slayer in this world too, along Faith?”
Buffy simply shook her head, unsure of what to answer.
“You were a Slayer in that other place,” Willow said pensively. “Why did you leave it? If you didn’t want to be the Slayer any more, why come back to the Hellmouth?”
“I don’t know,” Buffy whispered. “When I came here I was sure all of you were not real, I just wanted to prove it to myself once and for all. And there you are. All of you…”
Not all of them… Dawn was painfully missing, of course, but someone else was absent. She forced herself to say the name. She had managed not to think of him since the morning, since she had fled the cemetery, but now she needed to know.
It was Faith who answered, casually, as if discussing about the weather.
“What about Spike?”
Speaking was hard, but she had to know. “Does he… help you?”
This time, Angel replied, and Buffy shivered both from the tone of his voice and the ice in his eyes. “Why would he help? And why would we want his help? He is harmless, thanks to the Initiative, but he is still evil. If he was not defenseless, I would have staked him myself a long time ago. I still might if he pisses me off one time too many.”
She stared at the vampire, shaking her head slowly. This definitely was not her Angel.
“It’s getting late,” she said weakly. “I’ll go back to my hotel and try to sort things out.”
She stood and looked at them, her eyes pausing on Willow, Giles, Xander, Jenny.
“It was really good to see you. Even if you’re not my friends.”
To her surprise, Willow came to her and gave her a brief hug. “I like you, Buffy. I’m sure if you stick around we’ll be friends just like in that other place.”
The redhead had meant to be nice, but Buffy’s heart almost stopped beating at the words. Giving them a last forced smile, she left the store, not looking back, knowing she wouldn’t come to them again. Faith was their Slayer. They did not know her. She was nothing for them.
Emptying his glass, Spike almost poured himself another one before changing his mind and drinking directly from the bottle. In a few seconds, said bottle was drained, and he threw it against the wall of his crypt, glass shattering everywhere.
It had been a lousy day. Cross that. Lousy year. Cross that again. Lousy decade. Ever since he’d arrived in Sunnyhell, things had been getting worse and worse for him. A lot of the blame could be laid at his own feet. He should have left as soon as he had learned that his grand-sire was there, along with his bloody soul. But of course, Drusilla had wanted to hear none of it, and soon she had been strong enough to elaborate her own plans, all as insane as she was. And then… she got herself staked, by her very own Daddy, after she came too close to kill the bloody Slayer. Spike himself had been injured and had left town, intending to come back when he would be well enough to kill them all. He had returned, yes, but the killing part had gone slightly awry when the Initiative figuratively cut his fangs. For the last two years, he had been reduced to stealing to get his supply of blood. He should have left this damn town, that’s what he should have done. But to go where? And to do what?
To make things worse, he hadn’t had a restful day in more time than he could remember. Every time he tried to get some sleep, that bloody girl appeared in his dreams. The first dreams had been when Drusilla was still around, and they only occurred occasionally. But some time after he escaped from the Initiative, the dreams had become more frequent. Now, he was having them every time he closed his eyes. At first, all they did was fight. Or maybe it was spar, since none of them ever got to kill the other. Then the dreams changed ; they still fought, but always ended up shagging. Lately, it was two dreams alternating. In one of them, he could see her running, but he could never tell if she was running to him or away from him. In the other, she was sobbing as he helped her push a stake through his own heart, telling her to go home. He had no idea who the girl was, as he was absolutely certain he had never met her. Yet, at the same time, he could almost have sworn he knew her as well as he knew himself. At times, he felt like he was turning as crazy as his Princess had been.
The creaking of the door alerted him of the presence of an intruder, and he turned toward them, shifting unconsciously to game face. His jaw dropped open at the sight before his eyes.
“Hey Spike. You can lose the fangs. You know you can’t hurt me. And I’m not here to kick your ass.”
He shifted back without a thought, pressing both hands on his eyes.
“Bloody hell… Won’t you ever leave me alone? It’s not enough that you’re always around when I sleep, now you show up when I’m awake too?”
Turning his back to the apparition, he rummaged around the crypt for a bottle, finally finding one half full of scotch. Taking a gulp, he glanced back to the blonde, annoyed that she had not disappeared. Of all things, she looked puzzled.
“You know me?” she asked finally.
He laughed. “Know you? Lets see… We fight, we shag, we fight some more, you run away, but now that I think of it, I don’t even know what your name is. So I guess no, I don’t know you.”
He took another gulp, muttering to himself : “Now that’s new. She talks. Getting better and better.”
When his head came back down, he was surprised to find her right in front of him. She took the bottle from him and drained the remaining in one long swallow, spoiling her effects by coughing when she was done. He smirked at her, amused.
“Come on, pet, I know it’s not prime quality, but you’re a bit picky for a figment of my imagination.”
Suddenly, she punched him in the arm, hard, and he growled. “What was that for?”
“I am real, Spike. Right here, right now. Not quite sure why, but I’m working on it.”
He stared at her, finally perceiving what he had not noticed before, what was always absent from his dreams. Her heartbeat. He jerked back, stunned.
“Who the hell are you? And how do you know me when I have no clue who you are?”
Sitting on the edge of the stone sarcophagus, Buffy observed the vampire in front of her, who was staring at her just as curiously. Her eyes were detailing the hard planes of his face, running along the familiar angles. She had come here on instinct alone. She couldn’t be with her friends, both because they were not the persons she knew and because they were too similar to the ones she had left for dead. So she had come to the only person she had not offered in sacrifice to the demon.
She had missed him, just as much as she had missed the others. More. It was to him she had wanted to run to when her mother had passed away, his comfort she had needed. That’s when she had admitted it, admitted the very thing she had denied even to herself. She was in love with Spike. Except that Spike was a creation of her mind, wasn’t he? But if he was, why hadn’t she made him perfect and easy to love? With these questions, the nightmares had started, urging her to come to Sunnydale and just make sure.
So there she was, talking to someone who was so much like the man she remembered loving, but who was just as foreign to her as the Scoobies had been. But then, why did he seem to know her?
“My name is Buffy,” she said quietly. “Why did you say we fight and … and I run?”
He mouthed the name silently, and she almost asked him to say it out loud, just to know if she would hear all the emotions the Spike she remembered put in her name the rare times he said it.
“‘Cause that’s what we do, luv. In my dreams. Every time I try to sleep, there you are. Any idea why? I knew someone who had premonitions, but that would be a first for me.”
Suddenly uneasy, Buffy looked around the crypt, searching.
“Is Dru here?”
His face tensed at the name, and for a second she thought he was going to shift again.
“Dru is dead.”
She heard the pain in his voice, and her unasked question was answered. He loved Drusilla. Not her. Of course, not her. They had never met before, after all. But then, why and how could he dream of her?
“Your turn to answer, pet. Where do you know me from?”
She tilted her head, biting her bottom lip, hesitating.
“I lived… someone called it another dimension. Same world, with just a few differences. In my world, you…”
She couldn’t say it. The realization of what she had lost was just too much for her to voice it.
“I love you.”
She jumped at the words, her eyes widening in surprise, her heart abruptly beating faster. Why did he sound so much like him? This was too hard. She shouldn’t have come here.
“Yes, in my world, Spike loved me,” she whispered.
She observed as he took a cigarette from the pack in his front pocket and lit it, his eyes never leaving her.
“You love him? Is that why you’re here?”
The voice was uncertain. Spike had always been so sure when he proclaimed she loved him.
“I don’t know why I’m here,” she said after a moment. “But yes, I did love him. Though I never told him. We fought, we shagged, I ran, just like in your bloody dream.”
He raised an eyebrow at her use of his words, and sat on the carved stone next to her.
“Come on, luv. Spit it all out. What is bothering you?”
She almost smiled, realizing that this Spike could read her just as well as the other one. But it was tears that came to her eyes as she talked. “The way I came here… I killed my friends. Not with my own hands, but I may as well have done it myself. Killed just about everyone I cared about. Except him. I miss them. I miss him. I’m so sorry…”
A comforting arm wrapped around her shoulders as she started crying, words spilling out of her mouth between sobs.
“I thought it was all a dream, and if it was a dream then it was not really killing them. But the more I see here, the more I think that was just as real. They were real. I don’t belong here. Even if …”
Throwing the cigarette to the floor, he pulled her closer and she sobbed against his shoulder, uncaring that he was in effect a complete stranger. He was there. He was the same, or almost. And she still needed him. Long minutes passed, as he let her cry her heart out, remaining silent until he said : “Calm down, pet. I think I know how to get you back where you belong.”
She raised her face to his, hope filling her. “How?” was all she could say.
He brushed a strand of hair away from her face, tucking it behind her ear. She shuddered at the familiarity of the gesture.
“There’s another dream I’ve been having. Started not very long ago. Have it just about every day now. I think it tells what you need to do to get home.”
She watched as he jumped down from his seat and walked purposefully to the chair on which his duster was draped, removing something from the pocket before coming back to her. Standing right in front of her, he took her hand and pressed the object into it. She looked down at the stake, a frown forming on her face.
“In my dream, you kill me, and you go home.” He said softly.
She shook her head, tears coming back instantly. “I can’t do that. I never could kill him, and you’re too much like him. Why would you let me…”
The words had come out in a rush until he placed one finger on her lips.
“I’m not him, luv. And think. Why do you believe I’ve been dreaming of a girl I never met? You said my other dreams are what happened between you and him. It just makes sense. As for why I would let you do it…”
For a second, a smirk played on his lips, before turning into a sad smile.
“I have nothing here, luv. No Dru. No hunting. No purpose. Even my dreams are someone else’s dreams. Even the woman who haunts me belongs to someone else. So you see, it’s not like I’m going to miss much. ‘Thought of doing it myself more than once.”
Slowly, his face moved to hers, and he pressed his lips to her mouth for a brief instant.
“You do love him, pet. That’s why you didn’t kill him along with your friends. So do me a favor and go make him happy. He’s a lucky bloke, tell him that from me.”
She shook her head. She had staked him in her nightmares so many times, but never had he asked for it. Just the idea of doing it for real made her sick. She could not stake him, she would not…
Both his hands grabbed hers, and before she could react the stake was going through his chest, his last words echoing in her mind as ashes fell all over her. “Go home safely, Buffy.”
Blinking several times, Buffy turned her head slowly to determine where she was. It didn’t take long for her to recognize the room as a hospital room. She was tied to her bed, wearing a hospital gown. Tentatively, she cried for help. After a few shouts, a nurse came in.
“Miss Summers? Do you know where you are?”
“Yes. This is Sunnydale’s psychiatric clinic. Do you know why you are here?”
A dozen answers ran through Buffy’s mind, none of them the sort she could give to the nurse.
“I don’t remember. What happened ?”
“You’ve been with us for some time, Miss Summers. You went in a sort a coma. Your friends and your sister will be relieved that you’re back among us.”
Her heart stopped beating for just a second, before she could force the next question out.
“My sister? My friends? They are ok? Where are they?”
The nurse smiled gently as she scribbled a few notes on a pad.
“They’re fine, and I’m sure they’ll be even better when they hear the good news. If I am not mistaken, today is the day the English gentleman visits you.”
Under Buffy’s puzzled gaze, she continued. “They have been coming every day since you were brought here, each in turn. Your sister talks to you constantly. The redhead girl reads to you. The others are mostly silent as far as I know, but I’m not in the room all the time.”
Feeling very tired, Buffy mumbled that she was going to sleep, unaware of whether the nurse was answering or not.
When she awoke, Buffy felt a presence by the side of the bed. Finding herself free of her restraints, she sat up and turned to… Giles. The English gentleman. She had been so sure it would be…
“Giles! When did you come back from England?”
She saw his eyes filling with tears as she spoke. He got up from his seat and walked to her, hugging her in the same fashion she had hugged the other Giles, in the other world.
“A lot happened since you left us, Buffy. We will tell you about it when you are completely rested.”
“Giles… Are they ok? I mean…”
He smiled at her gently, and laid a hand on her shoulder. “Everyone is fine, Buffy. And no one blames you. They all understand that you were not yourself when you…”
His voice trailed, and she finished for him. “When I tried to get them killed. How did they survive ?”
The pressure of his hand accented for a second as he said : “They will tell you, later. You must regain your forces first.”
She shook her head and rose from her bed. “I am fine, Giles. And I need to get out of here. I need to see them all. Please?”
She knew the look he was giving her. He was pondering her request, evaluating whether she was well enough to leave the hospital.
“Alright, Buffy,” he said finally. “I’ll talk to the doctors, and sign whatever needs to be signed to get you out.”
It took indeed a lot of signatures, but when evening came, Buffy Summers was checking out of the hospital against medical advice.
As Giles was driving her home where the gang waited for her, she proceeded into telling him about the other world. He listened without a word, fascinated by her story.
“And you say you spent seven months there? That’s intriguing. Just the same amount of time that passed here.”
She had hesitated about telling him about the Jenny part, finally deciding against it. Letting him know what could have been under different circumstances would only reopen old wounds. She hadn’t been very explicit either about how she had gotten back to this reality.
They were about to turn into Revello drive when Buffy asked, her voice a mere whisper : “Is Spike still around?”
The Watcher glanced at her for an instant, before speaking softly. “Yes he is. Patrolling, keeping an eye on Dawn, annoying the hell out of the rest of us. Just like when you were… gone.”
The reunion had been awkward at first, as the Scoobies were not sure how to treat her. Within minutes however, everyone had been crying and hugging. She had told them about her other-world adventures, intentionally forgetting to mention a few details concerning Oz, Dawn and Jenny. And Spike.
After what Giles had told her, she had expected Spike to drop in by the house, and was somewhat disappointed when Dawn explained he only checked on her every other night unless his help was requested. From what the teen said, he seemed to spend an awful lot of time patrolling, both by himself and with the gang.
The next morning, after having reassured everyone that she was fine, Buffy made her way to his crypt. Butterflies were fluttering in her stomach. She had no idea what she was going to tell him, she was going there on instinct, much like she had gone to the other Spike only the day before. She needed to see him.
As she pushed the door and stepped in, she saw him turn to her, game face being replaced almost immediately by his human features.
“Won’t you ever leave me alone? It’s not enough that you haunt my bloody dreams, now you’re going to torment me when I’m awake too?”
Buffy repressed a smile at the impression of deja vu.
“Spike, I’m real. One hundred percent flesh and out of coma Buffy.”
Slowly, he came to her, his fingers rising to her face hesitantly before brushing against her cheek, as if to confirm she was indeed there. They both shivered at the contact.
“I missed you so bloody much.” His voice was no more than a whisper. And were these tears in his eyes?
He moved back just one step, and after taking a deep yet unneeded breath, he asked : “Are you here to stake me?”
The question took her by surprise, and she needed a few seconds to reply. “Stake you? Why would I want to stake you? From what I’ve heard you’re a certified good guy now.”
He did not say a word, simply looking at her. She was feeling like he was memorizing her face, much like she remembered looking at the other world’s Spike just the day before. After all, it had been seven months since he last saw her. From what Dawn had told her, he had only gone once to see her at the hospital, staying only a couple of minutes before coming out of the room deeply shaken.
Suddenly, what he had said struck her. Dreams. Stake.
“Spike? Do I stake you in your dreams?”
He blinked a couple of times as if awakening. “Not really, luv. It’s more of a joint effort I would say.”
He smirked, probably thinking she did not get his inside joke. But she did, all too well.
“I didn’t want to, but you forced me to. Well, not you, really, the other Spike. That was the only way to get back home. I mean, here. In this reality. He was having dreams, too. He was so much like you, it hurt like hell to kill him.”
She realized he was staring at her, a bewildered look on his face. “Buffy? What in hell are you talking about?”
So, she had been a bit fast on the explanations. She would have to explain everything again. It would take a little while. But she needed him to know something right away. It had taken her seven months away from him to admit it to herself, and now she couldn’t wait to admit it to him.
“I think I’m in love with you. I’m sorry for treating you like I did. And if you still…”
His mouth pressing on hers stopped her. Maybe explanations could wait for later. Much later. She was home now. He was her home.